Hiya everyone! There've been several members here who've tried their hands at building custom figures, and at the beginning of this year I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring too. In particular I'd been inspired by the work of ArtyAMG, who's WIP posts were helpful in understanding how kits are built. So I bought a pound of Super Sculpey, a pin vise set, and a sandpaper set, and got to work. Little did I know what I was getting myself into with my novice sculpting skills and knowledge, but I was determined to make a figure happen despite my reputation for picking up projects then never finishing them. >_>
Now I have a whole list of characters that I'd like to see made as figures, including a couple OCs, but for my first attempt I figured I should choose something that I wouldn't mind fudging up a bit. So I figured an MMO class would be perfect since they don't have an appearance that's fixed in stone. I could do something a little more free-form without having to worry about matching the subject exactly, since I already spend so much time doing that with my drawings.
And so I chose for my sculpting guinea pig... The Ninja class from Ragnarok Online:
Nothing really stand-out about her design, since she's wearing a fairly basic kunoichi outfit. But it's better to start with something that's not super complicated, and I always found the outfit cute.
Process shots in the spoiler:
Sorry if the pictures aren't much good. I'm using a consumer digital camera from 2005 and don't have anything resembling a light box.
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First thing's first: figure out a plan. I went looking through my collection of RO fanart for various pose ideas, then started sketching thumbnails until I landed on something decent. Once I got that, I worked out some basic measurements for the proportions. Also made a theoretical breakdown of all the parts that would make up the kit, trying to keep casting and painting in mind. The total looks to be about 25 pieces, not including weapon(s).
Next was to make the base parts that would hold the pose and proportions for me to build the actual body over; a skeleton of sorts. Using aluminum foil as an armature, I built basic clay forms making up the body, limbs, and head. Here I commit the novice mistake of using too much clay. You can see I made the torso and legs waaay too thick for skeleton pieces, and didn't catch myself until I got to the arms. This mistake would have consequences for sure. xD
The local Blick only had regular Super Sculpey in stock, which is why everything's colored beige. It's translucent near the surface, which makes it harder to see the forms, especially in photos, and is why it looks like there are cracks and marbling. It also gets noticeably darker when you bake it repeatedly. Eventually they got gray back in stock, but the main body parts for now are in this translucent beige.
The body and head were the first parts to be made, but the head ended up being too big and I changed my mind about how I wanted to handle the neck, so it's a dud. The body on the other hand... we can see how my previous mistake has influenced it. With such a thick base even after taking a wood rasp to it, I had to build even thicker to accommodate it. The result... hips. I certainly didn't have it in mind to make such a thick character but... I rolled with it and ended up with something resembling Pochaco. <_< Also I wasn't taking many pictures while building the body, which hides just how many times I added on more clay and baked it again, but it was a lot.
With the body mostly formed, I started on the left leg with the key and a revised skeleton piece. For some reason it was baking really dark, but the rest was fine.
Working from the top-down, starting with the left hip. This hip was nothing but trouble; I couldn't get it to stay in scale with the right hip and ended up with something way too thick. I had to pull out the wood rasp again for this one, multiple times. The thing is like 25 grit and leaves gouges everywhere, but it chews off clay fast. I ran into lots of fitting problems between the leg and torso too, which reqyured even more sanding.
Eventually I was able to get the hip under control and move on to the rest of the leg. Finished off the thigh and added a knee and shin, but then during baking the shin snapped. Looking at it closer, that abnormally dark skeleton piece mentioned earlier had burnt to the point of going brittle. Now I was worried that the thinner parts were going to burn and risk snapping, such as the key for the head.
After that incident with the shin snapping, I decided to try curing the clay with boiling water rather then the toaster oven. I repaired the leg and added the foot to finish it off, then built the key for the right leg. You can see a difference in how light the boiled parts are compared to the baked ones. The minerals in the water also accumulate on the surface when boiling to form a white surface, which makes it easy to spot dents during sanding.
