The Ghost of Christmas-Last-Month

datetime January 23, 2014 7:59 PM

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I don’t help people.

People ask me to do a lot of conversions and sculpts for them, and as a rule, I turn pretty much everybody down. It started out as “no commissions, but I’ll do favors for people I know” because of the sheer amount of time I was dumping into those, but then I found myself agreeing to so many other people’s projects that I was having to book them six to nine months in advance. This made me a terribly sad Spud.

The main problem is that in order to drag myself through the weeks and months of work required to complete a project, I need to be excited about it. I need to think the idea is great, or badass, or hilarious, or whatever other adjective may apply, and be excited to finish it and reveal it to the world. Without that spark of excitement, it’s just too hard to dredge up the motivation to sit down for an eight-hour Saturday of rivet application. And as much as it sucks, I will just never be as excited about another person’s ideas as they are; people bring me projects with a look of glee on their faces, positive that I’ll think it’s awesome and be happy to take it on; but when they explain it, it usually turns out to be based on some inside joke I don’t understand or a reference I don’t think is that funny, and I’m left having to shatter this person’s excitement.

So I just cut everybody off. It’s easier to let people down due to an ongoing policy than to have to tell them their specific idea is f***ing terrible.

Jump Ahead!

Are you a rude, impatient swine with no time to read all 8,500 lovingly-crafted words Spud selflessly strung together to educate you about this project?

If so, take your filth elsewhere:

No no, just go. It’s too late to pretend that you intended to look at all these awful “words”. Go look at the pretty pictures and leave the big scary paragraphs to your intellectual superiors.

Philistine.

At this point, I determine all of my own projects. A lot of my work still ends up in other people’s hands, but it’s always on the basis of me volunteering unprompted; I give people gifts that came from my own weird ideas, or I’ll decide that a silly idea that was being floated around is worthy of execution.

I put this policy in place over a year ago and immediately stopped taking new projects, but I decided that I still had an obligation to finish any projects I’d already agreed to at that point. Over time I’ve worked through the list, but there was one project that always lingered: Deneghra. Nick, a local that I don’t hate as much as most of the other people I know, asked me to “fix” his eDenny model; he wanted her to be more ghostly, and less terrible. I agreed to do the job, intending to just repose her a bit and add a shredded skirt, and then… I started.

And I almost immediately stopped.

I am a crappy sculptor, and I feel awful ragging on another sculptor’s work. But the eDenny model is just… ugh. It’s bad. The pose is lifeless, the accessories are out of scale, the detailing is sloppy and doesn’t follow her art, the proportions are bizarre… I could go on. I picked up the stock model Nick gave me and started making cuts anywhere there was something I thought would need to be replaced, and after a few minutes, I was holding a dismembered ribcage. Seriously, there wasn’t a single salvageable piece on the model except her chest armor. In that moment, I realized in horror that the quick conversion I had volunteered for had escalated into being nearly a scratch sculpting project.

So I threw it on my “to do” shelf, and it proceeded to collect dust for 18 months, with me feeling increasingly crappy as time passed for ignoring it. I really wanted to get to it, but I never seemed to have time to start something so big in between my other projects.

And there the story may have awkwardly ended, if not for… a Christmas Miracle.

For you see, one of the reasons I found it so hard to fit this model into my schedule was the large number of “must-do” projects that occur for me every year– mostly birthday presents and models for various paint exchanges. December is particularly rough, as I tend to participate in both a Secret Santa paint exchange and a general holiday-themed “painted model is your event entry” tournament. These models and any others I foolishly decide to add to my Christmas docket tend to completely overwhelm my schedule from November to mid-January, meaning that a “when I have time” project like Denny had essentially no chance of being fit in.

And then I got my Secret Santa assignment, and it was Nick, and the distant sound of sleigh bells filled my head. Nick contributed pGoreshade as the model he wanted painted for the exchange, but screw what Nick wants. My intention was far more nefarious: I would hand Nick his submitted Goreshade right back at the end of the exchange. In its place, I would use my time for something far more productive: finishing the model Nick asked me to make almost two years before.

I dug out and examined the broken shards of the model he had given me, and I decided that there was really no point trying to make them work. Instead of trying to integrate bits from the original model, I opted to simply start over from scratch.

And so it began.

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I use these skeleton templates to rig up all of my model armatures; I’ve printed them out at exactly 30mm tall, and I produce armatures by simply bending wires to match them.

Here I’ve wound the length of the spine, leaving a small unwound loop for the head to be added onto later. I’m using thinner wire than I normally would– 26 gauge, if I’m remembering correctly– because of how thin I intend the model to be. This turns out to be somewhat troublesome later down the line; the point of the wire armature is to provide a solid core to support the model as you work, but the scrawny wire I used lends very little strength to the model, making it very challenging to attach and work on the first layers of putty and clay.

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I finish bending the model into shape; arms will be added later, as there’s no easy way to solidly attach them now without adding too much bulk to the model’s insides. Instead, I concentrate on the head, spine, hips, legs, and feet, making bends anywhere there’s a joint.

