Introduction: Turning a Twitter Avatar Into a Real-life Custom Figure
For anyone who has an avatar they use online, this is one way you can turn it into a 3-d model, to show off round the house or wherever.
This method is old-school modelling, not 3-d printing, so assumes a degree of sculpting ability, but it is a simple method that requires no expensive kit and will give you a completely individual result.
Some useful stuff covered in this instructable is:
- how to recreate a plasticine model as a solid object using a mould and casting method.
- a simple mould-making technique using recycled domestic containers, cardboard and tape
- how silicone latex is a good material for making multi-part moulds as it can be cut into sections to allow the cast to be removed later without it getting stuck
- that hot glue is a useful, quick and durable casting material (essentially a thermosetting plastic that pours)
This example is a custom figure recreated from Twitter profile image (shown left), used by a good friend and colleague of mine who was leaving work. He is a keen collector of custom toys, mostly in vinyl. This was an appropriate leaving present, but this method could be used for anyone you know who has a unique game avatar, etc.
It is roughly based on a munny body shape, but was completely handmade rather than based on a blank toy. It was modelled in plasticine, by eye, from the head featured in the twitter profile image.
Although not realised at the time, the twitter image is actually a detail from a picture of a custom toy:
Frank Kozik’s “The Peoples Soldier". The original toy is a custom toy based on the Monqee Qee platform.
My version was made not having seen the original, and is custom-made to reflect the owner, so had an additional beer glass and characteristic favourite green top and jeans.
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Step 1: Modelling the Toy in Plasticine
The most important step in the process was really to get the model looking right. This was done by eye from the Twitter profile image (shown left). Interpreting a 2-d image as a 3-d model is a challenge. The main focus was obviously the head and the only reference was the detail in the face. The body was also modelled by hand, the shape being loosely based on a munny, a common vinyl blank produced for making custom toys (shown right).
The modelling material was Newplast, which is essentially a hobby modelling material, just like Plasticine. The tools used were mainly stainless steel modelling tools. These are great and came originally from sculpture suppliers Alec Tiranti. These are not essential, as almost any small tools round the house can be used, like knitting needles, kitchen utensils, bamboo skewers.
Shown here is a household butter knife which is excellent for smoothing convex surfaces (the head here) without leaving fingerprints. This is done by gently rolling the flat of the blade round the head. Another kitchen object here is the stainless steel egg cup used to hold the head whilst working on the detail. This was very stable.
Note the body and head were not permanently joined together to make a single model. They were held together as required whilst working on them, to judge the fit, but were modelled as separate pieces. This was because they would be cast separately later.
Step 2: Making the Silicone Mould From the Original Plasticine Model
The finished models were then cast. The moulds were created from washed-out recycled kitchen containers - a plastic margarine container and a tuna can - with additional height being added using cardboard held in place with strong tape (gaffer tape, also known as duck tape).
A liquid silicon latex moulding agent was used with a curing agent to set it, but no separators were used. The two models were totally submerged in latex, and left to dry into two solid mould blocks, each with a model totally enclosed. These would be cut open later.
Because the models did not float in the liquid latex, they were resting on the bottom of the mould containers. When the latex dried, this would have caused a hole in one face of the mould. To counter this, a second layer needed to be added later.
To do this, each mould was removed, turned upside down and an additional mould case added. Each was filled with more latex, which adhered to the first mould to create a final mould that completely encased the model. This was done when the first moulds were just set, when they are still quite tacky. This makes them stick to the second layer better.
The latex needs stirring to mix in the curing agent. This can cause a lot of bubbles. The liquid latex should be either shaken or gently banged against a solid surface to cause the bubbles to float to the top and be released.
Step 3: Removing the Mould by Cutting to Allow for Undercutting
Normally when casting moulds in rigid materials like plaster of Paris, this is done in sections that are cast with spacers between them, or mould-release agents like vaseline to prevent the mould ending up as a solid tomb encasing the model!
In this process, a slightly different method was used without using separators. The two models were deliberately entombed in the mould by being totally submerged in the a liquid silicon latex moulding material. The mould material was a standard liquid silicon pouring latex, mixed with a curing agent which will make it set after a while.
The two models had been left in the latex until completely set to produce two solid mould blocks, each with a model totally enclosed. The moulds would then be later cut apart carefully with a scalpel to create the separate mould sections. The latex was left for over a week to make sure it was set well before cutting. If cut when not fully cured, it can be slightly soft or crumbly, which ruins the process. A good clean cut through a well set latex is needed.
