The Chosen

datetime April 30, 2019 11:26 PM

A year ago, I painted up an Onyx army for my friend Tom. Afterward, we discussed the fact that we had forgotten to include an HVT in the army, forcing him to use a variety of off-theme civilian models alongside the army for the past year.

Obviously, this travesty could not continue.

We chatted over the possibilities for a Combined Army civilian, and one that made us laugh quite a bit had a pretty simple concept:

Cross this

…with this:

Aaaaaand that’s the entire concept. Sometimes the simple answer really is the right one. 🙂

I started working on the model about a week before his next birthday. To start, I spent an hour sketching out what the model might look like. First, I looked at reference for the Toy Story aliens and drew out their basic body plan to learn a bit about how they were proportioned. Conclusions:

  • The head is twice as wide as tall.
  • The head is 40% of the overall height.
  • The waist falls halfway along the remaining 60% of the height.
  • The arms are disproportionately long– the aliens could almost brush the ground with their fingertips from a standing position.

Once I had this basic body form drawn out, I turned to the studio photos for the Pneumarch (I didn’t track down the concept art until about halfway through the project) and started adapting its wardrobe to this new squatter frame. Some of the details were a bit hard to make out, but I was happy enough with the overall result to proceed with construction.

I wanted the model to end up a fair bit shorter than a normal Infinity model, so I gave myself a height budget of 25mm to work within. I measured this out on a piece of paper, then used the proportional guidelines I outlined above to establish the relative positions and sizes of the head and limbs. Once this was done, I used pliers to twist out a piece of 20-gauge aluminum wire into the correct interior structure. I didn’t worry about having the wire “fill” the squat body shape– I just needed it to run down the center of each limb and give a core for the head, and then the rest of the bulk could be filled out later with clay.

As I’ve covered several times before, I like to create my arms as a separate piece from the legs and spine. I bend a short “tab” of wire down between the shoulder blades, which I then wrap with thinner copper wire and secure with super glue to keep the two pieces together. With a standard model, I have to be really careful with the amount of wire I wrap around this joint, as too large a bundle of wire risks protruding through the sculpted surface of a normal-size model later on. However, chibi models tend to be thick enough that this isn’t a problem at all, so I was free to wrap a gigantic bundle of wire around them to keep them nicely secured.

I then used pliers to reposition the armature into the pose I wanted. I decided to almost completely copy the stock Pneumarch’s pose, so I placed one arm up to hold a piece of space gadgetry, with the other arm resting arrogantly in the small of his back.

The eventual head was going to be quite huge, so to give myself enough of a solid foundation to work on, I put an ovoid of putty inside the head “hoop” and let it completely set. This was intentionally still a lot smaller than the entire head would later be– you always want to leave yourself space to push down into your clay without hidding hard foundation layers like this.

Once the skull had set, it was time to start adding clay. Clay doesn’t adhere to bare metal, so I prepared the surface by wrapping it with a thin layer of Green Stuff.

I then applied clay over the still-soft putty, which created an intermediary bonding layer between the clay and metal.

Once this base layer of clay was attached, I added more mass on top of it to bulk out the model.

Next, I started working on the head. I figured out where the eyes would be (relative to the model’s shoulders, and NOT to its head, because the head still wasn’t as wide as it would eventually end up), then used a circular tool to dig out small sockets for them to drop into.

I rolled out three equal-sized clay balls and dropped them into the sockets. I smoothed them over, then added small snakes of clay above and below the eyes to form eyelids, which let me control the overall shape and expression of the eyes.

The reference photos I was looking at for the Toy Story aliens had a number of different mouth shapes, and I wasn’t sure which one was considered more “canon”. For most of the sculpting process, I used one with almost a suggestion of a “beak”; however, this got replaced with a more traditional cartoon smile later on when I found some better reference photos.

