Paragon’s expert modelmakers add the finishing touches

Photo courtesy Jet Cooper. Aurora is a 3D printed hero prop showcasing a collaboration.

Aurora is the brainchild of Jet Cooper, the Creative Director of Makinarium UK. Makinarium, based at the Pinewood Studios, is a consortium of film professionals offering 3D modelling and fabrication services to the film industry. Jet approached Paragon with the idea that he and we could collaborate on a hero prop that would show off both our abilities and capabilities – Jet’s design prowess and Paragon’s array of technologies, and, of course, the abilities of our modelmakers, without having to worry about legal consequences.

Aurora’s journey, documented as a series of episodes for social media, started back in April of 2021 as a series of 3D drawings. Her completed head, with all the finishing touches, was delivered to Jet on 14 June 2021.

On receiving Aurora, Jet commented, “To be completely honest, I was blown away. She was beautiful. The different textures brought her to life and the finishing and attention to detail on every part was amazing. She looked better than many of the hero props that actually get used on screen. She wouldn’t need any digital touch-up… she exceeds all my expectations.”

Since then, Aurora has represented the collaboration at various functions across the UK and into Europe. Most recently she featured in Stratasys’ video on the capabilities of its NEO 800 SL machines presented to FormNext 21 audiences in Germany in November last year.

Aurora’s stunning completion is down to two of Paragon’s expert modelmakers, Lee Adams and Tristan Brown.

Lee has been with Paragon for just over 16 years, the majority of which he has spent in the model shop after stints in our vacuum casting department and the quality department, learning exactly what was required from customers for prototypes and models to make the grade. He feels that the model shop was the most appropriate outlet for his artistic talents and a desire to ‘do something with his hands’.

Tristan joined Paragon in early 2021. His talents are many, having taught weaponry in combat classes, supervised the building of adventure parks, and built stages sculptures on a freelance basis. He has regularly consulted on re-enactment projects, particularly in the weapons department.

Q: Aurora’s head has multiple components. How did you decide who was doing what between you?

LA: Actually, dividing up the labour was the easy part. She has a lot of metal components, and with Tristan’s background in weapon recreation, it seemed natural that he should do these parts. I would focus on the white and transparent components.

Q: Having decided who was doing what, what was the first challenge?

TB: The first challenge was colouring the SLS [selective laser sintering] nylon parts. Anything metallic was made through SLS, and although there are no support structures, the parts off the printer are quite rough and porous.

I needed to achieve a shiny metal effect. It took a fair amount of sanding and blasting and four lots of priming with epoxy resin to build a surface that was both smooth and yet tacky enough for the paint to stick. I then sanded the parts back again to get rid of any ridges or blemishes formed during the drying process. Now it was time to start adding colours.

Photo courtesy Jet Cooper. The head piece was printed in transparent resin.

I started with black as a base layer, then added about 8 to 12 layers of metallic paints to build depths. These included lacquers, tints, chrome, and specialised gold paint from Japan. The really fine details I added using copic ink.

LA: My first challenge was to get the top of her head absolutely right. We had discussed a look for Aurora. She had to be ultra-modern, clean, and ‘readable’. We needed to see her moving parts, and we needed at the same time to convey that she was an android.

Her head piece was printed in the transparent SOMOS® WaterShed XC 11122 on the large bed SL NEO 800 printer. The print requires support struts, so these had to be removed. Although finished WaterShed is transparent, it’s fairly opaque straight off the printer and has a faint blue tinge. I polished this right down and applied a very dilute blue-black lacquer to get the colour right without compromising the transparency.

Images: Courtesy Jet Cooper, Makinarium UK

Q: With the main challenges out of the way, what came next?

TB: I had one or two more tricky bits to focus on. The eye socket area was not 3D printed but vacuum cast. We wanted these parts to have some texture, but as with any minute details on a vacuum casting part with softer rubbers, the detailing would have to be added in later. We created a master pattern in SLS and then cast the pieces. I applied some grey cellulose paint over the top and created the slightly dimpled appearance manually. The jaw line was also cast in a rubber, but there was minimal finishing required here.

LA: The last of the tricky bits for me were her eyes. Obviously, when she was finished these would need to be moveable. We printed the lenses in WaterShed and I played around with the tint and adding the iris detail in using paint. However, in the end I decided that as she was a robot, her eyes were most likely to act as a camera and perhaps this was the way to go. I cut two discs representing a camera shutter and, in the end, left the eyes transparent and well-polished. The lenses were set into two SL orbs printed in SOMOS® EvoLVe 123, our shiny white resin which offers a very smooth surface and exceptional detailing. Tristan finished the very fine detailing with cellulose paint.

Q: This leaves her face. How did you create such a stunning, smooth finish?

LA: The majority of Aurora’s head was printed on our NEO 800 SL machine, using the SOMOS® EvoLVe 123 resin. This white photopolymer resin is super-smooth, picks up an enormous amount of detail, and feels just like injection moulded thermoplastic. It’s very popular with prop-makers and it’s easy to see why.

At one stage, everyone had a go with the airbrush.

Tristan and I collaborated on this bit. We had an idea that Aurora needed to be glossy and yet still have some shading to reflect her female form. Without this, we’d need to rely on the play of light and with one colour, the result would seem a bit flat.

We decided that we would follow a three-step process. First, we would cover the parts with a primer. This would enable us to then coat her in a lacquer with a slightly blue -black tint. Finally, we would use the airbrush to layer up the paint and provide the subtle shading that would ensure she looked feminine.

TB: I think everyone in the model shop had a go with the airbrush at one stage! Believe it or not, most of Aurora was painted with a water-based and cellulose paints. The result, once finished and lacquered, is durable and water resistant. The multiple layers of paint will ensure that very little UV light will reach the EvoLVe substrate which has a tendency to yellow with age. As you can see, the finish is perfect – she’s smooth, shiny, futuristic and ultimately feminine despite her metallic and slightly steam-punk skeleton!

Lee Adams and Tristan Brown are just two of Paragon’s 15-strong expert model making team. The team have been creating functional training models, props, exhibition and display models and prototypes for a wide range of industries since 2003. For more information, please contact: Andrew.McCormack@paragon-rt.com

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It took four lots of priming with epoxy resin to build a surface that was both smooth and yet tacky enough for the paint to stick.

Her head piece was printed in the transparent SOMOS® WaterShed XC 11122 on the large bed SL NEO 800 printer.

Stereolithography printed lenses and orbs

We printed the lenses in SOMOS® WaterShed. The lenses were set into two SL orbs printed in SOMOS® EvoLVe 123.

Tristan used 12 layers of metallic paints to create the machinery. These included lacquers, tints, chrome, and specialised gold paint

Images: Courtesy Jet Cooper, Makinarium UK