Tech Specs

Last post I talked a little about the process, but I'll get into more detail here to give you a closer idea of how to approach a project like this. I haven't completed an entire figure yet, so things may change a bit, but I have to plan it out ahead of time as much as possible in order to avoid wasting time or making mistakes.

First off I take reference shots of my subject. In this case it was James, Patrick and myself.

I take the highest res shots I can with the best light possible and have them rotate from front to three quarters to side and so on. Then take close up shots of the heads from the same angles. It's also helpful to take alternate shots of arms and legs bending to show the reaction of the fabric. I like to sculpt the arms and legs with fabric folds that look like they are partially bent so they'll look okay for when they are perfectly straight and fully bent. A compromise on form to suit as many positions as possible. I keep them on my PC and have a monitor and mouse routed to my workstation. They are organized into folders and put into order so I can cycle through the pics and essentially spin them around.

Next up is getting your sculpting area ready. A little while back I made three armature stands that I reuse. I found the plans on the Clubhouse sculpture forums (a place that has made all this possible, almost as much as OCAD)

Basically you just need to spend some time in the Home Depot hardware isle with this plan in your hand, fit things together, make a few measurements and *boom* you have a pretty high quality stand. Then you have to figure out the scale you're sculpting in, for me 14" equals 6' high. I found a nice simple template on the Clubhouse and printed it off at 14" tall. I laid the wire (a reasonable gauge thats firm but easy enough to bend with small pliers is best) over the drawing and secured the intersections with Apoxie Sculpt.

I secure the armature to the stand by opening some of the wire I wrapped around itself going up the spine and thread one of the rods in the loops (securing it on both sides with nuts if necessary). From there I bend the wire a bit here and there to mimmick the curvature of a human spine and just a generally more natural posture.

Then I'm ready to sculpt. I rough things out with a plasticene called Chavant. I prefer their medium density, brown and non sulfur phosphate (Chavant Medium NSP is generally what it's referred to). The NSP is important because sulfur can inhibit the curing of silicone rubber for the moldmaking stage. This stuff can be pretty firm when it's cool so it helps to have it in a bucket under a standard light bulb to give it a bit of warmth, it really reduces the build up time. I cover the wire with a thin coat of Chavant to get started then start quickly and roughly putting on the forms of the muscles. During this stage I rely heavily on Bruno Lucchesi's Modeling The Figure In Clay: A Sculptor's Guide To Anatomy. It's the best book I own, he sculpts the human form building up from the skeleton to surface. I jump around the book grabbing bits of form from here and there. My fingers are used pretty much exclusively at this point.

When I get into more detail I start taking measurements off the subject to make sure I'm in proportion and use an assortment of metal tools to work in details. At this point I'm not putting in the articulation but I am getting ready for it. I take into consideration where the cuts are going to be and make them as esthetically pleasing as possible and also try to shape things in a way that they won't collide too dramatically when moved. You can't get a perfect surface with Chavant, the advantage of starting with this material is that it's great for building up the form fast and getting the exact shapes you want, detail and smoothness is not it's strong suit, that's why I switch to wax.

When the plasticene form is completed I take a rough silicone mold off it in one piece (I'll detail some moldmaking procedures in a future post). I may choose to separate the figure slightly, like head, torso, arms, legs. It will probably make the separation of the wax pieces a little smoother. Anyways, I'm getting ahead of myself. A hard wax is poured into the mold. I'm going with a great new range of waxes from Willow Products by Gary Overman ( ). I'm not sure what density I'm going to use yet, but I have samples in hand to pick out my fave. From there I start planning the intricacies of the articulation. I want these guys and gals to have a good range of movement but I'm not going overboard because I want to retain a nice sculptural look to them too. This is the stuff that stopped me from moving ahead on this project for so long. I still don't have strong machining skills so I had to come up with some secure but simpler ways to achieve the sort of joints I wanted. Elbow and knee joints are pretty easy, you just need to machine some discs on the lathe and run a pin through them (I'll try and do a demo on how to use a lathe in the future because I sympathize with how intimidating it can be, I'm really only at a very basic level).

Photo Courtesy of Ralph Cordero (ToxicPapa on The Clubhouse forums)

This process takes a lot of fiddling, chopping, and some minor resculpting. I'm still not entirely sure what I'm going to encounter. I was stumped with how to make a plug that would clip into a socket and stay in so I'm going to use small rare earth magnets from Lee Valley, that should take care of most of the pivot joints. Here's some shots of Ralph Codero working in some articulation.

Some of it will apply to my figures some of it won't. I've actually moved into this stage with the figure of me and got some mixed results. I've decided to take a step back and redo them using the new wax and better machined discs and pins. Here's a few sketches from me trying to work out some alternative joints.

Each figure will have a rubber "shirt" that covers the torso joints so things will look normal but there'll still be some limited movement for leaning forward, backward and to the side. Most of the joints along the medial axle (yeah for anatomy class!) will rely on the old o ring principle of the 4" Joes from the 80's. It should work for my purposes, but it's still just a theory. I should mention that all this chopping and hollowing will be aided by a very handy tool called a wax pen. Mine is from Foredom. It's basically a pen sized tool that has interchangeable tips and it heats up controlled by a variable dial. Carving this stuff cold, or heating metal tools over a flame would be hell.

After the articulation is all worked out the surface detail and subtle forms can be defined. The wax is nice and hard so you can sand it and carve it nicely, or add bumps by dripping off the end of the wax pen. This stage will probably take a fair amount of time because this is when you want to make everything look perfect because the final molds will be taken off these pieces. For those molds I'll be doing a style called block molds or jeweler's cut molds. I'm also going to be using a different silicone called Sylastic M which is much denser than anything Smooth-On has. The combo of the denser silicone and the thickness of a block mold should ensure that the articulation stays accurate.

Photo Courtesy of Ralph Cordero (ToxicPapa on The Clubhouse forums)

From there things will be cast in a plastic (I've yet to choose the type, it'll most likely have a slightly rubbery feel), with the shirt area cast in a soft rubber to allow as much movement as possible from the joints underneath and a nice feel to the outer shirt. The hands will also be slightly softer than the rest of the body so they can grip accessories nicely.

Painting will be done with a high quality acrylic by Vallejo and applied with a combo of brushes and air brushes.

The packaging is almost like another project in itself, I should start fabrication on a test model soon so I can work out how to make the calculations.

Thank god most of my friends are designers of one sort or another. I can't design AT ALL. When I have to put something together in a pinch the results are scary and embarrassing at best. I'm going to enlist their services in developing the graphics for the packaging.

Phew! Thats it for now, I'll update as I go along and provide more detail on moldmaking, the articulation and how the vacuum forming goes on the package.

Back to work!