Intro: Homemade Action Figures
Thank you for the featured status! I am glad to see my work was appreciated.
I decided that for Christmas last year I was going to make my family something special. I settled on the idea for a video game-based statue for my Mom. But what awesome thing could I make for my brothers and close friends? I decided to make homemade action figure versions of them (and myself).
Here is a list of the supplies I used:
-Wax + Melting pot
-(Optional) Hot plate/Individual burner
-Paint (I used Testors model kit paint)
-Paint brushes (Should be obvious)
-Sharp knife of some kind
-Urethane plastic mix
-Silicone rubber mix
-Sculpting tool set
-Slight sculpting skill
-Hot glue gun and glue sticks
-Heavy duty page protectors
-Card stock, or thick paper
-Creative use of materials
-TIME (Possibly the most important thing)
(By the way, if you ever plan to make homemade gifts, be sure to start before November. Learn from my mistake.)
Step 1: Initial Attempts
My original attempt at action figures turned out to be a failure just like my initial Dr. Mario attempt. My original plan was to actually sculpt the entire figure. My idea was to use the same body for every figure and have different paint colors, head/hair and accessories to add individual characteristics to the figures.
I started by making small joints out of wood and metal for the elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, wrists, ankles, waist and neck. After that, I used the modeling clay to sculpt the body. I did a decent job, but I could not get a good head at that scale. I also ran into proportion issues. After putting a lot of time into this figure, I put all the parts together and decided it didn't look as good as I had hoped.
After abandoning my other attempt, I went to Wal-Mart and looked through their G.I. Joe figures. I found one called "Tunnel Rat" that looked like he was in street clothes. I bought the figure and took it home. I divided the figure up into pieces and made a plaster mold, because I still was going to use my idea for keeping the figures with the same body. Having a mold of it would mean I could reproduce the figure's body as many times as I needed.
After I made the mold, I sculpted five heads for the figures. I tried to keep everything similar in size to the original. They didn't look that good, but I thought after being painted it would look better. I then made a separate mold for the heads out of plaster.
Instead of purely white plastic, I wanted to make the arms and faces first, so I mixed in some plastic dye to make a skin tone. This was on Christmas morning along with my failed Dr. Mario, and it suffered a similar fate. I found out the hard way that apparently plastic and plaster fuse together. I tried desperately to pry the plastic out of the mold, but it was no use. (An expensive mistake).
Step 2: Starting Over
I used Jin Saotome's site for an invaluable source of inspiration and information when remaking my figures. I looked through his tutorials section to try and anticipate any future troubles.
This time I had a much easier plan. I bought 6 "Tunnel Rat" figures and kept the bodies mostly intact. I made a few slight alterations, like removing the knife holster on the leg of each figure. I took the heads off of the figures and ground off the face and hair on each one. I initially tried to make individual head sculpts, but gave up on that idea when they still didn't look good. I then made one nice looking generic face to use for every figure. I wanted this face to last without accidentally ruining it, so I needed to somehow get it set in place. To set the modeling clay without baking it (and melting the plastic) I used the Boiling Trick. This way the clay mostly sets and the original parts stay the same.
I made a small rubber mold of the finished generic head. I wanted to test my mold before wasting any more plastic, so I decided to test the mold with wax. Wax is easily poured when melted, can be re-melted to use again, and can be carved if needed. The wax can get a little messy, so I got one of those individual burners. (I got this after I made a mess by spilling a little wax on my cook top stove.)
Step 3: Faces and Sculpting
To aid in cheaply getting things done, I made several wax heads and sculpted the different hair directly on the wax. I had begun thinking about accessories to make up for giving a late Christmas present and chose a few based on the person the figure was for. These accessories are based on a short-lived cartoon that we made that was loosely based on our lives. I also decided alternate heads would be a cool thing to try.
After sculpting a few accessories and all the hair had been added to the wax heads, I made a few small molds. I used a muffin tray to keep the molds small and easy. That way I didn't have to make several small boxes to pour the rubber into. Unfortunately the silicone rubber mix apparently bonds to non-stick cookware, but I was able to pry the molds out of the muffin pan with minimal damage to the molds. I tested all the new molds with wax and nothing leaked so I was ready for plastic.
Step 4: Playing With Plastic
Once the molds were made, I poured in some urethane plastic mix and I had custom action figures made out of plastic! I chose the white plastic mix because that would make painting easy. I made the heads and accessories in the same mold, so I could easily keep track of what parts I had made. I had those molds divided up by character as well.
After experiencing an issue with air bubbles with my Dr. Mario figure, I wanted to minimize the risk of bubbles this time. So I got a rumble motor out of a broken Playstation 2 controller and hooked it up to an old cell phone charger cord I had laying around. Surprisingly it worked the first try, so now I had an electric bubble remover. After pouring the plastic mix, I plugged in my bubble remover and held it against the mold while the plastic set into place. It really worked for the most part. I did end up with a few small bubbles and spots that didn't form correctly. So I filled in the gaps made from air bubbles using Jin Saotome's super glue trick. It worked very well.
After the plastic had hardened, I used a hobby knife to trim the excess plastic from the edges and sanded the sides down a little. I used my Dremel with a precision bit to add in a few small details and carve out the hair line to make painting easier. (My original hair lines were cut into the hair with the hobby knife, so they were a little too thin, and were barely noticeable.)
I had one issue where the Super Saiyan Ben head was cast without a neck hole. I had to get out my Dremel and grind a hole for the neck peg. I used Jin Saotome's guide for basic customizing to figure out the best way to do that.