One thing worth noting here: I’ve gone “outside the lines” on the hips, which I came to slightly regret later on. The skeletons in my reference are male, and there are some slight differences between male and female bone structure that you need to adjust for at the armature stage. Specifically, women have narrower shoulders and wider hips (because BABIES), so when making a female model, it helps to add 10-15% to the hip width to help communicate the model’s gender. I, however, went a bit beyond this, and it became a bit annoying later on when Denny’s pelvis started poking awkwardly out of her waist on one side.

So, yeah. The takeaway here is that you need to be incredibly precise when rigging an armature; it determines all of your model’s proportions and posing, and there’s no way to correct it later, so it’s very important to get it completely right before moving on. Better to scrap 30 minutes of wire bending than have a bone poking out 20 hours of work later.

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I posed the armature with fine pliers, and then sank it into a cork (this shot is from the rear– it’s hard to tell sometimes with wires). When Nick requested this project, he wanted her to look more “ghostly”, so I decided to put her in a pose that makes her look light and airy– in this case, she’s sort of descending an invisible staircase. The key with any convincing hover pose is to avoid flat feet that appear to be firmly planted on the ground; pointed toes are key, and it helps to have the feet ending at different elevations, to really communicate that “this figure is not dependent on any sort of physical support”.

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Next I started bulking the model out. I’m going to be sculpting the model in Fimo, but clay doesn’t stick well to wire, so the trick I learned from watching an Aragorn Marks video I purchased (click then scroll down) is to cover the entire armature with a minimal coating of green stuff (which sticks EXTREMELY well to wire), and then to completely wrap the green stuff in Fimo while the putty is still soft.

We’ll get to that in a second, though. First, let’s complete the skeleton…

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So as I said, there’s no way that I’ve found to cleanly attach the arms to a model at the armature stage without a lot of extra bulk, and even then it still works out to be fairly loose and rickety. Instead, I’ve started attaching the arms to the first putty layer. First up, I shape a thin wire into the shape above, which represents the width of the rib cage and the two arms.

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I press this into the soft putty, then squish the putty around the back to enclose it. As long as I don’t try to shape the arms for a few hours, it will happily sit where I place it, and will later assume a rock-hard grip against the model’s spine.

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So with the arms attached, I finish applying base putty, and it’s time for Fimo.

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The advantages of pressing the Fimo on top of wet putty instead of letting it dry first are twofold:

  • Fimo applied on hardened putty will simply slide off. Fimo on its own has almost no stickiness– it’s okay at gripping if it can wrap all the way around a support structure, but it’s terrible at surface-mounting. This method, however, lets the grippiness of the uncured putty do all of the work.
  • When you apply putty in multiple layers to build up a body, there’s always the risk that a lower layer will go on too thickly, which in turn makes all of the higher layers too fat as well. It’s very hard to correct for later. But when you apply your top layer while the bottom is still soft, you can use tools to slide the entire arrangement around, letting you push excess putty downward and out of the way anywhere you need a deep recess (eg, armpits) or very thin volume (eg, knees and ankles).

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The Fimo gets applies in tiny shreds, which are then blended together with a metal sculpting tool. It isn’t important to get a smooth surface now since the Fimo will stay manipulable for weeks; the key right now is to get the volumes correct, with adequate Fimo attached where you need it, and excess dug out wherever it doesn’t belong.

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Once I’m satisfied with the basic forms, I smooth it with clayshapers. You can already sort of see where I made the right hip stick out too far– here it’s poking right to the surface of the Fimo, creating that tiny bulge. If Denny wasn’t destined to have large hip plates later on that I can cover it up with, this would be grounds to scrap the model right away and restart from the armature stage. I was only an hour or two in, and it’s better to redo an hour’s work than waste 30 working on a structure that will always look wrong.

However, in this case she does have those huge hip plates, so this is one amateurish error that I can safely ignore.

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Here I’ve done some really basic work figuring out where the muscles will end up. They’ll all receive more precise tuning later on when each area gets detailed, but it’s still important now to plot them out, even on areas I’ll later be smoothing out or covering up, as the placement of a muscle tells me where to apply volume; for example, if you hold your arm out, the “fat” part of your forearm swings around from top to bottom depending on whether your hand is facing upward or downward. I can never remember where to put bulges like that from memory, so I always find it helpful to retrace the muscles to figure out where a bulge or recess will naturally lie.

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So, an important note that I feel I need to cover before I proceed: I personally find Denny’s costume design pretty distasteful. She’s dressed as a Battle Prostitute, with the absolute worst kind of “lingerie armor” that’s so depressingly ubiquitous in fantasy and sci-fi art:

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This isn’t to say that her design isn’t well-executed, mind you– Matt Wilson is an incredible costume designer, and the graphic design of the costume he created for her is really impeccable: good use of positive and negative space, really interesting 3D forms, and a very consistent visual language throughout. I have absolutely no problem with Denny as a piece of art– if you’re designing an Evil Steampunk Witch Slut, then she’s pretty much the perfect implementation of that concept.

Rather, my objection is simply, “Couldn’t you have made her, yaknow, not a Witch Slut? Was that last part really a necessary element to include in her dossier?”

