a class in casting

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“Have any of you done casting before?” Stacy asked our tiny group of three students.  I raised my hand, feeling a little foolish in doing so.  My answer was yes, but I couldn’t say I really understood the process.

Of course, my first experience was helping to cast a leg bone of a type specimen fossil found in Egypt…

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…That’s a leg bone from Paralititan.  The thing is nearly as tall as I am, and honestly, all I remember about the experience is that we were all learning as we went along and that it needed a mother mold to help support the dang thing.

I’d also had my face stolen…er, a cast made of my face…by my friend Lynati, but I’m not sure the experience entirely counts.  Still, both factoids helped me to feel not entirely lost as we started to learn varied applications of casting.

The main focus of the class was to create a mold and then cast a breakable bottle, as one would use on stage during a bar brawl.  The class stretched over the course of several weeks to allow the varied parts of the cast to be made, so we were also working on other projects.

For our first trick…sorry, project, Stacy handed us each a bit of blue clay and asked us to sculpt a Small Something.

I instantly panicked.  Sculpting really isn’t something I do.  But then I thought about how a friend sculpted these tiny faces to set into the high corners of her home, rather like easily-missed gargoyles, and I decided to try making something like that.  We each created a small box without a lid around our creations, mixed together two ingredients to create our mold, and poured that into the box.  (I should say, we used products from Smooth-On – a great company with great customer service that can help you choose the product that best fits your needs.  Because there’s a lot of stuff to choose from.)

Once it solidified, we could take the box apart and remove the clay sculpture, leaving a cavity in the shape of the art piece (shown in the first pic below).  Then we mixed together two other ingredients and poured that into the cavity, creating a cast.  When that had become a solid (second pic), we could remove it from the mold and…yay!  A face!

 …Not the creepy face I had  intended, but that probably says more about me than I’d like it to.

If you look a little closer at my finished face, you’ll see he has a kind of buck tooth thing going on.  This means that there’s a small pocket, probably created by air.  If I want to cast another face and I don’t want him to look derpy, I can pop a small bit of clay into that upper lip bit to I should say that when you mix your ingredients together to cast your mold, you don’t always have a lot of time to futz around with the liquid, as it wants to start solidifying pretty quickly, generally speaking.  So you move faaaaairly quickly, and you try to not waste materials if you can.  In our case, if we had mixed a little too much stuff, Stacy had us pour it into other casts to create things like mirrors, stars, and coins.  The last two items were then used in the Civic’s production of “Mary Poppins.”

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This photo shows better what our sculptures looked like pre-mold, and what the casts looked like as they solidified.

Doing all this small stuff successfully filled in the time while we waited for the bigger stuff to get done….which looked like this!

We each took an empty beer bottle, created a ‘cork’ with a bit of clay, and glued it to a small square base.  Then we centered it within a cardboard tube and repeated the steps above.

The cardboard tube was cut on one side to allow us to open it up after the mold was created. In the first group of photos above, you’ll see that there are velcro bands around the tube; this was to hold it together because of that cut.  We also hot glued around the outside of the tube where it met up with that square bit of backing so that the mold mix wouldn’t leak out too much.  (Bear in mind:  Mold making is MESSY.)

Once we had a solid mold around our bottles, we removed the bottle and then created a wax cast of the bottle by pouring hot wax into the mold, waiting a moment, and then pouring the wax back into the original heated container.  We did this four or five times, and then we poured more of the mold making material (the blue stuff) into the cavity so that we had a cast of the inside of the bottle.  This all took longer than just one class session.

The wax bottle could then be disposed of (although of course I kept mine because WOO I MADE SOMETHING!!!).

The next step was to reassemble our mold so that the thing in the middle was inside the thing to the left, as perfectly centered as we could get it.  As it turned out, this was the hardest part of the whole project.

