Miniature Figure Sculpting (Part Two)
Now its time to go through a figure, step by step.
1. The first step is to decide on a pose.
This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen many people plow ahead and end up in a corner they cannot comfortably get out of. Sketching the figure in various views is very helpful. Visualization, for me, is even more helpful. I find that after I’ve fantasized a while about the figure I am practically “chomping at the bit” to get started! For purposes of this article, I’m going to make a Dewback (the lizard creatures from Star Wars) and its Stormtrooper Rider. My first step, therefore, is to go out and buy a bundle of Star Wars magazines with pictures of Dewbacks from every angle. Luckily I’m a bit Star Wars fanatic, so doing this research was quite a bit of fun.
2. Once you have your figure firmly etched in your mind, or on paper, its time to make an armature.
Using your wire, make a stick figure using the needle-nose pliers to bend the shape (see left). It’s important to get the scale and pose just right at this stage, as changing it later will cause you all sorts of ugly nightmares. If you do not have a scale ruler, measure a miniature from your existing collection and carefully record its dimensions. In the case of the Dewback, I used calipers to measure pictures from magazines and transcribe them to 25mm scale. The process took a couple of evenings, and gave me quite a headache – but in the end I knew that a proper armature is more than half the battle.
Many sculptors recommend that you finish off your armature by wrapping thin wire several times around each part of it to make a good surface for the putty to adhere. I personally have gotten away with skipping this step at times, but in the beginning I think its a good idea to always do it and I’d recommend floral wire for this task. If you are unsure how to solder your armature together then we’ve also included this handy guide.
In the case of the Dewback, I took my armature one step further, by molding some Sculpty bakable clay into the shape of the torso, and gluing it underneath the spine.
Doing this saved me all kinds of time, and also about half a roll of my precious Kneadatite. It also gave me the chance to use my favorite and most versatile sculpting tools, my fingers, to get the basic shape in place. I used this same technique, by the way, to make the body of the Giant Vampire Bat, shown above.
3. If you haven’t done so already, attach the armature to a base.
As stated, I like to use wine corks for this. As you can see from the pictures above, the Dewback figure was pretty large, so I used 3 corks as a base. A man-sized figure would fit nicely on just one cork. As an alternative, some sculptors use a brass sheet and solder the armature right onto it. I suppose for people who like the smell of hot flux, this is an acceptable alternative. Personally, I prefer the wine…
4. O.K., here comes the fun part!
Cut a short length of Kneadatite ribbon – I suggest you start small – and mix up some putty! When the epoxy gets to be uniformly green, sticky and about the consistency of hard chewing gum between your fingers, use a spatula thinly cover the armature. When all of the wire is hidden with a thin coat of putty, you are on your way! Allow the whole miniature to cure.
On the left is a picture of the Dewback with its first coat of Kneadatite Epoxy in place. As you can see, due to the size of the figure, I did its legs separately, after the torso, head and tail had cured.
5. Once the whole miniature is covered in putty, you need to start building up the overall shape of the miniature.
Mix small amounts of putty and “wet” sculpt on the larger details. There are any number of tips I can give you at this stage. First, and foremost, try to work on only one section at a time and let the piece cure in between.
With the Dewback, I did each leg as a separate stage. Then I did the tail, then the feet and finally the head. Before I started the head, I found that I first had to carve away the Kneadatite I had already put on as the original head came out too big and “boxey.” When each limb had its basic musculature, and had fully cured, I began to spread thin layers of putty over the muscles to form the skin. Folds in the skin were accomplished by folding the thin layers of Kneadatite and adjusting appropriately with a small dental spatula.
With a man-sized figure I suggest starting with the legs, moving to the torso, then the arms and finally adding the head. Feet and hands come next. I even start to rough out the clothing or armour before attempting to tackle the head and face. This is a picture of the Stormtrooper rider at this stage of completion.
Well, back to the Dewback. Before the thin layer of “skin” putty was completely cured, I used a homemade texture stamper to make the lizard’s scales. Such stampers are invaluable. The procedure is actually fairly simple: Using some spare putty, or some bakable clay, simple make an impression of the texture you want.
