This instructable is going to take you through the process for sculpting a figure named "Dirt", a video game character from the PC game Origin of the Species, developed by Nu Generation Games Ltd. in the UK.
Check out the official game site: www.dirtthegame.com
I hope you will find some insight into the long process that goes into the making of a prototype statue from start to finish.
When I first started on this project I didn't have a lot of reference art to go from as the game was still in development at the time. As you can see my figure was inspired by the concept art for the box art, which at the time, she was holding two handguns. Later on the art was changed with Dirt Holding the shot gun instead. In retrospect I think I would have preferred the shotgun but when the art was finalized the sculpture was pretty much done so there was no going back - oh well!
The story is about a teenage girl that gets kidnapped and experimented on, has to fight insect like creatures, rescue her friends, all the while gaining super human powers in the process:
"An innocent camping trip into the Nevada desert takes a deadly turn when military black operations test a new viral weapon designed to create battlefield infantry by mutating commonly found insects and parasites. When the test run goes horribly wrong, it's up to you to find and rescue your friends while discovering information and unlocking special abilities. To fight an array of mutated animals and black op marines, you'll have futuristic weapons, special combat moves, and the ability to mutate into a more powerful creature."
To me her fighting abilities were a very important aspect of the character to portray. Too often video game vixens are portrayed in a really cheesecake fashion and I didn't want to go down that road! I tried my best to make her cute and sexy, but at the same time strong and feminine without being cheesecake: I wanted the observer to believe she could kick some butt because it is an integral aspect of the game experience.
My idea was to capture an instant in time that could possibly occur in the game and that told a story or gave insight into a narrative aspect of the game. During game play she comes across huge monsters to fight against, so the art director and I chose to use the "Wherewolf" creature from the game as a victim for the base to compliment the figure and make it more interesting then a plain nameplate.
Obviously, due to lack of space, I couldn't afford to place the whole creature on the base since it was a large beast in the context of the game so I decided to decapitate its head as though it were the aftermath of an encounter with Dirt.
Also on the base I wanted to place several shell casings and other debris which I will discuss in detail later on...
Because of her small scale (1/8th so 8.5" tall roughly without the base) I decided I wanted to use toy wax as my finishing material to get all the details nice and crisp. At this scale I find it is the best solution for me as the hardness of the material allows me to hold small parts without too much worry about squishing something in the process.
Step 1: Roughing in the Figure With Super Sculpy
You cannot sculpt with toy wax directly as you would with clay (it is a carving medium mostly and can't be pushed around, in fact, it is very similar to soap stone in that respect), so I had to make a "rough" out of a softer material, in this case Grey Super Sculpy, which would form my "blank", that I could mold, and subsequently cast in the wax for further refinement.
I used super sculpy which is readily available at most craft stores (usually in the pink colour) and works quite well because it is rather soft and easy to work with but then can be baked to a hard finish which can be beneficial during the molding process because it won't get smashed or easily distorted.
I start using the armature process as in the previous tutorial "Creating A Figure Armature For Sculpture" to create my armature. In this case I made the armature in 1/8th scale so roughly 8.5 tall or so. Once my armature was made and mounted on my wooden base I started to pose it according to the reference material provided.
Once I was fairly satisfied with the pose I started to add clay (using the bones out method) according to the major muscle masses and shapes. At this stage I'm just looking for general forms and basic shapes without any details and really paying attention to the dynamics and flow of the pose.
I like to look at the pose from all angles and determine if there are any views that don't work. As a general rule of thumb I think a sculpture is successful if at least 3 out of 4 views work. I strive to make all the views work but if one view isn't as strong as the others then it's not too bad.
Keep in mind that when you are working from reference, and are using a particular pose that is significant with respect to the character or considered the main focus of the work, make sure it is the strongest view because it will most likely be the position that will be displayed the most.
I have to make sure that my gesture is correct as it is very difficult to change later on in wax as the material won't allow major changes without having to make cuts with a hack saw. It can be done but it requires a lot of time and work so it is better to get the gesture down pat during the clay stage.
Step 2: Refining the Super Sculpy Rough
You may notice that I introduced some resin parts (the head is from my BloodRayne 2 figure!) I had lying around, in the same scale, which helped speed up the process. During the wax phase they were changed to resemble the character and provided a good starting point. Wax is a great material because it is cast-able which allows you to use tricks like this to speed up your work flow. Some artists keep a library of their molds from previous projects for this very reason!