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The above picture shows Stacy pouring very hot liquid plastic into one of our molds.  We tried the process twice.  None of us ended up with a perfect bottle. 😦

Lessons learned:

  • If you waited for the cast to be completely cool?  It breaks when you try to remove it from the mold.
  • The hot plastic will sorta settle into the mold as it cools, but if you top it off?  You will get the funky fake ‘cork’ seen in picture #2.
  • Related:  You can add a second pour.  It won’t show as layers in the finished product.
  • If you don’t have your inner mold perfectly centered?  You end up with the sort of swirly incomplete side seen in picture #3.
  • If you are insane enough to want to fix your bottle with superglue?  Sure, you can do that…but this material is meant to be easily broken, so guess what?  It will break again very easily!  This is why the clearer bottle is such a mess.

It may be that the wax bottle process needed to be a little thicker.  We were so sure we had our inner molds centered, but I think all three of us had the same thing happen seen in picture #3.

Other things we did in class…we made vases!  (These were also used for “Mary Poppins.”)

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I suck at vases.  These used a very solid ‘mother mold,’ which is a sort of cradle that supports the mold to keep your cast from getting wonky and your mold from warping.  I wasn’t quite strong enough to pop my vase half out of the mother mold easily.  It’s a very finicky process and I should have taken more photos of said process.  Alas.  The real reason for this photo was that I wanted to show the different finishes.  If the vase mold was sprayed with…I believe it was an auto body primer…you got this more paintable surface on your cast.

The other thing we worked on in this class was using a mold to fix a picture or mirror frame.  (I personally think this is the coolest thing ever.)

  1.  Look at your frame and figure out what non-broken part of it matches the broken part.  You will be making a mold of that bit.

    Good bit – broken bit – make a mold!

  2. When the putty-looking compound is dry, try to anticipate where your casting liquid is going to want to go and create dams with clay to keep it from escaping the mold.  I pretty much failed step two, but I can show you why.  See how there are all these open ends on the right side of the photo?  That’s where the liquid escaped.  It’s hard to see all of these areas when the mold is still on the frame.  Fortunately, you can add casting material in stages, so I ended up waiting for my first disastrously messy pour to harden up..then I’d add more…wait for THAT to harden up…and add a third batch.  Sigh!  But I promise, once everything’s done?  You can’t tell.20151211-154524.jpg
  3. If desired, you can dye the casting material with something like this – it works kinda like food dye.  A little goes a long way.
  4. If desired, you can also dust the inside of the mold with a powder that will help colour the cast as well.  (I apparently forgot to get photos of all of this.  Alas.  But you can see a bit of the gold powder in my mold.)
  5. Pour your casting material into your mold.  NOTE:  This will create a cast that is attached directly onto your original frame!!!  For this to go perfectly, you want to make sure your mold is really flush with your frame; otherwise, you’ll have a slight lip at the connection point.  (Again, I apparently failed to take a pic of my finished piece, which was not perfect, but for a haunt would be pretty dang ok.)

So this is a huge dang blog post, but goodness, did I love the experience!  The materials are a little pricey, although starter kits are readily available online, and I’m really looking forward to being able to finding a practical application for these lessons!  😀

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bringing up the gothic baby

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About two years ago, Bones and I trashpicked a baby stroller that had seen much, much better days.

This thing was DISGUSTING in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious.  It was waterlogged from being out with the trash.  It had a far-from-healthy layer of mildew/mold growing in the liner.  Apparently it had been some sort of parade prop, judging by the pipe cleaners and silver sticker lettering that hadn’t quite managed to fall off yet.

Bones thought it was perfect for a haunt just the way it was.

I, on the other hand..

Well.  In most ways, Bones and I think very much alike.  And then there are surprising blip-moments in which I am reminded that I must not assume we are always completely in sync and maybe I should ask him for his opinion before I start to dismantle an Awesome Something.

I decided to start to tear the bedraggled buggy apart and work on the metal frame first.  Rust was removed and everything was given a new layer of paint.

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Yay!

