Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

As the unstoppable advance of the Allied forces crushed the flaccid remnants of the once-proud Third Reich, desperate measures were employed in a futile effort to delay the inevitable. Old men, film stars, and children were called into service to wield the terrible weapons of war and really big kitchen appliances. Irritating Dachunds were set loose to defecate in the path of the converging armies. Façades of Burger King and Walmart were hastily constructed to make the Americans think they were advancing on the wrong country. Large-breasted mannequins were strategically placed to titillate the troops and make them walk funny...

Seriously though, it is astounding what you can find at places that aren't mass marketers like Walmart: The WWII Swedish wool greatcoat-- $30, the Spanish WWII helmet-- $40, the mannequin-- $40. All from little funky shops that don't use computers and which are owned by actual human beings! It's a shame that these places are slowly being crushed by the rising cost of real estate, taxes, and the homogenization of our tastes. As niche markets, these places survive because they aren't profitable enough to be attractive as franchise concepts. It seems that when that happens, the little guys get driven out of business, the selection narrows, and we lose a bit of the heart and soul which makes our local communities distinctive.

Whew... do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with filler text to accompany a picture? :^)


08/07/98- I came back from the San Antonio convention feeling pretty energized, with a renewed interest in WWII militaria, and lots of ideas. Too many ideas, actually-- like going off in 50 directions at once, but not able to focus enough to follow a single one.

One of the ideas was to make the Rommel headsculpt available, and maybe delve into doing others; There seems to be some interest in this. I was mainly inspired by seeing Saru-Inu-Ya's wonderful WWII Japanese figures and their absolutely professional head castings-- these were on par with the casting quality of the big boys-- hollow rubber heads which fit snugly on a vintage-style headpost. No wonder, since the proprietor had contracted for production from the big boys! Kewl! If I was going to produce stuff, it would have to be of this caliber-- I wouldn't want people complaining about cheesy home-made stuff. ("Hah!" he sez, grinning stupidly.)

The realities of production are quite an eye-opener though. Having gotten a quote, I figured that to break even, before considering postage and the paint ops, I would have to sell 100 heads at $18.50 each, 500 at $4.10, or 1000 at $2.30 each. My intuition tells me that I'd be lucky to sell 30 pieces, which would make the cost something like $60.50 each, or I'd be sitting on top of a mountain of 470 unsold heads, and out a bunch of bucks.

The obvious lesson here is that unless you have the advertising presence and name recognition of someone like Hasbro, you'd be an idiot to produce professional-quality castings of a specific character like Rommel. You couldn't easily recycle the leftovers as Grunt Rommel, Luftwaffe Pilot Rommel, SS Officer Rommel, Bespin Rommel, Colonial Marine Rommel, Romulan Rommel...

ROMMEL, TAKE 2: 8/24/98- I ran across another picture of Rommel, and took a stab at reconciling my original sculpt with it. One of his distinctive characteristics seems to be his eternally squinting eyes & droopy eyelids; other changes were more subtle-- his jaw is squarer, his nostrils are wider, and I revised his lower lip so it's less smirkish. I've also made a preliminary sculpture of his goggles, although I'm not confident in my ability to cast them in clear resin. They might be easier done via vacuforming.
TINTS: 08/11/98- Matching colors is a trial & error endeavor unless you've got one of those spiffy color analysis machines found at places like Home Depot... This photo only gives you a general idea of the variations, which are much more subtle in real life. (and I'll bet you have no idea what this is all about...)

Tah-Dah! Jimbob's MTD ("Modified Tavares Design") head assembly, suitable for installation on elastic-tensioned Joes.

09/03/98- While the particulars of this are obviously hush-hush (why else would you give something a three-initial acronym?), I can say that it does rotate at the neckpin-head juncture, with a sexy hint of silky-smooth friction. While it isn't the same as a Cotswold head, it does show that there are other ways... The problem is, they're usually more complicated and a pain in the ass to produce!


PREMO: 8/13/98- I sculpted this in Premo, which is intended to be the replacement for Promat. According to Donna Kato of Prairiecraft, this is a more thermally stable formulation with strength qualities similar to Promat. In other words, Promat cracked too easily, so they did something to fix it.

At first, I thought it was annoyingly stiff and rubbery compared to Promat... then I remembered that fresh Promat has this quality-- Aged Promat tends to be drier and easier to work with. With rubbery clay, the underlying clay moves around as you try to shape the stuff on top; that's why it's more difficult to form smooth, flat planes. Pushing the clay to form general shapes takes a little more work than other clays.

Most sculptors seem to prefer Super Sculpey, or a mixture with Sculpey III-- it's easier to form the general shapes and smooth surfaces. The trade off is strength: When baked, Super Sculpey and Sculpey III are brittle, whereas Promat and Premo have some resilience. On the positive side, Premo takes detail engraving as well as any of the other clays.

For smaller applications, you probably won't notice much difference between Promat and Premo. The real test would be to do a 1:6 scale full sculpture with armature-- My last experience with Promat was depressing-- large cracks forming spontaneously after a week or so, without the pieces being under a particularly great amount of stress.

This unreleased sequel was based on the alternate ending of "Casablanca".


8/18/98- This is very early in the process, and frankly I don't know whether I'll be able to bring these to finished, wearable form. Instead of just using Hasbro's riding boots which come with the X-wing Luke (which are very good), I'm going to try producing my own, since this will allow me to add more realistic wrinkle & fold texture (based on my wife's boots)-- besides being a generally noble thing to do (considering how I've staked out that position elsewhere in this web site @#$#%!!!). I'm going on faith that Hasbro's are fairly representative of WWII German officer's boots, as far as construction goes-- I can't see that level of detail in my reference books (but haven't really looked hard enough).