The Pneumarch is wearing drapey robes with textured panels. When adding mass to form new areas like this, I add the clay in small scraps that I then squish together; doing it this way makes it easier to avoid over-bulking the areas and making the clothes look too fat. In the case of these robes, I wanted them to fall straight down from the model’s shoulders and waist without any billow; they only pitch outward at the very bottom, to suggest a bit of a sway in the character’s otherwise static pose.

Once the mass was right, I went over and added all the surface detail from the concept art.

Note: I know “then I added all the detail” seems like a huge cop-out, but I actually lost my usual camera just before I started this project, and was leaning on my iPad for all of the step-by-step shots. However, the iPad is comparatively HUGE and super heavy, so it’s really hard to take pictures with one hand while positioning the model in the other hand. Thus, I ended up taking a lot fewer progress shots than I usually would throughout the mid-stages of this project, until I finally got around to picking up a new one about 10-15 pictures from now.

Oh, and as an aside– holy crap, but you do not realize how obsolete consumer-level point-and-shoot cameras are until you actually go try to buy one. I don’t own a cell phone and huge $500-2000 pro cameras are too unwieldy for my purposes; it ultimately took me three separate electronics and camera stores to find a single hand-held camera under $500.

They may be obsolete, but dagnabbit, my workflow doesn’t work without one! XD

Aaaaanyway. This was around the spot where I finally tracked down a copy of the model’s original concept art, and I was finally able to make out the intended shape for things like the edges of the tabard and the belly cloth.

The body was coming along nicely, which left the largest piece of costume detailing still to go– the big poofy neck pillow. As before, I applied the clay in a dozen or so small scraps, then smoothed them together into one continuous wad.

The neck pillow splits in half at the back; each half then draws upward into a point, and the bottom edges wrap around a weird insectoid backpack… thing. Here I’ve cut the pillow down the center, and you can also see where I started pressing in the outer edge trim (which would eventually end up getting wiped out and re-added several times as I reworked the pillow shape).

I spent quite a bit of time building these shapes; I had trouble getting the exact shapes from the concept art (and particularly the backpack) to replicate in 3D. I got there eventually, but it was a bit of a frustrating journey. ~_~

Once I was finally happy with the overall shape of the pillows, I smoothed them over and started adding the ribbed surface detail. I actually spent a bit longer on this detail than I probably needed to– the grooves are actually broken into three different “sets”, broken up by a taller vertical line where the top and bottom trim link up between each set. That’s all well and good for the stock model, but given how I was eventually going to be painting the model, I could have done this part much more quickly and you never would have noticed at the end. Ah well. ~_~

Here’s how that looked at the end.

(I’m not sure exactly when I did it, but at some point I went back in and re-sculpted the left hand since the construction of the backpack had more or less swallowed it, as you can see in this shot. You can see it much more defined in the final baked photos.)

There was still a bit of clean-up needed to smooth it all out, but I left that for my general smoothing pass at the very end. For now, I just did my best to ignore all the tool marks. 😛

At this point, everything was nearing completion, so I went and did a smoothing pass on the wardrobe. In addition to smoothing surfaces and sharpening edges, I went in with a flat tool and lifted different garment layers off of each other, to help reinforce the different between “detail on a surface” and “the edge of a piece of cloth”.

Looking at the concept more closely, I realized that the robe is actually split into two pieces in the back– a coat layer that ends around the knees, and a skirt layer that ends at the ground. I went in and divided these two layers from each other, adding some more clay to help the coat stand out from the thinner skirt.

I also went around at this point and added a lot of minor cloth detailing on the back of the coat and on the model’s arms.

One of the last bits of detail to add was the ears, which I had hesitated to build earlier for fear that I would known them while working on the rest of the model and have to re-do them. Small protruding details like this are sort of the exception to the “add small bits and smooth together” approach for adding clay– there isn’t really anything to push against for the smoothing step, so I just try my best to guess the amount of clay I’ll need and add it in one go.

If the clay I add for the ears is too thick (which tends to be the case), I can reduce the volume by pushing down into the center of the ear and dragging a layer of excess clay out through the front. This simultaneously thins the ear and starts the process of smoothing the ear to the side of the head.

