Top-Heavy, Part II: Special Forces

datetime April 9, 2020 7:01 AM

The Space Cowboy

Wild Bill is an old man in a cowboy hat.


My initial concept was going to have Bill raise his two pistols in the air, but this pose had a major drawback: it would require me to actually build two pistols, and I really didn’t want to. 😛

Sooo, let’s try something different.

The new pose is what I’m calling the “Quick Draw”. Bill’s two pistols will be prominently holstered, with his hands hovering over them, ready to draw at a moment’s notice.

More dramatic, and also way easier to sculpt. 😛

I sculpt in Fimo, which is a polymer clay available at most craft stores. Fimo doesn’t stick to metal on its own, so you need to apply a layer of Green Stuff putty over the armature as an adhesive layer. The Green Stuff is thinly applied using metal sculpting tools.

The first layer of Fimo is immediately applied directly over the still-soft putty. Once again, it’s pressed into place using metal sculpting tools; clean surfaces aren’t terribly important at this point, since many layers will be going on top.

Clay is added to the model in shreds and slabs to arrive at the desired thickness for each part. At this stage I’m still working entirely with metal tools, as the ability to quickly jam bits of clay together is far more important at this stage than getting clean surfaces. You don’t need very much clay to bulk out an arm or a leg, but the sheer size of chibi heads mean that they’ll invariably require huge amounts of clay to be stuck on.

I keep applying bits and pieces of clay and blending them into each other until the model has the general type of physique I’m after. At this point, I finally do a smoothing pass using silicone clayshapers, which are able to achieve a much smoother finish than metal tools thanks to their pliability.

Once I’m happy with the basic body masses, I start adding clothes. I typically start at the model’s feet and work my way up. Thick garment breaks are added first, and then I add smaller surface details.

Garment edges and fully embossed straps are both done in pretty much the same way– I roll out a very thin clay snake, and apply it either as one long piece or in smaller snippets. The snake is then pressed flat and blended into its surroundings. You can achieve different effects depending on how you blend it; you can leave a stark ledge on both sides to make the new clay appear as an independent band of material, or you can blend one of the edges into the surrounding material to look like a garment is coming to an end– e.g., the bottom of a sleeve or a pant leg.

After building the requisite bean shape for the head, I start the face by pressing circles for the eyes using a piece of brass tubing. I then use a metal tool to fine-tune the eye shape with a flatter bottom, and dig a small amount of material out of the edges of the resulting eye shape.

Bill’s eyes are going to be narrowed almost to slits, so I fine-tune the circle down to a pair of slightly curved rectangles. I also cut a small mark for the mouth, to help me place subsequent layers of clay.

I want to get his glare correct right off the bat, so I start by applying clay over his eyes to lower his eyebrows.

I blend these into his forehead, and don’t quite join the brow to the top of the eyes– there will always be a bit of flat area above the eyes for the eyelids.

I start applying material to other areas of the face– a small nose (which blends out into the cheeks), upper and lower lips, and a slightly stronger chin and jawline.

Bill’s face honestly didn’t take a lot of work– I kind of lucked out and got the bean-shape into pretty good condition right off the bat, so it only took about an hour of massaging to get the basic facial forms in place.

Once I’m happy with all of that, I apply clay around his mouth and jaw, then press it down to form facial hair.

I briefly add a hairline, though this is mostly going to get chopped off in a sec when we go to add the hat.

We’ll get back to the head in a little bit, but for now, let’s head back down south and start building the coat. Bill’s coat is designed to open on the right and hang entirely covering the left leg, but for the pose I chose, I need both legs (and by extension, the gun strapped to each hip) to be exposed.

To accommodate this, I wrenched the coat pretty hard toward the left side, leaving the outside of both thighs exposed for later armament.

I continue the coat around the back. I make the clay between the legs much thicker than it looks like would be necessary, because otherwise there won’t be any support to hold the coat tails in place.

On the concept art, Bill’s coat has a very tall collar that his chin completely disappears into while leaving several inches’ gap on all sides; given the difference in scale between my bill’s torso and head, my collar will only very snugly go around his chin.

That’s about all I’m going to get.

Alrighty, now for the hard part: sculpting the hat. Bill, obviously, wears a giant-ass cowboy hat. The brim of this hat is going to be a huge challenge to sculpt, as I can’t think of a lot of good ways to reinforce the hat enough during sculpting to let me smooth and detail it. It would be easy if the brim was flat, but no dice– Bill’s hat curls up to the left and right. I puzzled this out for quite a whole, but even on the morning that I sat down to sculpt it, I wasn’t 100% clear on how I was going to approach it.

Soooo, without a clear plan in place, I guess I’ll figure it out as I go. ^_^

The one thing I can determine pretty clearly is how big it should be– in all of the concept art and in side views of the models, Bill’s hat brim is almost exactly twice the width of his head. This is true in both directions (front to back, and side to side). So, I use calipers to get the size of his head and trace an oval of roughly the same size, then trace a larger oval of twice that diameter.

I test this measurement out by cutting it out of a sheet of paper and putting it over Bill’s head, and the dimensions look about right.

Satisfied with the dimensions, I move onto my first theory about how to shape the brim: use aluminum foil as a support. I trace the paper template onto a sheet of foil, and cut it out.

I place the foil donut on a wooden block, and then lightly smear it with Green Stuff.

