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Captain Eyestrain
1,195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·

One of my regular HS customers just enquired about arms and legs for tropical uniforms : this Tutorial shows how I do them .

I originally wrote this a couple of years ago, but I though it still might be useful for anyone wanting to try this themselves.
I can't remember now whether I posted this here before : but when Searching I couldn't find it, so I hope no harm is done by reposting it... mods please remove if I'm duplicating myself.

For what they're worth , here are my thought on bodies and body modifications. Apart from the limb modelling , my method is pretty similar to others and I have no great secrets to impart ; but the thing I'm trying to encourage is to be bold and experiment until you get what you want.

The Commercial body :

Which body you prefer depends on which you have and what you want to make:~

Since I make Historical rather than Modern figures , I use mostly DML bodies : firstly because they are cheap & I've got lots of them ; secondly they are easy to work on ; thirdly , I prefer the shape and size ( 5'9"-5'10" ), despite the imperfections . Because I drill up into the feet of my figures , to pin them to their base , I prefer the feet to other types, particularly the ball-and -socket variety used by BBI and others , which always fall off as soon as I look at them .

I've never had any problem with DML feet , though I know some people say they break easily , but they are great weight bearers , and many of my figures are carrying a deal of kit , some of it metal, so they have to have strong ankles.

BBI bodies are fine if you are doing Modern subjects , but they are too musclebound and big for my taste .

NEW EDIT : Since I wrote this, the Hot Toys bodies have become firm favourites, and there are of course others around.. I now have some of the HT Slim , which I really like since they are such a good realistic size... though I don't personally care for the pin-and-ball feet. The MJ version has just a ball at the ankle , which is much better.

DID bodies are fairly OK when clothed , but there's something about them which gives me the creeps : they look like a badly drawn acupuncture chart ! The chest is much too deep from front to back .

The Sideshow body is very tall ( 6 foot +), but the torso is flatter than the others . By shortening the legs and arms it can be made into a decent figure , though the legs are strange . I don't care for the hands , and drill out the wrists to take DML sized pins , which I use on my own Fimo modelled hands .

The best body IMHO is actually the Medicom RAH 301 , with beautiful small proportions , and an excellent lifting shoulder joint ; but they are hard to find , expensive , brittle and have truly dreadful feet . If you want to represent figures 5'6" and under , they are ideal, and I have about six , in some cases with DML feet added as replacements. If you want to replace the hands , you have to fashion special diameter pegs to make them fit.

Since I've used up more of them making figures, the fragility of the shoulder joint has proved a real problem , and I have had to repair all of mine by putting a bolt through... so perhaps they are not the ideal they once were, now we have the HT slim.

A Digression on Historical Stature :

Most of the figures I model are British from the two World Wars and before , and the rank and file were generally shorter than the standard DML body ( 5'10" ) : the average Private in the Great War was about 5'6" , and his sons in WW2 were not much bigger : 5'7". Napoleonic soldiers were even smaller. The enlistment of large numbers of men from Industrial slums actually led to problems in the Great War : some of them weren't big enough to carry the standard equipment , and there was an ill-fated experiment to put them in" Bantam" battalions .

These heights were of course averages : there were big and little men in all mass armies. To reflect that , it's nice to build some variety .
This pic shows what I mean :~

On the left , the Battery Sergeant-Major , 5'10" and getting heavier in his forties . DML body , with some padding built on.

On the right , Fred Holt , 16 ( lied about his age ) , 5'5" , Medicom body . The narrowness of his chest and shoulders is particularly appropriate.

North American and Australian soldiers were noticeably taller than European ones in both Wars .

Smaller stature was a result of the Industrial Revolution , which impoverished the diet of the poor , and can be traced back into the late Middle Ages : interestingly enough , Viking Age populations around 1000AD who seem to have had excellent diets can approach modern size averages.

Modern nutrition and living standards have changed everything in the last fifty years : First World males are now enormous , and getting taller ( and fatter ! with each generation. Even in Japan ,where Japanese WW2 soldiers were notoriously small , two generations later , young Japanese males are about 6" taller than their grandfathers.

Before leaving this little ramble , it's worth noting that the ideal of the Male body has changed radically even in my lifetime , and this is reflected in Toys.
In the Fifties , the mature , deep-chested , broad-shouldered man was the Ideal Film Star.
The late Sixties changed all that : the Ideal was now young , tall , and whippet-thin. He stayed that way until the Nineties, when he started getting more muscular : now a gym-built , steroid- enhanced giant is the new Ideal .
The fact that the Star Wars figures , when re-issued in the Nineties , had all their bodies remade in a muscle-bound style is indicative .Some of the 1/6th manufacturers have been following this trend , which has more to do with cartoons than reality.

I digress….

So , to the mods:

Most of my figures are in simple standing poses , so I don't need to make them more flexible , just more natural , so I don't have suggestions about increasing the flexion , only about stature and proportion .