Sigh.

Anyway, despite my own objections, I decided not to inflict my personal politics on the recipient of a Christmas present (I reserve that for the poor saps dumb enough to read my blog :P), and sculpt her outfit exactly as it was drawn, in all of its Steampunk Fetish Gear glory. Nick asked for a Battle Slut, and so I’m going to sculpt the best goddamned Battle Slut I know how to. Just keep in mind as I go along that anywhere I emphasize boob size, ass roundness, G-string skimpiness, or whatever else in the writeup, that’s not a Spud Voluntary Decision.

That’s a Spud Gritted Teeth Compromise.

Sigh again.

Alright, rant over. Let’s ogle her butt.

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With the main forms of her musculature determined, I started building her costume elements. I build clothing from the inside out; since Denny’s outfit is bulky armor on top of skintight lingerie, the lingerie was the first thing to sculpt. I use a metal hoe tool to lay out the general lines of where the cloth will be, and then I use the flat part of an Angle Chisel clayshaper to press the skin part down while leaving the clothing raised. I really like clayshapers for this task because they leave everything smooth– both the skin’s surface and the edge of the clothing.

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Reasonably happy with the state of the lingerie, I added the hexagonal garter clips from Denny’s art. To create these, I lay on a teensy-tiny clay blob, flatten it, shape the outside, and then press down the area around the central square with my clayshaper to create the segment of the strap that runs through the clip.

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Reasonably happy with the condition of her midsection, I moved up to her chest. I created the bottom edge of her chest armor by draping a narrow putty snake around her midsection, blending its top edge into her skin, and then creating a hard edge on the bottom by pressing up against it with my clayshaper.

(Nearly the entire model was detailed with the same Angle Chisel #0 Soft clayshaper, so I’m going to be name-checking it pretty often throughout this.)

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Next, I added the ribbing on the sides of the armor. The recesses between each rib were pressed in with a curved XActo blade, and then cleaned up with the clayshaper.

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Moar ribs!

Same method.

Moving on.

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To create the pointy top edge of the boob cups, I applied a pair of triangular Fimo pieces in approximately the right spot…

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…then smoothed their bottom edge away.

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( Ugh, that wonky right hip is driving me nuts in every one of these photos. NEED TO HURRY DOWN TO WHEN IT’S COVERED OVER… 20 PICTURES FROM NOW. >_< )

The next bit of cloth to detail was the inset oval pattern on Denny’s leggings. To apply these, I have this odd metal dental tool:

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I press the flat end straight into the surface, then slide it around until I get the shape I’m after (in this case, moving it more up than down to create a tall oval). The remaining raised edge is then cleaned back up with a flat clayshaper.

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In the art, Denny has stacks of three “holes” in staggered columns, with the tops of the columns lining up with the rise and fall of the top of the… garters? Stockings? Chaps? I have no bloody idea what to call these things.

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Rinse and repeat until the entire pattern of circles is finished. Denny wears calf-high boots, so ending here leaves the entire visible area of the stockings full of patterned openings.

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Aaaand here’s that boot. As with any other type of skin-tight clothing, you don’t have to apply clay over the entire shape– you just need to create the top edge. So here, I’ve laid down a very thin clay thread and blended the bottom down into the “skin” I sculpted earlier using a clayshaper.

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The same process creates this “plate” in the front– I apply another putty thread in a zigzag down the side, blend the side that faces forward, and turn the back-facing size into a hard edge. Note that any time you do this, you need to do quite a bit of work on the blending (here I had to work the material from the plate edge to the front of the leg to ensure it was smooth the entire way along), as otherwise your “plate edges” will bulge out too much just before they end, and the illusion will be ruined.

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Denny’s boots have a multitude of straps on the backs to hold them on. I’ve created another edge on the bottom of the ankle as shown above, and then gone in with a round-bladed XActo and pressed the grooves into the surface to create parallel bands.

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While deciding how best to add the buckles to all those straps, I decide to finish the final volumes for Denny’s footwear. Neither of the two pieces of art I was working from made the shape of her shoes very clear, but I figured that I might as well go with her overall theme and finish up her Battle Prostitute regalia with a pair of high heels, because at this point, why the hell not…

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The little clay balls are squished into the bottom of her feet, and then blended in with a flat clayshaper. I’ll come back and add more detail to the feet in a bit, but for now, let’s jump back to those straps.

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Each of the straps is depicted in her art as having a teensy-tiny buckle right where it touches the front plate. I’ll need a bit more volume to work with here, so I start by adding a putty thread along that area.

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I squish the thread down, smooth it up against the front plate, and then divide it into the same segments as the straps they’re sitting on.

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I then go in with a pick and create a square shape within each one. Usually I try to do a more realistic buckle, but these things are just so ridiculously tiny compared to the ones I’ve done in the past, and my attempts to add more detail got too muddled; it was too hard to tell one from the next, so I settled for hollow squares.

Not my proudest moment, to be sure. Maybe someday I’ll be good enough to work that small, but that day is not today. ;_;

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Around this time I also added the “top of foot plates” underneath the boot plate. After that quick process (add blob, squish in place, create ledges with a clayshaper), I got to work on her (somewhat complex) kneepads.

