Wednesday, December 1, 2010


My friend Rachel is kicking names and taking asses up in Chapman's graduate film program in directing.  She had the stupendous I idea of doing a spaghetti western for a film, and needed a very special coffin, crafted to suit the needs of a jaded protagonist's ironic sense of justice.  So of course I got a call.  It may have actually been a facebook message, but that sounds far more uncool and far less Hollywood.

Stipulations were tough-  had to be light enough for once person to drag, had to be tough enough to be actor proof (which is pretty damn tough ftr,) had to be cheap.  

I started with the plans here:  <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
But the dimensions weren't gonna serve my purposes.  I moved the sideboards outside of the baseboards to milk maximum height out of the box, and added another row of sideboards to fit a living human in.  Whipped out google sketchup rather than illustrator to make my plans this time.  Really came in handy for getting measurements of sides, angles, and for projecting the look of the final piece.  Definitely worth the little bit of time it took to model.

Then i felt the need I to make a real-world mockup to satisfy myself that the computer plans weren't lying to me.  
Me: (from across house)  "Dad!  I need your corpse!"
Dad:  "Excuse me?"
*whips out collapsible cardboard coffin*
Dad:  "Awesome!"

I took the time to make up these lovely cut plans to economize wood in the spirit of the scarefx tutorial, but I have no idea if I adhered to them.  Once I got the floorboards cut, I launched into the traditional building frenzy of my people.

The floorboards were cut out, and then I set to creating A frame to hold the floor together.  Horizontal braces were placed to run where the arch of the back and back of the knees are located, keeping our talent's rump and shoulderblades comfy and content.  Each segment of the side wall was framed as a modular panel in a similar way, and then screwed onto the sides of the base.  In the scarefx tutorial, they were placed on top of the base, but  I needed every inch of height I could get.   Only weak point was toe screwing the "shoulder" angles at the top. Those were only 16 degrees if I remember, and may have been better to have a single plank bridging the angle, rather than being attached to one another.

Tada! You can also see where I got stabbed by a rusty staple! Tetanus shot, don't fail me now.

Cedar turned out to be the cheapest fence pickets (and thus the cheapest option for wood) at the Home Despot.  This gave it acceptable rigidity, the best lightness I could hope for, and made it smell INCREDIBLE!

"I screwed the $#*^ out of this &!*@#!"

Yeas, I would've prefered a nail gun or staple gun, but barring those, deck screws seemed like my best option

I applied a power drill wire brush to the cedar planks to bring out the wood pattern, giving the coffin the appearance of age and wear, plus more texture for the camera to read.  The bottom 1/3rd hasn't been brushed here, and the difference is pretty stark.

Annother shot of the texturing,with the drill in question in frame. If you're interested in reproducing this effect, here's the only thing that worked for me after much trial and error:

The drill was pointed in the same direction as the grain, and the drill's shaft was nearly parallel to the surface of the wood.  I was using a cup brush, so the bristles were also pointed in the same direction as the grain.  I then Moved the drill back and forth perpendicular to the grain.

Everything else I tried just ate up all of the wood, because the cedar's way soft.   But using this technique, you'll pull away the softer parts of the grain, leaving behind the hard bits, and thus achieving wood texture instead of wirebrushed texture.

Seriously, most beautiful inside of a coffin evar. 

The script called for two different characters to rest their weary behinds on the closed sarcophagus, and after a test sit, I determined that it needed reinforcement.  The reinforcing frame sits inside the edge of the walls of the coffin, keeping the lid in place.

The bottom.  Big old 2.5" deck screws going up into the vertical struts. 

I sheer formed off the overhang of the sidewalls to make the bottom flush, and help the thing drag along the ground as smoothly as possible.

I stained spots that I wanted extra dark-  knots and creases and whatnot.  After this dried, the whole thing got a full coat of stain.  I did NOT mix the stain, and so only used the thinner top part of it, which is a big part of what gives the end coffin a weathered, old appearance.

I beat the coffin with chains and tools (careful to make the marks random, and to NOT structurally damage the thing.)

Minwax wood finish in special walnut was then applied.  I did NOT shake or stir the stain first.  This caused the color to be more desaturated, and the stain to be far more transparent, achieving the aged look I desired.  You have to stop when you get close to the bottom of the can, or you'll start scooping up the concentrated, viscous, opaque matter that you've concentrated in the bottom of the can.

looks a little redder here than it did in person, thanks to magic wb settings.

All done, and ready to ship (read: for me to drive it) up to LA!

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