Literal Beavers and Metaphorical Crabs

datetime December 19, 2016 11:09 PM

In case you missed the banner at the top of the site, I am amazing. I am amazingly smart, and I come up with amazing ideas, and I execute them amazingly well.

Usually, anyway.

Sometimes, though, I find my reserves of amazing running a bit on the dry end. This is invariably a temporary situation, so all I generally need to do is to put the partially-formed idea on the backburner for a few weeks, months, or years, and eventually the perfectly-formed version of the project will bubble up to the surface of my brainmeats.

Usually, anyway.

On some very rare occasions, I find myself without any really inspiring ideas for a project, but with some extenuating circumstance preventing me from simply putting the whole thing off for a while. This usually happens because I need to finish a model in time to play in an event– I need to play the thing one way or another, and I refuse to give up and bring some lesser-quality version that one of you mundane folk would settle for, so I have no choice but to force myself to squeeze out some brilliance on a tight schedule.

I do not work well under these circumstances. Over the years, I’ve developed the capacity to perform production tasks– sculpting, conversion, painting, terrain construction, and so on– under pressure, and as it happens, some of my best work is done in a frenzied last-minute panic. However, this generally requires me to start my frenzy with the concept for the project already fully-formed in my head. If on the other hand I enter Panic Mode without having come up with my brilliant idea at the start, then things start to look fairly bleak.

Which brings us to Crab People.

For those of you unfamiliar with them, Crab People are characters from a seventh-season episode of South Park. Long story short, the TV show “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” becomes very popular in South Park, and all of the men in town turn Metrosexual in imitation of the show. Various hijinks happen, and then about 2/3 of the way through, the kids finally track down the cast of the show to tell them to stop converting their townsfolk.

I’ll quote the creators on what happens next:

But in a bizarre third-act twist, the Queer Eye team reveal themselves to be subterranean-dwelling ”crab people” hell-bent on [making human men Metrosexual, thus weakening them and making it easier to] take over the world.

Stone: Trey said ”crab people,” and we joked about how dumb it was. But we couldn’t figure out anything better.
Parker: We talked for hours, and eventually we came back to ”What about those crab people?”
Stone: [South Park exec producer] Anne Garefino was like, ”Oh my God, don’t do crab people. It’s f—ing stupid.”
Parker: But then we went and wrote the crab-people song: ”Taste like crab/Talk like people…” I love the crab-people song. But ”crab people” became this thing [in the writers’ room]. It’s like, you just know there’s something better, but you can’t think of it, and you’re out of time, and now you’ve just got to go with crab people.


Today’s project is Spud’s very own personal Crab People. Corvus Belli published a limited-edition event kit this year called “TAGLINE”, which is a mini story campaign revolving around a famous mech pilot in the Infinity fluff. The event’s missions incentivize using a TAG– the game’s 12-foot-tall stompy robots– but while I own three of them, I had never actually built or painted any of them. When the TAGLINE event format was announced, I decided that I needed to finish one of my TAGs in time to play it at the event. And since all three of them would be centerpiece models for their respective armies, I wouldn’t settle for anything less than a unique conversion that would make everyone around me realize, once again, just how great I am.

Which would be great if I had any ideas whatsoever.

I really tried. I spent days looking at the models, hunting around for nice painted versions of each one, and firing off sketch after sketch in search of something that really embodied the Spudmazingness that you all expect of me. I had dozens of ideas, but unfortunately, they were all terrible.

And then, all of a sudden, the event was two weeks away. The only decision I had made in my weeks of deliberations was to narrow down my choice of TAGs to the Clausewitz Uhlan, which is one of the TAGs available to my NeoCanadian army.

Compared to other TAGs in the game, the Uhlan is small, sleek, and lightly-armoured, with advanced stealth technology that makes it difficult to see. Every model in my NeoCanadian army is converted to make it more thematically Canadian, and I simply could not come up with an idea for a “Canadian Stealth Robot”.

So I said “Screw it” and decided to paint it as a wooden robot and give it a beaver pilot.

This was not an amazing idea.

It was not even a good idea.

But I needed some idea, and it was, technically.. an idea.

Because as a wise man once said, sometimes you’re out of time, and you just have to go with Crab People.

The Very Minimal Conversion

In addition to the thematic challenges involved in converting the Uhlan model, there was an added difficulty stemming from the rather bizarrely contorted pose that it ships in:

It comes with a strange mechanical base festooned with lever-mounter platforms, and is then twisted sharply at the waist with one of its legs jammed nearly into its chest. Doing almost anything with the post would require sawing limb segments apart and resculpting large parts of their connective tissue; I didn’t have anywhere near the time that would require, so I resigned myself to working with the model’s existing pose, albeit with something else under its raised foot to at least match my army’s winter wilderness basing scheme.

The model comes in seven fairly large pieces, which makes it relatively simple to assemble.

It was surprisingly difficult to bring myself to cut the model’s original head off, both because I really liked the original and because at this stage I was really unsure about what the model would end up looking like (and thus, whether it was going to look any good).