These are directly sculpted onto a pair of Joe legs to ensure they're the right size. If I weren't impatient and didn't have a surplus of Cots bods, I'd have probably cast some: If the production is successful, I may want to make other varieties of footwear. This should be a fairly tight-fitting boot, but some inaccuracies have to be tolerated for the toy (real riding boots are tough for 1:1 scale humans to remove). Production-wise, the challenge will be to get a uniform & thin enough casting. (Sorry, out of respect for other production-oriented customizers, the material to be used will remain unnamed. It's that "Coven of Customizers" thang.)

8/20/98- MORE BÜTZ & PREMO: Don't get the mistaken impression that sculpting boots is easy (especially using Premo). One of the most frustrating things about using Premo is that the stuff is so rubbery. This means that it's really hard to smooth it out, or add clay to it and blend it in without leaving lumps. I've tried all sorts of tricks-- Turpenoid, spit, sex lube-- it's just really aggravating when you want to get smooth, lump-free areas. I went the other direction and used fine grit sandpaper on the unbaked clay and this seemed to help, but it does create a texturing problem. You're left to take care of the finish after you've baked the piece-- this is always a good idea anyway-- I always expect to do some post-bake finishing, but not really to this extent. I like to take care of the finish as much as possible before the piece is baked, especially since sculpting tools are smaller and better suited for doing precision work in hard-to-access areas. (I guess I'd better learn to love it though, cuz I've got 2-3/4 more pounds of it!) Arrrrgh.

BÜTZ KAST: 8/29/98- four castings and none of them are really acceptable; this is a difficult thing to master. The first on the left is Hasbro's and the second & third are mine. Mine aren't as smooth and well-finished; maybe that makes them look more "weathered"? Whatever.

I wanted to do some things that Hasbro didn't, mainly to make the job worthwhile... so the heels have a slight indication of being made of layers, sculpted in as faint horizontal lines. Since the soles looked kinda funky and irregular, I decided to put the wear in the sculpt, so they have scratched bottoms. Unlike Hasbro's single mold, I made a left & right boot, and made the mistake of working the finish out on one, but not the other. So that's why it's shiny... I don't know why it is that I discover these things after I make the molds? Unfortunately, these two are my best castings so far, and they barely fit. More trial$ and error$ awaits... but I'm sorta maybe confident.

Proof that you can't make just one...

09/03/98- Despite appearances, you don't just pop these things out. These took days of spare time to make, and that's time that I neglected my wife and my "dinner" consisted of a quick peanut butter sandwich before hitting the sack. On a production line they probably do pop these out, but for me, each pair may take around 30 minutes to make, with no indication that they'd be wearable until they were done. So if you need 1:6 scale boots, go to Polo Moreno's web site and beg him to sell you a pair. Believe me, you pick up a great respect and appreciation for his work when you try to do it yourself.


08/07/98- Another fun thing I've been thinking about is tackling WWII German camouflage again. I started thinking about this after talking to Kevin Clark at the San Antonio convention. I'd like to prove that common folk like us could actually produce fairly authentic camo patterns; whether this is feasible or not, remains to be seen.

There are a couple of different approaches one could take:

  • If you only want to make enough for one figure, an acceptable approach would be to brush paint with fabric ink directly on the fabric. I've done that before, and it has the attraction of being very direct-- what you see is what you get. It takes a long time though-- if you turn it into a smock, you find that you've done a lot of unnecessary painting (unless you plan your pattern before you start painting). It's also important to load your brush with the right consistency of paint, or you'll get uneven shading on your fabric. You can even out some of this by washing the fabric when you're done-- it also helps it look more worn, and natural.

    I experimented with using an airbrush and stencils to speed this up. The airbrush coverage is fast and smooth, and makes a pretty neat camo pattern, but the diffused edge isn't authentic. The stencil held some promise, but they do get goopy and messy.

  • The other approach is to do it through the traditional silk screen process. I've read up on this, but haven't tried it yet. It seems to be fairly straight forward though: You separate your camo pattern into the print patterns by color, and print each pattern layer as black on white paper. You use photo-sensitive emulsion to transfer each layer design to a silk screen, and wash out the unexposed (black) areas. You print each color by spreading the ink via squeegee across the screen-- the ink passes through the open (unexposed) areas onto your fabric. Hopefully, when you're done with all your screens, the print layer colors are in perfect alignment, and your ink has gone down uniformly. Right...

    I can see before even trying this that getting perfect registration with your screens would be pretty difficult. Even getting separated laser prints from a single document to line up perfectly is a problem (at least in my experience). Some camo patterns would be more difficult than others: Splinter patterns have geometric shapes which seem to butt up right against each other with no overlapping. Other patterns, like the Blurred-Edge pattern seem to utilize overprinting, but I can't figure out how some of the washed-out intermediate shades are produced. On top of this is the technique of photo emulsion transfer-- it's one of those processes that requires controlling lighting, exposure times, etc... I don't think you get this right the very first time. But then, that's what this is all about, right? Learning-- experimenting, wasting lots of money, failure, disappointment, and eventually (if you're determined enough)...success!

    Just for grins, I contacted a professional screen printing service to get approximate prices-- about $55 for 3 temporary screens (13" x 13") and $2.80 per print in quantities of less than 36. If they come out looking funky, too bad, huh? That's motivation enough for you to want to learn to do it yourself.