Here are images of the sculpture with the clay rough completed and ready to be baked prior to molding. You may notice that the sculpture is almost complete but kept a little loose in the details to allow for slight changes after she is cast in wax. This is largely due to the fact that wax will shrink so inevitable you will need to make some adjustments later on as we will see in the next step.
Note that the hands were left as simple geometric shapes of approximate size as it will be much easier to make them in wax. The shape simply allows the wax to have a shape as a base from which to start from.
The guns serve as a place holder and will simply be cut during the wax stage. I made other guns, cast them in resin, to then incorporate them into the sculpture during the next phase. Its nice to have the props during the wax stage (or something that can mimic the prop) because it will give you and idea of how the final will look making sure all the angles work and fall into place.
The chain will not be cast into wax and removed before mold making.
Step 3: The Wax Stage
Once I molded the rough sculpy figure I then proceeded to cast it in a hard carving wax used primarily in the toy industry. Once the wax had cooled (usually takes about half and hour to an hour depending) I took the parts out of the mold and removed any access flashing or sprues and any other imperfections before starting the detail work.
As you can see this is the final wax figure in finished detail. This stage took a long time (roughly 2-3 weeks) when compared to the earlier rough in I did in super sculpy which only took a few days. The cargo pants took the longest time to sculpt believe it or not because there is so much going on with a simple pair of pants in terms of folds and stitching etc. Also I made them more fitting and less baggy for a sleeker look. I used fashion magazines for reference so I would make sure that my jeans would look more realistic.
All very time consuming to get right!
Toy wax is a fairly slow medium to work with which is why I only like to use it on smaller figures like this one. I usually never use toy wax on scales larger then 1:6th (12" tall) unless they are a small part of a large figure like the hands or some sort of accessory that would be suited for the medium.
You may notice I replaced the previous guns with the final ones I made by hand. I decided I wanted to make the guns look "spent" so I built them in the open position, ready for a new clip. I wanted it to look as though it took a lot of rounds for her to kill the werewolf. This action, together with the spent shell casing on the base, I thought would really help tell this story to the viewer.
I tend to think of sculpture very much like an actor that has to communicate a moment in time but cannot move or utter a sound. Almost like a static mime! I think an observer should be able to understand what is going on with the sculpture without necessarily knowing the subject matter or the history behind it.
Again, I feel it is very important that a sculpture work from various angles. Figurative sculpture, IMO, should be viewed in the round. I think it is important that an observer is able to turn the figure from various points of view and that at least 3 out of 4 views are pleasant to look at. To me, this makes for a well-composed piece. Of course this is not always possible but it is what I strive to do with my work when I think of posing a piece.
This is really where you have to plan a pose in your head before you begin, but at the same time, be flexible enough to make changes during the actual sculpting process because things sometimes look a lot different in the mind's eye then in real life.
As you can see in the photos, this is how far I took my clay before molding her and casting a wax copy to refine.
Because she is such a small piece at 9" tall approx., if I were to bring her to a stage where she was almost finished, the wax would shrink and distort the final figure making her look too skinny and unnatural. To avoid this distortion you have to cast the wax copy during a point in time where the figure is close to being "there" but has room for adjustments. It also helps if you sculpt your figure 3% larger to compensate as I tends to shrink from the sides and not in a uniform manner...
What you don't want to do in wax is make major pose changes: some minor ones are OK: In fact I changed the angle of her wrist during the wax stage with little effort. You may wonder what that red thing is sticking out of her shoulder. That is my armature! It happens on smaller figures sometimes that the armature pokes out here and there but it was not a big deal really because I knew that once cast in wax it would simply be an easy thing to fix as it simply shows up as a bump to be carved down...
Here are some intermediate shots of the wax. You will notice that in the final I drastically changed her pant style to be more like fitted cargo's as opposed to the more baggy look like in these photos. Also you may notice how you can see the drips of wax as I start to form the hands directly on the guns...
What I did was simply take a resin copy of the gun I made and attached it onto the wax, with my wax pen, using a little drop of wax, which acts almost like an adhesive when placed onto resin or plastic. Basically it ended up looking like the gun was attached to the stump of her wrist. Then, as you can see from the photos, I proceeded to make the fingers by laying down some lines of wax that gave the impression of the hands tendons coming from the wrist area. Then it is simply a matter of carving and refining with carving and loop tools to then add more wax where needed until it looks right.