However, I knew that I couldn’t indulge myself in any hesitation– I used to teach model conversion classes, and when a person showed up for the first time and was clearly a bit nervous to start, my response was to hand them a pair of heavy clippers and insist that they immediately chop off major parts of the starting model. By irrevocably damaging the original model, they removed their ability to change their mind and back out– once 1/4 of the model is pewter slag on the table, you have no choice but to simply charge forward.

So despite my own hesitation this time around, I flashed back to these classes and forced the same measure I’d inflicted on a dozen others onto myself. The head came off, and as I’d hoped, my resolve began to crystallize.

The beaver pilot would be sitting down inside the TAG’s chest cavity with only its head and shoulders popping out, so I needed to clear some space inside the chest to fit the critter into. To do this, I bought the biggest drill bit that could fit into my pin vice (a 7/36″, as it turns out) and began tunneling.

A bit of knife cleanup later, I had enough space to start working in.

I planted a wire inside the cavity and secured it with Green Stuff and super glue.

Once the foundational putty was set, I wrapped the wire with Green Stuff as an adhesive, and then wrapped that still-soft layer with Fimo.

And then I paused for a moment, and came to a profound realization.

“I… don’t actually know what a beaver looks like.”

The sculpting paused for a quick Science Break.

“Ooooohhhhhh. Okay, got it now.”

With science satisfied, I extended my break to quickly sketch what this majestic creature would look like ensconced in his mighty chariot.

“I am no longer feeling hesitant about this project.”

I started adding more clay around the central wad to form the pilot’s open mouth, general pudge, and adorable stubby arms.

(The next few pictures are out of focus– apologies for the blurriness.)

I then started building up the facial features– ears, , nose, jowls, eye sockets, eyes, and so on. It still didn’t quite look like a beaver, though– I was still getting more of a possum vibe.

She finally started looking the part when I piled more bulk around her upper lip and added her front teeth.

This is sculpting in a nutshell– you start with a wad of clay that doesn’t look right, and then you keep adding more clay until it has all the bits it needs, and eventually it stops looking weird.

So for any of you out there looking to try sculpting, just… do all of that.

See? Easy.

Once the body had mass in all the right placed, I went over the entire thing with a metal tool to delicately add fur streaks. Once these were defined, I went back over with a clayshaper to soften the fur lines.

That was basically it for the clay sculpting portion, so I baked the body. Once it was out, I added her tiny little hands and the TAG’s control levers using Green Stuff.

And that was pretty much it for the pilot. Next, I drilled holes into the robot’s feet and embedded a pair of wires into them. These would form the structure for the model’s replacement base.

I sunk these wires into a new cork, then wrapped the raised one with Green Stuff to strengthen it for the next stage.

Once it had hardened, I wrapped another layer of soft Green Stuff around the hard base to form an adhesive layer for the clay.

Around this foundation, I sculpted an old tree stump. I was working in a blind panic with a week to go until the event, so I forgot to take process pictures. >_<

It wasn’t terribly complicated, though– sculpt central cylinder, add roots in a star pattern around it, smooth everything together, and then use a metal tool to rough up the bark.

Ta-da! Tree.

I decided that the heavy robot would be partially uprooting the stump with the weight it was applying, so I sculpted three of the roots raised in the air.

Another trip in the oven, and the model was basically ready for paint.

Woodgrain can’t be that hard to paint, right?

I taught myself how to draw wood grain when I was 10. It isn’t that complicated:

Click to Embiggen

The decision to paint the robot with a wood pattern at the outset of the project was made very quickly and casually because I figured that I had long ago mastered the technique of drawing woodgrain. However, when it came time to actually pick up a paintbrush, I immediately realized that there was a lot more to painting wood than simply drawing swoopy lines all over it. Real wood contains extremely varied colours and tones, and I needed to render these IN ADDITION to painting the incredibly intricate line patterns.

The particular wood I wanted to paint was cedar, which is made up of a mixture of warm, rich oranges, browns, and yellows:


 I wanted the wood on my robot to feature as much of this rich detail as I could manage, which was honestly a pretty stupid thing to decide with one week remaining before the event considering that I had no bloody idea where to start.

However, committing to terrible decisions and then desperately figuring out how to fix them later on is basically “Spud’s Creative Process”, so I set my jaw, rolled up my sleeves, and boldly asked Yaum to solve the problem for me.

As you may recall from past projects on this blog, Yaum is a much better painter than I am:

I asked him how he would paint completely freehand wood grain on an otherwise smooth model, and he responded with some very helpful advice:

In English, that roughly translates to:

You can prime white, draw the pattern (I’d say dark brown + retarder, or really fine brown Micron), then glaze using Citadel washes. Use their sepia and their ogre flesh– I think now it’s called Reikland Flesh (It’s the right kind of red). Their Crimson is pink. And maybe get their purple wash too. It’s great for shadows on many warm colors. A thin layer will do the trick for the wood.

