Top-Heavy, Part III: The F-Team

datetime April 9, 2020 7:02 AM

The Muscle

At the start of Part I, I told you a bit of a fiction about how this army came to be. I mean, yes, in the broad strokes it was true– I decided to make a chibi army, I drifted indecisively between factions, and eventually I drew some concepts and decided that Foreign Company was an army I would enjoy making.

But, the truth is, the ending was even simpler than that.

I actually drew just ONE CONCEPT for ONE MODEL, and it was so astoundingly good that I immediately just had to sort of make myself like the army that can play that model. I managed to make the necessary mental justifications to get there, though.

And it was worth it, because that concept had to be sculpted.

Sometimes I don’t have a choice in these things.

I… don’t even know what to say.

We’re just going to have to, like… all accept that Valkyrie + Hipster Ariel was apparently an elemental formula of mathematical perfection inherent to the fabric of the universe, or something. Someone was going to trip across it at some point. The will of the idea to be brought forth was too strong for any other outcome.


Glad we’re on the same page.

Let us walk now, as brothers and sisters, through 100 very nice photographs.

Valkyrie’s Infinity and Aristeia designs are pretty different, and the concept willed that I combine elements of both– the costume elements of the Infinity Space Cop, and the gigantic battleaxe of the Aristeia Berserker. Aristeia concept dossiers don’t typically come with weapon illustrations, so I had to locate a photo of the model holding her axe from exactly the right angle, and then traced over it in Photoshop.

I printed it out at different sizes to see which one worked. This one seemed right; it’s about 120% of the model’s total height.

I stick the paper template down to a block of wood with push pins, and then scratch the contour around it with a pencil to delineate the space my axe needs to stay within.

I get out some thin 22GA brass wire and twist it into the vague shape of the contour, leaving space on all sides to bury it in clay.

Just as with the models themselves, the clay on the weapons needs a putty foundation to stick to the metal. I wrap a bit of putty around the wire, and then lay shreds of clay over top of the still-soft putty and flatten it all together. Throughout the process, I’ll be continually watching the pencil contours to ensure that I don’t stray outside the weapon’s contours.

I continue adding small bits of clay and blending them to the outsides until I’m happy with the silhouette.

I add additional clay to the butt and the axe head until I can manipulate them into the smooth, solid shapes I’m after.

There are quite a few metal bits running down the haft from the axe head; for each of them, I apply a piece of clay and blend it into the haft, trying to keep it as round as possible, using clayshapers.

I create the sunken area in the axe head by pressing in with the side of a flat-headed sculpting tool.

I continue pressing in details until I’m pretty satisfied with my replication of the original axe. The entire process is done by pushing out basic shapes with metal tools and then smoothing with clayshapers.

When I’m happy with the first side of the axe, I bake it in my halogen oven (250 degrees F for about 8 minutes). Once the first side is baked solid, I use a knife to carefully lift it off the wood block, and then I turn it over.

I use blobs of Green Stuff to provide supporting pegs to keep it firmly level while I work on the reverse side.

The process for this side is largely the same as the other side– I smear a thin layer of Green Stuff over the silhouette as an adhesive, and then press shreds of clay into it and smooth the shreds together with metal tools.

The entire process is much faster the second time, as I can use the already-established edges of the first side to easily guide the placement of every piece on the flip-side.

I do a bunch of cleanup, bake the axe, clean up the seam between the two sides with a sharp knife, and then see how it looks on the model.

Badass. <3

The generic armature was twisted into shape using needle-nose pliers. My armatures terminate at the tips of the toes, and then I leave a bit of extra slack to let me embed the extra wire in a wine cork, which becomes a handle I can hold onto throughout the sculpting and painting processes.

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.

Whenever I’m adding material to the model, I tear lots of chunks of the appropriate size off of my clay wad and pile them on my vinyl placemat for easy access. Here I’m bulking out the HUUUUUUGE head, so I’m pulling the clay off in large, flat, stackable slabs.

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.

Valkyrie’s costume is much more skintight than most of the rest of the army (which… I won’t get into today -_- ), so I spend some time working in the general placement of her muscle groups, as these will still be partially visible on the final model.

I’m not doing the full head right now, but I’d still like to get the basic shapes down so that I can tell which way her head is pointing while I work on the rest of the body.

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.

The face I drew on the concept has pretty thick cheeks and a high nose, so I bulk and round out the entire area under her eyes with additional clay.

I smush the clay bits together with a flat metal tool, and then smooth everything with clayshapers. I etch in a very basic mouth as a landmark for later.

