Introduction: Custom Action Figures Using 3D Printed Heads
Making resin toys is something I enjoy very much. Not only is it a fun form of artistic expression, but it is a cool way to make "toys" of people and characters that you may have always wanted, but nobody produced. Being a digital sculptor, I have sculpted several "toy heads" over the years, and with my friend and frequent collaboration partner Peter "Killer Bootlegs" Goral, we have produced a few limited run hand made figures that represent the kind of toys we "would have liked to have seen." In most of these cases, we used pre-existing action figures for the bodies, or "kit bashed" pre-existing parts together to make a new figure. However, we always used a custom sculpted, 3D printed head. This tutorial is a brief overview of how we combined 3D printed parts, with vintage action figures, to make our "Hitchcock" custom action figure.
Step 1: The Head Sculpt!
Generally, the first thing you want to do is sculpt (or get sculpted) your custom head. There are MANY MANY ways to do this, and many software packages to use.
For Hitchcock, I personally sculpted the head using MAYA and MUDBOX 3D software packages. Im not going to get into "how to sculpt a 3D head" because that is an instructable unto itself (I would be happy to do that one though, if there is interest!) Other ways to get custom heads are to hire digital sculptors to do them for you, download pre-sculpted heads from "3D models for sale" web sites, or if you are familiar with 3D software, start with a base head mesh and modify it, or build it from scratch like I did.
Once the head was sculpted, I scaled it to fit the 3 3/4 inch action figure scale (1:18th scale) and I sent the file off to be printed.
SIDE NOTE: I have sculpted a LOT of heads, so I have a pretty good idea of how big they need to be. If it is your first time, I suggest picking out the figure "body" first, and measuring the neck, and scaling the 3D head size until the necks match. If the necks line up, you will be in good shape!
Step 2: Selecting the Figure Body
We wanted Hitch to have a vintage feel, so Pete looked for a vintage 3 3/4 action figure that was a bit chubby (like Hitch!) and dressed well. Oddly, there were not a lot of choices, but we got lucky when he found this vintage BOSS HOG Dukes of Hazzard figure.
"Kit Bashing" is one of the most fun parts of this. use google and ebay to search out the perfect vintage or modern figure to bash from. For Hitch, we just used one figure, but you can use the torso from one, the arms from another, the legs from another, and even things like the shoes, etc. from another. The more figures you use, the more unique the end result will be. This is a great time to "make it your own."
Step 3: Sculpting the 3D Printed Head Onto the Body
Sorry Boss Hog, you just got decapitated.
Thanks to good measuring and a high quality print, the 3D printed Hitchcock head and the Boss Hog body fit together perfectly. Using a combination of super glue and "Magic Sculpt," I blended the Hitchcock head onto the Hogg Torso. This is the first time you will get a good look at how your figure will turn out. We were really happy with it at this point!
Step 4: Making a Mold
This is where Peter AKA: Killer Bootlegs expertise really kicked in. If we were just making a single custom figure, we could have painted the previous step and been done, but we wanted to do a "run" of these figures, so we had to mold and cast them using Silicone and resin.
We broke the body into 5 parts (head and torso was 1, then 2 arms and 2 legs) and made a separate mold for the head / torso, arms, and legs. (3 molds total) We used 2-part silicone molds. Again, "How to make a 2 part silicone mold" is another instructable unto itself, but if you look online there are countless really good videos and tutorials. Really, all you need is silicone, clay (Make sure it is sulfur free clay!), a mold release agent (vaseline works well) and some wood or legos and you can start playing around with basic mold making. If you want to go even LESS complex, look up tutorials for "One Part" mold making (That is how I started)!
Step 5: Resin Casting
Once your molds have properly cured, you can start pouring resin. Mold making silicone and resin are easy to find online, and sometimes local plastics, or sculpture and art supply stores even have kits.
All resins come in 2 parts and have a resin / catalyst ratio that needs to be followed pretty precisely. The easiest ones to use are the 50/50 ratio types! Resins also come in all sorts of cure (hardening) times. Some harden in 2 minutes, some can take hours. That choice is really up to the user. I usually use one that hardens in the 7-10 minute range.
The resin gets mixed, poured into the molds, and ideally - if you can - put into a pressure pot. A pressure pot isn't necessary, but it helps keep air bubbles from forming in the resin casts. Again, not something you need when you start playing around with resin, but if you get serious about working with it, it is a must have! You can make your own pressure pot for around 120-150$, or buy one pre-made for as little as $200. (Keep in mind you also need an air compressor though!)
Step 6: The Prototype!!!
I LOVE this step! Im pretty sure anyone who makes resin toys will agree with me when I say this is the most anticipated part of the process. You have cast a full set of parts, glued them together, and there you have it - Your first full figure!!!!
You can do all kinds of stuff at this point. You can glue the joints together, or you can use small magnets to make them articulated, or if you are ambitious you can sculpt / cast them to be articulated figures. With resin art figures, generally they stay packaged, so the moving joints really dont matter - It's more of an art piece than a toy.
Step 7: Painting and Final Touches
Every toy needs a paint job. For Hitchcock, Pete chose to do a black and white color motif, using a combination of airbrushing, hand painting, and washes. Seal that in with a nice clear coat and the figure has a beautiful finish!
Step 8: The Final Product
In the end, Pete and I made 20 figures, and we carded them on a backer card expertly designed by a friend of ours. This figure was very popular in the resin collector world, and turned out better than any of us had even hoped it would have. To this day, this figure stands out in my collection as one of the best art toy pieces I ever got to work on!
I hope this tutorial has inspired you to try your hand at Resin toy making. There is a lot to it, but this tutorial, along with countless online resources really makes this art form accessible to everyone.
At this writing, I am creating this tutorial for the Formlabs contest running on this site, in hopes that it will help me win a Form-1 3D printer! If I win, I plan on making several more 3D printed toys (Full toys too - not just heads!) and statues / busts - which may in the future become new instructables as well. 3D printing has really opened up new worlds to digital sculptors, and I can't wait to explore those worlds more!