In the case of the scales, I poked hundreds of small holes in a semi-round piece of Sculpty. The end result looked oddly like a golf ball. When I had my tool made I baked it until it was hard. I could then make scales simply by rolling the textured tool over the wet putty. Each small hole acted as a “cookie-cutter,” leaving behind a footprint of tiny scale-like bumps. An intermediate picture of the Dewback at this stage is shown on the left.
Texture stampers can be made for all manner of textures, including cloth and hair. As a general rule, any texture that you can take a negative impression of, once hardened, can be used to stamp a positive impression onto your uncured “wet” epoxy.
Study the commercial miniatures you have and try to figure out how the sculptor did what he did. Miniature chainmail, when you really look at it, is just a series of holes that can be duplicated with a fat needle. Chains are really just oval balls of epoxy, pressed flat, with their center holes punched out. Once these cure, a strip of epoxy is rolled out, laid over the holes, and cut to the length of the links. Then the end of each “link” is pressed into the holes, giving the appearance of chain.
6. Once the larger details are in place, smaller details can be added one by one.
Much the way a miniature painter will fill in large areas of color before drybrushing on texture, and will finish textures before adding details to packs, weapons and shields, so must the figure sculptor move from the general to the specific. In the final version of the Dewback below, I cut off the tail and re-sculpted it entirely, added the saddle (using a Kneadatite/Milliput mixture) and added bigger knuckles to the toes on the feet. I also re-sculpted the muscles and skin on the arms and neck several times until I got the effect I wanted
For the rider (right), I added additional armour at this point, such as the shoulder pads, and resolved to tackle his helmeted head. Again, I worked in layers. The first layer was no more than a rugby-ball shaped bit of putty which I pinned onto his shoulders with a brass wire and some super glue. Next I added the sloping back part of the helmet, which actually made his head resemble a mushroom. After that putty cured, the eye pieces, face-plate and breathing apparatus were added on. Finally, when all this was dry I added more details, including the circular bits where the ears would be. The point of all this is that you must teach yourself to mentally break down complex shapes into simpler components. And like painting, practice, practice, practice makes you better!
Later the ‘trooper would get an ammunition pouch over his left shoulder and a gun stock pad over his right. The final step was to cut a piece of brass wire for his pike, and add a Milliput/Kneadatite ball to the end of it, which I could later file with needle files to approximate the pike-head in my reference pictures.
All in all, this project took about three months of evenings – time well spent!
7. Don’t re-invent the wheel!
One final tip, if you intend to make many figures with varied poses or equipment you should consider making intermediate castings of your armatures at various stages of completion. For example, you could sculpt a basic swordsman in an advancing pose, minus any equipment or head. Make several castings of this basic armature and detail each one separately with different heads, weapons or even different arm positions. The key is not to have to sculpt the same thing many times, thereby increasing your overall productivity.
Sculpting your own figures may seem daunting if you have never done it before. I recommend that it be approached in stages. The first stage is to get very comfortable doing conversions of existing miniatures. You will undoubtedly have to fill in gaps with putty and eventually may begin sculpting a foot, a leg, an arm or even a torso using Milliput, Squadron putty or whatever else is on hand.
Here, for example, is one the the earliest pieces I ever attempted.
It is a Katrini (cat-man) bowman [The Katrini are a new Warhammer Army invented by Bob. Follow the link to take you to their home page -Ed], for which I actually used a Milton Bradley Battle Masters Chaos Thug as an armature and topped off my creation with a head from a Simtac Samurai Cat Warrior:
I recommend that only after you master these intermediary steps that you try sculpting your own miniature head instead of topping off your creation with a commercial head. When I did my first head, I made sure that it was an appropriately large piece, the 40mm Avatar shown below. Again, I was using a commercial figure as part of my armature, a Citadel Skaven Vermin Lord, in this case.
After all, there is no need to start yourself out at a disadvantage, right? Remember, the smaller the miniature, the more apparent even a small slip of the old spatula will be! So start off with larger pieces. Once you have mastered heads and faces, you will have all the skills you need to make a complete miniature from scratch. Even if you never get that far however, the skills you develop along the way will make you a master of figure conversion, something to be extremely proud of in its own right! Best of luck to you!
[Back to Part One – Introduction and Sculpting Tools]