As is usual for my projects, I didn’t consult the Google before I began trying to figure out how to transform this monstrosity.  I dug through my stash of fabric and found some lovely black flocked velvet and a sheer red that fit my mental image of what a proper gothic buggy should look like, and I decided to reupholster the vinyl.  Some of the inner bits had to be disposed of because they were just too disgusting to save.

This horrible photo is doing its best to disguise my horrible first attempt at creating a flat inner lining using hot glue.  In retrospect, spray-on adhesive might have been a better bet.  I’m not sure.  In the end, I would have to redo a fair bit of this, including the realization that part of my problem was that I actually was using too much fabric.

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I don’t have photographic evidence of my first attempts to cover the blue vinyl with black fabric.  When I tell you that I had no damned idea how to deal with all of the different angles/lines and how to get around the metal framework, you honestly can’t imagine how bad a job I was doing with all of it.  I also don’t have a photo of the look on Bones’ face when he realized I had taken his fantastically disgusting prop and started to make it pretty.

Oops.

We had initially planned last year to use an orphanage theme for our haunt.  When our focus changed, I set the buggy aside, and it languished unloved and vaguely reupholstered until this past summer, when I decided to take a deep breath and try again to wrestle the thing into submission.

After a good deal of cutting away of the previous efforts and regluing things into place?  I was finally becoming happy with my project.  Bones was finally digging it, too, and gave me some feedback on what to do with the roof of the thing.  I went back into my fabric stash and pulled out some black trim to finish off the gothy goodness.

Creepy Zombie Baby was ok, but Roxie and I decided that Werewolf Baby was a much better choice.

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I wanted something else to finish off the sides of the buggy, and remembered I had some bats from a company I used to love, The Eccentric Griffins.  A few coats of silver paint and a bit of hole drilling by my ever-fabulous partner, Bones, and we called the project complete!

 

live, my beauty, live!

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When last I blogged about Halloween, I was working on creating a zombie.  And I was, admittedly, following Neil Gaiman’s advice and pretending I was good at it.  But a little foreplanning would have served me well.

So I had this mannequin:

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..and I had this head…

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..but this head was filled with hard foam.

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So I had two choices:  Try to figure out how to glue the head to the neck – o hai giraffe zombie! – or hollow out the head and slide it over the neck.   Foam removal was much easier a concept than it was a reality, and it took me a few hours to remove enough foam to allow easy neck insertion.  Considering I have another  head to work with someday, I am documenting this fact in hopes that I remember to fit head to neck before I do any painting, because the fear of screwing up the mask and the paint job gave an extra level of anxiety to the task of foam removal.

As I mentioned previously, the mannequin I was using had a broken foot and couldn’t stand up on her own.  While I was fighting with foam, he was creating a platform for our chickie, and rigging up an armature for the arms.

Our gal is a bit more brittle than we’d anticipated, so screwing directly into the body was not Bones’ favourite job.  But he is my hero, and he made it work.

The apron-looking thing is a piece of a zombie costume. I’m not sure how old this thing is, but I love the look of the bones and such.  Obviously, it was in need of a repainting to make it match her head…as the next photo shows.

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The bits on her arms are from a completely different zombie costume.  The  look of it is SO different from everything else that I had some serious doubts any of this was going to look like it made any kind of sense.

We had left her with only a partial right arm so that I could get her dressed.  Sadly, the clothing I had pulled from my costume stash for her just didn’t fit right.  My wedding dress was promising, but Bones voiced…um, a loud protest…so I moved on to a blouse created by a Philly designer, Ercoli.  The blouse had seen better days, and it allowed me to show off those gorgeous ribs of hers.

She still needed hands.  I have a thing about monster figure hands, in that I want the figures in my haunts to have believable  hands. I used to work for a haunt that used cotton gloves filled with nothing, and it was painfully obvious that they weren’t hands.  So I had repainted a pair of recycled latex hands earlier.  (Below is a progress pic.)

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Hair was stumping me a little.  I finally settled on a horribly gaudy red wig I had stashed away.  With some black spray paint (I know, I know…tacky as heck) it showed some promise.