Step 1: BLOBS!

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Step 2: Use a metal tool to “dig out” the center nubs, pushing the surrounding plates aside slightly.

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Step 3: Shaping, smoothing, and edge-hardening, all done with my trusty Angle Chisel clayshaper. I quite like how these came out. :)

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Denny has a very important character detail around her waist (the jagged scar where she was cut in half) that I had decided to make very prominent in the resculpt. This is actually the only reason I gave her the “butt sticking out” pose that I normally hate– it’s so that she’s posed with her midriff shoved forward, very clearly showing off the scar. As a result of this decision, I knew I needed to give her midsection detailing some extra love; there’s no point drawing attention to an area of the model that you’ve sculpted really poorly!

So, step 1 was to clean up her abdominal muscles a bit, and then step 2 was to completely wreck them by carving this jagged mess into her skin; first I carved the wraparound line, then I sectioned out little rectangles to form the stitches.

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Next, I went in with the tip of my Angle Chisel shaper and pressed the surrounding skin inward slightly, leaving the stitches higher up than the skin. With that done it was just a matter of a crapton of cleanup and smoothing, followed by an attempted restoration of the destroyed muscle detail, and her midsection was good to go.

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By this point I just couldn’t stand looking at the protruding pelvis wire any longer, so I started working on her hip plates, even though it was perhaps a bit too early still in the process. I did some rough shaping on the clay wads with my fingers, then placed them onto the hips and smoothed them out with a clayshaper.

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I forgot that this picture was supposed to show the beginning of the detailing on the hip plate, and cropped it out when I was editing photos. Sigh. You can see it pretty well below. :/

For now, let’s instead look at what I thought this was a picture of: nipple hoses! Most warcaster armor is depicted as having ribbed hose that runs from the boiler and into the model’s chest plating. In most cases these attach somewhere boring like under an armpit, but because Denny is a Battle Prostitute, obviously her steam hoses needed to jam straight into her nipples.

I mean, that just makes sense.

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Instead of being a continuous ribbed hose, Denny’s hoses are smooth, straight pipes that bend only at special couplings. To create the couplings, I applied small putty shreds, pressed them into the tubes, smoothed them, and used a sharp knife to etch in the rims on both sides.

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RANDOM FULL-BODY PROGRESS SHOT

Here you can see the hip plates I cropped out before. This is also a better impression of “Spud’s Eye View” than most of the extreme detail shots– this is about how much detail and texture I can make out with my eyes when I’m working, which I hope goes some way to explaining why the details in the close-ups often look so rough and crappy– I can’t bloody see them! Which is weird for me, because I have incredible naked eye vision compared to most people I know (I’m the guy who can tell you which bus is coming from five blocks away or find a dropped pin on a patterned carpet), but apparently even my amazing eyeballs have their limits.

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So with the body more or less coming along, I moved onto the arms. I added joints at the appropriate lengths and then bent them into the position I wanted with pliers. I’m posing her so that she’s holding up her halberd with her left hand, and beckoning sluttily with her right hand.

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Fimo is attached here the same way it was before: wrap the wire in Green Stuff, then wrap the still-soft putty with Fimo to let it adhere. Fimo is applied in small scraps which are then blended together into one continuous sheath.

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Here I’ve started applying detail to one arm. Denny’s torso armor is very skimpy, but her arms are covered in very bulky plates. I create the plates on my worktable in an approximation of their final shape, then transplant them onto the model, squishing them into place with a clayshaper. At this stage I don’t care about details, as I’m just trying to ensure that I have enough material in approximately the right places.

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Plates start to take form. Denny has a pair of large bulbous plates around the base of her forearm, and a flared cuff around her upper arm. These are sectioned out with a metal hoe, and then cleaned up with clayshapers.

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With those basic shapes laid out, I do the same for the hand; Denny has two fingers curled up, her index finger beckoning, and the middle finger as sort of a halfway point between the two positions.

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Once all the fingers are divided up, I add extra putty for the thumb and clasp it over the curled fingers.

I did more cleanup work on the hand and the arm, but apparently forgot to photograph it, so I guess I will once again refer you to “some later image when I hope you can make it out” for a final shot.

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Moving to the left arm, the same general process creates the hand– carve up a flat slab into fingers, then clasp a thumb over it.

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Lots of cleanup and detail later, we have an arm.

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Man, this came out way more wobbly than I remembered.

Sigh.

Best model I’ve ever sculpted, but still riddled with problems.

FML. :(

Anyway, at this stage I was pretty happy with the body (because, again, my eyes have less zoom-in resolution than my camera), and needed to start working new layers on top of it that might mess up the work done so far, so I decided that now was the time for the model’s first bake. I spent an evening doing random smoothing and cleanup, and then tossed the model in the oven.

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Here she is in my halogen oven.

“Wtf is a halogen oven?” -Spud, when he first heard these suggested for cooking Fimo a year ago

A halogen oven is a device that I’m told gained popularity on TV home shopping channels with the claim that it can cook a chicken in 45 minutes. I can’t attest to that, but it’s absolutely perfect for meeting the two needs of clay baking– it’s compact enough to live in a workshop-type area, and fantastic at maintaining a steady temperature.

