Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I have a new commish. Still parameterizing it, though.

The original spec was "raygun." Which covers a lot of ground; in gross styles alone you have the "guns are bricks" modern gaming style, the increasingly iPhone look of recent movies, Steampunk, Atom Punk, Diesel Punk, punk punk, full-on Raygun Gothic (with or without Zeerust)...

And then there's question of cost/effort, which contains implicit aesthetic choices as well; budget prop making, high-end fabrication, resin kits, found-object construction (the classic mode of Steampunk prop building)...

And the quirkier subtleties of style within certain styles; for instance, the props from old serials (and the first of the Star Wars films) were very obviously mash-ups of easily available current weapons with bits of slapped-on fabrication. The ultimate expression of this being of course the Pulse Rifle from Aliens, which is a coherent designed object but reveals the Vietnam-era inspiration with every bit of carrying handle and Spas-12 cage left exposed.

Well, the second, more detailed spec is 50's-60's, leaning towards television and animation apparently, flashy shiny and even silly. Barbarella and The Jetsons specifically named. And the venue is a Tiki event, with the theme of early atomic age.

So that seems to point at classic animation/illustration design, the zepellin-bodied shapes with fins in chrome and bright-colored plastic.

And widening the brevet to include context, it needs to be sturdy enough (and not have too many fiddly bits sticking out) that it can survive a four-day convention. And it is good for it to be in bright colors and shapes that are far from modern handguns, because it will be in a public place.

And I can probably rule out trying to go in a tin toy or period prop shop aesthetic; my strong feeling is the aesthetic of the construction methods and finish is no more and no less than "shiny silly prop gun made with modern methods."

So, really, it is narrowing down to two tangentially related axis of design choice.

One being a rather amorphous Venn Diagram between Duck Dodgers, things that would not look out of place in a well-funded movie with retro aesthetics, and things that are defiantly artsy -- like some of the more fabulous props from Barbarella, such as the rifle whose stock was a silver-painted woman's hand.

The other axis is more or less cost, going from one-off constructions in found object and balsa carving to styrene and casting to metalwork.

Except that these two meet along a strange diagonal axis, that being a sort of materials-and-methods approach. Because when you are constructing something that isn't an exact replica you have a lot more freedom to let the material (or the construction method) determine the shape, indeed, the design and appearance.

Specifically, I can lathe, mill, and CNC aluminium, and I can take it up to a chrome-like polish. I can also easily lase complex shapes out of acrylic. On the other end of this axis, I could probably find basic shapes at the Dollar Store and slap an overall coat of shiny paint on them.

I've been thinking for quite a while about the lighting (and other effects) in props, and this is one of those cases where the mechanism can define the outer shape. Where form follows function, instead of trying to cram LEDs into a too-small space. One idea that came immediately when I started to think about this prop was the "cooling fin" look in acrylic rings, spaced carefully to be edge-lit from individual elements in a Neopixel stick -- meaning animated lighting effects are possible.

And at one more step of meta-design, this is an opportunity to explore fabrication techniques, design techniques, and materials. And it is a chance at exposure. So once again, even though an l'egg with a styrene fin painted in hot pink might be just as suitable -- even perhaps more suitable -- I am extremely tempted towards a largely aluminium-and-acrylic Barbarella-inspired art object designed implicitly around some fairly fancy-looking lighting effects.

Well. Perhaps the thing to do is...do both!

(I also can't help thinking of the period aesthetic in holsters, and that there is a vacuum-form class slot this week...)

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