I slashed her clothing so that we could see her exposed bones and bits, using liquid latex to make the edges icky, and then  used more latex mixed with grey powder to give her clothing a further grimy feel.

And…voila!

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That neck seam is pretty amazingly invisible to me.  Also, o hai!  My zombie is a hussy!  But I really couldn’t bear to cover up that chest.

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She ended up being much prettier than she probably should be.  I’m still not sure how exactly that happened…  Were I to do it again, I’d have lightened up her face, because in haunt lighting her features are a little hard to make out.  Alas.  Still, for my first attempt, I am beyond happy with her!

painting the walking dead

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So after a night of obsessing over my zombie’s mouth, I decided that using her original lips was the better option. And as soon as I cut the latex to expose her mouth? I regretted my decision, because it left a pretty obvious edge that I couldn’t hide.

…Moving on! I decided to start with a base colour of grey for her skin, then a layer of green, then a drybrushed layer of off yellow. I then chose to give her a secondary level of exposed muscle, with a few bits of exposed bone. For the muscle layer, I went with two shades of red followed by a diluted wash of black. (I used craft paint for all of this.)

Stage One:

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Stage Two (or, Oh Chickie I’m Not Sure What To Do Next):

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Stage Three:

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A sign of true love (as well as the best husband ever): Bones not only didn’t complain that I was working at the dining room table, he also cooked dinner and brought it to me while I was working. ❤

20151020-220055.jpgSide note: No matter how much they beg, do NOT feed your zombie table scraps.

20151020-220114.jpg“Please?  Just a nibble?”

I started working on her hands as well before calling it a day.  I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be working with actual hand-looking hands!  I used to work for a haunt that tried to use gloves in lieu of sculpted hands on their figures and IMNSO you can always tell that you’re looking at empty gloves.  If you’re building your own figures, keep on the lookout for hands you can salvage off other props.  These hands in particular are nowhere near new – the latex at the wrists is a little rough – but they’ll work for this project just fine.  I almost didn’t want to paint them because they sure do look aged/dead, but they don’t match any of my other materials and trying to paint everything else to match this might not work so well.  So!  They got a base coat of grey before Bones and I went out to visit some local haunts to get some more spooky inspiration.

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girl, be a zommmmmbieeee

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Earlier this year, Bones was gifted with a mannequin. As haunters, we know the rule: When someone asks if you want a mannequin, you say yes!!

In reality? Our plastic gal left something to be desired.

20151016-103216.jpg(What you can’t see is that our gal has a broken foot and can’t stand up by herself.)

I’ve been looking at her all summer, seeing very little potential until this week…when I concocted a plan to zombify the lady.

First things first! She needs a head.

I went through a few bins I affectionately labeled “stuff to make stuff” and realized this head had a foamy inside that should allow me to dig out a neck-sized hole.

20151016-103626.jpgThis head’s been through some hard times and I was not much fond of her look (no offense, kitten!), but it was the better of my two choices. My initial plan was to coat the cracks in her face with liquid latex…

20151016-103859.jpg…but there were a LOT of cracks and tears to fix. So I took a closer look.

I’d assumed this head came from a haunt vendor, although I didn’t recognize the work at all. As I poked at the cracks, I realized that in reality this was nothing more than a mask over a mannequinish head. So I took a deep breath and started ripping her face off.

(This was not to be the only serial killer feeling moment in this project.)

I quickly found that her face had been attached with liquid latex or glue and….straight pins.

Well. Ok then!

I went through my collection of faces (..oh, don’t pretend you don’t have a box of faces in your garage, too) and chose a feminine looking one. Then I used a paintbrush to apply liquid latex to her face. (Side note: if you’re working with liquid latex, make sure your work space is well ventillated!)