A halogen oven has two main pieces: a large glass bowl on the bottom, and a lid with all of the electronics built into it. The heat in the oven is generated by an incredibly powerful halogen lightbulb that heats the air inside the chamber; the bulb is then surrounded by fans that blow the air around the bowl, evenly distributing the air throughout. Heat is controlled by an internal thermostat; the fans blow continuously, but the halogen bulb turns on and off to maintain your desired temperature. It’s a compact, easy-to-use heating system that lets you precisely control the baking process, and I luvs it so very very much.

*hugs oven creepily*

I had a hell of a time trying to acquire one of these last year; I went to over 20 stores in three different cities, and had to pretty much conclude that stores do not stock them. I eventually found one on the Internet for like… $80? Ish? I can’t remember. Anyway, it was money well spent, because my apartment’s actual oven is from the 1960s and can’t maintain a temperature, so it wasn’t going to be an option for the rather fragile and picky Fimo baking process.

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Here she is post-bake. You can tell baked Fimo from unbaked because it darkens and becomes slightly translucent (hence why you can see the underlying putty in narrow spots like the knees and ankles)

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Next up on the progress list was creating the head. I’m using my standard start: a very rudimentary skull, with eyeballs rolled out and let to harden. These will provide me landmarks later during the sculpting process, to keep the facial symmetry lined up while I move all of the features around.

Fair warning before we dive into the head sculpting: I didn’t make the greatest head in the end, so if it looks a little wonky at one of the middle stages, it isn’t going to look that much less wonky at the end. I didn’t follow ideal process as far as bulking out her facial muscle groups, so she ended up with weird proportions in a few places.

So, yeah. If anybody’s looking to follow one of my walkthroughs to sculpt a head of their own, maybe don’t use this one. :(

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Unlike the rest of the body, this Fimo isn’t applied over soft putty, as I need to let the eyeballs harden. As a result, it’s extremely hard to get this clay to stick to the skull. >_<

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Here we have the “terrifying gimp suit” stage of the head, where a continuous mask of clay has been wrapped around the head. This Fimo, like everywhere else, is added in tiny scraps that are later blended together; trying to set it all down as one huge wad always results in having masses in the wrong places.

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Now we start adding meat. This is Denny’s upper jaw…

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…and here’s the lower jaw. It’s too big right now, but I’ll remove mass later on.

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The major bone structures are not on, so everything from here on out is adding chunks of meat.

This is cheek meat.

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This is eyebrow meat.

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This is angry eyebrow meat.

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The nose gets added in a couple stages. Here I’ve started by applying the bridge; I’ll add the bulb and nostrils a few steps down.

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First, though… eyelids!

Eyelids are tiny and annoying. I shape them on my mat and then lift them onto the model with my trusty clayshaper.

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OMG KILL IT WITH FIRE

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THAT ISN’T BETTER AT ALL

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AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH

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At this point some really bad detailing had left Denny’s face a featureless orb, so I started adding extra putty chunks to bulk out the underdeveloped areas and add some topography to her face. Here I’m expanding the cheeks.

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This gives me the necessary facemeat to pull her cheeks into a smile. Naturally an evil smile, of course– this is still Deneghra we’re talking about. ;)

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Additional finessing of the facial detail lets me clean up some of the most egregious problems– I remove some of the unwanted jaw volume, clean up the eyes a bit (though probably still not as much as I should’ve), and bulk out her nose. Once I’m happy-ish with how that’s going, I add a seam line across her cheeks to reflect the bottom edge of her mask.

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Ugh. She still has kind of a lantern jaw going on, but I’ve been staring at the model long enough that I don’t notice it, so I call the face “good enough” and apply some putty around her neck to form her Battleslut Fetish Collar.

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This gets worked into shape with a clayshaper, and then attached to the straps that I had previously sculpted onto her torso. (Oh, hey, I forgot to mention– I added straps on her torso a couple dozen steps back.)

At this point I also added some basic bulk to form the foundation for her shoulders, but decided to finish a bit more of the head before completing them, as they would make the sides of the head harder to access once they were fully built up.

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Oh my god, these close-up pictures are really starting to destroy my soul. I was so happy with the clean details I had put onto this model, until I started captioning all these photos and noticing how wobbly everything is.

;_;

ANYWAY.

Denny has a rather elaborate headdress that I would need to replicate, which presented a bit of a problem because I hadn’t provided any support for it when I wired up the armature. It stuck out way too far for me to simply sculpt it “out in the open”, though, so I came up with an awesome hack solution: I drilled down into her torso and dropped a wire into it, which provided me just enough support to build the head frond. However, I avoided wrapping around the wire, so that later when the head was baked, I could simply pull the wire out.

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In addition to the panels on top of her head, Denny has a pair of horns coming out the sides, which I again had not wired into the head earlier. It wasn’t going to be possible to use removable wires for these, so I dug out my pin vice and drilled a hole straight through her temples.

