Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tribute To Romeo

Romeo 10
Taking a break from the costuming and prop making for something very personal and very important.
On July 11, 2011, Melinda and I lost our dear friend and companion of 11 years.  I wanted to take some time to share Romeo’s story and hope that it will inspire others as his life with us has given us such hope and inspiration.
We first met Romeo sometime in 1996.  At that time he lived with Melinda’s neighbors and was mostly an outdoor cat.  We didn’t know his name at the time, but we called him Stinker.  He was just the sweetest kitten, and wanted nothing more that to be petted, but he did have terrible gas.  Hence the nickname Winking smile.  Romeo’s original parents were not very good.  They left him out at all times and in all kinds of weather.  I can remember many cold and snowy nights dropping Melinda off after a date, and finding Romeo around our feet wanting to come in and warm up.  He spent several nights in Melinda’s home, either with her, her Dad, or Mom.  He just wanted a lap to curl up on.
During this time, Romeo had a few rough patches.  At one point, he was attacked by a bird and the bird actually stabbed him in the neck with its beak.  Romeo had a pretty deep wound, so we called a vet to ask what to do.  We treated it, because his parents weren’t around, and he came through just fine.  The fur never did grow back on that spot, though.  Late one evening, Melinda’s mom and brother were driving home, and saw him on the side of the road.  He had been hit by a car.  They took him to the pet ER and contacted is parents.  While he was being mended, the Dr.s asked his parents if they would like to have him neutered.  They were surprised by this, because they thought Romeo was a girl.  This was when we learned they had named him Kitty Babe.  Well Romeo got fixed and came through his latest ordeal with just a nick in his ear to show for it.
Not long after that, Melinda and I got a call that Romeo’s parents were moving and that they didn’t want Romeo anymore.  They were just going to leave him with their house.  Melinda and I talked to our landlord at the time and got permission to have a pet.  Romeo got a his new name and a new forever home right away.  He also started the transition from outdoor cat to indoor cat. For him, that was easy.
The next year was very easy for Romeo.  He had food, water, laps, and lots of love.  There were some squirrels that would sit on our deck and torment him and he would still chase his tail from time to time.  When he chased his tail, he would usually end up in a corner and end up running his head into the wall.  He’d stop and look around, looking at us like he meant to do that.  We did try to leash train him so we could take him out into the yard, but that didn’t work out at all.  He wouldn’t walk on with the leash and once he got to the grass, he would just roll and roll. He loved it outside, but outside is just not as safe as inside.
Romeo was happy in a sunbeam, but happiest being scratched on his head.  One time my dad decided to see how long Romeo would let someone scratch his head.  Romeo laid down beside my dad and he proceeded to scratch his head for over an hour.  Dad’s hand gave out before Romeo. 
Romeo did have a very odd meow.  He never meowed often, but when he did it was very rough and gravelly.  Often he would just open his mouth and make a meow motion, but no sound.
After a while, Romeo had his third relocation when Melinda and I moved from our apartment to our first house.  Romeo was not very happy during the packing and moving because he had to spend a lot of time in a cat carrier and there were lots of people, but none petting him.
Romeo did love the new house. Lots of windows to sit in and lots of sun beams.  The below is one of my favorite pictures of Romeo taken at the house.

