Slayers of the Pastry Drake

datetime March 19, 2017 6:22 PM

Spud did a good thing, but he did it badly, so the formerly fun project was made not-fun for those involved, and then it was never really finished, and then Spud shamefully stuffed it under the rug for 18 months.

But I’m going to have to haul it out and talk about it eventually, so I might as well get it over with now.

Behold the potato’s tale of shamefully poor planning. ;_;

Time Is Dumb And I Hate It

Spud knows a great painter named Yaum, who puts nice paint on things. Yaum painted several models I had made over the years, so one year for Christmas, I offered to sculpt him any model he wanted. He chose to have himself sculpted as a chibi model, which turned out like this:

Yaum put his usual amazing paint on the model, and entered it in the Crystal Brush at Adepticon. It didn’t win any prizes (BOOOOO! ;_; ), but it did catch the eye of someone else at the event. She asked where the model came from, and Yaum explained that I had made it.

This person was Elizabeth Beckley, pro painter of chibi models (and also other stuff. ๐Ÿ˜› ). I hadn’t heard of her up to that point (I don’t really follow the painting world…), but Yaum assured me that Liz was awesome, and this assessment was confirmed very early in our first conversation.

Liz explained that she was getting married in seven months, and wanted chibi models of herself and her fiancรฉ Jonathan to act as her wedding cake toppers.

(He’s the one on the left.)

And unlike the fairly standard cake toppers I was working on for my sister’s wedding at the time…

…Liz had a specific piece of concept art that she wanted her figures modeled after– the wedding invitation art that she had had produced by one of her artist friends.

And that was what she wanted me to sculpt: her fiancรฉ Jonathan as a cameraman barbarian, and her as a paintbrush warrior. And that was it… from the moment I saw the picture, I was on board.

I wasn’t able to start working on her project right away, since I was about to start working on an Infinity league for the players at my store, and that was scheduled to occupy me for the next couple of months. However, I was confident that I would have it wrapped up in time to start working on her minis three or four months before her October date, which should have given me plenty of time to finish them and send them off to her for painting.

And then comes the point in the story where Spud ruins everything. The Infinity campaign turned out to be a much larger beast than I had imagined, and by the time I managed to get my head back above water, there were only two months left to produce and mail the models, and somehow have her find time to paint them in the chaotic weeks before her wedding.

Rather than drawing out the suspense over this whole article like a crappy reality TV show, I’ll just cut to the end of this sad tale: sculpting time plus mailing time ended up putting the models into Liz’ hands just over two weeks before her date. By some miracle she got both minis mostly painted by her wedding day, with only the base and some random areas unfinished. And I did end up seeing the models in person a few months later, and she did an INCREDIBLE job with them. But to my knowledge, she never got around to completely finishing the models, and I’ve only ever gotten cell phone pictures of their semi-finished state.

Lack of photos led me to delay publishing this article for a short while, and then for a long while. And eventually, the delay crossed the event horizon to where it became weird and awkward to even bring up again. And since the entire sad situation was my own doing, I wasn’t exactly in any position to poke for updates. ~_~

And that’s where we are today: Spud’s crapness made a happy project sad, and he hid his shame away for over a year to avoid talking about it.

Spud feels terrible about all of this.

Spud is sorry.

Spud will do better next time.

;_;

This concludes the public shaming portion of this evening’s program.

While the context surrounding the production of the models brings great sadness to my heart, the actual models themselves are some of my favourite work. As is my way, I will now walk you through the process of their creation in agonizing detail.

The art that Liz gave me was amazing and I intended to stick to the character and concept designs depicted therein, but I needed to do my own concept to plan things like the art style I planned to use, the base layout, and the models’ poses. For the art style, I chose the only Chibi style I had worked in before– essentially just copying Super Dungeon Explore as I had for Yaum.

Layout-wise, I still wanted to include the purple dragon from the art, but not in a way that drew attention away from the models. My solution to this was to frame the scene as taking place after they’ve defeated it, with only its tail curling out of a cave in the rock they’re standing on.

One final decision I made was that the models should be separable from the base and from each other; given Liz’ fondness for chibis, I assumed that the two of them probably played SDE or other similar games, and that they might want to use their own effigies in game pawns. It turned out in the end that Liz doesn’t actually play the game, but I went ahead with the plan for removable pieces anyway because it was an interesting challenge and probably wouldn’t hurt the overall diorama that much. ๐Ÿ™‚

To keep the models in proper SDE scale, I reverse-engineered a borrowed model to get a skeleton diagram with the correct body proportions.

As per my usual process, I then twisted together a skeleton armature out of 20-gauge aluminum picture wire to create the model’s head, torso, and legs.

