Raising the Deep, part 1

datetime July 10, 2013 11:00 PM

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The IKRPG group I was running collapsed a few months ago, but most of the participants soon regrouped and started a new campaign: a fairly standard Pathfinder adventure path. This is pretty much bog-standard D&D, which means the options for character creation are much more open than in the fairly focused and rule-bound IK world.

Because of this, and because I’m an idiot, I decided to play a fish summoner.

My character’s backstory is a) very long, b) interesting only to me, and c) degrades in its details with every hazy retelling, but in a nutshell, I am playing Pirisca the Gasping, a former non-sentient fish goddess who was abandoned by her worshipers, caught, eaten, and reincarnated in the body of a nearby heavyset woman named Margie. The majority of her divine powers are gone, but she is slowly rebuilding them (beginning with the ability to summon her host’s former family, who had all consumed her succulent meat and were thus smoten by her final godly act, as transmogrified fish people) as she explores this unfamiliar dry world.

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It took me a few design passes to figure out what I wanted her to look like, but I eventually arrived at the design above. I wanted to include elements of both of the character’s identities– Margie should definitely have a matronly look to her, with a kind face and ample build. Pirisca’s contribution is in her garb; her divine form was covered in beautiful rainbow scales, so she dresses in bright colours and wears a stole made of random bits of shiny glass and metal she picks up. And since she’s new to the human world, she makes a few odd fashion choices, most notably the still-living fish she wears as a hat.

When I made this drawing, I was intending to play her as a halfling, which is why she has furry feet and such odd proportions. I later decided to run her as a human instead, so the final mini is taller and much heavier; I didn’t bother making a new drawing, though, as this one still captured the essence of the character and her wardrobe, and I simply needed to adjust her anatomy a bit.

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Despite her race swap, I still wanted her to be very short– not even 5ft tall. I printed off a standard 30mm skeleton reference and then used it to draw a much shorter person, which I in turn used to wire up Pirisca’s armature.

Keep that in mind as we go through the photos– you’re always looking at a model that comes in around 24mm tall. It’s still in 30mm scale, but represents a relatively tiny lady. 🙂

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Once the armature was done, I went through my normal process, starting with structural putty to immobilize the wires and give later layers something to stick to.

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When this was dry, I added wires for the arms and gave them the same structural coating.

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With that done, it was time to start bulking her out. I’ve historically encountered a problem both in my sculpting and in my drawing wherein I’ll intend a model to end up looking heavyset, and I’ll go out of my way to round them out in the early anatomy stage, but then as I add costumes and armor, the impression of bulk is largely lost.You can tell that they aren’t exactly skinny, but compared to real-world heavy folk, my heavy figures end up looking almost athletic.

There are a few reasons I think this happens– overbulking shoulders makes the torso appear rectangular; over-accessorizing the waist fools the eye into thinking any bulges are just down to pouches and holsters; and on a more fundamental level, I just don’t bulk them out enough. My art style, both on paper and in putty, tends toward lanky beanpoles, so my “fat people” are only that by comparison to my other characters.

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I usually forget about this problem and let it sneak up on me at the end of a project, but this time around I kept it in mind from the get-go. I didn’t want to over-do it and make her into a bloat thrall, however, so I opted to add bulk one layer at a time; start only a bit heavy, making sure to account for muscle groups and bony protrusions (knees, elbows, etc), and then add patches of additional fat one slab at a time until I had something that worked for me. I also wanted to avoid over-bulking certain areas in ways that made it hard to sculpt clothes on top, though, so I ended up making these bulk additions all throughout the body-sculpting process.

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With the basic musculature set up, I prepped her skull; a small slot for the jaw gives me the option of an open mouth later, while the larger eye slot lets me drop in a pair of spheres once the skull is dry.

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My first “hmm, still too skinny” adjustment happened when setting up the foundation for the dress; I started by simply connecting the legs together as I did way back when I made the Succubus, but consulting some photo reference quickly made it clear how much heavier she was going to need to be, so I added quite a bit to her silhouette here, with the intention of putting still more on later.

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At the same time, I took a first pass on her face. More than anything, I wanted her to look friendly and warm; neither of Pirisca’s personalities is particularly hostile, and I wanted her to convey a sense of geniality through a beaming smile and kind eyes.

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Once the head was set, I got to work on the surface layer of the dress. This began as always with applying patches of putty wherever such patches were needed; adding putty in huge chunks invariably leads to unnatural collections of mass, so I’ve been trying to avoid it for the last year or two, to very satisfactory results.

(Also, I did her feet at some point, apparently.)

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Once I had putty where it needed to be, I blended the putty slabs together with a hoe tool, and then created dress creases with clayshapers. I like how the creases came out on the front, but the back isn’t quite as good; you can see it in later pictures.

This step was where I more or less finalized her girth, and I’m pretty satisfied with where it ended up; she looks heavy without being a formless blob.

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Next I moved onto the hair, for which I was aiming for something along the lines of a Patty Bouvier haircut– poofy and somewhat frizzy/curly. Here I’ve applied the putty blobs and blended them together…

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…and here I’ve used a pick tool to create erratic flow lines. I kept the head utterly drenched in water (after ensuring that the edges of the hair were completely sealed, as any water getting underneath would cause it to break off) as this helps to keep hair detail ridges from sticking to each other.

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Once the hair was set, I started on her most prominent fashion accessory– the fish hat. Here I’ve just added a simple blob to act as its foundation.