Once I was happy with the volume of the ear, I added some cartoony earlobe detail to match Pixar’s chosen level of detail for the original aliens.

More cleanup. The last change I made was to finally fix the mouth. I eventually figured out that the reference photos that had the slight beak shape in the lips weren’t actually fan art not produced by Disney; I went back to the original movie to get a better idea of how the real mouths were shaped, and settled on this wonder-filled open-mouthed smile.

And with that, the sculpting was done! Here’s how the model looked after it was baked:

When I painted Tom’s Onyx army last year, it was my first experiment with painting dude-sized models with an airbrush. Through several months of frustrating experimentation, I eventually figured out a colour scheme wherethe models were sprayed with one colour blend from the top left, and then a different colour blend from the bottom right, and finally the entire model was highlighted with a single highlight colour over both base blends. It was an incredibly striking look (so much so that most people don’t notice the immensely shoddy brushwork. 😛 ) that I hadn’t revisited since the first batch of models was finished almost 15 months ago.

I did my best to recreate the blends using my notes, but I didn’t actually have one of Tom’s models on-hand to compare against, so I ended up leaving the blends quite a bit darker than I had done originally. Both the purple and the green should have had one last bright highlight layer applied before I moved on to the manual edge highlights, and the final model ends up a fair bit darker and less colourful than his compatriots as a result. Boo. 🙁

Anyway, here’s how the outfit looked after manual shading and highlights (sorry for the flash, it was my first day with the new camera and I hadn’t yet figured out how to turn it off).

There are a lot of great ways to apply a very light colour over a super dark model. “Just brute force it and paint lots of thin layers” is, as it turns out, a SUPER TERRIBLE approach. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I probably applied thirty thin layers to get something ressembling an opaque coat of fluorescent green. Bleh. :/

I got there eventually, though. This radioactive green was pretty painful to apply, but I LOVE how it looks in the end. I’m going to file it away as a possible central scheme colour for a future army, as my love for violently garish colour schemes is a matter of public record. 😛

The model was just about ready to hand over at this point, and only needed one last detail– something to hold in his (her? its? shklis?) outstretched hand. The original model had a weird little alien tech ball thing, but I wanted to do something a bit different to complete the Toy Story reference: a holographic icon of The Claw.

I decided to build this out of Woodland Scenics Water Effects, which is basically just a super overpriced squeeze bottle of clear silicone caulking.

I squeezed some goo out the top of the bottle, and then used a random metal sculpting tool to transfer it to the top of a pen cap. I applied it in the vague shape of the three-fingered mechanical claw from the movie; unfortunately it’s pretty hard to smooth or precisely shape this stuff, so I was going to have to settle for a vague ressemblance instead of a detailed reproduction. 🙁

I applied the Water Effects in many layers. After each one, I propped the pen up in front of my portable heater to dry, which took about 30 minutes for each layer. Then I applied another layer, and back in front of the heater it went.

After about six layers, the piece was sturdy enough to stand freely; I propped it up with the fingers inside the pen cap’s opening, and then applied the last few layers in this pinched shape.

I added one last dollop of goo to form the upright segment, and it was… done?

I mean, zero people have been able to guess what it was supposed to be without me explaining, so obviously it doesn’t look very good. But whatever. I explained it to Tom, and he now knows, so it’s doing its symbolic job. 😛

And that’s it! Picture time! 🙂

Happy birthday, Tom.

Can I stop painting Onyx models forever now? 😛

Postscript: An interesting thought occurs to me in the aftermath of this piece. Sculpting and painting the model took a grand total of like… a week? And I was procrastinating pretty hard (specifically, playing a whole bunch of X-Com) throughout a lot of that time. But given that time as a base unit, in theory I could do an entire 10-model army of similar chibi Infinity models (i.e., adapting canon uniforms over a cartoony body) from scratch in like two or three months.

I have no idea what to do with that realization, exactly, but it’s interesting to ponder.

“Hrm”, mused the potato.



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