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  • Mantecoza Steam Horse – Guest Blog by Diane Cook: Part I

    Posted on December 6th, 2013 Diane Cook No comments

    Hello! In order to share this fine article with more people, I invited Diane Cook to re-post her experiences in modeling a steampunk style mechanical horse. Diane has generously agreed and offers these reflections:

    Arizona has a small independent film community that relies mainly on volunteers to work on their projects. Last summer, Emmy award winner David Stipes and I met many aspiring filmmakers at Phoenix Comicon.

    One project that caught David’s attention was the steampunk fantasy, Mantecoza. It centers on the character of Sebastian King, an average office worker, who is suddenly thrust into the neo-Victorian world of Mantecoza, where he struggles to learn how to be a wizard in order to fulfill his destiny. The realm of Mantecoza presents as an alternate steampunk fantasy reality, which the Wizard of Mantecoza accesses by a magic ring.

    After meeting with the creator, Sue Kaff, and looking over the script, David felt more steampunk qualities could be added to the film. His idea was to build a miniature model of a steam horse for a forced perspective shot. Although the model would only be about 12 inches tall, with the camera close to it the model would appear larger and in scale with the live action background.

    Inspired by Dutch artist, Theo Jansen’s strandbeest, David created a concept design of a horse powered by steam.Concept Design


    This looked like something I could tackle, so once the New Year started, I began the task of building this model. Years ago, I came across instructions for objects constructed from cardboard ribbing, paper mache and spackle. I thought this might be an inexpensive and non-toxic way of constructing this horse. Because I am not a professional, I didn’t realize that David had more in mind to make this horse more realistic on film. His idea was to have working gears and smoke or steam billowing from the smokestack. Therefore, the steam horse started with a wire frame, rubber tubing, and electrical wiring.

     Wire Frame

    Wiring and Rubber Hoses 

    David working on gear motor 

    While David worked on the gear motor, my next step was to consolidate the jumbled mess of wires by taping leg forms over them. To get the right shape and size of the legs, I traced over the original ‘to scale’ concept design and transferred the pattern to cardstock. Thin cardboard pieces were added to define the hooves.

    Paper leg construction 

    Now the real work began. The model needed more skeletal structure than just wire. Chipboard ribbing was placed to create the main body with smaller pieces to fill out the entire form of the horse.

    Forming the ribs 

    Basic head and ribs completed 

    Once the body was constructed, it was time to add the paper mache. I know there are ready-made paper mache supplies you can buy at the craft stores, but being very old school, I went for the flour and water method. I had no specific recipe for the paper mache, just mixed it in small batches to the consistency of thin pancake batter. Later I would add carpenter’s glue to the mix as I experimented with the strength of finished skin.

     Chipboard finished and practice spackling

    Small pieces of newspaper were cut and dipped in the paste. Tearing the paper is recommended for a smoother finish, but since I was going to be covering this layer with spackle, I didn’t think it was going to be a problem.

     Paper mache'

    With all the horse covered with paper, it was time to figure out what needed to be spackled and sanded in order to add steampunk looking plates. After a test spot on the leg, I decided to go with working on the neck plates. These were going to be quite time consuming as I needed to spackle, sand, and build each piece from the bottom of the neck up.

    For the plates, a pattern was made out of cardstock, clipped along the edge, curled and paper mached off the horse. When that dried, it was placed onto the model with more newspaper following the concept design. The plate was then spackled and sanded. This process was repeated until all five plates were in place.

    Finding a larger tube to slide over the existing rubber tubes to create the smokestack was a challenge. David was quite adamant about keeping the model to the concept design size, but the four rubber tubes together were larger than what he had planned. Eventually I cut a large piece of aquarium tubing and taped it around the other tubes. This was now paper mached, spackled, and blended in with the main body.

    Once that was done, I created the other overlapping pieces for the legs and the main body. These were to represent riveted sheets of metal so the steam horse could “theoretically” move. All these pieces were constructed in the same way as the neck plates.

    Neck Plates Formed 

     Flared detail

    In the next post, I will finish with the instructions for painting and details to ready this model for filming.


    (See Part 2:   )

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