In May of 2014, both Sifi Kisu and Sifu Manuel Rodriguez, two martial arts consultants for Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as Dante Basco (the voice of Zuko) were in attendance at Momocon, an Atlanta animation, gaming and pop culture convention. I was commissioned by Momocon to create a replica mask of the Blue Spirit, which was signed and donated for auction during the Desert bus for hope charity.
Since I could not find a find solid block of wood that would be large enough for this project, I instead worked with layered pine disks. Attention was paid to the direction of the grain, aligning all of the layers in the the same direction and vertically.
The design was laid out based on a bunch of screegrabs from the series, and I lasercut the templates.
These got traced down onto pine, since I couldn’t find a single solid block of wood that was big enough. When laying it out, attention was paid to the direction of the grain, aligning all of the layers vertically.
Some of the layers were cut out differently, since some of them won’t involve say, the “mane” that is on the bottom layer.
When I cut these out, the centers were also cut out, to spare the extra work of boring out all the excess wood in the middle. The layers were then glued together using Gorilla Glue, and clamped together to set overnight.
I drew lines across the profile reference, which were spaced to match the thickness of the layers. This will help with establishing depth! needed a little extra wood for the tip of the nose!
I used jigsaws, hacksaws and chisels to cut out the contour of the mask.
I was a bit nervous about this project, as I had not carved in quite a number of years, and this was MUCH more organic in design. I chose to start with the lower jaw and did a test run of sorts because its been a long time since I did carving (mostly do sculpting, which is much different! ), so I started with the the most difficult part, the jaw.
Looks like the Blue Spirit has a cavity… gotta love wood and its mystery knots!
I’m using a Dremel rotary tool with various cutters, cutoff wheels and sanding drums, lots of chisels and hand files, sanding blocks, rasps, a surform and just about anything else that can put dents into wood.
As I’m moving along, I’m being VERY careful when removing wood, because its not like sculpting where you can simply slap some more clay on there.
The cheeks are a tricky area, so I stopped for a bit, and sculpted a little mockup out of sculpey to use as a 3 dimensional reference.
I hotglued the reference sculpt into a plastic container, because I’d like to finish it off later, and that’ll keep the dust off & keep it from getting squished, and it helped a LOT with the carving process!
I also decided to clip off the fangs and sculpt them separately.
at the top of the head you can see a little nick. As I went along, I added those to help establish how deep i needed to go, almost like depth markers. That helped a LOT!
I also concentrated work on one side, because I’ll be able to use the contours lines sof the wood layersof the finished side to speed up the process on the other side. Think of a topographical map here 😀
Blue Spirit meets TwoFace!
The other half actually moved along MUCH faster, since the right side was pretty much, a full scale reference!
From the previous photo to this was approximately 14 hours of carving. which was significantly less than the 30 hours or so that the left side took.
Once the carving was done on this side, sanding was done. You want to avoid using sandpaper until later, because the abrasive that comes off of it wears down tools faster. If you have old sanding belts, they will help a lot.
I decided to go for a “relic that washed up on shore” look, to take advantage of the fact that its carved wood. First I used grey primer as a base coat, and acrylic paints to do do the solid blues and whites. I used the cheap paints (Folkart & Americana), because they sand better than the higher end fine artists ones (ie. Golden, Liquitex) . Once those were laid down, I used Exacto blades and knives to gouge and enhance the wood grain and add distressing to give it a worn cracked appearance. 400 grit sandpaper was used to sand down the paint and let some of the wood grain show through.
A few washes of browns and blacks were applied to make the details pop out more, and here it is finished!