For the head, this meant cutting the back half into two pieces, so the final mould was in three pieces. One for the front (face), and one each for the sections of the back of the head where the ears were.
For the body, this meant cutting a piece out where the arm terminates in a beer glass. The line of the cut was along the centre of the arm through to the centre of the glass.
In this example the mould was made from opaque white silicon, but for more complex custom cuts, a clear silicon would be better, so that the position of the cuts could be judged more accurately.
This is a very simple method and allows the mould to be cut in several places as required, to avoid undercuts in the model causing the eventual mouldings from being removed from the model.
Step 4: Recreating the Model With a Hot-glue Gun Moulding
Anyone who does lots of making or fixing, will probably have used hot-glue. This is a thermosetting plastic that is solid at room temperature, but when melted by heating in a glue-gun becomes liquid and very sticky. It is a great way to quickly stick things together.
Hot-glue as a material has several handy characteristics, which can be exploited in making mouldings:
- It can be made liquid easily, so can be poured into the mould
- because it is quite viscous, it can be directed into corners, and prodded manually into recesses if required
- hot glue will bond and stick to cold glue and therefore the moulding can be built up in layers.
The first layer against the mould can be worked carefully to avoid bubbles and gaps (like a gel coat in glass-reinforced plastic). The mould can be filled in more roughly, building with subsequent layers
- it is also easy to stick two separate mouldings together to recreate the model
- it sets immediately that it has cooled, so it can be used very quickly unlike some chemically setting materials
- it does not shrink when cooled
Once cooled, the mould pieces were removed. You can see the extra glue wastage along the glue lines. This was trimmed off later. It is worth considering where the lines will be when you consider your mould cutting lines. It is best to avoid lines accross significant features like the face.
Finally, the two halves were joined to recreate the complete model. This was done by cutting the head off a nail, then heating it and pushing into the top joining face of the body, then heating the other end, and pushing the head on to locate it. The edges of the join were tidied up using carefully applied hot-glue to finish.
Step 5: Finishing and Painting the Completed Model
Once the model was completed, it was painted with several coats of a flesh-coloured based coat. This was a standard white domestic emulsion paint, tinted with hobby PVA gouache-type poster paint.
Paint tends to act as a filler, covering blemishes like fingerprints from the original model or minor holes and depressions from the mould. However, it also tended to lessen the details where it runs and pools in them when liquid. After coats, the model was kept sharp by cutting and filing into the paint in these fine details, such as the mouth and eye areas, using small riffler files.
The various broad areas of colour were painted with more PVA paint.
Once the base colour coats were completed, the detail was added using normal marker pens and artists felt tip pens.
For the face, some colour texture was created by adding pen, then wiping off. This accentuates details such as the edges of the nose and makes he face more mottled like real skin.
For details such as the cigar, eyes, glasses and beer glass, further felt pen was applied to build up texture.
Eventually when completed, the model was given about 6 coats of polyurethane matt varnish, with sanding and filing between coats as required.
The completed model is shown here, next to a recycled munny box, and a matching custom card. This was created in Flash, by importing and tracing a real card, then applying new text for the name "Grumpy" and background effects such as the sunburst fill.
The design was printed in two separate halves onto heavy gauge paper on a normal laser printer. These were stuck back to back, then trimmed to size.
The figure was presented at my friends leaving do, and he seemed to be very pleased!
Step 6: Tools, Materials and Credits for This Instructable
- Modelling material - Newplast
- Mould-containing materials - recycled consumer waste containers (margarine tub, tuna tin, packaging cardboard), held together with common gaffer tape (duck tape)
- Mould-making material - SE-2005 Silicone Rubber
- Moulding material - Standard hot-glue
- Decoration - domestic emulsion paint coloured with PVA poster paint, black marker pen, coloured artists felt tipped pens (Letraset Promarkers)
- Sealant - domestic polyurethane varnish (matt)
- Card - heavy gauge paper, with Pritt adhesive to stick together
- Modelling - hands, common butter knife and stainless steel modelling tools
- Mould-cutting - standard large sculpters scalpel
- Finishing - sandpaper, and riffler files
- Decoration - Promarkers as above, and standard paint brushes
- Card - Macromedia Flash to create imagery, standard laser printer to print it out
Design of personalised custom figure and all making - rosemarybeetle :)