Romeo 5

It was during this time that Romeo encountered his next challenge.  During a routine vet visit to Companion Animal Hospital in 2003, his Dr. heard a faint heart murmur.  He checked it again the next year and decided that we needed to have him checked out by a cardiologist at UT Veterinary Hospital.  In January of 2005, we got in at UT vets and after a heart ultrasound, it was determined that Romeo had cardiomyopathy, an enlarging of the heart muscle.  As the heart muscle enlarges, the chambers of the heart get smaller.  This means his heart has to work harder to move the blood through his body and he could develop blood clots.  The typical life expectancy varies, but we were told 3 to 5 years with his condition.  We did start him on a drug treatment of atenolol and aspirin, the same medications that our parents took for their heart conditions, just slightly lower levels.
The meds did cause Romeo to be a little more sleepy, but how can you really gauge how sleepy a cat is?  The biggest side effect was his blood thinning from the aspirin.  This made any scratches from play slower to clot, and made him cold more often.  During really cold times, we could find him sleeping on the heat vents and we did set up a heating pad under his blanket on really cold nights.  Still, sometimes, he would come into the bedroom and get under the blankets and sleep all night curled up with us under the covers.
DSCN0347  It may not be comfy, but it is warm.
DSCN1395 Romeo and Theo enjoying a spring sunbeam.
IMG_3784 Told you he loved sunbeams.
In 2008, Romeo had his fourth major move when we moved here to Knoxville.  This time he traveled with his new brothers Max and Ty.  Romeo adapted well to his growing family, as long as he got first lap choice.  When we moved to Knoxville, we of course needed a new vet office, and we got a welcome letter from Ashville Highway Animal Hospital welcoming us to Knoxville and offering a free check-up to all our pets.  At this time we had 5, 3 cats and 2 dogs.  Melinda called to make sure that it was OK to bring them all at once, and they said yes.  We know they regretted that later.  That event and several other follow ups made us very famous there.
Life was good for a while.  We were able to keep Romeo balanced and healthy.  Then in 2010, we noticed that Romeo wasn’t eating and that when he did, he would throw up right after.  A visit to the vets and some blood work showed Romeo was in the early stages of renal failure.  Renal or kidney failure is a tough one to judge.  Some animals can live a long time with it, but with Romeo’s heart condition plus this, the outlook was a little grim.  Romeo had to spend a few days at the vets office hooked to an IV fluid drip to flush fluids into his system and see if they couldn’t kick start his kidneys.
We went to visit every day.  It was sad to see him hooked to the machine, but the vets at Ashville Highway are the best.  Everyone that worked with Romeo fell in love with him.  Plenty of people would go by and pet on him during the days he was there.  He came home with his numbers lowered back close to normal, and then it was just finding the right balancing act.  Very frequent follow up appointment to check his blood chemicals followed.  We did start him on IV fluids every other day at home.  Giving a cat a pill is one thing, try giving one an IV.  Fortunately, as many will attest to, Romeo was the most laid back and chill cat ever.  He would put up with the IVs for a while and we just let him tell us when he was done.  Sometimes we got the amount in that we needed, sometimes we didn’t, but we were not going to force him.  He was Romeo, there was no forcing him, ever.
Romeo was a picky eater.  It was during this time we learned to play “Guess what I want to eat today”.  Fun fun game.  If it was food given to him, he typically didn’t want it.  If it was our food, especially anything grilled (steak, pork, chicken, didn’t matter) or bacon.  He LOVED bacon.  Yes our elderly cat with a heart condition loved bacon.  He would sit in the kitchen when I would go in and out grilling food just waiting for something to drop.  We caught him many times sneaking bites of our food from the grill and even trying to steal a steak.  We quickly learned we had to guard our food.
During his last annual cardiology appointment at UT, they found that the progress he had made the years before, had completely gone away.  His heart was severely enlarged, the aspirin treatments and renal failure had caused him to become anemic, and the IV fluids to get his kidneys going had caused fluid to build around his heart.  They gave him 1 to 3 months.
In April, 4 months later, we took Romeo in for a check up at Ashville Highway, and his numbers were the same as they were in January.  He was still holding balance.
Now, I really want to stress this next bit.  During this whole time, Romeo’s quality of life never, NEVER diminished.  He would still run and play with his brothers.  He would still play with his toys and get into all sorts of trouble.  If you met Romeo, you would not have known he was a sick cat.  He never let it show.  That is how strong his spirit was.  We often thought that Romeo would pass in the night by just going to sleep, but that would not have been Romeo.  He was a fighter, right to the end.