I make my models’ arms as a separate piece. The horizontal sections of wire in this photo will be the actual arms, while the downward dip that I’m squeezing together will allow me to attach the arms to the model’s spine.

Once the first skeleton was complete, I duplicated it for the second model. I would normally differentiate the skeletal proportions for male and female models, but given the cartoonish proportions of the SDE art style, I used the same generic skeleton for both of them.

The arms were then bent into shape and cut to length.

With the generic skeletons built, I then set about posing them. The model on the right is Liz; her right leg is raised up onto the defeated dragon’s tail in a satisfied hunter’s pose. Jonathan’s barbarian will be letting out a defiant roar, so I’ve given him a wide stance that will eventually have his face raised up to the sky.

Once the joints in the arms were defined with an initial bend, I then set about twisting them into their final positions, matching the poses from my concept drawing. The arms don’t need to be perfect at this stage– I’ll always do some tweaking after they’re attached to the torso– but I try to get them as close as possible, as the joint between the two pieces will always remain a bit flimsy and I want to minimize how much force I’ll need to exert on it.

Said flimsy joint is shown here. The downward tab on the arms is lined up with the model’s spine, and then attached with super glue. Once the glue dries, I wrap a thin sheath of Green Stuff around the whole assembly and let it set overnight.

I decided to work on Liz’ model first. I would be sculpting in Fimo, but Fimo doesn’t adhere well to anything except other Fimo, so the first step is to wrap the entire model with a thin layer of Green Stuff putty…

…and then wrap Fimo around the putty while it’s still soft. The sticky putty allows the clay to adhere to the wire armature without sliding or shearing off.

Application of the initial clay layer began at the feet and then continued up the rest of the body.

Skinny arms and legs can be built straight onto wires, but a large object like the head needs additional structure underneath to keep it solid. To provide this, I filled the wire loop with a putty disc to give me something to build on later on.

Before starting on the bride’s dress, I roughed out the end of the dragon’s tail so that I could correctly drape the cloth around it.

To form the first layer of the skirt, a large clay wad was placed from her hips to the ground and then smoothed into her legs.

This was then expanded at the bottom into more of a bell shape

I started laying out some rough ideas for the direction of the cloth folds; I figured that her upraised knee would be the primary tension point for most of the skirt, with the rest of the skirt creasing away from it toward the ground on the opposite side.

My ADD then told me to stop working on the skirt and instead give her a face, so I applied a thin layer of new putty over the solidified “head disc”, then applied clay over top of it.

More clay was added on all sides to make a vaguely balloon-shaped head. A normal human head would normally need to be constructed from the skull outward by adding muscle and fat strips (to ensure correct proportions and an eventual realistic head), but chibi heads are far quicker and more forgiving– you basically just make a round blob and then etch shallow details into it.

I next started adding some basic landmarks to the head, pressing in slightly on the eye sockets and pulling out the nose/mouth area.

I placed an initial mouth line as an additional landmark to help place the cheeks, the nose, and the bottom of the eyes.

The eye sockets were currently quite recessed, so I added some clay back in to form the concave shape of her eyeballs. SDE Chibi eyes aren’t actually spheres (and in fact, two spheres of the necessary size wouldn’t even fit inside the model’s head), but they should still be given the illusion of an outward bulge.

These were smoothed into the surrounding eye sockets.

I then used the edge of a metal hoe tool to press the shape of her eyes into these newly-formed masses.

At this point I examined the face I was building out and found two problems– the mouth was too low, and there wasn’t enough clay around the whole nose/mouth/chin areas. Fortunately, both problems shared a common solution: add more mass to the area and then re-do the mouth.

The new mouth was placed slightly higher; once again, it started with just a simplistic mouth line terminating in cheek lines (also known as a smiley face).

I created a gap between the upper and lower lips to show her teeth a bit.

And then while smoothing the model out, I added even more teeth, giving her a really weird broad grin; this will end up getting repaired a bit later on.

In the meantime, with the head roughed out, I went back to working on the dress, here creating a line to separate the bodice from the skirt.

This continued around to the back.

At this point I went back and checked against an SDE model for scale. I was pretty happy with the body and limb proportions, but it definitely made me notice how evil I’d made her face look. I… probably needed to fix that at some point. @_@

First, though, I wanted to build the props that Liz would be holding– a giant paintbrush. In the past, I’ve traditionally sculpted weapons flat against a piece of metal– sculpt one side, cook it, flip it over, sculpt the other side. This project was the first time that I decided to try a different technique, wherein you sculpt everything around a piece of wire held inside a handle. This technique would make finer details more difficult to render, but should be faster overall and not subject to the obvious seams and thickness issues of the two-side technique.