For the right leg I started from the bottom-up because of how the knee folds into itself. But... then this happened: the knee fractured during boiling. You can see the paperclips I drilled into it in a vain effort to stop the inevitable. Speaking of which, a moment of silence for all the paperclips who have given their lives to build this figure-
Like the paperclip that went into rebuilding the knee we see here. Not to be content though, the leg cracked just below the knee while boiling, which can be spotted because of the ring that formed around it. Sanding that down so that I could patch it, I found the crack went all the way down to the old aluminum foil core. Something was a little suspicious.
Finishing up the leg annnnnd... here we go again. ._. This time a chunk cracked out of the foot, and several smaller cracks appeared on the ankle and shin. Now I was really suspicious and went to look for further information. It turns out that boiling clay doesn't fully cure it and leaves it brittle, which made it susceptible to cracking from heat stress. And so marked the end of boiling as a method of curing clay. I made my repairs and threw both legs into the oven.
Baking ended up being a big problem with this project. The only functional oven in this house is a toaster oven which is also used for cooking various foods. (Toast, sandwiches, vegetables, meats, you name it.) Now if you need to know one thing about oven bake clay... it's that the stuff releases plasticizers into the air during baking. The plasticizer then attaches to nearby surfaces, in this case the inside of the toaster oven, and burns at temperatures over 275F.
Cue meatloaf, which is cooked in the toaster oven at 500F. I'd been baking the body blissfully unaware of this, until meatloaf appeared on the menu and the oven was put to serious work. The house reeked of hydrogen chloride for the whole day. =/ It put a stop to my clay baking for a while and I had to figure out both how to prevent the build-up of plasticizer in the oven, and also how to clean out the plasticizer that was already there.
I scrubbed out the oven with Simple Green, and so the oven then smelled like a dentist's office full of clay... on fire. Considering just how much I love the dentist's office and the bloody scraping I get in there, this was not going to work at all! A second round didn't help, so I then spent two hours scrubbing out the toaster with baking soda, which sort of worked. Now it smells like burning baking soda with a hint of plasticizer, probably because it's a convection oven so there's plasticizer trapped in the vent where I can't clean. I've had to settle for this.
In the end I did figure out the solution to the plasticizer problem, which is as follows:
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Presenting the aluminum containment chamber. I picked up some of those aluminum heating dishes from the dollar store and worked out this configuration, and so far it seems to be trapping the plasticizer. The downside is that it's a bit cramped in there, which makes it a challenge to fit big pieces like the torso.
It's a sheet of aluminum, then a piece of muslin fabric with popsicle sticks forming a floor that won't burn the clay. Once the clay's placed inside I fold the fabric over it (1), put an aluminum dish on top (2) and seal the edges with the aluminum foil (3). For good measure I put a second aluminum dish over the foil, which isn't pictured here. (You can see it in the first photo though.)
But enough about the baking complications, time for the figure as she is now:
The poor Obitsu stand can barely support all that weight, and I had to tape both it and a foot down to keep the figure from falling over. I also sculpted on the thong and started smoothing the body with higher grit sandpapers. It's mostly done, with the exception of scattered spots that need additional sanding. (Mostly in indents like above the clavicles.)
She's not turning out exactly as I'd planned: the twists in the body aren't as strong as my sketches, the legs ended up a bit longer and the heights of the thigh highs don't match, the arm's tilted lower, and of course... those monster hips!
Speaking of which, isn't something missing? You can't make hips like that and then not have a shot from the back. Eheh... well actually I forgot to take that photo while I had the figure set up. But fine, I'll fix that now:
All the figures after this will have more normal proportions, I swear! But alas, it's been 1.5 months and this is only as far as I've gotten despite all the time this project has consumed. Sadly I need to put it on the back burner so that I can focus on getting a career, so there probably won't be another update for quite a while. Also I need to get some epoxy clay because sculpting keys and clothes with bake clay is a pain.
But one last thing! Since I'm remaking the head, I figured for fun you all can help decide what facial expression she'll have, so I added a poll and examples: