Jonathan Campbell’s Art of Lost Wax Casting
With Weta Workshop’s Wal and Dog sculpture delighting Gisborne-ites on the banks of the Taruheru River, it’s time for us to delve a little deeper into how this bronze duo came to be.
Introducing Jonathan Campbell: owner of Created and Cast Bronze, a Lost Wax Casting foundry tucked away in the woods of Normandale, Lower Hutt, a northern suburb of Wellington. Jonathan first crossed paths with Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor two decades ago, and they’ve had a prosperous working relationship ever since. So much so that this talented sculptor and foundry man has been doing a great deal of the bronze casting for the Workshop for nearly his entire career.
“Jonathan is a great unsung hero of our Workshop’s creative journey,” says Richard. “He has never faltered in the delivery of the most spectacular, world-class workmanship that he has provided for many of our films and commissions. Bronze casting is a black art and thankfully for us, Jonathan Campbell has the alchemy of this craft coursing through his veins.”
So what exactly IS Lost Wax Casting and how was it used to craft Wal and Dog?
Jonathan’s part in this tale begins when Weta Workshop delivers a mountain of molds to his doorstep: the various components of Wal and Dog. Jonathan’s job is to take these rubber molds, reproduce them in wax to capture all the intricate details, then cast them as individual bronze pieces, ready to be put back together by the Workshop crew.
I see, but where does the “Lost Wax” part come in?
Patience, grasshopper! Once Jonathan creates the sculptures in wax and fits them with sprues, he gives each piece a cosy shell by dipping it into a very fine ceramic mixture. “It’s a bit like crumbing fish,” he says.
Jonathan, you’re speaking my language. What comes next?
The waxworks, coated in ceramic slurry, are left to dry. Since Wal and Dog is such a big sculpture, Jonathan has to repeat the process 17 times, with each coat taking an entire day to dry. As you can see, the Lost Wax Casting process can take a rather long time indeed.
There’s that “Lost Wax” phrase again. Won’t you tell me what it is? I’ve been so patient!
And your patience shall be rewarded! The Lost Wax part starts once the final ceramic shells have all dried. Jonathan pops the individual components in his kiln, and melts all that chocolately-brown wax away.
“So what’s happened is we’ve built that ceramic day by day over the wax, and then we take it outside in the kiln, and the wax burns out. That’s why it’s called ‘lost wax’ casting because we just…lose the wax!”
And now the bronzing can begin. Jonathan melts the bronze in a furnace heated to 1100 degrees, and pours it inside the ceramic molds, right into the cavity where the wax used to be. Once they have all cooled down, he smashes the shells off and…ta da! You have your bronze Wal and Dog (albeit in 14 pieces with various sprues attached) ready to journey back to Miramar to be completed by Bruce Campbell (also a great bronze man) at Weta Workshop.
Whew. So how long did all this take, in the end?
All up, Jonathan’s role in the Wal and Dog project was a labour-intensive two-and-a-half month process. Lost Wax Bronze Casting can be fraught with risk, but Richard is confident to throw all sorts of head-scratching projects Jonathan’s way, because he knows he can get the job done.
And for Jonathan’s part, whether it be Hamilton’s beloved Rocky Horror Riff Raff statue, aluminium-cast steampunk guns, or masses of Lord of the Rings props, he relishes the challenge.
“The thing is, Weta Workshop never give me an easy job,” he laughs. “They’ve given me some of the most challenging stuff I’ve ever done. Sometimes they’ll give me things that are so intricate and so ornate, I just stand there going, how do I even begin? Richard’s been very good to me with the different jobs I’ve been involved with. I’ve had some fascinating stuff over the years.”
All in all, a meaningful way to celebrate Murray Ball and the people of Gisborne.
23 years of complex and curious jobs have poked their nose through the doors of Jonathan’s foundry, but Wal and Dog was a personal highlight for an artist who, as a child, was captivated by the farm and fables of Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats.
“The thing I loved about working with Weta Workshop on the Wal and Dog sculpture, is that it’s something I grew up with and was a really big fan of. So on a personal level, just to have a hand in that was really, really satisfying.
A Kiwi treasure like Murray Ball, he absolutely deserves to be honoured in that way.”