Many of the Star Wars figures displayed at this website were made from articulated 3.75" GI-Joe style toys. Usually, all the detail is sanded off, and the toy acts as an "armature" to detail. I use epoxy putty to add detail and costuming (mainly because the plastic armatures don't like the heat of an oven). However, I started using Super Sculpey to do character head sculpts because of the time it allows you to refine your work. Pantyhose is used for fabric costuming, and some figures have yarn hair. An article entitled "Customizing Articulated Figures" (formerly at Bill Gerlach's Customizing the Star Wars Universe) goes into more detail about the process.
The 12" GI Joes involve a few other skills-- directly customizing the toy itself is difficult due to the construction of the figure and the type of plastic used-- but it can be done (see my "transexualized" Joes). However, most of the customizing involves sewing and making accessories. Custom head sculptures are another way of customizing these figures. It may be possible to construct the articulated figure from scratch, but I don't have the skill or materials to do so. As a practical matter, it's easier and cheaper to go and buy the base articulated figure.
Sculpture is perhaps the most free-form of all these techniques-- Starting with a lump of clay, the possibilities are near limitless. However, for all practical purposes, I'm limited to static sculptures, not articulated sculptures (for the reasons mentioned above). However, the lines between these forms are not carved in stone. In my view, the ideal to strive for would be a toy constructed like a real figure: An internal articulated skeleton which could hold an incredible variety of lifelike poses--maybe made of steel? A flexible skin would cover a layer of soft padding which would compress and expand in a lifelike manner. Cool, huh? Just the sort of thing they do with props in Hollywood. Unfortunately, professional-quality armatures (the skeletons) are expensive, and the Hollywood props aren't meant to be durable-- they only have to last through the shooting schedule. A person can dream, though...
These photos were frame-grabbed from an old videocamera outfitted with various close-up filters. A close up filter lets you get much closer to the subject by changing how close the camera will focus. Unfortunately, your depth of field compresses, and at the extremes, the difference between something being in focus or not is less than a sixteenth of an inch! Consequently, unless you resort to digital editing, a lot of backgrounds are going to end up blurred beyond recognition. You can use that too: It saves the time and space requirements of constructing elaborate background scenery. The blurriness can also reinforce the primary focus of a composition. I have found that some pictures with too many background details are difficult to enjoy because they are so "busy".
For the really blurry backgrounds, I've used spray-painted newspaper (the nozzle test sheet), ringbinders, napkins, cotton and nothing at all. Some pictures required bit more work. I've got a bundle of old left-over supplies from a n-scale model railroad and the most useful have been the foam vegetation and the water putty mountains from the layout. Dried moss and floral arrangement supplies add interesting texture to a scene.
I've used a common photographic trick in a few shots. I believe it's called something like "forced perspective". By placing a minature in the background, you trick the eye into believing that it's a full-sized object far away. The blurriness helps to preserve the illusion.
Lighting is terribly important, but I didn't make any special adaptations to my work area. I have two incandescent swivel lamps and was able to adjust them to produce satisfactory effects.
Jimbob 12/27/96, revised 4/13/98, 7/1/98