Our last night with Romeo, he laid on my lap while Melinda and I played Rock Band.  I normally stand to play, but he was just too comfortable to move, and I couldn’t find it in my heart to move him.  I’m glad now, that I did not.
July 11, 2011, 5:30AM.  All the cats have started running through the house trying to wake us up for breakfast.  Vince is jumping on us. Theo is giving out his loud meows.  We’re just trying to ignore it and get some sleep.  Romeo is clawing on my side of the bed.  I roll over and remove his claws from the bed, and he gives me a very heavy meow.  In hindsight, he was telling me something, but I was too tired to notice. 
8:00AM.  We’re up and feeding everyone.  We call for Romeo, because he eats first.  He doesn’t show.  The others are getting impatient.  Melinda goes to find Romeo, and I feed the others.  She finds him rolling around on his back in our bedroom on a rug that he never walked on.  He would go out of his way to avoid this rug.  Something wasn’t right.  I scooped him up and took him to his food.  He let out a couple more of those meows he had given me that morning.  Something wasn’t right.  I put him down in front of his food bowl and noticed his back legs just collapsed under him.  I told Melinda.  Romeo just devoured the food in front of him, also not normal.  When he tried to move away from the bowl, we got our first look at is back half not working at all.  Complete paralysis.  Call the vets, NOW.
9:30AM. We got to the vets and hour before we were supposed to.  When we called, they said they could see us at 10:30, but we didn’t realize how severe the situation was at that time.  Once we did, we just got there as quick as we could.  The Dr. came in and was immediately concerned.  She checked Romeo’s back legs and could not find a strong pulse at all.  He had thrown a blood clot.  This is the number 1 fear with his heart condition. The clot had blocked circulation to his back half.  It was causing him pain.  The Dr. did say we could take him to UT and they could try to find the clot and dissolve it, BUT, given his age, condition, kidney failure, thin blood, the odds of him coming through the procedure was slim to none.  The deck was just stacked too much against him.  His spirit was fighting hard, but his poor little body has just had enough.  Time for the hardest decision a pet owner ever has to make.  The first time faced with this for me.  Romeo was my very first pet.
10:00AM. They take Romeo back to give him a mild sedative to calm him and let him just go to sleep.  This was so Melinda and I could hold him and say some of our goodbyes.  Normally the final shot is done in a hind leg, so the parents can hold on and say goodbye.  Since Romeo had little to no circulation in is back half, this was not an option, they’d have to use a front leg.  One of the vet techs that took care of Romeo when he was in with his weekend IV treatment came in to say goodbye and let us know how much Romeo meant to him.  He also gave us a box of tissues.  All we had was a roll of toilet paper I grabbed as we left.
10:15AM.  Romeo is still fighting the sedative, but his eyes are huge and you can tell he is feeling really high.  At least some of the pain may have eased off.  The Dr. comes in and takes Romeo.  She gently places him and his blanket onto the table.  She shaves his front leg.  She then very delicately gives him the final injection.  By the time she is done and gets her stethoscope, Romeo has let go and gone home.
That day happened so quickly.  It was over.  It didn’t seem real.  We’re coping with his loss, and watching the other cats.  Max and Ty seem to notice something is wrong now and look a little down from it.  Max has taken over Romeo’s spot on my lap in the evenings. Its nice, but not the same.  One day we will adopt another cat.  We will never replace Romeo, but we can fill the spot he opened up.  It is hard being without him right now, but the 11 years we were with him makes it more tolerable.  As long as there are animals in a shelter, or in my Aunts’ house, that need a home, our home will always be open to them.  Romeo would want it this way.
Romeo “Bubba Cat” Martin was a great friend, companion, and about the best cat ever.  He was a fighter.  He never wanted to give up.  If there was such a thing as a spirit transplant, he would still be with us.  He is still with us in spirit and fur (you can’t ever get rid of cat fur).  If you ever met Romeo, you loved him.  If you ever scratched him on the head, he loved you.  He will be forever missed.  Our home and lives will be different from now on.  Romeo proved that odds and medical predictions are useless.  Romeo showed us there is always hope and that you are never, ever, too old to play. 
I set up a gallery of pictures of Romeo here.  The comments section here is open, so feel free to leave a comment or note.  We’re going to be making a scrap book of pictures and notes of Romeo, and we’ll be sure to print off and put any comments here in the book.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