Amusing bonus: My unsteady camerawork makes it look like the drill is shaking the model all over the place. :P

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In one of the few spots where I deviated from her art, I decided to curve Denny’s horns forward a bit more than they normally would, as the stock look of the horns simply sticking out to the sides looked a bit bizarre to me.

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For some reason, at this point I decided to pause the horns and add the flanking panels of Denny’s headdress.These would once again require support, but fortunately, the hole from the earlier temporary wire was still there, so I simply used it to embed this heart-shaped wire support, which gave me an ample structure to press against while shaping the remaining head fronds.

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Seriously, these zoom shots are killing me. I can’t believe how awful everything looks up close. >_<

It wasn’t clear to me from Denny’s art whether the side panels were separate or one continuous piece; I opted to do them connected together because I liked the shape and because it would make them a bit sturdier.

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The method

Here I’ve started bulking out the horns. My instincts kept telling me I was making them too fat, and then I’d look back at the art and no, that’s actually how they look. She has very, very big helmet horns. @_@

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You know my panel process by now. Here I’m adding the pointy part where they meet her head– first I add a scrap…

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..then I blend and shape it. Note the little holes I’ve punched, which are to give me a pocket to insert rivets into later (they grip better if they have something to dig into than if they’re simply surface-mounted).

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See? The zoom-out looks fine. It’s only up close that she looks like a 4-year-old’s crayon scribbling.

The one thing that still really bugs me is her head angle, which I had intended to tip much further down. I’d like to say that I built it like that intentionally so that it would be easier to access her face while I was working, but to be honest, I just didn’t think about it when I posed the skeleton.

I’ll fix it a few steps down.

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For now, though, let’s build her a weapon. The halberd on the stock eDenny model is probably the least awful part, but tragically I still couldn’t use it, because it’s just so goddamned big. Like, if you hold the head of the halberd up against Denny, it stretches from the top of her head to her freaking ankles. It’s insane.

So while I had no major problems with its design or the quality of the sculpting, the stock weapon was still totally useless to me and needed to be redone. Fortunately, weapons are probably the easiest thing to sculpt, as it’s just a matter of working in bas relief against a flat surface– none of the usual sculpting complications from working on objects suspended in midair!

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This is, like, twenty minutes’ work.

I opted to leave one of the weapon’s spikes off– there’s a really long and sort of pointless “fish hook” that comes off the back of the weapon that I didn’t feel really added much to the model, so I stuck with the simpler silhouette you see here.

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A little bit of detail later, and it was ready to bake. Once it had hardened, I pulled the weapon off of its flat surface and mounted the brass rod it was stuck to inside my pin vice.

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Flip it over, and we’re ready to do the other side.

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Sculpt sculpt sculpt.

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Aaaand we’re done.

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Bam. It’s still sort of absurdly huge (top of head to around her waist), but much more manageably so– I can at least sort of imagine her hefting it.

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It’s all coming along quite nicely, but that head angle is still bugging me. She’s going to be on an elevated base, and I wanted to really focus her pose around the beckoning arm, so I went in with a knife and severed the attachment of her head to her shoulders (while leaving the mounting wire intact).

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I then tilted this downward and covered up the cracks. Not perfect (still a little too high), but way better. :)

This constitutes the bulk of the work on the main body, but Denny has quite a few “accessories” that need to be built, so let’s dive into those now.

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First up: back spikes. These are my least favourite part of Denny’s original design, because they’re just too bloody big. Denny’s aesthetic evokes agility and grace, but on her back she’s got this massive rig of six-inch-wide bars supporting two-foot blades… it just doesn’t work for me. I like the idea of back spikes, but as I did with the weapon, I wanted to slim them down to something more manageable.

The solution I came up with was to work the back spikes into Denny’s ghost theme– instead of a rigid spike rack, ghost Denny’s back has sets of floating, rattling chains, each ending in a small meat hook-esque blade. I really enjoy drawing and sculpting chains, so I’m happy to find an excuse to work them in here. :)

Here I’ve started the rig very simply: a trio of very thin wires joined together with a putty blob.

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Once this was set, I bent the wires into approximately their final shape and stuck the ends down to my working surface with more putty.

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These would be much too thin to attach with the Fimo-around-putty technique, so I just had to struggle along with Fimo straight around wire. Fortunately, this is easier to manage with bas relief sculpting than with fully standalone work.

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The method I used to make the chains is straightforward, if still rather finicky due to the size of the pieces.

First, I smooth out the Fimo into flat strips over the wire, and then I use a pick tool to create notches in the sides to divide up my chain links.

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Next, I use a pick to create holes in the middle of the links, a knife to create notches between the segments, and clayshapers to smooth everything out.

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The last step is the hardest: i roll out an extremely thin thread of Fimo and cut off very short lengths of it with a knife. I then lift these tiny segments onto the links, laying them over the gaps between links and sinking their ends into the holes in the links. All in all, one side of one chain takes me about 30 minutes.

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Rinse, repeat.

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I bake the assembly very briefly (baking times for Fimo depend on the thickness of your piece, so these teensy pieces take only about 6 minutes to harden) and remove it from the metal backing plate.

