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Custom figure tutorial

A Question recipe by John Bodin

John Bodin's customized Question action figure
Custom Q? action figure by John Bodin

The following recipe / tutorial / work-in-progress diary comes from Question fan John Bodin whom I met while asking a question at the John Byrne forum. Mr. Bodin has kindly consented to let us reprint his work here, and I hope that some of you talented sculptors out there will follow in his footsteps and send me pictures of your creations!

The Question Work-in-Progress

The Question is only the second custom I've ever done that has involved anything other than a simple repaint. I did one custom (a silver-age red-and-gold Iron Man) that involved some sculpting just to get a feel for what Sculpy was like to work with. The results were encouraging, so I jumped right into something really challenging.

I had been admiring the animated stylings of customizers such as Iron Cow, Casimir, and Bill Burns for quite some time, and I was REALLY enjoying the "Cadmus" Justice League Unlimited storyline, so the first serious custom I decided to tackle was the Question. I had seen several very nice customs of this figure recently (apparently a LOT of customizers are also JLU fans! ), but none of them looked quite "right" to me, so I decided to produce my own version.

What follows is my "work-in-progress log" that I kept on the Iron Cow Productions message boards. Hopefully you will find this interesting, or at least helpful.

First Entry

I have a couple of Undercover Bruce Wayne figures on-hand, and I was originally planning to use the head from a Jurassic Park Alan Grant figure (the hat is almost perfect for the Question) on the Undercover Bruce figure and just do a simple repaint, but my success with the Robin/Iron Man custom was so encouraging I decided to try to tackle the Question from a more challenging angle -- the Undercover Bruce figure is quite a bit taller than a JLU Superman, and in the JLU cartoon the Question is actually SHORTER than Superman, so the scale would have been off if I had taken the easy route. The next option was to try short-legging a figure for the first time, but I was afraid that the arms would have looked too long without shortening them, too, so it was beginning to look like I was in for a bit more work than I had originally planned.

Then I noticed that the Jurassic Park Alan Grant "head donor" figure was just a bit shorter than a JLU Superman -- just short enough, in fact, to make a Question figure that would be practically the PERFECT size to fit in with the rest of the JLU figures.

All that would be required is a considerable amount of scratch-built sculpting -- how hard can that be, eh?

I dunno about "hard," but as a novice sculptor (keep in mind that the Iron Man figure was my first attempt at "sculpting"), all I can say is I'm having the time of my life so far. Here's a shot of the base figure, along with some reference pics of the Question from the "Fearful Symmetry" JLU episode:

Okay, so the hat works, but there's not much of that delightful Paul Dini-inspired animated look there. No problem -- that's what polymer clay is for, right?

Here are a few work-in-progress pics -- I started off by Dremeling off all the doo-dads and the kneepds and the pant-leg details, then I use Sculpy (didn't have any Super Sculpy on-hand when I started) to form a shirt, tie, and pants (complete with cuffs, which seemed appropriate for the Question, even if it is a bit off-model). Then I baked that, and a day or so later I used Super Sculpy to build up a suit jacket and to give the figure long sleeves in place of its original short-sheeved attire:

So far, so good -- I really enjoy the sculpting aspect, and I'm pretty pleased with how it's looking at this stage. The next step was to begin forming the overcoat using SuperFlex Sculpy. As with Sculpy and Super Sculpy, I'd never used this stuff before, and although it is considerably softer than either Sculpy or SuperSculpy, it's still fairly easy to work with, even for a novice (given the proper amount of patience, that is).

The SuperFlex is SO soft, though, I found it impossible to try to build-up the entire trenchcoat at once -- I started by getting the right half in the proper shape (straight edges where required, lapels sculpted on, etc.), but when I started trying to work the same sculpting magic on the left side, I ended up obliterating my work on the right side despite my best effort at trying to handle the figure as gently as possible.

