Nick Barella: From Paper to Props

SUPERHERO TALENT: Metal and a detailed paint job bring Barella’s Captain America shield to life.         

Photo courtesy of: Nick Barella

SUPERHERO TALENT: Metal and a detailed paint job bring Barella’s Captain America shield to life. Photo courtesy of: Nick Barella

By Haydn Wall

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Last year, senior Nick Barella and his friend decided to try to build a laser rifle from the popular game Fallout 3. What started as a way to pass the time with a friend quickly became a potentially profitable skill. Since making that first gun, Barella has made a replica Captain America shield and a Psycho Bandit mask from the game Borderlands. These aren’t just cheap homemade knockoffs, either; the replica Captain America shield is a 25-inch stripped down winter sled and looks as good as any made professionally.

SUPERHERO TALENT: Metal and a detailed paint job bring Barella’s Captain America shield to life.          Photo courtesy of: Nick Barella

SUPERHERO TALENT: Metal and a detailed paint job bring Barella’s Captain America shield to life.
Photo courtesy of: Nick Barella

“Last year some friends of mine were going to Comic Con San Diego and one of them wanted to dress up as Captain America, so I volunteered to build the shield,” Barella said. “This project was what really got me interested because it showed me no matter what you want to build, it can all be condensed into one basic formula.”

One of his favorite parts of creating these replicas is seeing them come to life. “Now, whenever I read a Captain America comic book, I look at the shield in a whole new light,” Barella said. “When I see the final product, I don’t see just the item, but the work that I put into it. I see the sketching, the computer work, the research, the physical building and the detailing. It feels really great to hold something that you made, especially when it looks good.”

For Barella, the end product isn’t the only reward. His reward is an emotional one. “When my friends let me build them the Captain America shield, I felt trusted,” Barella said. “When I finally gave it to them, their reactions were amazing. Seeing someone react that way to something that I did felt great.”

Barella said that his favorite thing he has made so far is the Psycho Bandit mask. “It definitely took me the longest and required the most work,” Barella said. “What I like most about making things is the process. I love the busy work and the problem solving. During the actual building I hate those problems, they’re bumps in my roads to something cool. But looking back, I realize that some of the cool stuff that it makes wouldn’t have been possible without those bumps.”

Constructing replicas has changed how Barella looks at the world. He can’t look at the things around him without asking himself questions. “How were they made? The next time you’re holding a mechanical pencil, or a pen, take it apart completely, until it’s the most disassembled that you can get it and look for the mold imprints of the plastic, or focus on the screw assembly and try to imagine what tools were used to make that,” he said. “After you have all of that figured out, think about how much time and effort it would take for you to make it.” This is the process Barella goes through for everything he makes.

UNUSUAL ART: Barella will often create paper models of his ideas. Above is a helmet from the popular game Halo.                 Photo Courtesy of: Nick Barella

UNUSUAL ART: Barella will often create paper models of his ideas. Above is a helmet from the popular game Halo.
Photo Courtesy of: Nick Barella

Barella currently isn’t building anything, but he is preparing to start his next project. “I hope to start [the building] part soon, but the prep stage is one of the most important [stages] and cannot be rushed, so until I have it all figured out, I’m stuck at the drawing board,” Barella said.

Barella has many plans in place for the future. “I am currently working on a few projects but the one that I am the furthest in is Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. I have finished the initial sketches and I am currently working on the sizing and the 3D model in Google Sketchup,” Barella said. “I always have it in the back of my mind. The only thing that I am yet to overcome is how the handle works; every time I think that I have it figured out, I see something that contradicts my idea.”

Each project Barella starts involves many steps beyond construction, including “months of research for sizing, pieces, materials, mold making, and more.”

“I intend to continue making things in college. One of the things that really appealed to me about [the school] I’m going [to] was their 24/7 work shop and art studio,” Barella said. He’s even using his hobby as an opportunity to make money as he recently received his first commission project and plans on opening a shop online in the near future.

“I really have no idea of where I will take this. If this was a job then I think that would be one of the coolest jobs ever, but I don’t have those kind of plans set out yet,” Barella said. “Right now I would enjoy more commissions because [that] would allow me to make things [and get] the funding for the materials that are needed and give the final thing to someone and move on to the next [project].”

That’s the process Barella goes through when he sees something that he wants to build. “When I see it ‘work’ for the first time, I can’t help but laugh,” Barella said. “I did it and that’s one of the best feelings ever.” ♦