Hi everyone! If you're finding this Instructable, you probably have an obsession with Hayao Miyazaki films and Studio Ghibli in general, and that's totally okay because I do too. I recently finished a Luxo Jr. replica since I love Pixar so much, so I decided to make a cool prop from a Studio Ghibli film. I ended up doing Kodamas because it's one of the rare replicable props from Studio Ghibli that isn't a mask (I considered doing Howl's castle, but I'm not ready for that kind of attention to detail) and because they're just so cool to look at. So without further ado, here's my Instructable for Kodama bobbleheads!
NOTE: This is my first time making a mold of parts and casting them, so if you have a different method feel free to use your method instead. And if you're a seasoned professional and I'm doing something horribly wrong I would love some tips.
Step 1: Planning
My recommendation is to get some screen grabs of the kodamas you want to make because there are hundreds you could choose from. Or you could be creative and make your own design, it's up to you.
After you've done that, establish how large or small you want these to be and use that estimate to establish a certain measurement for a major body part like the head or torso. If possible, make the screen grabs the same size as you want the bobble heads to be and just go off of those dimensions; Otherwise establish a measurement. You'll use the proportions from the pictures you grabbed to scale every other body part to the one that you chose. Or again, you could be creative and just go with dimensions you like as you're sculpting it.
Step 2: Materials
Here's what you'll need for the project:
For the Kodamas:
-Sculpting clay (amount depends on how many and how big your bobbleheads will be) I do NOT recommend the kind of clay I used, in retrospect I would've liked either polymer clay like Sculpey or the grey stuff that comes in a giant plastic bag.
-Clay modeling materials (I'm sticking with knives and my fingers, but you can splurge and get professional materials)
-A spring that's hefty enough to support the actual head and springy enough to still let the bobblehead do its thing (1 spring per bobblehead)
-A bolt whose thread fits the spring that you want (1 bolt per bobblehead)
-A piece of a wooden dowel that fits snugly inside the coils of the spring you want (1 piece of dowel per bobblehead)
-OPTIONAL: Sandpaper (depends on the kind of clay you use)
***NOTE: Getting the right spring is a guessing game because you don't know how heavy the actual head will turn out. But the dilemma at hand is the fact that you need the correct bolt during sculpting, and you can't have the perfect bolt until you have the perfect spring, and you can't have the perfect spring until your casting is done. So don't get too attached to one spring because you may or may not have to change the spring after you're done casting. Just make sure your new spring still fits the bolt casting.
For the casting process: (I got all my casting materials from Blick)
-Some sort of casting material (I used liquid plastic)
-Wooden slats or some sort of container to do the casting in
-OPTIONAL: Releasing agent (depends on what kind of material you sculpt with, I didn't need one)
Step 3: Sculpting
After you've rounded up all your materials, get a space ready for sculpting. I recommend having a cup of water near by and a towel you don't mind getting dirty, because wet clay is necessary but it's also sticky and gets everywhere.
I arbitrarily started with the head shape. It took a while to get it smooth because of the type of clay I bought, so if it takes you a while (i.e. more than half an hour) don't worry, its natural. Once you've got the head the shape you want it to be, take your knife, wet it, and slice a rectangular chunk out of the bottom of the head. The depth of the cut depends on how long your spring is and the width and length of the cut depends on how much you want the bobblehead to bobble. You can see how wide and long mine was, and the hold was about 2 inches deep.
Next, I started with the body. When you're sculpting the body, make sure the threads of your bolt are sticking out of the neck area. Then form your arms and legs. If you're clay is cooperative, then go ahead and attach the arms and legs to the body, but if yours is finicky like mine, feel free to form the legs and attach them later with a glue gun.
Once everything is to your satisfaction, stick it in the oven if your clay is bakeable or just wait until the clay is dry.
Step 4: Gluing/Sanding
Once everything is nice and dry, whip out your glue gun. Regardless of whether you left the extremities unattached, you need to glue the piece of dowel to the inside of the cut you made in the head. Make sure there's enough room to fit the spring around it.
If you did leave some or all of the limbs unattached like me, go ahead and glue the parts together. Make sure you don't use too much glue because the overflow will show on the actual bobblehead.
You may or may not have to sand your dried models depending on the kind of clay you have. The kind I bought was extremely resistant to being smooth no matter how wet it was, so I decided to smoothen up a few of the rough edges. Try your best not to inhale the sanded particles and definitely do this in an area that you don't mind getting dirty (unlike me, I brilliantly decided to do this in the comfort of my bedroom). I don't have any before-and-after pictures, but trust me it looks a lot better.
