Durga is a 10-armed warrior goddess who rides a lion, fights demons, and shatters stereotypes. She appears in painting, sculpture, comics, movies, and dance - and here as an action figure in the style of a 10th-century Indian bronze statue, along with her loyal lion. Durga is the first in a series of action figures (Nikola Tesla, as you'll see in the last step, is next). This Instructable will walk you through:
- Action figure design
- Digitally sculpting the action figures
- Modeling the action figure joints
At each step, you'll learn design considerations, learn what software to use, and tips on how to do things quickly and easily.
Step 1: Artistic and Mechanical Design
Start by sketching your design. How will she look? What weapons will she carry? How many arms do you want Durga to have? How many joints? What kind of joints, and how will they work? In this example, there were three main considerations:
1. The outer, artistic design. Here, Durga wears clothing and ornaments from over a thousand years ago. To sculpt them accurately, you need to do some research. In this case, that meant pulling up lots of images of period bronze and stone statues, examining centuries-old weaponry, and reading through archeological academic papers and other records. It's worth visiting local museums as well.
2. Scale and proportions. There are a few modern semi-standard action figure scales, and the ~6" scale is one of them. Durga here is exactly 15 cm (just under 6") tall from the soles of her feet to the top of her crown.
3. Joints! In some traditions, Durga has 4 arms, or 8 arms, or even 18 arms. In the Chola bronze statue tradition, however, she often has 10 arms. This is just enough of a modeling challenge, while remaining sturdy and posable at the 6" scale. The style and number of joints you should plan for will depend on your final output. If you have a lower-resolution printer, hinge joints (like Durga's knees and ankles) are best, and you might have to forego wrist and ankle joints. If you have a hi-res printer (or want to print at low-res but at a much larger scale than 6"), then you can use more exacting ball joints (like Durga's wrists and elbows).
In this example, Durga was modeled in preparation for injection molding. As you'll see, that meant testing one set of joints on a lower-res print, and then printing again with a much higher-res printer. All the while, parts were designed so (1) they could snap together, and (2) that there would be no problems with undercuts. If you're sticking to 3D printing one-offs, congrats: you won't have to worry about these things.
Step 2: Sculpting the Fixed-pose "statues"
Next, it's time to sculpt the fixed-pose statues.
1. In Durga's case, because I did such careful advance planning on paper, I started with using a CAD program to very precisely model her proportions, and then moved into a 3D sculpting program to organically model all the surface details. If you have planned out your action figure in great detail on paper, then keeping your proportions exact helps you to take your design as you designed it, and model it exactly the same way when you execute in 3D. If you haven't designed things in detail on paper (or if your design isn't as intricate), then you can start directly modeling the statue of your action figure.
2. In the lion's case, I started with minimal pencil planning and modeled the statue directly. I used photos of lions standing, running, and sitting to model the joints for maximum movement, and used photos of lions and lion anatomy references to ensure accurate proportions.
3. How you split your time between modeling programs will depend on your design. The lion statue was sculpted without any CAD. However, some of Durga's ornamentation was modeled in CAD. Several of her weapons (like her trident, sword, discus, and fireball) were also modeled in CAD. Her arms (including her armbands and bracelets, but not including her hands) were modeled in CAD.
As for software, there's a variety to choose from. For organic modeling, you can use Sculptris, Blender, ZBrush, Meshmixer, Maya, and more. For CAD modeling, you can use SolidWorks, Inventor, or any other program you're familiar with.
Step 3: Jointing
Here, Durga has 38 points of articulation, and her lion has 16 points of articulation. Either you can import your statue into a CAD program, or you can create CAD joint parts to export into your organic modeling to "slice apart" your statue into the joints you need. Here are some joints you might like to use:
1. Ball joints. Durga has ball joints in her head, waist, hips, elbows, and ankles. These joints allow a wide range of movement forward and backward, up and down. In the low-res print (the gray version), you can see that while her hip, waist, and head joints print and work just fine, it was not possible to print her arms with the ball-style elbow and wrist joints (too small, printer not quite accurate enough). The lion also has ball joints in his head and in his tail.
2. Hinge joints. Durga has hinge joints in her knees and ankles, and the lion has hinge joints in his legs. In this joint style, a "claw" piece wraps around a "bar" piece, allowing a wide variety of movement in one direction. (So, while you can move Durga's leg at the hip in any direction you like, you can move the knee up and down only - much like how knees and hips work in real life.)
If you're preparing for injection molding, don't forget to model some clearance into your joints! If joints are too snug, they won't fit together properly; if too loose, then the figure won't hold a pose. Also, keep in mind the strength of your material. Don't model joints that have paper-thin component parts - these will easily break. Get inspiration from other action figures, model kits, or even LEGO parts. If you have the ability to print in different materials (like flexible resins), then you can experiment with how these materials behave in different designs. Once you have a jointed action figure design you like, print it out, assemble it, and test it. Try out a range of poses to test how natural and sturdy the design is. Keep what works, and retool what doesn't.
Step 4: The Finished Durga and Lion
Here are photos of the finished Durga and her lion! If you have metallic filament or resin, you can print using that. Otherwise, you can airbrush or otherwise paint your finished action figure to get the bronze look.
Your action figures can star in their own stories, come to life in stop-motion-animation videos, can keep you company at your desk or at home, or can take their place as tiny versions next to the bigger sculptures they were inspired by.
Have fun and experiment, and then move on to making your next action figure (over here, the next action figure in the works is Nikola Tesla)!