Introducing: Project M
Oct 14, 2020
article & images by Nick Salazar
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First of all, we have found that on primary references such as the eFX mold, there are inconsistent measurements for each red and silver button. This poses the same questions as above. However, this also introduces new questions, because the red button is a found object. Undoubtedly the silver button is a found object as well, but as yet no one has found the source part. So the question (for the red button) is, do we use the dimensions of the original source part? Or do we consider the altered dimensions of the prop as used in the film?
For the red button, the casting dimensions were *consistently* different from the dimensions of the found part. So we opted to optimize for the dimensions of the castings, which match the actual prop. We are talking about differences on the order of 0.2mm or so. Most people will not notice the difference. But if you were to line up our repica to any of the original props, it would match, noticeably better, compared to the found part.
Similarly, for the silver button, there are many details never before observed or replicated. We chose to measure and replicate the actual primary sources, including both physical objects in our possession, and authentic images we have found. This is perhaps the one component of the saber that no one has ever bothered to replicate with a high level of accuracy. The silver button has a rounded profile, yet every replica to date uses a cylindrical button with a small chamfered or mildly-filleted corner. The original part had a non-cylindrical main body, and a significant radius at its edge, much more than anyone else has ever replicated. We spent a long time studying and replicating the silver button. Not only did we obsess over the corner radius, but also the vertical knurling profile. Again, that knurling profile has never been properly replicated. Mostly because it is very costly to do so. That knurling is fine and delicate. It has 60 cuts per revolution, where most replicas use a knurling pattern between 30-40 cuts per revolution. At a distance, you might not notice. But upon any close observation, the difference is clear.
In another first, we noticed that every button was just mildly dished, with a concave top surface rather than a perfectly flat one. It is a very subtle feature, just one tenth of one millimeter deep. But this has the subtle effect of highlighting both the outer ring of the button as well as its concave top surface.
These historically have been the trickiest part on a good Maul replica. No replica has ever gotten them right, really, ever. There have been two widely-available *castings* of original production materials, which did a very good job of reproducing the original part, and thus made great fins. These two are the EFX Maul, expertly cast from an actual Maul hero saber, and the ASM replica, cast from a different, non-Maul, but still accurate source. Yet, even though these two different castings are considered accurate from actual source material, they differ significantly! And even within each of these individual sabers, one fin can differ from another on the same hilt. So we are considering the dimensions of 30 separate fins (20 from the EFX casting which sourced an entire Maul saber, and 10 from the ASM casting which only sourced one "half" saber). Even having these excellent resources, it is a significant task from both an analytical and an artistic perspective, to arrive at the "perfect" fin. We have taken hundreds of measurements, considered these direct sources as well as many indirect sources (high resolution images), and been through countless models, 3D prints, and CNC-machined parts, to finally arrive at our final model.
Rotational Orientation - where do we locate the fins axially? It seems to me that there are a few different options. We could align the index fin with the front plane (in line with the buttons), orthoganal to that plane (placing the buttons just between two fins), align them randomly, or choose some other alignment. In our view, the best "perfect imperfection" alignment was to put the index fin at 45-degrees clockwise (viewed from the emitter end). This ends up placing the fins almost exactly as they appear in the Visual Dictionary photo, and very similar to the eFx saber. So that's the route we settled on.
Most of the hero and stunt Maul sabers featured a similar feature on the end of the grip "rib" section, which appeared as a chamfered surface on the final rib, the tall rib closest to the next silver button. This would usually appear on at least one half of the saber, if not both halves. In reality, there was no chamfer on the original machined part. But this "chamfer" occurred as an artifact of imperfect casting. That is, it's actually an unintended feature which could be considered a defect. However, since it is present so often and so consistently, we had to decide whether to replicate it or not. Because, in our observations, it appears on more than half of Maul sabers, it is a worthy feature to include in our replica. It was replicated not as a straight angled chamfer, but a convex feature using a cubinc spline to achieve a very specific curvature.
Note, this cannot be seen on our printed prototype; the grip ribs did not print correctly due to the resin printing process and our chosen print orientation. However, the machined versions will match our 3D renders.
The LED is a pretty straightforward part to replicate. It's mostly circular, simple to measure, and has consistent-enough details from part to part. It is recessed, it has very particular chamfers and lines, and because they are circular, they are very easy to measure, average, and replicate. Just like the outer diameters (which again, are imperfect and oblong), we can easily take multiple measurements, average them, and get an average "perfect" version. Despite this, the LEDs have been done incorrectly many times. Most often, the LED is simply not replicated at all, but rather replaced with an existing part that may or may not match the original. Of course, I wanted to match the original prop perfectly, so I made my own part, not only for dimensional reasons, but also so that the finish would match the original prop.