As you can see from the frontal view the wax really polishes quite nicely! This is especially noticeable in the abdominal region. Having a smooth surface on such a scale is really important for the painting aspect during production as it will show any imperfections in the surface. On a figure like this, of a young girl, a rough surface can make her appear older then you may want...
You may be wondering what those little blue gobs are?
Simply they are "Sticky-Tac", the stuff you find in stationary stores used to put up posters on walls etc. It allows me to put my figure together in a non permanent fashion so I can make sure all the parts fit correctly. The break down of parts is very important for the production phase to go smoothly...
Step 4: The Base
At this stage it was time for me to make the base and tie in the sculpture as a whole. I think a base is an integral part of any sculpture, whether fine art or commercial, so it shouldn't be just something that is slapped on or overlooked. It can be a very useful narrative tool!
I find a base can make the difference between a good sculpture and an excellent one. In this case I wanted to make sure that it told a story in a clear fashion. Another consideration is that I didn't want the base to interfere with the figure or be overly complex especially for reproduction purposes. Granted I will never let production technicalities get in the way of the art aspect of the work, or let it interfere with making a better sculpture, however, it is a good idea to think of these aspects as well. You should always consider how something is going to be made and try to work that into your final piece to make your life easier and allow for better reproduction.
My friend Puro Cervantes actually sculpted the rough-in for the head of the creature in super sculpy, to help me save some time, and I then refined it in wax to what you see here. I also added the ears and horns as well as added the shell casings and the clips to emphasize the action that took place.
I wanted this to be an aftermath shot rather than an "in-action"" type of pose because I wanted to make sure she had a bit of sex appeal as well as let the observer imagine what had occurred rather then me feeding it to them. The best horror movies are the ones where you don't see the creature and your imagination does the work for you. I was attempting to apply a similar notion to this piece&
You can see from these pictures that the figure is a tinted resin casting. I waited to do the base until the figure was complete because the base, IMO, should be a supporting cast member to the star (the figure) so it should be made after rather then trying to make the figure work for the base, I made the base work for the figure to enhance it and showcase the figure in its best light not detract from the figure. The resin casting simply assures that I won't mess it up as wax is quite fragile. The worst thing would be to have your labour of love fall over and break into a million pieces just before the deadline!
The base was actually a lot of fun to make because of all the skin textures and mayhem. Its quite easy to make skin textures with toy wax as all you have to do is scribe lines with a fine metal tool in a criss-cross hatching type motion...
Step 5: The Final Figure
This is pretty much the final step in the whole process. What you end up with is a painted prototype that will be used as a model for taking promotional photos and as a guide for the factory. Normally you make 2 or 3 painted copies because manufacturing can take several months so it is important to have a painted version you can use to start the selling process.
Once the wax base was completed (see previous entry) all that was left to do was the molding and casting of the individual parts. This process alone can take a several days or a couple of weeks or more depending on the number of pieces and complexity of the work. It is important to do a good job at this stage as the whole production can be ruined otherwise. Not to mention that all the sculpting work would go to waste as well if the molds don't replicate details properly.
Once all your pieces have been cast and cleaned it is then onto the painting stage. At this point in the process you have to make decisions on how to best paint the figure while still keeping it simple enough for reproduction, while at the same time, not compromising the quality of the figure. Paint can make or break even the best sculpture so it is very important to do a good job!
In order to paint the individual pieces they are mounted with small rods or "pins" on wooden blocks so that they can be handled without actually touching the pieces with your hands. As you can imagine that would create a big mess on wet paint, but also, the oil from your fingers could result in the paint not sticking and flaking off (paint doesn't stick well to oily surfaces!).
I like to use Games Workshop Citadel colours to paint my prototypes. The colours are vibrant and easily available not to mention of very good quality. Also the color range is quite large which can save time when it comes to mixing. Painting can take a few days depending on how complex the piece is. I believe Dirt took about 3 days to complete (including the base) or so with another day or two of assembly.
In the end I'm quite happy with how this figure turned out. Currently she is in the process of being manufactured so hopefully she will be ready for sale within the next couple of months.
From sculpture to finished prototype the whole process took approximately 12 -15 weeks to complete. I hope you enjoyed the making of this figure and that you may have discovered new insight into the work that goes into each statue and learned something in the process to use on your own figures!
If you would like to purchase a copy of this figure please visit her Ebay listing: "Dirt Statue"
Be sure to check out our website for more figures too: http://www.settifineart.com