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…and then I sculpted him on in one very quick pass. This is the only part of the mini I don’t like– I really rushed the fish, and he came out looking a bit stupid, even after the later corrective pass I made.

BAD SPUD. NO RUSHING. *swats with newspaper*

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Alrighty, there are a couple things going on here that didn’t have their own interim photos…

  1. I’ve added the start of her shawl. I kind of half-assed the folds, but came back and cleaned them up later down the line.
  2. I’ve started creating her “junk stole”; the actual bits of junk will be added later, but here I’ve started by creating a strip to attach everything to by simply laying out a putty snake, flattening it, and then scoring it to give it some texture for later layers to grip.
  3. I’ve started working on her sleeves; here I’ve simply attached some strips of putty that will then be curled around her arms and blended into the rest of the forearm.

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…like so. In addition to cleaning up the sleeves, I’ve also added a belt, as well as a knot on her shawl.

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Once the stole’s foundation strip was hardened, I started adding bumpy bits all over it. Pirisca collects shiny things she finds on the ground, and then twists them into what is essentially a long strip of chicken wire she keeps draped around her neck. The result, which isn’t as ugly as you would expect garbage to be, is what she refers to as her “new beautiful rainbow scales”.

The actual bits aren’t all added one speck at a time; rather, I put on a small blob and then used a taper chisel clayshaper to break the surface up into 3-6 different overlapping ovaloids.

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The last major bit of anatomy to add to the model were her hands. My current method for sculpting hands, which I came up with myself and am not 100% happy with, is to sculpt the palms of each hand on a flat surface, stick that object to the model’s arm, and then sculpt the back of the hand in place. This method has a lot of quality issues (it’s hard to properly pose the fingers when the hand isn’t in place; the separate palm layer, attachment layer, and back layer often results in way-too-thick hands; and it leads me to make splayed-finger hand poses, which are INCREDIBLY fragile), but I haven’t found a better one yet, so it’s still what I’m using. :/

On the left is the first hand I sculpted, and on the right is the one I ended up using. The reason I re-did it should be fairly obvious from the photo: I finished the first hand and then immediately realized it was way too small. >_<

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I’ve covered my hand-sculpting process before on the old site, but in a nutshell:

  1. Putty oval
  2. Cut thumb away and bend it down
  3. Make a mitten shape
  4. Use a knife to cut the mitten in half, then into quarters
  5. Clean and round fingers
  6. Add palm relief
  7. Lift fingers off the plastic surface and curl/angle them into whatever pose is required

I’ll probably do a full video tutorial on these at some point so you can see how it all progresses.

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Once it’s dry, I attach it to the model’s arm. A lot of cleanup happens after this point, but I apparently got photos of absolutely none of it. >_<

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The second-last detail to add is her conch shell wand. I plant a wire into a cork and bend it into the vague shape I want, give it some very thin structural putty just like the main model received, and then sculpt the spiraling chamber you see above.

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Once the basic form is set, I add some teensy-tiny putty specks (these are about the size of salt grains) to form the spikes around the top.

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Once it’s dry, I attach it to the arm, and then sculpt a clasped hand around it in the usual way.

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It’s kind of ugly, but it does the job.

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The very last detail to add is her purse, which uses my standard old pouch-sculpting method.

It’s nice having a backlog of old tutorials to lean on so I don’t need to write all this crap out again. 🙂

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So in the end, is it my nicest-looking sculpt ever?

Not even close.

But does it serve my purpose as a D&D mini?

Hell yeah.

And of course, any problems with the sculpt…

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…can usually be corrected in paint. 🙂

I’ll skip most of the painting as usual because I never have much to say about it, but I’ll touch quickly on the two things that required some thought.

First off, it took some experimentation to get a skin tone I was happy with. I wanted her to have a vaguely Pacific Islander look to her, but I couldn’t honestly tell you if I’ve ever actually met such a person, so I had to refer to my usual ethnicity cheat sheet: Painting Ethnic Skintones by Chrispy on CoolMini. He has a nice breakdown of the staged colour swatches in an average islander’s complexion, and I did my best to reproduce them as washes. I think I ended up using 5 total washes to get the blend I was after, and the result is pretty much exactly what I was after.

Boo-yeah. 🙂

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The other interesting technique on this mini was the fish-print dress, which was very challenging, but not for the reason you might expect; I had no difficulty freehanding the fish patterns (which I formed into a wobbling mouth-to-tail sine wave that spirals up around her body), but it was very challenging to figure out how to shade both colours of the pattern so that it looked like areas of the same fabric and not “green cloth sewn on top of purple cloth”.

If you watched my painting tartan video from last week, this is the not-so-successful project I alluded to at the start– I opted to use blue to shade the green and purple, and I found that it simply got lost in the purple side. What the tartan project taught me was that I should’ve used a colour that contrasts both of them, instead of one that they both share; this might have taken away from the cool colour scheme I was trying to enforce, but I think I could’ve managed it if I kept the shading wash thin.

I did ultimately end up with a fairly nice shading effect on the cloth, but it was accomplished almost entirely with manual shading and highlighting, so I consider it a failure of process even if the end result worked out well enough.

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All of my D&D minis get nameplates.

Freehanding text is fun. 🙂

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And that, ladies and gents, is my D&D mini. Part 2 of this article will show off the other minis I made to go along with her– she is, after all, a summoner, and I whipped her up a whole host of aquatic minions to boss around in the field. And if I do say so myself, they include some of the best paint jobs I have ever managed in my entire modeling career.

That, however, will have to wait for another day. 🙂

Toodles for now!

-Spud

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