The rivet is a similar but slightly different case. Because the details and wall thicknesses of this part are so small, and because it presents a significant undercut when being molded and cast, the production parts are very inconsistent, malformed, and often feature a small bubble of unintended plastic within the cup section of the rivet. How do we even know it's a rivet? Well, some of the original metal versions of the production sabers show exactly what this part was originally, and offer a very clear reference as to shaping and dimensions. So, because the imperfections were wild, and the only consistent measurements we could find were on the original parts, we decided to replicate this detail as accurately as possible to the original intended rivet. This is again where some of the art of making a "perfect" replica comes in, because a perfect scientific rubric is not available to guide our decisions.
Even though these are somewhat straightforward measurements based (mostly) on known found parts, this area still presents significant challenges in replication. The end of the emitter consists of a series of stacked fender washers, capped off by a machined metal end part. On almost every version of the original prop (even stunt props), this end cap was threaded, and was used to compress the assembly using the 3/8" threaded rod that ran through the entire part. This is exactly how the ASK replica works, exemplary in its faithfulness to the original construction methodology.
However, reproducing the emitter in its original form of stacked washers introduces incongruence from one piece to another. Each piece of original fender washer hardware in the stack has very poor tolerance. These are not perfect, cylindrical, flat discs. Quite the opposite. Each disc has many imperfections, inconsistencies, and deviations from a perfect cylinder. Flatness and concentricity are inconsistent. Although every replica ever produced assumes cylindrical washers, we took much greater care in our observations and measurements. This makes a big difference from part to part. For example, a washer intended to be 1.5mm thick could measure anywhere from 1.25mm to 1.75mm. So not only is each washer different, but over the course of the entire stack of twelve washers, this could potentially make a difference of up to 3mm in total length!
It took a lot of very careful, detailed, and thorough measurement to craft an emitter that would both faithfully replicate the original prop, but also adhere to an idealized and consistent form. So ultimately, if you could compare any two of the emitter discs from two different original Maul lightsaber props, they very likely would not match exactly. Similarly, if you compare this replica to any original, it may not match exactly. But if you *averaged* the dimensions of every original prop, that average should match our measurements almost exactly. While using a random washer stack (as per the ASK replica) would make a 'perfectly imperfect' emitter, our emitter is instead 'imperfectly perfect' if that makes any sense. We sought to make a replica whose measurements would be consistent and repeatable from part to part, while adhering to the random imperfections of the large batch of original props.
Again, we wanted to replicate every aspect of the original prop, including many features that no other replica ever has. In short, we feel that this is the best Maul replica EVER. It will come complete with a Proffie 2.2 and 7/8" neopixel blades.
There are two distinctly different emitter faces on the Maul saber. One is what was made for the hero prop. This face is completely flat, a metal cap machined flush to the 3/8" threaded rod onto which it was constructed. This can be seen following Maul's first battle with Qui Gon Jinn, when he deactivates his saber and watches Qui-Gon escape. The second version had a small recessed detail and a large hole, shown briefly in Maul's second battle with Qui-Gon, as Maul tests the integrity of the red energy barrier separating them, and deactivates his saber. Although some fans prefer one version over another, in my opinion they are equally accurate. Because both are screen-used, and in my opinion equally accurate, we simply made both versions, which can be swapped out via a threaded cap. There is no compromise in terms of accurace for making this swappable version. So you can use whichever version you prefer.
The most common nominal lightsaber blade size is a 1-inch outer diameter. The next most common is 7/8" (22.2mm) OD. Deciding which to use on our replica is a somewhat difficult choice. We could use a 1-inch blade, but then we'd only get about an inch of insertion depth into the saber, as the outer diameter of the conical element under the fins, just behind the emitter rings, is less than 1 inch. If we want a longer plug depth for our blade, we have to go with a 7/8" outer diameter. There's another reason to go with 7/8", as it is a very close match to the diameter of the hole shown briefly on film. So in the end, 7/8th won out, and that is the blade size for Project M.
Project M: Prototypes
Prototype parts and study pieces from our development of this iconic sabers. The full sabers shown here are 3D prints, meant only to illustrate the 3D design, and not representative of final production quality or finishing.
Project M: Comparisons
Showing our Project M printed prototype compared to our primary physical reference (the eFx casting) as well as the KR Menace saber (by request).
Selected Image References
These are some of the images we used to reference various elements of the saber, in addition to the physical parts we had on hand. Note, not all of these are images of the Maul saber. Some are other sabers that had identical design elements (like the silver button, the rivet detail, etc), and were valuable references for those specific elements.