My Valkyrie is going to be jacked, so I add some clay to her shoulders and upper arms.

This will not be the end of the arm-bulking. This is just an “I cannot even look at you with those noodley embarassments” placeholder.

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.

Valkyrie’s outfit is actually pretty simple compared to most of the other members of the army– just boots, pants, and a vest, with very little in the way of “Rob Liefeld strap and pouch clutter” littering her extremities.

For no particular reason, SLIGHTLY MORE FACE CLAY.

Getting closer…

I add some straps on her right hip where the holstered gun will eventually be. Like the others before it, it will pop into existence at some point, fully formed, leaving no evidence of the method of its creation.

Because that is apparently the world we all have to live in now. >:(

Valkyrie has two criss-crossed belts, one of which holds up her firearm, the other of which holds up absolutely nothing.

Note that nothing is holding up her pants. I assume her thigh muscles handle that job.

Anyway, both belts are applied by laying down a clay snake, and then flattening it against the body. I take care to keep both belts clearly distinct from the body and from each other.

Once they’re in place, I use an angle chisel clayshaper to etch in details, such as the buckle and little notches on the holster belt.

Hey, I think we’re maybe actually doing the head now! 🙂 To start, I use a round clayshaper to give her some angry eyebrows. While my concept Valkyrie was in a fairly calm and observant posture, my sculpted Valkyrie is about to chop a fool in half, which is an act that requires a bit of emotional violence to power the physical violence.

I use a metal tool to open her mouth a bit, and then add some clay around the top and bottom of her mouth, which gets blended in to become lips. A small amount of clay is added for her teensy nose, which is also blended in pretty heavily.

At this point I’m starting to see beginnings of the berserker scream that the concept demands, and make alterations to match. Her mouth gets widened enough that sculpting teeth becomes necessary, and I add clay to the bottom corners of her eyes to represent how your face meat scrunches toward the center of your face when you get pissed.

Go ahead and try it in a mirror– when you get really super angry, everything on your face converges and bunches toward the bridge of your nose. 🙂


We aren’t there yet, but I can kind of see “there” from here, still far off near the horizon…

Hair chunks! Valkyrie’s ultimate hairdo will require a ton of structural work and additional clay, but having a hairline defined on the model helps me lay out the face. I smooth the chunks into the top of her head, but leave a ridge showing on the front.

So, okay. I guess I should talk about the glasses.

It was not my intention to put Valkyrie in hipster glasses. Just as I’d done for Hannibal before, I drew her head, and then I drew her eyes, and then I drew the frames of the glasses over her eyes… and then I couldn’t bear to shade them in. Her face just looked too correct with normal see-through glasses, so I just kind… left them.

However, that did kind of leave me in a bit of a pickle on the construction front, because you kind of, uh, can’t sculpt clear lenses out of opaque clay.


I will stress that I did not have a clear idea of how this rather large problem was going to be solved. However, the concept willed me forward, and I knew that however I sorted the lenses out, they were always going to require wire frames. And that part, at least, I could build now.

So, yeah. This picture above is me using calipers to transfer the model’s eye width and spacing to a sheet of paper.

I used those landmarks to draw a rough approximation of the model’s eye and head shape, and then twisted a set of lenses that fit those measurements out of thin copper wire.

Again, we aren’t there yet, but I feel like we’re on the right road.

I do some more cleanup on the face, moving her nose up higher, bulking out both lips, and adding some more roundness to the cheeks.

The foundation of the model’s hair is applied with long, parallel strips 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.

Collar bit!




Alrighty, let’s add a shoulder pad. I add clay bits and squish them together. I use a metal tool to pull the sides up and square them off against the top ledge.

I press in the stripey pattern with clayshapers, then start adding mass to form the puppy head.

Then, I sculpt the rest of the puppy head. The studio concept has a very angry puppy on her shoulder, but I like puppies and think they should all be happy.

Alrighty, let’s build a crown for our terrifying slaughterprincess.

I don’t think it’s come up yet in any of these photos, but I always work with printed reference. I just find it easier than trying to keep concept drawings up on my computer screen and having to constantly jiggle my mouse to keep the screen saver at bay.

I don’t know why her crown looks like that, but that’s how Spain drew it, so I sculpt it. This is just clay shreds squared off with a clayshaper.

Little known fact: Valkyrie’s ears can fly.

Looking closely at the concept art, it looks like the ear wings rise just higher than the top of Valkyrie’s head. I use calipers to grab that height and transfer it to a sheet of paper.