It’s amazing how much nuance and meaning one can fit into a single word of French. It is truly a strange and beautiful language. <3

This would be a slightly weird process for me, as I stopped using GW washes about five years ago, and no longer owned any– they’re good for what they do, but I prefer to have more control over my colours than I can get with a wash. However, I cannot resist Yaum’s hypnotic commands, so I immediately drove out and bought a whole bunch of them.

I tested the technique out on some spare Retribution jack parts, as they had the same vaguely swoopy shape as the Uhlan’s armour. I primed one white and the other off-white to see if that made a difference– in the end, the off-white won.

I didn’t care about cleanliness for the test– I just wanted to see how the colours reacted to the washes. After some experimentation, I settled on three colours for my patterns:

  • 50% P3 Bloodstone + 50% P3 Cygnus Yellow (which basically makes old GW Snakebite Leather)
  • P3 Bloodstone
  • P3 Umbral Umber

I’ll go over the application process in more detail a bit later.

I then slopped my newly-reacquired washes over the base colours; two thin layers of Sepia, then a really thick layer of sepia on one area (which created that gross blotch at the bottom– I made a mental note not to let that much pool up in one place on the final model), then some Reikland Flesh in the cracks and on the bottom.

The final test piece looks pretty hideous, but it taught me what I needed to learn, so I threw it in the garbage and moved onto my Mechabeaver.

I primed white and then painted all of the metals, then covered the armour panels with a clean coat of P3 Menoth White Highlight.

Of the seven days that I had available to paint the model, the metals took one, and then getting a smooth coat of off-white over the sloppy black marks from the metals took two of them– it took five freaking layers in some places. >_<

So in the end, I had used almost half of my available painting time and hadn’t even started the wood yet. :/

This leg was my first live trial of the technique, and it took me one and a half evenings to apply the base colours. I went slowly to avoid mistakes, as I was applying the paint in translucent layers, which made it very hard to cover any errors.

It took longer than I had hoped, but I absolutely loved how this leg came out, so I proceeded much more quickly over the rest of the model. Here’s a basic run-down of the process:

  1. Using thinned [ Bloodstone + Cygnus Yellow ] and a fine paint brush, paint on the wood grain pattern. Start with the knots, and then draw parallel lines around them over the rest of each panel. I took care to use the placement of knots and the direction of lines to emphasize that each panel was made from a different chunk of wood– basically, making sure that the pattern on any one panel didn’t continue onto any of its neighbours.

2. Using the same thinned “pseudo-Snakebite” paint, I went back over about 80% of each panel to darken the off-white lines that were still showing through in most places. However, I made sure to still leave SOME white lines on every piece to avoid making it too uniform.

3. I next went back over some of the lines with thinned P3 Bloodstone, taking care to trace directly on top of the original lines and avoid painting over the lighter negative space. I concentrated these darker lines in the areas that I darkened with Snakebite in step 2.

Finally, I applied thinned P3 Umbral Umber over the knots, as well as on the grain lines that proceeded directly out of them.

I started the model by painting only one panel at a time, but by the end I was feeling confident enough to apply the process over huge chunks of the model all at once.

I was making good progress, but with two days to go, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to completely finish the model by the morning of the TAGLINE event. Once I realized this, I took stock of the model and tried to figure out what I could finish. I concluded that I could mostly finish the base colours over the entire model, but wouldn’t have any time for cleanup or any of the washes.

I didn’t like the idea of showing up to an event with an unfinished model, but I didn’t have any other choice, so I bore down and rushed through the rest of the model.

The next photos show the result of my woodgrain process. The rush work wasn’t without casualties, as the woodgrain on the upper body (and especially the shoulder gun) looks chunky and sloppy compared with the really careful linework I did on the left leg. I really regret hurrying this work, as I think this could have been a really amazing display model if I’d given myself enough time to do it properly. 🙁

For the next few photos, I decided to alternate between two versions of each angle– what the model looked like at 3am the morning of the event when I finally went to bed (with only the base paint colours and no washes), and what it looked like a week later, after some cleanup and ten careful layers of thin washes (6 Sepia, 4 Reikland).

Front – Base Colours Only

Front – After Washes

Side – Base Colours Only

Side – After Washes

Back – Base Colours Only

Back – After Washes

The washes did a LOT of work to conceal the poor linework, but I can still see it on a few places (UGH, that horrible shoulder gun… ;_; ) and it definitely still bothers me. :/

But, whatever– even if some of the details are a bit muddled, the overall effect is really nice, and the model has enough bizarre comedy value to distract from the fact that it doesn’t make sense within my army. 😛

Let me show you my beaver. (HA! Vagina joke!)

This is where I would normally wrap up by tying back to the intro and talking about how you have to take the Crab People that life gives you and make the best of them.

However, if they worked out nicely in the end, they would not be Crab People.

The real lesson about Crab People is to just get through them. Slap SOMETHING together, get SOMETHING shipped out the door, and move on to better projects.

So, let’s do that now, shall we?



Hopefully. @_@


One thought on “Literal Beavers and Metaphorical Crabs

  • lynxicanus

    Ok, This is simply awesome. Different, hilarious and very well executed. 100 internet points for you. Not sure what you can do with said points… but they are all yours.

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