Step 5: Prime and Paint
To make the clothes easier to paint, I wanted to get some white primer to cover the existing G.I. Joe figures with. This way I could easily paint any color I wanted over the original black shirt. I wanted to have each figure with a different color shirt to help differentiate between them. It took a while of doing online research to find a spray paint primer that can be used on hard and soft plastic. G.I. Joe figures are a mix of both and I wanted the priming to be one easy step. I ended up using Valspar white interior/exterior primer, and it worked just fine.
The first thing I did was mix up some blue paint for the blue jeans. Once I had a color I liked, I painted all of the figures' pants at the same time. I then moved on to shoes which I started with black and did a few brown too to add a little bit of a different look to them. I mixed up another batch of skin tone and painted all the faces and arms. The shirts are mostly just painted straight out of the bottle, except for the teal color I made for Jacob. The last thing I painted was the hair and eyes. For hair color I tried to get it as close to the real person's natural hair color as possible. I started painting the eyes white, but it looked odd so I used a really light gray (similar to the Dr. Mario gloves). That looked a lot better, so I did the same for each figure. Last I added a small dot of color for the iris and a smaller black dot for the pupil on all of the eyes.
As far as the accessories go, I painted the alternate heads at the same time I painted the regular heads. I painted all accessories as they should be colored. (For example, with the dead duck I painted the bill yellow, the mangled neck red, and black Xs where the eyes would be.) The only one that got tricky was the Steak out head for my figure. I made that a lightish red color. Before it was fully dry, I used a toothpick to draw a little bit of white paint to form the marbled pattern. Then I stirred the lines up a little to blend it in better. After that was done, I used the same technique to add a little bit of red back into the meat parts.
Overall, they looked great painted, but there was one problem. Apparently the paint is a little too thick, so whenever a joint is bent the paint falls off. I went and got some Krylon Matte Clear spray sealer to try and protect the paint job. After that dried the paint was still chipping off, but now most of the bright colors looked a little dull. I repainted what needed it, and I was almost done.
Step 6: Packaging
Since these Christmas presents were getting close to a year late, I wanted to make packaging for them. I took a few measurements and designed the background in Photoshop. Just like the figures, all the packaging looks similar. I did shift the hue around on each so that the fire in the background was different colors though. I found a font that looked like a road sign's text, so I made the Skipper Drive logo. When I was done in Photoshop, I saved as a pdf and went to get them printed on card stock at Office Depot. I thought the card stock felt a little thin, so I got some black file folders to glue onto the backs of the cards.
While I was at Office Depot, I picked up a pack of clear heavy duty page protectors. My plan was to create the plastic packaging bubble like you see on real toys. The first thing I did to get started on that was measure all figures and accessories. I traced the outline of one of the figures to make a kind of coffin. This would restrict movement while in the box to hopefully avoid any future paint chipping. Then I made small boxes to fit around the accessories and alternate heads. The make the boxes hold together, I used a small amount of super glue on every seam. This made the boxes able to stand up to the heat gun, because as far as I know super glue doesn't melt. The final thing I did was make one large box to house the smaller boxes. This large one would later become the outer bubble.
Once my boxes were ready, I grabbed the page protectors and my heat gun. The plastic melted process involved a lot of trial and error before I got it looking right. My original plan was to have the outer shell made out of two layers of the plastic (or 1 complete page protector). This came out looking cloudy, so I tried again with one layer of plastic (cutting the page protector into two halves). I had to put my heat gun on low heat because the plastic was melting too fast. I also tried not to melt the front part of the outer shell. Once the plastic cools a little after about 30 seconds, you can remove the paper box and it will hold its shape. For the inner shell, I used the figure coffin and the accessory boxes to create a mold to hold the parts like how actual toys are. At first I used a single plastic layer, but that stretched too thin and ripped from the complicated group of shapes. I tried again with a full page protector and it worked very well. It did not look perfect, but it looked better than I expected.
After that whole process was done, I double checked to make sure the figures fit inside of their boxes. Everything fit and things were looking up. So it was time to finish this.
Step 7: Finishing Up
I was finally time to finish these up! I trimmed the inner plastic with scissors until it fit inside the outer plastic. Then I folded the outer plastic into the best rectangular shape I could. Once the plastic shell was ready, I placed the figures into their appropriate boxes. I noticed the alternate heads were not facing the right way, so I applied a very small drop of hot glue to the back of the heads force them to look forward. Once I was happy with it, I folded the plastic again and taped everything shut. I applied some hot glue to the back of the plastic shell and applied it to the backing card I had made. Just to be safe, I lightly pressed on the shell while the glue cooled. I knew I was almost done, so it was not hard to wait on the hot glue to cool off.
You should have seen their faces when I gave them their gifts! My brothers had seen me working on the figures and painting them, because once the first attempt failed I told them what I had been trying to do. I kept the packaging idea a secret, so they were very surprised!
Here is a list of figures and the accessories they come with:
Alternate Head - Steak out - In the cartoon, I was a shape shifter and would hide in funny places.
Accessory - Mucus Buddy - I am an asthmatic and in one episode I coughed up an egg that hatched into a miniature version of myself.
Alternate Head - Super Saiyan Scotty - In the cartoon, Scotty could transform into a Super Saiyan.
Accessory - Scotty had a bag of Doritos that he had with him in just about every episode of the cartoon.
Alternate Head - Pablo - In the cartoon, Daniel had two personalities, normal and the savage Pablo.
Accessory - Dead Duck - When he was Pablo, Daniel would often eat ducks and chickens.
Alternate Head - Super Saiyan Ben - In the cartoon, Ben could transform into a Super Saiyan.
Accessory - Light Saber - A character Ben played in a live action movie of ours was a self taught Jedi.
Alternate Head - Super J - This is Jacob's normal head but with a curl hanging down in the front, because he could become a Superman-like hero.
Accessory - Super J cape - As Super J he had a cape similar to Superman's but with a J in the logo.