I grab a similar landmark for the horizontal and mark that down as well, and I now have the bounding box that her wings need to fit into.

I draw the wings in the box and cut them out to see how they look. Pretty good!

Satisfied with the wing scale, I trace two copies on a wood block.

This is just the weapon process again. Twist a wire, apply Green Stuff, cover with clay.

Add the things.

Let Green Stuff dry, bake.

Flip over, add clay, bake again.

Put on head.

Get lunch.

Alrighty, next we’ll–











Alrighty! Hair!

Valkyrie’s hair is, let’s not mince words here, infuckingsane. She has huge swoopy bangs, and then this weird rising beehive bit, and then some metal ornaments, and then TWO long braids. She’s going to have more clay in her hair than in her entire body from the neck down, and that’s going to require some pretty extensive wire support.

I twist some thin copper wire into the shape of her bangs, turn the anchor ends into L-shaped hooks, and then bury those hooks inside her hair clay.

To figure out how much wire I need for the gigantic mess at the back of her head, I figure out how far that part of her hairstyle moves back, then up, then back again, then down, then doooooooooown a bunch more until it terminates roughly where it does on her original concept, just above the knees. I use calipers to get each reference measurement from the model, and stack them together to make the full wire measurement.

I cut a wire over twice the distance I measured, bend it in half, and twist the two halves together to make them stronger. I then bend the ends of the coils into L-shaped hooks and embed those in the back of her head.

I do a few hours of cleanup over the entire model, and then she’s ready for her first bake!

After baking her, my first priority is to make sure I can get the glasses on. I drill a pair of holes in the sides of her head and push the eyewear in. Success-ish! Still not sure how I’m going to magic the stupid lenses into existence, but that is squarely a problem for FUTURE SPUD! 😀

Alrighty, time to add some truly ridiculous hair onto this model.

The back wires are twisted into shape with pliers. I want them to swinging around a bit to convey the forward diving motion of her pose.

I drape a thin layer of Green Stuff around the wires to give me more of a surface to work against. I let this completely set before proceeding.

To save myself some headaches, I Green Stuff the two braids together at the end. I’ll try to sculpt them to be only barely touching in the end, but the sculpting process will be much easier if each one has the other to brace itself against.

As with everywhere else, I lay on a thin layer of adhesive putty, and then drop slabs of clay on top.

I squish the clay into the putty, and then merge the scraps together and sculpt them into rows with a metal tool.

Using a clayshaper, I gradually blend the large rows into each other so that none of them goes continuously from back to front.

I apply clay to the braids. They’re pretty thick.

I sculpt the weird rising beehive bit.

Honestly, this whole hairdo is deeply puzzling.

I fatten up the tops of the braids, and then start pressing in the braid pattern. The basic method is that you make a diagonal mark coming in from one side, terminating about 2/3 of the way toward the opposite side. You then flip the knife the other way, and make a diagonal line that bumps up against where the previous one stopped, again stopping 2/3 of the way across. Repeat back and forth down the braid.

I use clayshapers to round off the braid chunks.

I’ll come back and detail these more in a bit to add hair strands to the brain chunks, though apparently I didn’t get process pictures of that. Ah well, you can see on the final model. 🙂

The top of her head is currently looking a bit too uniform, so I start adding stray hairs that don’t follow the general flow of the bangs. I made similar additions on the top of the head as well, though again, apparently I was too excited to get pictures.

With the hair just about finished, I finally glue the axe into place, then add an adhesive layer of Green Stuff to get ready to make the hands.

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.

Alright, this is it, everyone. This is the good part.

I am so incredibly pleased.

We’re there, guys.

For your safety and the safety of your keyboard, please swallow any water you may be in the process of drinking, sit down with your arms in a resting position, and then proceed to scroll down.

Now, those of you who were paying attention may be wondering to yourselves, “Hey, so, what about the glasses? You made a big deal about how you were going to do those.”

And, like… yeah, I’ll get there. But not in this article, because it’s kind of awkward to figure out where to put that.



There’s one more article in this series, where I’ll go over a bunch of random bits and pieces that I couldn’t fit in the model writeups, and at that point you can see the methodical experimentation and incredibly anticlimactic end solution that I used to make the lenses of her glasses.

For now, let’s just jump to the last page and look at pretty pictures, which include her finished glasses. And then if you care about how they got made, check out Part 4 of the series.

Fair deal?

Fair deal.

K, go look at pretty stuff.

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