20151016-105008.jpg20151016-105024.jpgI pulled the latex mask over her face, reusing her original straight pins to secure the edges of the mask and slathering more liquid latex on the edges to help seal the mask to the head. (Ya wanna feel like a bad person? Shove straight pins into the eye sockets of a woman’s face. Pretty sure that’s more serial killer stuff right there.)

Annnnd I realized I made what I consider to be a girlie error. I had chosen a feminine mask that left me very little in the way of zombie details to paint later. 😦

20151016-105505.jpgIn other words? She’s too pretty, even with the folds around her chin and nose where the mask didn’t quite fit as snugly as I wanted. So I did the only logical thing..I tore her face off again and started over.

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20151016-105648.jpgMuch better! And this one made for a better, tighter fit, too.All those folds THIS time are actually meant to be there. My first choice was made from a thinner latex which I thought would work better, but having a bit more thickness did help me fit the mask to the face with less air pockets and tearing.

Then I left her to dry, and I went off to bed to, um, try to not dream about tearing faces off of heads…although I will confess I spent too much time thinking, “Hm, I should probably tear her lips off so I can show the mouth underneath…”

a conclusion i couldn’t have predicted

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Last day in China!

And I did NOT want to get out of bed.

The deal was that we were supposed to be up wicked early to go finish up everything in time for our inspection by the boss, then head off to the airport in the afternoon.  I am ashamed to say that I just didn’t care about waking up on time.  😦  To the boys’ credit, they tried to make sure I was cared for by making sure I could get breakfast before I went to the job site, but I didn’t know that, so I didn’t go to the restaurant.  I grabbed some fruit, checked my luggage with everyone else’s in the hotel lobby, and met up with the boys maybe an hour after they had started working.

One of the jobs I took on was to paint some 2x4s black to be used as bracing in the haunt.  I ignored my audience of 6 guys, found some black paint, could not find a paint brush…could, however, find a full sized roller sans holder.  (I should say, I did find other people painting over by the zombie shoot-em-up ride, but completely failed at getting anyone to understand that I could really really use a paint brush.  *sigh*) So I shrugged, dipped the end of the roller into the paint, and started slowly painting the bracing.

Wanna feel really stupid?  Go try to paint 2xs with just a roller.  It’s a great time.

After maybe 30 minutes, one of my audience member found a small roller on a piece of coat hanger wire.  He dipped it into the paint, rolled it across a board, and handed me the improvised roller.  I thanked him, tried using it, found it to be completely useless, walked over to a trash can, threw it away.  Went back to my big roller.

Then I had a great idea!  I found C and asked him if he could ask the audience to paint these boards.

Instantly, a box of paint brushes showed up!

FML.

As I failed at painting, I noticed there was a small pile of haunt walls off to the side.  They looked much the worse for wear, and we sorta raised an eyebrow, but we had a lot to get done, so a random pile of walls was nowhere near our list of things to worry about right then.  A bigger concern was the random park attendees that decided the haunt must be open for business and started wandering through as we were trying to finish up last minute details.

Good times, y’all!

Our inspection went very well, outside of a request for the videos J had provided to be in Chinese, not English.  Duly noted, he’ll work on that, let’s get the heck out of here!

We had a few hours before we had to go to the airport, and had been told we’d be able to go take showers before we left the country.  As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.  Our room keys didn’t work.  While I retrieved my suitcase, the boys were realizing we had no room, and the ever-resourceful J resorted to stealing a key from a maid’s cart and breaking back into one of our rooms so we could clean up a little.

In the meantime, S realized he had left his laptop back at the haunt.  Dammit!  We got a hold of someone at the park, and were told, “Oh, we’ll bring it to you at the park gate.”  We got into our shuttle van, went to the park, and were greeted by one of our interpreters who was holding just the laptop, not the bag/power source/assorted stuff.  So S had to run back into the park to get his stuff.

He came back looking really unsettled.

“What happened?” J asked.

“Well.  Um. You know that pile of walls?  Since we’ve been gone, they tore the front facade off the haunt and extended the front of the haunt with those walls, and then put the facade back on.”