June Update–Delta, Eleanor, and Splicers Oh My!


This update is going to be a little random and heavy on the pictures, so sit back and enjoy.


Subject Delta

The helmet is now 99% complete.  I’ve been afraid of these last steps for a while now, but just had to bite the bullet and go for it.
The helmet has a back plate that the tanks are attached to. This plate is attached directly to the helmet, according to the action figure and other reference drawings.
Subject Delta NECA Figure Back              Subject Delta Reference

For me, this meant that I would have to build a back plate that was light weight, but heavy duty enough to hold the tanks, but not so heavy that it kills me to wear it or will rip off the helmet frame.  I’ve been worried for a while.

I went with a 1/4 thick piece of MDF.  This was light enough, but not heavy enough to hold the tanks in place.  Plus, I want the tanks removable for transport, so access to a bolt point was now needed.  I took the tanks and did a test placement and marked the areas where they would bolt to the board.
Tanks on board

From there, I glued some 3/4 inch thick blocks on the other side of the board.  This allowed be to drill into the MDF, and the heavier blocks and add a furniture assembly bolt (basically a threaded cylinder that I could bolt into).  After painting, it was time to attach the board to the helmet.  I would attach it directly to the PVC frame with 2 1/2 inch screws and pre-drilled holes, and pull all the wiring through the board as well.
Subject Delta Helmet - 108

It actually worked, and worked well.

Subject Delta Helmet - 110Subject Delta Helmet - 113Subject Delta Helmet - 114

The wiring is tied into two switches on the top.  One for the 6 volt lights and fans, and one for the 9 volt lights.  In hindsight, it would have been better to go 9 volt the whole way, but we’re too deep to pick at the details now.

Subject Delta Helmet - 110Subject Delta Helmet - 111

There is also a pocket on the back of the board for the iPod that will provide my soundtrack.
Subject Delta Helmet - 116

The only problem that I have encountered from all this, is that now the whole helmet is incredibly back heavy, even without the tanks.  The stand I made for it cannot handle the bend that the weight puts on it, so I’ve had to tie the whole thing down to keep it stationary.

While I was doing all this, I kept thinking there was something about the helmet that was bothering me.  It was just too nice looking.  Too new and shiny.  At the beginning of Bioshock 2 Delta had been dead at the bottom of the ocean for at least 12 years or more, so the helmet needed some age.
Dry brushing some green and brown paints on and wiping them off lightly got me the look I wanted.

Subject Delta Helmet - 117                            Subject Delta Helmet - 119

It is very subtle, but there.

With all this done, I needed to look back at the tanks I was wearing.  2 of the 4 were done.
Tank - 3

Remember these will be used to hold the batteries for the lights, fans, and drill and the speaker for the iPod.
The last two are the red and blue tanks in the middle.
Subject Delta NECA Figure Back

These are the health and eve tanks.  They are clear but filled with colored liquids.  I went round and round on different things to use, but finally decided on corn syrup and food coloring.
Subject Delta Eve Tank 1                            Subject Delta Health Tank 1

Subject Delta Health and Even Tanks 2

The tubes are completely custom made and sealed up with a lot of silicone.  The tubes are plugged and will be run into the back plate.

Subject Delta Health and Eve Tanks Mounted 3                             Subject Delta Health and Eve Tanks Mounted 2

So with all that, Delta is nearly complete, and I am very glad.  I’m really wanting this to just be done at this point.  Fortunately, I’ve had a few other projects going on to help distract me and keep me fresh.


