By Alfred Wong - images & text © 2000
First, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Alfred Wong and I have built models all my life. I build aircraft and spacecraft in 1/48th scale and figures in 1/6th, and many of my models are entirely scratch built. I started scratch building figures relatively recently. I have a Fine Arts background and work as an illustrator, but mostly as a storyboards artist and concept designer on TV shows and movies. You can visit my website at http:members.home.net/gototalon.
The reason I mentioned my background is to say up front that I don't think it is truly possible to teach someone exactly how to sculpt a figure. It has to do not just with being blessed with artistic 'talent' but also with a lifetime of training in drawing figures, studying human proportions and faces, anatomy, etc. You know, all that artsy-fartsy stuff! What I will try to do in this article is give people pointers and talk about various techniques and materials.
I use a variety of materials; for very intricate parts such as faces and hands I use a specialized modeling compound called "Magic Sculpt". "Magic Sculpt" is a 2-part epoxy that is GREAT to work with. It is very malleable with sculpting tools, (I use just simple plastic sculpting tools you can get from any craft stores.) You work it dry, and it dries hard in 24 hours and is very smooth and stable, paints up very well with just about any kind of paint. Unfortunately, I have to order this stuff from Monsters in Motion in California, (I cannot find it here in Toronto, Canada). It's fairly pricey since you don't get much in a package, at least not if you work in 1/6th. Scale! So, I will often make bulkier things such as torsos and legs from ordinary plumber's 2-part epoxy putty, which you can get from any hardware store.
Now, the trick with this stuff is that it hardens very quickly and you also need to keep it wet to work it. I always just mix up a little at a time and build it up to shape and not try to get too detailed with it. For detailing I will put a layer of the "Magic Sculpt" on top. But, I have also done entire figures with the plumber's putty as well, so it is possible once you get proficient with it. The biggest problem with the plumber's putty is that it is more porous and unstable, causing problems with painting. You can expect that there will be bubbling from the exposed material after painting, which you must remove and touch up with super-glue, sand and then touch up with paint again, and yes - it's a pain! So, I do recommend the plumber's putty be used mainly as a core with the "Magic Sculpt" as a final layer on top. I have tried sealing the plumber's putty with both white glue and super-glue, but it still bubbles with paint.
It is a good idea to make some generic parts, such as hands, fists, feet and nude torsos as a master that can be cast in resin. I made a nude torso in plumber's putty, and a set of fists and a face in "Magic Sculpt" that I have used as masters for resin casting.
Obviously, you can't use the same face or torso for everything but I have used the same torso for 2 of my figures, and the fists much more than that. I found that open hands are best made per use, as the fingers tend to not turn out well in the casting process, being too fine.
Modeling the Face
At least 80% of a successful figure is getting the face right. If you don't have a good face you can forget about everything else, no matter how good the rest of the figure is. I ALWAYS start a figure by finishing the face completely first. Again, there's really no way of teaching someone exactly how to sculpt a face, you must spend time studying faces and how they are structured in 3-d space. Look at a face carefully and see where the recesses and high points are. My general approach is this: I work the basic face shape with the deep recesses for the eyes in one piece, then add the high points: the cheeks, upper-lip, lower-lip and chin, and build up the forehead as needed; working in the fine details as I go along. The nose is usually last.
|One last thing; a woman's face is generally much harder to do as they have finer features than men, so a light touch is something one needs to develop.|
By far the toughest modeling I've ever done has been modeling the faces of real people. I've done two so far: EMMA PEEL (Diana Rigg - right) and BUFFY (Sarah Michelle-Gellar - left).
Again, careful study of their faces' architecture was the key. Ms. Rigg's face came together pretty smoothly, but the jury is still out on Ms. Gellar's. My wife, my kids and I have differing opinions on my success in this matter. I found Ms. Gellar's face VERY difficult to capture. She has soft features, small chin, with a protruding over-bite and thin lips that was elusive to capture. I just did my best. Ms. Gellar is also very young, and her face, I've noticed, has changed quite a bit from the start of her series to present. My next project was FAITH, the series' rogue slayer and Buffy's arch-nemesis, so brilliantly played by Eliza Dushku.
Once again, there's no substitute for long study of the human anatomy. But I can offer this important tip; it is something called the S-CURVE. The S-CURVE is defined by the subtle S-shape the human body bends into in ANY and ALL positions; with the shoulders and hips always pointing in opposing directions. (The only exception is standing at attention). The bends of the "S" happens at the shoulders and the hips.
Knowing that the S-CURVE exists will help you avoid stiffness in your figures. Artists did not discover the S-CURVE until the Renaissance and that is why ancient sculptures have that stiff, ramrod straight quality.
Although most hair on figure models is sculpted, I wanted to use REAL texture, especially considering the scale. I use doll's hair from craft stores, look for hair that is not too fine or too thick. Unbraiding braided hair will give you nice, wavy hair. You can buy them in basic colors that you can dye with thinned-down acrylic paint. A lighter shade can also be airbrushed directly onto the finished hair as highlights. The trick with using "real" hair is actually mounting it on the figure. I use household contact-cement, brushed on thickly to the head. Then I work from the part of the hair outwards. (See drawing):
|I have to warn you that this is NOT easy! (DO NOT DO THE HAIR UNTIL THE FACE IS COMPLETELY FINISHED AND PAINTED)! After I get the shape right and it is trimmed to the right length and thickness I use a big brush and brush on a liberal coat of Tamiya clear acrylic, this will keep the hair from flying away and give it a nice sheen. Also, when laden with clear "Envirotex" resin the "real" hair gives a most convincing 'wet'-look.|
I do most clothing with "Magic Sculpt", but I have also used real fabrics, especially for capes. The best fabrics to use are lycra or spandex, because they have a very tight weave that works within the scale. Women's tights and leggings are a good source for materials. (Word of advice: Buy it from the store, don't just cut up your wife's leggings...*ouch! *) In my "Sorceress" figure, I wanted to use real fabric to achieve a wet, see-through look, so I sculpted and painted the figure as a nude, then stretched lycra over the body and wetted it down with "Envirotex" clear resin, the effect was tremendous!Arms and Legs:
I make arms from "Magic Sculpt" but legs from plumber's putty. Use a coat-hanger wire in the middle to give stiffness. Take care in modeling the bends realistically. I use a lot of super-glue with Zip-kicker for mounting limbs and filling. Final filling is done with Squadron Green-puttyPainting
I prefer acrylic paints to oils, but that's just a personal preference. Use whatever works for you. Because of the scale, I also airbrush a lot, using 3 different shades of most colors. I also use chalk pastels sealed afterwards with a fine dull coat. Every figure employs a mix of techniques to finish it. One note of caution: Avoid OVER shading a woman's face and skin, subtlety is the key here! I've seen too many female faces and skins spoiled by the heavy-handed shading used for gritty male soldiers.
This page copyright © 2001 Starship Modeler. Last updated on 24 January 2001.