How did I get involved in this? My godchildren Oneal and Rej called my attention to the first photo releases of the Hobbit dwarves back in January when I visited Manila. They said they have decided to be Thorin (Oneal) and Kili (Rej) and wear the costumes when the movie opens at the end of the year. They showed me the photos and presented a challenge: "How do we make the scale mail?"
They posed this challenge the night I conducted a jewelry-making tutorial for them and their friends. One of my sessions was about how to make beads and pendants with polymer clay -- it was easy to conclude we could make the scale mail with polymer clay .
So, as soon as I returned to Florida, I started working on the clay scales. The first thing I did was design clay replicas patterned from the different scales on Thorin's armor (later on, Kili's coat too). I baked those, and from them I pressed and baked fresh clay to create the negative molds.
The series of photos below shows how I use the negative molds to create the scales that will be painted and attached to the armor shirt that will be worn by Oneal.
1. Prepare a "release agent" -- this prevents the raw clay from sticking to the negative mold. I use KY Jelly mixed with a little water (just to water down the jelly a bit).
2. Paint the release agent on the surface of the negative mold, making sure to reach all the crevices. Don't forget the edges -- the excess clay will stick to the edges if you miss them.
3. Condition a ball of polymer clay, just enough to cover the negative mold.
4. Press the clay onto the mold. The outside surface will become the back part of the scale, so it needs to be flat. Push the excess clay to the sides.
5. Gently pull out the fresh clay from the negative mold. Try not to tug too hard because the scale will get deformed. Lift the edges around the mold before pulling out the entire scale.
6. Lay the clay scale on a flat surface, preferably glass or ceramic. Gently adjust the clay if it got deformed in the pulling process.
7. Use a sharp blade to cut off the extraneous clay from the edges of the scale.
7. Bake the clay scales following manufacturer's directions. (I use Sculpey Premo and it bakes at 275F for at least 30 minutes.)
8. Let it cool down and paint as needed.
And there's the first batch of scales, already baked and ready for the painting phase.