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Next, I make the hooks/blades. They’re very small, so I sculpt them on the back of a quarter; naturally, a Canadian would never deface the FRONT of a quarter in this way, as that would bring dishonour to the noble caribou therein depicted.

Oh Great And Terrible Horned One, Haveth Thou Mercy On Mine Soft Bits. Amen.

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I shape these into vague blade shapes with metal tools, then go in with a clayshaper to clean everything up. I also add loops at the base of each hook to attach them to my chains.

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After some final work adding bevels and curvature to the blades, I bake them and then transplant them onto the chain assembly. I use small Fimo blobs to hold them in place, then bake yet again to solidify the entire assembly.

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With all of that set, I flip the rig over and start working on the back, in largely the same way as the front.

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Fimo goes on, Fimo gets squished into the correct shapes and locations…

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…Fimo is smoothed, detailed, and baked.

Chains are done.

BAM.

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With the chains assembled, it was time to think about mounting them to the model. I had until now been keeping Denny upright using a swooping wire support embedded in her spine, but since I now needed to work there, I rigged up what would end up being her final support structure: wire running up through her skirt and attached just under her hip plates. You can see the holes in this photo.

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Denny’s skirt is going to swirl around her to one side, and will provide the support to lift her feet off of the ground; here I’ve created a “stool” for her feet to stand on, but that will be removed later on.

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The pair of swoopy wires was a bit shaky still, so I decided to just go ahead and do the entire skirt right away to solidify everything and keep the model still while I finished the rest of the upper body detailing.

Here I’ve simply laid a flat panel of green stuff over the two wires and not bothered to shape it in any way– it’s incredibly thin and fragile, so I’m simply draping it and letting it harden as-is.

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The hardened putty panel gets covered in Fimo, which is smoothed together with a metal hoe tool.

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I then start working a drape pattern into it, using the hip attachments as my points of tension. I still find realistic drapery very challenging, and I’m not really thrilled with how I laid out the folds, but it does the job, so I move on.

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A bit more refinement, and I have a skirt I’m basically happy with that is also strong enough to hold Denny up.

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At this point I forgot that I had intended to attach the chains next, and instead started on Denny’s soul cages. These were fairly easy to do– first I embedded a pair of brass rods in the top of a cork and wrapped some putty around them…

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…and then came the Fimo. The soul cages in Denny’s art are an interesting shape, sort of like an apple core with nipples on top.

Hey, don’t look at me like that. It’s totally what they look like. :P

The concave interior shape was achieved quite easily by rolling a round clayshaper around the middle of the Fimo cylinders.

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To create the “lip” of the end caps, I nudged the sharp edge of an Angle Chisel clayshaper up against it.

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The last step was to create the holes in the grill; the one on the right has circular holes punched in with a pick, while the one on the left has crosses pressed in with the point of an XActo.

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Attaching these was a bit of a pain. It hadn’t occurred to me to bury them into the skirt as I probably should have, so instead I surface-mounted them by adding a small clay pad on each side and squishing the soul cage into it.

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The problem that arose from this attachment method is that the “attachment nipple” at the top of each Soul Cage is a few millimeters offset from the main body, but in her art is tied on with a chain. Which means that I need to sculpt a chain that is partially floating in the air with absolutely no support behind it.

Which is… hard.

Really hard. @_@

In retrospect, a better way to go about this would have been to sculpt the attachment chain separately on a dummy backing board, and then transfer it to the model fully built. However, this didn’t occur to me at the time, so I instead went about this in pretty much the worst way possible.

Soooooo let’s take a look at that now. ;_;

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Here I’ve squished the main part of the chain down and started sculpting a chain pattern into it. Still nothing on the “hanging” part, because I hadn’t figured that out yet.

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More detailing on the flush parts, and I’ve tried to “solve” the free-floating area by collapsing as much of it as possible against her body or against the soul cage. However, a small length of it remains free-floating and pretty much impossible to push on.

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Hack solution: temporary supports. I take some shreds of hardened putty that are lying around, cut them to approximately the right shape and size, and slide them in behind the hanging segment. This gives a very rickety backing to work against, but it’s just barely enough to let me sculpt (bad) chainlinks into the Fimo.

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Once that was done, I added the second chain to support the other soul cage. The two chains are “held up” by the top lips of Denny’s hip plates, which strikes me as incredibly uncomfortable– the chains would be constantly digging into her bare hips.

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Alrighty! With the lower body work done, I could finally get going on the home stretch: the attachment of the back chains and the construction of the veils. The veils were very roughly bulked out to start, as I wanted to see how much space they were going to take up before deciding on the attachment point for the chains.

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To actually attach them, I created a wire “staple” and fed it through the central putty cluster. I sized it to match the location and separation of some holes that were already in her back– the ones that had previously housed her support wires before I moved them to her skirt.

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The staple was cut to length and inserted, and then a Fimo blob was squished on top.

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I couldn’t find any reference for what Denny’s backpack was supposed to look like, so I just sort of improvised. The only major design directives I gave myself were that 1) the smokestack had to emerge low enough that it didn’t interfere with the veils, and 2) the floating chains would be attached to six larger loops on the sides of the pack. Other than that, I made whatever shapes seemed to fit.