As always, the first step was to wrap the bare wire with Green Stuff to form an adhesive layer.

Next, clay was wrapped around the putty.

To avoid uneven distribution of clay, I used a sheet of plastic to smooth everything out. Basically, I wrapped the plastic around the brush handle, then squeezed it slightly with my fingers while dragging upward. This process was repeated over and over, each time pulling extra masses of clay up toward the end where I could remove them.

After a few dozen passes, it looked like this– not perfect, but good enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

Once this was done, I used metal and clay tools to create the brush’s details– the metal collar, and then the actual brush area.

I then baked the brush, forgetting that putty tends to expand when cooked unless you give it 8-10 hours to cure. This invariably leads to cracking of the clay layer like you can see here, which in turn requires filling and smoothing work.

I end up cracking my work quite often, actually– I KNOW that you need to wait, but I frequently manage to talk myself into cooking early anyway out of simple impatience (“It’ll probably be fine this time!”), so quite a few of my clay sculptures involve a completely avoidable repair stage.

Sigh. ~_~

Aaaand back to the head!

I added a small curl of clay on each side of the head to form the ear lobe. This was then smoothed into the head in the center, and… that’s pretty much it.

Cartoon people are much easier to sculpt than real people. ๐Ÿ™‚

I next moved onto the hair, starting here by laying a clay snake out to define the outline of her bangs.

More clay was added in scraps on the top and back, then blended together to form a continuous mass.

At this point the evil facial expression was starting to get to me, so I paused the work on her hair to try to figure out what was causing that impression. Present Day Spud knows that it’s a combination of the eyebrow angle and the really broad mouth, but 2015 Spud thought that the lack of glasses was throwing things off.

So, sure. Let’s toss some rough glasses on to see if that fixes it.

(Spoiler: It won’t.)

I generally sculpt glasses a bit down the model’s nose with the eyes poking out on top, as I find that models look a bit weird at the painted stage with their eyes painted directly on top of the lenses. Only partially obscuring the actual eye sockets reassures the viewer that yes, there are, in fact, actual eyes behind the glasses somewhere.

I then added the legs of the glasses between the frames and Liz’ ears.

At this point I noticed that fixing the wrong detail didn’t resolve the problem, but didn’t yet see what the actual trouble was, so I went back to the hair for a while.

I turned the model around and started planning out how I wanted the hair to flow.

Liz has wavy hair, so I decided to model it in a few large chunks that wobble slightly on the way down and then curl up at the bottom. Here I’ve roughed out the major shapes with a metal hoe tool.

Next, I went in with a clayshaper and smoothed it all out. If I had been making a realistic model I would then start etching individual hairs into the larger chunks, but SDE’s cartoon style stops at smooth chunks, so I didn’t have to do all of that tedious work.

Yay again for cartoons! ๐Ÿ˜€

The original concept art from Liz’ wedding invitations had her wearing a crown of roses around her veil; I added each of these as a small blob of clay.

Roses are easier to render than you might think. You start with a ball, smooth it into a cylinder with one flat face, then etch a spiral into that face. Chop up the single continuous spiral into a few separate petals, do a bit of clean-up, and ta-da… roses. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Random teaser: if you like sculpted roses, you’ll really like a project I’m hoping to finish and publish sometime this summer, which has over 150 tiny roses spread all over it. I am… kind of tired of sculpting roses. ๐Ÿ˜› )

Still not having solved the Puzzle of the Disturbing Demon Face, I moved down the model to work on some of the costume detailing. Here I’ve started working on her sash by wrapping a thin putty snake around her waist and then squishing it flat.

The cloth folds in the sash were then applied, using the attachment point at her right hip (underneath another rose) as the only tension point.

At this point, I had at least rough detail down for most areas except her arms, so it was time to attach her accessories.

The brush was wired into the cork base, and then glued to Liz’ hand.

Once the glue dried, clay was built up in the standard fashion– a thin layer of putty with a clay blob placed on top of it. This blob was then smoothed out, and fingers cut into it with a knife. Finally, a clayshaper was used to round and pose the various fingers.

While I had already added the flower crown, I hadn’t yet added the veil that they would ultimately be attached to.

To create this, I laid on multiple thin slabs of clay…

..then pressed them together with metal tools, and smoothed the resulting surface with clayshapers. Metal tools were then used to define the outer edges.

And that, barring cleanup, was a mostly-complete Mini Liz Beckley. ๐Ÿ™‚

I was still trying to figure out the problem with her facial expression, and things like her glasses and hair still needed a fair bit of smoothing, but it was good enough to stand as a pose reference when moving onto the second model.

Next: The Other One

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