"We already knew that Tats."
Okay okay, it's the Enchanter's Staff Tier 7 (Dragonbone) from Dragon Age: Origins. It's the one Wynne comes equipped with if you pick her up later in the game, or will cost you 4 gold 64 to buy from the dodgy merchant in Denerim. It's nothing special as staffs go but I thought it was pretty, and dark red goes with everything, right? Besides, everyone else makes the Staff of Parthalan or the Staff of Violation – I’ve never seen an Enchanter’s Staff outside the game.
Here's the front view. Don't laugh at my mage's silly hat.
miryai, this is my typical crowd control spec. There are only 2 straight damage spells there, the rest are either immobilising (winter's grasp, paralysis) or AoE (mind blast, tempest, cone of cold, sleep, mass paralysis, horror). A self-heal, a companion heal, and a hex, with staff focus for more damage since I was using most of my mana keeping the mobs frozen. This game has made me a kiting expert.
Anyway, the staff. First, take your dowelling rod and spend about the time it takes for Hot Tub Time Machine to play whittling the end down.
Add some 12 gauge mild steel wire to holes drilled in the top and sides.
Loosely shape the wire to the desired shape and use masking tape to hold it in place.
Remember that the dragons are holding a ball in their mouths. Quickly come up with a method of making a ball without buying a crystal one because a) heavy and b) too expensive for a toy. Polystyrene balls painted orange ftw!
When that's dry, finalise the shape of the dragon necks with masking tape to hold all the wire in place. The wire ends are forming 'teeth' that go into the polystyrene to hold the ball in place. It would have been much easier to do the heads and the ball separately and then put the ball in, but I couldn't work out how to do that seamlessly.
The next step was adding a bit of string for where the tails would go, mostly for a guide as to where to put the paper mache.
This next bit took a week, as I painstakingly built up layers of acrylic resin on the ball to make it look more like a crystal. Starting with a layer of orange, then using gradually less pigment and a tiny amount of titanium dioxide to refract the light and make the layers appear deeper than they are. I'm relatively happy with how it came out but OMG SLOW. It takes 24 hours to dry between coats, in which I couldn't move the staff because setting resin has the constistency of treacle and I had to prop it so the drips would accumulate in non-obvious places. And there are 9 coats. Nuff said. Luckily I was able to do a bit of paper mache-ing on the staff itself while I waited.
Then it was full on paper mache time. First the inside of the mouths. I knew I wasn't going to be able to paint in there once it was finished so I bought some red paper and used that.
Next step - loads of paper strips and glue in that technique most of us, including me, haven't used since primary school. Also, eyes. The original doesn't have eyes as such but since I'd already used some artistic license to add more detail to the heads, I figure in for a penny, in for a pound, right. And I'd found these beads that had the perfect horizontal 'pupils', like horses' ones. It was Dr Wheel's idea to colour behind them black before putting them in.
And then with the plaster mache. This stuff comes in bags of about 2kg, and it's a mix of powderised paper, glue and plaster. You add water then quickly sculpt stuff with it, because after 30 minutes it's starting to set and gets really hard to work with. But it sets rock hard and doesn't crack and it solved the problem where the wire/paper setup was quite wobbly, which is not what you want when you're waving your staff around trying to impress people.
As you can see, the plaster mache is kind of lumpy. There was a lot of sanding. This process took about a week as well - add a layer, sand it back, add some more, etc etc till I was happy with the shape. The thing got a whole lot heavier too. Finally, it was good enough but there needed to be some extra smoothing, so I used air-dry modelling clay to fill in the larger holes. It needed to have a bit of texture because it's supposed to be bone, right? And bone is not smooth. But there's texture, then there's craters. So I used the clay.
Next, gesso, to fill in more rough spots and to create a good even base for application of paint.
WTF Tats? I thought you said dragonbone was dark red? It is. The orange is a trick I learned from a painter years ago. If you cover your canvas in orange before you start, it gives the whole painting more warmth and depth, even after you cover that layer up with other paint. But I also had a particular technique in mind for colouring this. Next layer is burnt sienna mixed with vermilion.
It's applied, allowed to dry a little, and then dabbed/wiped with a paper towel to let the orange underneath show through a bit. It's definitely red, but not really dark enough, eh? So the next layer is burnt umber mixed with vermilion:
Now we're talking. This is pretty close to the colour I was after. Now to just fill in the tricky corners and add some metallic copper highlights and Voila!
Full length shot. This thing is about the same height as the YoT. Sorry about the crap photography.
More head detail…
And finally, for authenticity, here’s a shot of me ‘wearing’ it with a silly hat and trying to look like a disgruntled mage.
It’s 6’6” long and weighs about 4kg. It doesn’t shoot lightning but if you swing it hard enough I reckon that head end would hurt your average hurlock…
That was fun. Now I need to work out how to make it stick to someone’s back. In games they’re held on by magical magnetism, but in this world we need straps. I’m thinking some sort of hook top and bottom might work. And then what? I have no idea. Remember I said it'd cost 4 gold 64 to buy? Well the materials were ~$50 to make this, but if I were to charge the same rate for my time making it as I get at work, that'd put it around $1200 - and that's without added lighting bolts. Hmm..
I want to make some other staffs as well, and someone who shall remain nameless reckons it needs more LEDs so you never know, that might happen too. I also want to make Freedom’s Call (not flashy but cool because it would actually work as a stave and also close to my heart because it’s Anders’ first one) and Cold Blooded because I think it’d be fun to make.
There may end up being a staff rack in our hallway along with the stockwhip and Dr Wheel’s PhD. *cough*
PS since the dragon heads aren't exactly the same but are unique and special snowflakes, I think they need names. Part of me wants to call them Nigel and Colin but that's not very magical staff-y, is it?