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It came out okay (though apparently a bit uneven– STUPID G**DAMNED CLOSEUPS I HATE YOU SO MUCH >_< ). Also, the cloth on the veils came out a bit better than the cloth on the skirt. Not sure why.

*shrug*

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ZOMG ALMOST DONE

(This is both the reaction I had at that point in the project, and actual right-now excitement– I’ve been writing this blog entry for four weeks and am finally almost at the end. I can’t stress enough how sick I am of narrating this project. ;_; )

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The second-last thing I added was rivets. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of rivets. I didn’t add all of the ones that were in the art because SCREW YOU NICK I DON’T LOVE YOU THAT MUCH, but I added the major “noticeable” ones on her headpiece, torso, and anywhere else that looked too smooth.

Seriously though, f*** rivets. You think they suck to paint? Try sculpting them. >_<

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The last thing– the very last thing– was to finalize the halberd by adding a cap at the bottom. This is another piece that doesn’t appear in the art, so I just gave it a generic spike and called it done.

And then I put the weapon in her hand, and I cut most of the support out from under her feet, and I spent a couple hours with a knife scraping off “sculpting flash” (especially around the chains), and…

and…

@_@

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squee

Ahem.

So, yeah. A lot of nice milestones here:

  • This is by far my best scratch sculpt. This is admittedly not saying much, since I’ve done less than 20 of those in my life; however, I can see clear improvements in process and results between the Succubus and Denny, and for a “still learning” sculptor like me, that is the best reward I can hope for from any project. I don’t care if my work makes money, I don’t even care if other people appreciate it… I just want to suck less in my own eyes. And while the ghastly closeups in this article clearly demonstrate how far I still have to go, it’s still amazingly encouraging to be able to see such stark evidence of a model I absolutely could not have made one or two years ago.
  • This is my first completed Fimo scratch sculpt. I’ve done Fimo conversions before, and I’ve started Fimo projects that are still on the go, but this is the first project I’ve completed that was Fimo from start to finish, and I have to say that I am a total convert from here on out. Fimo is really problematic for conversion work due to the challenges inherent in getting it to stick to metal, so I will continue to do most of my conversions in putty for the foreseeable future. However, for any project where “sticking to something” is not an issue, I will be working in Fimo almost exclusively from now on. The near-infinite working time simply allows a degree of precision and cleanliness that I’ve never been able to achieve in putty’s narrow working window.
  • There are a lot of smaller items I was really pleased with. I’m getting better at chains, at armor smoothing, and to a lesser extent, at cloth drapery. Denny’s face isn’t great, but it isn’t the utter horror masks I used to sculpt. And more than anything, I was pretty surprised at how solid everything is– the chains are a bit fragile, but I’ve bumped them a few times and they’ve held up to the abuse. I had the foresight to wrap the extended finger around a wire so that it won’t break off, and I managed to create a solid overall support for the model in the skirt without ruining the “lighter than air” overall aesthetic.

Denny is exactly what I needed her to be: a model that makes me horribly ashamed of my past work. And with any luck, she will hopefully be a model I will then in turn be horribly ashamed of given whatever I’m producing two years from now. She’s a stepping stone– showing signs of improvement, but leaving clear indicators for what I need to work on in my next projects.

So, yeah. Learning Spud is Happy Spud. :)

And, sure, whatever, let’s toss on some paint.

deneghra_130

deneghra_131

deneghra_132

deneghra_133

deneghra_134

deneghra_135

deneghra_136

deneghra_137

deneghra_138

deneghra_139

deneghra_140

deneghra_141

deneghra_142

deneghra_143

Ehh, whatever. I don’t claim to be much of a painter. I only put paint on things because other people don’t share my appreciation for the purity of monocolour sculpting materials. :P

*ahem*

Merry Christmas, Nick!

And with that, ladies and gents, I will stop typing and hit “publish”.

Sorry this was so bloody long. I’ll try to skip more steps on my next one. >_<

*waves*

-Spud

5 thoughts on “The Ghost of Christmas-Last-Month

  • lordbubonicus

    That’s brilliant – if I received that as a present I’d be ecstatic.

    Long blog post was long, but well worth the read. Thanks for taking the time to type it all out :-)

  • ZeeWulf

    OMG ITS SO HORRIBLE I CANT BELIEVE YOU ACTUALLY KEEP SCULPTING GOSH WOW.

    No, all seriousness, good job. I’m impressed, definitely. Now hurry up and post another project.

  • Tome Trekker

    Excellent! I’ve just started sculpting miniatures. I’ve tried green stuff, but I prefer polymer clays–mostly been using Sculpey products. When you say that your figure is 30mm tall, is that to the eyes or to the top of the head? My attempts at sculpting have been dismall at best, but your work has encouraged me to endeavor to persevere. Thanks! Your blog is exactly the type of info that I’ve been searching for.

  • Captain Spud [Post author]

    She was 30mm to the top of the head before the headdress was added. I build my armatures based on a 29mm-tall printed skeleton diagram.

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