Step 5: Making the Mold
If you have a watertight box that fits your bobblehead and that you don't mind destroying once the mold is done setting, go ahead and use that one. Just make sure it's strong enough to endure a beating for when you want to get the air bubbles out. If you don't have one, just use some wooden slats and your handy dandy glue gun to whip up a small box that fits the parts you want to make molds of. You can make a large box that fits both the head(s) and body(ies) of the bobbleheads or you can just make a small box like I did and do each part one by one. Make sure there are no holes by holding the box up to a light and looking if an odd amount of light gets through in some parts. And even if you're absolutely positive you're hole-less, have some tape on hand while you're pouring.
The Molding Process
Stick your sculpture in and glue it if you need to. Make sure there's enough room between your sculpture and the sides of the box. IMPORTANT: Secure your sculpture in such a way so that when you pour the casting material, there will be as little bubbles as possible or so that the bubbles will be easy to get rid of. If you want, you can mark your box to indicate the optimal area to cut once you're ready to take out the clay model. Next, calculate the volume of the space you want the mold to occupy and then estimate how much space the model will take up. IMPORTANT: always always ALWAYS underestimate the amount of space your model takes up, which forces you to overestimate the amount of liquid rubber you'll need. The last thing you want is to have to make an emergency batch of liquid rubber because you underestimated the amount you'll need (I'm speaking from experience unfortunately), and even if you do grossly overestimate, the stuff sticks to everything so chances are a lot of your overestimation will end up on the sides of your container.
Prepare the correct amount of liquid rubber ingredients separately before you combine them. I used cups that I marked when I simulated how much I'd need with water. Then pour your ingredients in your mixing container. Since I didn't have a disposable cup big enough to hold all of my ingredients, I used a Ziploc instead and just cut off the corner so it was like one of those cake frosting bags. It was a little messier than I would've liked and I DEFINITELY recommend using a cup as your mixing container. Make sure you pour in one corner only and wait for the mixture to slowly rise up to reduce air bubbles. Once you're done, take the container and shake it and smack it for a while to help any air bubbles rise up. Then just sit back and wait for the rubber to solidify.
Once you've let the rubber solidify for the proper amount of time, go ahead and break your container open and remove the block of rubber. Cut the rubber to remove the clay inside. I recommend cutting in a zig zag pattern so the rubber fits better once you put it back together, but I cut straight and it's pretty easy to align the rubber again.
Step 6: Casting
If making the mold wasn't particularly pleasant for you (it sure wasn't for me), I promise this part is much more manageable. If you really want to, apply the release agent on the mold. I didn't need to and if you're using liquid rubber too you probably won't need to either.
Estimating the amount of casting material is a lot easier than it was in the other step: Just pour water in the mold and pour the water out in a plastic cup, and you have the total amount of material you need. Easy peasy. Now dry out the mold to prepare for the casting--I used Q-tips to get the hard-to-reach areas. Once everything is dry, put rubber bands all over the mold to ensure that there are no leaks. Make sure the seams where you cut the mold are aligned for the most part: You can sand off slight imperfections after the casting is done.
The actual casting process is the same as the molding process in the last step, equal parts of the ingredients go together and into the mold. The only caveats I'd give are (1) to mix and pour the material quickly and efficiently because it sets fast and you don't want to be mid-pour when it does and (2) DEFINITELY use some sort of funnel. I didn't want to use kitchen funnels so I just cut the top off a water bottle and glue gunned it to the top of the mold. This way, the overflow won't be a pain in the ass and you can rotate your mold at weird angles to make sure all the air is out (which is something you should definitely do). Then let it set and remove it.
Step 7: Adding the Final Touches
You're almost done with your beautiful Kodama! Sand off the excess casting material and fix any imperfections if you have any. In my case, I had to do extra work because I didn't think ahead and one of my Kodama's knees never got cast, so I had to use my glue gun to fix them and it didn't turn out as well as I would've liked.
Paint your Kodama any color you want; I stuck with the traditional Princess Mononoke color scheme, but you can get creative! I recommend hand painting the bobbleheads because I spray painted my first one and the spray paint doesn't look good on the porous surface of the plastic.
And there you have it! Your own Kodamas! Now you can put them around your room and stomp around like you're the forest spirit if that's what you're into. Please feel free to leave any feedback about anything at all: my molding and casting process, your recommendations for future improvements on the project, veteran Instructable user secrets, and literally anything else.