I don’t have an ‘after’ pic, but I’ll try to make that make sense.  This is what the front of the haunt looked like when we left it.

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Our actual haunt had a full beautifully detailed facade, but you can’t see it because of this archway thing that was in front of the concrete pad where we were told to install the haunt.  What the owner had opted to do was to move the facade in front of this arch and then use the extra wall panels to connect the facade to the rest of the haunt.

I’ve never seen J look so stunned.  I still personally can’t imagine how that could have worked.  But somehow, this final tailspin of confusion and bewilderment seems to me to have been the most fitting way for the gig to have ended.

I’m so very glad I had the opportunity to haunt overseas.  It was amazing and bewildering and it taught me things about myself I didn’t expect to discover.  Not all of those discoveries were good, and I’m still processing some of that.  But overall?  Holy poop, y’all.  I helped build a haunted house in CHINA.

**CHINA**.

That’s pretty dang amazing.

And here, have some very random pics I didn’t share yet…

signage/other haunted attractions in the park

the insanity in our hotels

our haunt

random

wrapping things up

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(This is a belated update to the China story – last post here.)

I wake up calmer the next day and join the boys for breakfast, squirreling away fruit to eat later on.  (Thank all the gods ever that created fruit!!)  The boys tell me that they didn’t actually get to see much of the Halloween show the night before because schedules got screwed up, they were tired and sore, and ended up spending most of their time waiting for the zombie shoot-em-up ride to get going.

I feel vaguely better about having opted for a night crying in the tub.

At the haunt, we’ve hit a point where  the effects are ready to be set up – air cannons, animated props, computer screens and the like.

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First room of the haunt.

The problem we run into almost immediately is that the Chinese workers assigned to help us are trying very very hard to learn everything they can about everything we’re doing.  This means that there’s a constant conga line of guys following J around, watching everything he’s doing, and as soon as he walks away from a project, they’re touching it..and more often than not, they’re breaking it.  And we can’t easily get new parts to fix what’s been broken.  And we can’t get our helpers to stop ‘helping.’

We’re getting down to only having hours left to finish the project. Having to do something two or three times is making our work load – and our brains – explode.

There’s a crazy-making mix of things to deal with as we go along.  Our helpers keep taking batteries out of remote controls, or just taking the remotes.  J and S spend hours getting a ghost projection effect to work..and someone else hits a button on it and deletes everything the guys just accomplished.  Someone drops a pre-programmed animation controller that’s run via dip switches, and the boys scramble to try to figure out how to reset the switches correctly.

It’s all more frustrating than I can even begin to describe here.  I finish hanging bits of fabric across all of the haunt hallway doors to give visitors a sense of overhead ick, and J asks me to start working on some ‘cryotube’ props.  In the corner of the haunt housing the air conditioner, there’s to be three large plastic tubes. One will contain an actor; the others, monsters of some sort.  C has already hung blue lights in the tubes, so now it’s my job to go find stuff and make monsters out of it.

…Okie dokie!

So these tubes are sorta like huge half cylinders on bases.  I scrounge up some scraps of wood and create stands that I drape with fabric…I find some masks in one of the boxes of random stuff J packed for this gig… I dry brush the inside of the tubes so that it sorta kinda looks like they’re frosted inside…and I come up with the crappiest puppets I’ve ever created.

…And my creations immediately scare our interpreter when she walks through to check on our progress.  So, yay, I guess!

I also work on fixing one broken prop, whose arms were snapped in transit…

..and repaint a prop to try to take it from ‘wow that’s a horrible fake red’ to ‘wow that’s still pretty horrible but at least it’s not O HAI I’M BLOODY RED!  (All of this, of course, is being done with whatever we brought with us.  I still kinda wish I could have had all of my paints and brushes with me..)

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worst pinata ever…

Meanwhile, the boys had pretty much finished as much as they could for the night, so we packed up and went back to our hotel.  I may  have some of this out of sequence at this point, but I think this was our last full day of work..