Benning Soldiers cast in museum displays
June 12, 2009
Dressed in a range of uniforms, from the WWII cold weather uniform to the modern ACU, more than 50 life-size sculptures modeled after Infantry Soldiers will be on display when the museum opens June 19. The life-like sculptures are the work of StudioEIS in Brooklyn, N.Y., in partnership with the museum to bring the Infantry's heritage to life.
With the help of Soldiers who volunteered for the strenuous three-hour-long casting process, the studio created custom pieces accurate to the smallest detail, said BJ Ervick, a production manager for StudioEIS working at the museum to place finishing touches on exhibits.
"The sculptures add a level of realism that can't be accomplished with a mannequin," said Phyllis Aaron, project manager for the museum's exhibits.
The project is two years in the making.
In October 2007, a casting call went out to Soldiers around post to pose for the sculptures. Photos were taken and approximately 35 Soldiers were selected for the project.
"The Soldiers added an element of expertise to the project," Aaron said. "Many were very involved and supportive if we needed advice or input to make the sculptured figures seem more real."
"We had a team made up of knowledgeable Soldiers to act out each scene depicted in the museum," Ervick said. "We needed to see what they would do on the battlefield."
Once poses were selected and the sample terrain forms constructed for the casts, each Soldier was cast by the StudioEIS team in the pose which would later be the cast figure in the exhibit, Ervick said.
Each body cast was broken into three phases, the head, body and hands, Ervick said.
A team of five sculptors worked on covering each Soldier in medical-grade plaster and rubbing in the mixture to capture fine details such as facial expressions before it solidified and could be removed, he said.
Once each cast was removed, the pieces were assembled and sculpted. The sculptures were then dressed in uniforms and given weapons before being treated with a resin coating and painted, Ervick said.
One challenge Soldiers faced was holding the pose throughout the casting process, he said.
Some poses are action poses so they must hold fighting stances until the plaster has set, which can take up to 20 minutes, Ervick said.
"I had an easy pose," said CPT Stephen Magennis, of the Maneuver Captains Career Course, who was cast as a Korean War Soldier writing a letter home. "But when they poured the plaster on my face, I couldn't see anything. That 15-minute wait for it to harden seemed very long."
Magennis, company commander on Sand Hill when he volunteered for the project, was chosen to pose as both the anonymous Korean War Infantryman and Medal of Honor recipient COL Lewis Millett leading a bayonet charge in 'The Last 100 Yards' exhibit at the museum.
"I am honored that I portrayed someone like Lewis Millett," he said of the Infantry officer credited with leading the last major American bayonet charge in February 1951.
Emotions were pivotal to the construction of each sculpture, Ervick said.
"(The crew) did a good job in making us express the emotions," Magennis said. "I had to put myself in the mind set of the character. For the Korean War Soldier I had to focus on the feelings of a depressed Soldier writing a letter to his wife."
The result is sometimes referred to as 'eerie' and 'surreal,' Aaron said.
"When you look into the figures' eyes, it's as if you really see the Soldier in them," she said.
Once the figures were sculpted, designers dressed 40 of them in reproductions of military uniforms and with the assistance of several historians providing knowledge of each era, Aaron said.
The dressed figures were soaked in resin to stiffen and leave a smooth surface for painting the figures.
The fabric on the figures was then shaped to show movement like an Infantry Soldier in action, Aaron said.
The sculptors added wrinkles in the fabric to depict various actions, including wind movement from a Huey helicopter, a Soldier lifting a rifle and troops climbing up a rope.
Magennis said he looks forward to bringing his daughter to see his "other half" at the museum.
"I like the idea they went with using life poses. It looks like a real person," said Magennis, who got a sneak peak of the Korean War Soldier.
"This is a great legacy for the Infantry, families of the Infantry and the city of Columbus," Ervick said.