If appropriate , shorten the lower and upper legs by using a razor-saw to cut out short sections : to maintain the proportion , it's best to shorten both the thighs and the calves. Rejoin the ends with Liquid Poly cement ( MekPak or similar ) :~

If you are severely shortening the legs ( for a Gurkha or Japanese , for example ), it's best to shorten the arms in proportion , and you are going to have to reduce the torso in some way.

The DML chest is too deep even for most taller figures : if your figure has a lot of clothes , you can ignore it , but if you are doing a Tropical bash with just a single layer , it's best to use a router to remove the pecs at least .If you carve out the whole front of the chest to make it even slimmer, you need to fill it with something .

LocoSS takes the whole torso apart , resizes it and fills with foam , which produces an excellent effect , but it's quite a lot of work.

I generally use a router to take a couple on millimetres off the outside of the shoulders as well .
The buttocks are too small, at least on a standing figure : I add to them with epoxy putty .This can also be used to enhance the knees , which are too thin from front to back : again , this depends how the figure looks in the clothing : it's really obvious with tight trousers , less so with baggy ones .
All these mods can be seen here on a DML and SST body . All the white parts are epoxy putty , and you can see the saw-cuts in the legs:~

Another improvement is to look at the drape and fit of the clothes, which if neglected can make any figure look unnatural . I use a large brush to soak the clothing on the figure , and leave to dry with realistic folds in place.
You might need to add a little stuffing sometimes : tissue can be useful .Getting awkward items like collars to lie down also requires a little cheating : a single concealed stitch can be handy.

Arms and Knees :

Many of my tropical figures have new arms and sometimes knees : these are modelled in Fimo and inserted into the DML "chassis ".

Modelling them obviously requires anatomical reference , and skill and practice , but if you fancy trying it , you can see my method from these pics : use the tile as a support ( you don't need an armature , the limb is supported by the tile ) model as much as you can get at , which is generally about 2/3rds of the circumference , fire it, then take it off the tile , carve down the other side and model on the rest , then fire that :~

These limbs can be fitted to the stumps : the knees I join with Fimo extensions that fit into the sawn-off thighs ; the arms the same way , or with pins into the epoxy-filled upper arms.You lose the knee and elbow articulations , but keep all the others :~

If you model limbs and hands in Polymer clay like this , they retain enough flexibility to fit weapons or whatever in the hands, if you are careful.
Recently , since " Bake'n'Bend " Sculpey became availble, I add a proportion of that to the mix , which adds considerably to the flexibility .

And that's about it.

The commercials are not going to produce extreme body variants for us, though we now ( 10/1/2010 ) have more choice than ever : given that the tooling investment for the forty -odd parts in a body must be their greatest cost , changing it is not economic ; they have to keep making what they have to recoup their money .

There is certainly more choice around than when I first wrote this , which is all good news.
But we still need the option of realistic arms and legs for half-dressed figures, and unfortunately apart from the specialised " Movie Musclemen " figures, those are yet to appear commercially. I know one or two figures have appeared with rubber-wrapped limbs , but they are pretty unconvincing.

I have been asked many times whether I could produce such limbs for sale : the short answer is that flexible resin is too expensive for commercial production where I live, and the more economic option of hard resin is too brittle.
I did an expensive experimental set of limbs with my casting company , but the unit price was too high.
When you push a weapon into the hard resin hands , it just snaps when stressed.
Works fine for heads, but not for hands.


800 Posts
Hi Tony,

Considering how much of the actual figure you use and how much you build from scratch, what do you gain by starting with a plastic figure rather than a wire armature?

- Ivan.

Captain Eyestrain
1,195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Using a commercial body you keep all the articulation ( except for the elbows and knees ) , which is essential for posing successfully.
Besides , it's quicker, believe me , to have a body to build on , than to start from scratch.
Thirty years ago I made static, non articulated figures for museum displays, using a wire armature , and it took a lot of work .
They were also heavy , and above a certain thickness polymer clays tend to crack, especially after repeated firings.
A complete set of bodymods as above , even with new arms and legs, can be done in a matter of hours.
A completely new body, solid and unposeable, takes days, and has to be made with removeable limbs to enable the clothes to be put on.

800 Posts
Hi Tony,

That makes sense. Now don't you need to have removeable arms to get the clothes on for these figures as well? I was thinking that just a padded wire armature would be sufficient for the figure under the clothes since it wasn't visible anyway. Your figures show elbows, arms and legs, but a padded armature should work for a figure that is entirely covered by a uniform. I have always wondered why folks agonise over modifying a figure for better range of motion when the final result was a static model with none of the body visible.

I guess the biggest difference is that you are really building models and I am just putting together toys. The lack of mobility in the elbows and knees would bother me.

- Ivan.

Captain Eyestrain
1,195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
The arms are removeable , and I make some spares, so that when I do a photoshoot I can change them around to vary the pose. It may seem surprising, but even with rigid knees and elbows you can vary the pose enough to make the figure interesting.

The fact is, I can't tolerate visible joints, and if I make a shortsleeved figure I just have to have realistic arms. You only need maximum articulation if you are going to play with them a lot, and that never bothered me.
Each to their own.
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