It's all a learning experience, though, so I figured I'd take advantage of the re-bakeable aspect of polymer clay by only working up one half of the figure at a time. This approach probably seems like a no-brainer to you old pros, but for me it was a major epiphany -- it also seems like it was exactly the right decision, though, because the end result at this stage of build-up looks FAR better than I would have imagined I was capable of producing:

There's still a LOT of work to do, but it's VERY rewarding to see what I've envisioned in my mind's eye begin to emerge as the build-up progresses. Even at this early stage, it REALLY starts to come alive when I put the head in place:

I'm not sure how well the SuperFlex Sculpy will hold paint, but so far it's working out very nicely for the trenchcoat details.

The amount of effort required for something like this takes a considerable amount of time, especially when you've got a two-year-old and a four-year-old running around, so my build-up time is limited to late in the evenings and weekends, but I'm really having fun, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Second Entry

Made some major progress today on the Question's trenchcoat, and I got the "face" finished, too. I extended the Alan Grant neck a bit, so now I'm going to have to build-up the neck post to ensure that the head stays on without having to glue it in place (I've already lost my leg articulation, so I'd hate to sacrifice the neck articulation as well):

I've still got to finish up the back side of the trenchcoat -- doing it in stages like this has proven to be a wise decision:

I've also Dremeled down the arms in preparation for the build-up of the coat sleeves -- I'll be going for an appropriate Dini/Timm animated look with the shoulders, of course. I also had to Dremel down the back of the figure a bit in order to allow for it to be more on-character and less nondescript -- if you check out the screen caps I posted above, you'll see that the back of the Question's trenchcoat does have some "wrinkles" visible around the waist area from the rear, and now that I've Dremeled in a bit of a "V" for the figure's back, I should be able to reproduce that type of detail.

Once I get the back portion of the trenchcoat and the arms/sleeves done, then I'll be priming and painting the entire figure.

Fun, fun, fun!

Third entry

I've made a little more progress on the Question -- I removed the pants cuffs because despite the fact that they looked right dapper, they were off-model for the Question, so they had to go. I also shortened the trenchcoat a bit and opened up the front to make it more on-model. I've completed the coat sleeves, and even though you can't see it in these pics, I've completed the back/shoulder area; all that remains is to finish up the bottom rear of the trenchcoat's "tail" area (which I plan on doing tonight), and it'll be ready to prime and paint:

I think it's looking MUCH more on-model, and I'm VERY pleased with how the sleeves and trenchcoat details have turned out.

Fourth entry

I got the rear of the trenchcoat finished a couple of days ago -- all that's let now are a few minor details, some fine sanding, then it's on to primer and paint:

And, just to provide a quick point of reference:

Fifth entry

Started priming it a couple of days ago, and it's pretty much done now (primer-wise, anyway) -- I'm going to give it a few days to let the primer dry, then it'll be time to paint it!

For some reason, I LOVE to see something get to the primed stage -- this is when it REALLY starts to look "right" to me. I guess that after staring at the mish-mash of baked polymer clay for so long, it's good to see it all "come together" when the primer is applied. Either that, or it's my love of old black-and-white movies showing through!

Sixth entry

Here are some rough work-in-progress shots of the paint scheme -- I've only got the first coat of paint on the trenchcoat, so the gray primer is still bleeding through in spots, I need to do some touch-up on shirt cuffs, the underside of the hat brim hasn't been painted yet, I still need to paint the hat band, and obviously the final dullcoat hasn't been applied yet:

I'm going to have to shoot my final pics using sunlight/natural light, I think, because I really don't like how the incandescent lights are washing out my colors -- the yellow of the shirt in particular looks MUCH better in person than it does here in these pics (I think I've really nailed the color scheme, and these pics just don't really do it justice).

Seventh entry

This is what the finished product looks like -- it turned out almost exactly as I had pictured it in my mind, which is pretty darn rewarding:

Difficulty: Hard / Advanced -- Significant sculpting required.

Fearful Symmetry Gallery