Making the Big Wolf Hindpaws

The paws began with a sketch of how we wanted the paw-pads to look, and a pair of size 12 hightop sneakers for sizing. The sneakers were stuffed with paper and given a coat of plaster to make a nice firm form to sculpt over. At this point, there's a half-inch of Roma (plasticine clay) all the way around, plus toes and dew-claw. A sketch of the paw-pads was used to rough in the position and shape of the toes.

Now we add the paw-pads. A sheet of Roma is marked by poking a pin through a full-size sketch of the paw-pads, then the pads are cut from the Roma. The same pattern is then used to mark where the pads will be on the bottom of the foot, also by poking a pin through the pattern. In the picture, there's one pad still on the table; the rest have all been added to the main paw sculpture. Just for a sense of scale, the bricks of Roma on either side are about 2-1/2" square.

The paw-pads are only roughed out at this stage; they'll be finished once the top half of the mold is done to prevent damaging the detail on the top of the foot. For now, the paw is set back down and checked to see how it stands after just a little blending. We also start emphasizing the arch to help hide the boot shape of the Roma-covered sneaker.

Now for the claws - they aren't part of the paw-mold, but the sockets they go in will be. The final claws will be resin-cast and hard, so you get that "click-click" noise when walking on hard surfaces.

More Roma is removed as we add rough texture details, like major wrinkles. The knuckles will get smaller as we work with them, cutting deep grooves out of the Roma and blending them with a sponge and alcohol.

Finally the main wrinkles are done. Texture pads are now used over the surface of both paws, pressing them into the Roma to leave skin-like markings. Texture pads are something collected over the years, created by pouring latex on various interesting surfaces. One texture used extensively on the paws was pulled from an old set of motocross leathers (real leather, not nylon) and has deep natural wrinkles.

Molding will be fairly simple, just a two-piece mold for each paw. We use thin metal shims to define the seam between top and bottom halves, pressing them into the Roma and using masking tape to make a smooth surface. Small balls of Roma are cut in half and used to make keys to help the upper and lower half of the mold line up when casting. The whole shim-and-tape structure is given a coating of petroleum jelly to keep the upper mold from sticking to it.

We mix gypsum cement and water to the consistency of runny whipped cream, and using a soft brush to help remove air bubbles lay the first coating directly on the sculpture. This is allowed to dry to the touch and a thicker layer is added, followed by a layer of cement-soaked burlap.

Layers are added until the mold is between an inch and an inch and a half thick. When the last layer is added we shape the very top of the mold to be flat, around the leg opening of the paw. As the outer layer dries we run a damp sponge over it, then polish it with our hands, making sure we have a smooth finish. The top half of the mold is left to set overnight.

The next day we flip the sculpture and mold over and carefully pull the shims and keys out. A little dremel work cleans up the outside edge of the mold and the keys, making sure there's no undercuts to lock the top and bottom parts of the mold together.

The minor damage caused by the shims is repaired, and we can now finish sculpting and texturing the paws.

The image to right shows the final sculpture - notice how the paw-pads have been rounded and textured. Now the whole process of molding is repeated for the bottom half, and left to cure overnight again. Instead of half-spheres of Roma for keys we use small blocks to make slots around the edges of the mold. These slots will be used to help lever the mold apart.

This is the splash coat of plaster for the bottom half of the molds. Just like the top half, the mold is built up in layers of plaster and reinforcement until it's as thick as the top half. We then flatten the bottom so the mold will sit upright.

Once the mold is finished, we open it up and remove the roma sculpture and clean the mold of any residue of the roma. A quick pour of latex is made to check for any problems and to finish cleaning out the mold. Finally, we're ready to make the first of the paws. Slip casting latex (after pigmenting) is poured into the molds, filling them, and allowed to stand for about 45 minutes.

The latex is poured back out and the molds are left upside down for a few minutes to drain the excess out. The latex remaining in the mold is allowed to skin; we often place a fan on the molds to speed the process. This is repeated another three or four times, depending on how thick the final pull needs to be. Once the final latex pour is dry, we pop the molds open and remove the paws. The flashing - latex that filled the gap between the mold halves - is cut away and smoothed down. This leaves us with a set of paws like on the right - almost finished.

Because these paws are so large, they must be foam-filled to be worn. A foot-form is placed back in each paw, then they are returned to the molds. Two-part expanding foam is mixed and poured into each paw and allowed to expand and fill the space between then foot-form and the latex paw. Being in the molds, the paws do not balloon out, but keep their intended shape.

The residue from the mold is cleaned off the paws. We airbrush a layer of fexible paint over the pre-colored latex and seal the paint. Claws - seperately molded and cast in resin - are put in the paws and glued in place.

Finally, we have a new set of paws ready to wear!

©2003 Running Wolf Productions