Eleanor Lamb

Now Melinda’s costume of Eleanor is coming along too.  Progress has been made on the chest plate (the part the helmet would attach to) and the syringe has been completed.

End Game Eleanor 2
Detail of the chest plate.

This little piece was nicknamed the lobster bib when Melinda commented that wearing it felt like a bib, so that is why there is a big lobster drawn on it.

I used a piece of poster board for the rough shape and then added bits of insulation foam to build up areas and lock in the shape.


Eleanors Chest Plate 1                            Eleanors Chest Plate 3

Then I layered pieces of the foam on for the neck opening and closed the opening with more poster board.

Eleanors Chest Plate 4                           Eleanors Chest Plate 5

The blue tape is there to hold things while the glue driesEleanors Chest Plate 6Eleanors Chest Plate 8

The back was made with another piece of poster board and just fitting it in place and cutting to shape.  There will likely be some foam added to it just for enforcement.

It is now ready for paper mache and then resin.  This was far easier than I thought it was going to be.  A lot was learned for the Delta helmet.

The syringe still needed a couple of pieces added.  The odd little top bit and an arm cuff to actually hold it to Melinda’s arm.

The top bit was made last time, but needed mache and paint.  The arm cuff has been made and attached since.  The last bit is to add a couple of velcro straps to tighten it.
Eleanor Lambs Syringe - 1Eleanor Lambs Syringe - 2Eleanor Lambs Syringe - 3Eleanor Lambs Syringe - 4

The arm piece was made by cutting the bottom off of a plastic cup and then slitting the cup and laying it flat.  This got the basic shape.  That was transferred to a piece of foam and formed by locking it into the shape with zip ties and mache.  It has been painted but not coated in resin.  It needed to maintain some flexibility and resin would not allow that without a big threat of cracking or just breaking.
There is still some touching up to do on the paint, but this is basically done.  The biggest fear is if there is a problem with the light.  I didn’t make the electronics very accessible for repair.  Version 2 will fix that.


Splicer Commission

I was actually lucky enough to also get a commission request for a prop build.  The individual is actually going to be at Dragon*Con, so I’ll get to see the props in action once I ‘m done.  First commission and I am very excited about this one.

The costume they are doing is of a splicer from the game.  Splicers were at one point just normal people in the city of Rapture, but through constant gene manipulation (splicing) they eventually went mad.  They use a variety of weapons from guns to clubs and various bladed weapons.  The prop I was asked to make are the hooks that are often used.  Basically they are giant meat hooks.
Reference 1Reference 2

They need to be light and sturdy.  Insulation foam, here we come.

I lamenated two pieces of 1/2 inch thick foam together and sanded them into shape.  I’ve made them in two pieces.  The main hook and the handle. 
Splicer Handles 1Splicer Hooks 2

Splicer Hooks and Handles

Splicer Test 2
Test of how they will look when done.

To join the handle to the hook, I went through a few methods.  I was first going to just use a dowel rod and glue them together.  This had the problem of how do you transport them without breaking them.

Next I thought to use a screw through the handle

Splicer Handle 6

and a nut contained in the hook. This would allow it to break down flat for transport.

Splicer Hook Base Test

Problem here, the nut broke loose from the foam and was hard to line up with the screw coming from the handle.

Idea number three, instead of just a nut, a wing nut glued into the base of the hook.


Splicer Hook Base

This allowed the nut to be exposed and easier to line up, and the wings gave it a better surface area to prevent it from breaking loose like the regular nut.  Add in a ton of wood glue and a layer of resin and this will work.

Splicer Handles 3Splicer Assemble Test 2

Splicer Assemble Test 4Splicer Handle 4Splicer Assembled 1

Splicer Assemble Test 3

All that is left now is resin and paint, and hope for a happy customer.