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Alien Artefact

by Andy Slater

Alien ArtefactAlthough I'm not happy about how this piece turned out I decided to write it up as an article because I learned quite a lot in the process of constructing it and I guess some of that will be useful to others.

I made the piece for our LED lighting competition and my starting point was the acquisition of some 1/16" diameter light gathering rod and a 20mm diameter acrylic ball. My idea was to drill holes into the ball, insert lengths of rod, and light it from within using a white LED. It was at this point that things started to go wrong. Doh!

Problem number 1 was that the LED, which I'd had in stock for quite some time, turned out to be blue. I had thought it was white however, after guestimating an appropriate value for the current limiting resistor as per our article on how to light an LED I connected it up and discovered my error.

Alien ArtefactProblem number 2 was that although drilling holes for the 1/16" rod went reasonably well, I realised that drilling a hole big enough for the LED to go inside the ball was going to be a problem. Plastic needs to be drilled with a hand drill or pin vice because if you try to do it with an electric drill the speed at which the bit turns will cause it to melt its way into the plastic rather than cutting. Gripping a 20mm ball, without marking it, in order to hand drill a hole big enough for an LED was going to be a real problem.

Alien ArtefactA third problem was that I'd forgotten, until I connected up the circuit, that the light emitted from an LED is more directional than that from a bulb (see the pattern of light coming off the LED in the image to the right), so putting the LED inside the ball wouldn't have worked as I'd imagined even if I had been able to drill a hole for it.

After a re-think and came up with the solution that you see in the final piece i.e. that the ball is lit from below, however this results in the ball being less illuminated than I had initially envisaged.

The previous image also shows how the circuit went together. I can solder but wanted to demonstrate how a relatively simple circuit such as this can be created using mechanical connections.

With the electronics and the ball completed, it was time so sort out the rest of the structure and my inspiration was a piece that I'd seen on one of Games Workshop's terrain books. It consists of two tiers of polystyrene foam with lines cut to make them look like blocks of stone. I did this using an engraving tool from the Hot Wire Foam Factory:

Alien Artefact

The image above shows the foam with the lines cut and a recess, created using the engraving tool, for a piece of foam (the black thing in the photo), from the base of a pizza tray. This is the same material that jcglp used for his Goblin Beer Wagon and I'd been wanting to try it for something since seeing that piece. It really is a delightful material to work with. I found it easy to cut with a craft knife and the patterns were made simply by drawing upon it with a ballpoint pen.

The black foam was then painted silver, in the hope that it would reflect light from the ball, and the various pieces were assembled using PVA and hot glue.

Alien Artefact Alien Artefact

The first of the above images above shows a close up of the electronics plus a disk cut from the black foam. The foam disc was then hot glued onto the top of the terminal block with the LED poking through. The next step was to cut a small hole in a piece of aluminium foil and hot glue it to the foam around the LED. Care was taken that the foil did not come into contact with the wires of the LED and cause a short circuit. A Games Workshop flying figure base was then attached to the top of the LED with a spot of hot glue. The foil was then bent upwards and trimmed to create a dish to reflect light upwards.

Although I like the texture of polystyrene foam, it wasn't going to work on this piece so the next job was to hide it. Applications of spackle and textured paint are the normal means of doing this however I'd got my hands on some stuff called "Miniature Stone Coating" that I wanted to try. Unfortunately I concluded that I wasn't going to be able to apply it without obscuring the lines so the work done on them was a bit of a waste of time. I recreated the lines after applying the texture by re-cutting them with a craft knife and then using a pallet knife (a knife for mixing paint) to widen them a little.

The stone texture material was a pleasing grey colour however it looked a little plain so I applied a number of washes of Citadel Codex Grey, especially along the joint lines, and a final overall wash of watered down black ink to get the effect in the image below. Note that this image also shows where I made one of the stones removable in order to be able to access the battery.

Alien Artefact

Despite the washes I felt that the piece was too plain and began experimenting (note the flock in the picture above), with the idea of adding some vegetation. After toying with a number of ideas I decided to try a kind of alien goo, partly inspired by the red weed on the cover art of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds album. My goo was created by taking offcuts of polystyrene, breaking them into small pieces, and then rolling them gently between my fingers until I ended up with a tub full of the white beads. I then added water and plaster, and dribbled it on. With the piece standing on a sheet of aluminium foil (so I'd be able to remove it easily), I pushed the goo around a bit with a brush, adding, removing, and repositioning the beads to get it looking as rounded as possible. (With hindsight I should have removed the more angular 'beads'.)

Alien ArtefactI was tempted to paint the goo in red, as per the red weed, but was afraid that it might end up looking like lava. I also had some luminous paint (from Revell) that I thought might prove interesting. Thus I painted the goo with luminous paint and washes of yellow and blue ink (I'd run out of green).

As I said at the start I'm not happy about how it turned out. The central arrangement doesn't give off enough light even with the reflections in the silver thing. The luminous effect of the alien weed can only be seen to any extent in complete darkness and is then overpowered by the light from the LED (if it's on).

On the plus side, this was my first use of the engraving tool - which was really good fun even if I did obliterate the work done with it. It was also my first use of the pizza foam (lovely stuff and the pizza was pretty good too), the stone texture (I'll be using it again), and I really like the pre-paint look of the alien weed (so I'll be trying that again, maybe as lava). It was also my first use of the light gathering acrylic and although I wasn't impressed with the 1/16" stuff I'm wondering what 3/16" stuff would look like with lines etched into the surface.

Alien Artefact

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