Next, thin sheets of clay are placed on top.

My hope was that at this point, I would just be able to lift the edges of the foil, and they would hold everything up in a curled shape while the putty cured solid. I immediately discovered that foil is nowhere near strong enough for that; the clay is just too heavy, and it all immediately drops flat again.

Alright, fine. As with everything else in sculpting, this is just a problem of creating suitable supports…

Working quickly to finish before the putty cures, I rig up a wire “saddle” using a drill and a pair of pliers, which will hopefully keep the sides curled up correctly during the curing process.

I place the hat brim down, and let the Green Stuff firm up overnight. The next morning, the brim is more or less holding its shape, so I put the saddle into the oven to bake.

Thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet: it’s a bad idea to bake your clay while the Green Stuff inside is still soft. If it isn’t completely cured, the putty will bubble and expand when it heats up. If the clay on top is very thin, this causes unsightly boils and bulges in the clay surface; if the clay is thick, the pressure from underneath pushes against the curing clay until it cracks open to make room.

So, don’t be impatient– give your Green Stuff at least six hours to cure, or longer if you can manage it, before putting it in the oven!

The cooked hat brim is starting to be hard to drop over Bill’s head, so I remove some clay from around his whole head to make room. Don’t worry, it will all get built up again later when I add the crown of the hat.

The hat doesn’t look too bad, but there was a bit of a problem during the cooking process– the clay layer I applied was extremely thin, and even after letting the Green Stuff cure, small bubbles still former in the previously-smooth surface. More significantly, the slight curl I created with my saddle was increased as it cooked, so the sides pitch much further upward than I wanted them to. Also, it’s still somewhat pliable and doesn’t feel like it’s going to resist damage very well if it gets bumped.

It’s all very salvageable, but it does mean that my pipe dream about quickly building the brim in one layer isn’t going to work out. :/

So, fine– I was trying to avoid it, but it looks like I’m going to have to add a support wire. I run a putty snake around the outer edge of the brim, and then drop a thin copper wire on top of it.

I press putty over the wire and the entire surface of the brim, and then I apply the thinnest layer of clay that I can manage over the top.

Interestingly, the smoothing process ends up being easier than I expected– even though the brim curves in multiple directions, I’m still able to roll a large cone-shaped clayshaper over the entirety of it. It’s impossible to get the whole thing flat at once, but I can get any given point to be flat against the surface whole I roll.

I didn’t get a shot of just the completed brim, but this layer is ultimately sufficient– it ended up a lot thicker (seriously, a lot thicker) than I wanted, but it curves about as much as I wanted, and is much sturdier than after the first bake.

We’ll attach it to the head in a sec, but first, let’s work on the outfit a bit more.

I add a bunch of detail to the coat. I start to create cloth drape wrapping around from the shoulders and armpits to the back, fold the cloth up around the tail on the left, and then press in some of the cloth panels down the center and across the shoulders.

On the front, I add buckles to the collar and a trim to the edge of the coat. I also create more folded cloth around the waist.

Bill has a pretty wild (HA!) mane of hair, so I apply that now underneath the Scalp Event Horizon.

The foundation of the hair is applied with long, parallel snake that follow the direction of the hairstyle. I join the clay strips partially together with a metal tool, but I don’t blend them flat– instead, I form them into a hills-and-valleys texture to show the direction of the hair.

I do a bit more work on the cloth folds on the front, and add another vertical panel line in the cloth going across the folds. I also use clayshapers to press flow lines into his facial hair; I go for a much softer, more rounded texture on the hair than I would for a normal-scale mini.

I add the guns, which turn out to be barely visible thanks to the coat. Bleh. :/

To build the hands, a bit of clay is applied to form the entire block of fingers. Hands are one of the many elements that are easier to sculpt on a chibi model than on a normal-scale model. You can often get away with a more simplified grooved “mitten”, which then allows each finger to support its neighbours.

The grooves are pressed in about halfway down the mitten, and then things are smoothed out a bit. Once that’s all formed, I use a knife to separate some of the finger tips and slightly pull them away from the rest of the hand. More work would be needed to add individual finger segments on a normal model, but on chibis, a rounded finger looks just fine.

More cleanup will be needed, but that’s essentially the “quick draw” pose.

It’s… fine.

Ehh. :/

Alrighty, hat time. I drop the hardened brim over the area of his head that I cut away; I have to clear a bit more out in the front and back to accommodate the slight curvature of the brim.

To hold the brim in place, I put some clay back on top of his head.

I press the chunks together into a slightly tapering cylinder. I slightly press in the top to leave a dome in the middle and ridges around the edges. and then run a clay snake around the bottom to form the hat band.

Bill’s hat has eight metal rings that the hat band runs through; I add each of these by laying down a small clay ball, squishing it flat, and then punching a hole in the center with a pick. I then clean up the slightly messy result with clayshapers.

Alrighty, we’re looking pretty good here. 🙂

The underside of the hat brim is still exposed aluminum foil; I debate leaving it that way, but realize that I’m not sure how well it will take paint (even with primer sprayed over it), so I opt to cover it.

Wheee for making the hat brim even thicker. :/

Ah well. Cowboy finished, I guess.

And with that, you’ve reached the end of Part 2 of this series. Good for you! As your reward, painted shots are on the next page. 🙂

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