12/27/17- Waiting for stuff to arrive...

Assessing the Head: The prospect of sculpting the head is especially intimidating because the 3D shape is hard to discern from photos, and it's a complex shape. I don't have a 3D model to see it from different angles or even simple "mug shots" that show it from the basic angles. What I have are a collection of pics of toys and models scoured from the web and some video capture pics. The vidcap pics are too distorted and blurry to see details, but are good for figuring out things like the lighting. The pics of toys and models show detail, but tend to focus on the frontal view. I have to select which of those pics are credible and occasionally average between interpretations; the sculptors probably had to deal with the same lack of good reference photos of the 50 year-old suit!

Head Articulation: Moving forward, the first challenge was dealing with the neck: How to make the rigid V-shaped thing accommodate the figure's articulated neck, so the doll flesh doesn't show when the head is moved? The suit doesn't look like it has a neck: The head appears to begin on top of the horizontal join where the V-thing ends. While the head doesn't move during during most of the scenes, during its flying sequences, it clearly has a limited amount of movement (unless it was insert edited using different props-- always a possibility!). I suspect that the head was a rigid piece (to install lighting). They may have joined the head and suit together or used a flexible collar attached to the head, tucked into the suit. The latter seemed more likely from a costuming perspective: Someone had to get in and out of the suit. Regardless of how they actually did it, this seems like a workable plan for an articulated doll suit.

The general plan was do create a neck tube that could be slid over the figure's neck, allowing for a limited amount of front-to-back/side-to-side articulation at the base of the figure's neck, with none at the top end (just a small amount of rotation). This would be the core for sculpting the rest of the head.

Diffused Lighting: How to do the diffused lighting? The suit appears to use two sets of bulbs, one set installed behind a rounded shaped visor, and the other set appears be behind the white part of its "cheeks", which is a fairly complex 3D shape. It's hard to tell from watching videos, but pics of models and toys seem to indicate that the areas appear to be roughly sculpted or have inner fracture lines, translucent/transparent but not clear enough to see the bulbs underneath. I had several ideas:

  • Heat-formed styrene: Thin styrene is white and diffuses the light of an LED. It should be covered with a transparent coating, somehow made to appear roughly sculpted. However, because the shape is complex, it would be difficult to heat-form in thin styrene, trim, and inset into the sculpture of the head. I would need to sculpt the head first with the inset area, sculpt the inset areas as separate pieces, and vacuform the pieces. (Vacuforming is a bigger production than simple heat forming which you can do with a heat gun.) That's a lot of work!

  • Ordinary Casting resin: Another option would be to pour a thin coat of ordinary casting resin into the inset area and "slush cast" it, hoping the layer is reasonably uniformly thin before it cures, and doesn't show any thick pour accumulations as you attempt to steer the resin. The good thing is that it (ideally) cures in a thin, translucent white layer that would diffuse the LED light. While it's a one-shot deal that would bond to the epoxy putty and LEDs, resin can be sanded, painted, and top-coated with a translucent coating (again, somehow made to appear roughly sculpted). Worth testing.

  • Clear Acrylic Caulk: Even though it says it's clear, it's milky white except when the coating is really thin. It goes on thick, but can be thinned to coat complex shapes, and finger smoothed to the "roughly sculpted" look. Acrylic paint can be mixed in. Unfortunately, when it's thick, it takes a long time to cure, and it's rubbery when it does. Not sure how it takes paint or clear coats (like Flexbond or Mod Podge) on top. Promising, worth testing.

  • Clear casting resin: None of them seemed to hold much promise, even the expensive stuff. Firstly, they're clear: They'd need to be made translucent so you couldn't see the LED. Most of the economy resins are brittle, have a really long cure time; they're thin and self-leveling which means that you'd have to use a two-part mold. The expensive stuff is durable, has a short cure time, but pro-level requirements (degassing, vacuming, toxic fumes), a short shelf life, and unless you can find a use for 10 lbs of the stuff, it's not practical for the casual hobbyist.

  • Other Options for Clear Coating: Woodland Scenic's E-Z Water-- Plastic bits that you melt and pour. Really fast (almost too fast, but you can reflow it with a heat gun), very tough, very clear. Unfortunately, it has a yellow tint.
    Woodland Scenic's Realistic Water-- An acrylic clear coating that I haven't tried; I imagine that it's similar to Flexbond and Mod Podge.

"Blueprinting" the Head: Sculpting... that's the part I've been dreading. Like I've said, it's a complex shape. It also has a lot of details, many of which aren't symmetrical. Originally, I'd planned to sculpt in epoxy putty, which doesn't allow a lot of time for futzing and tweaking. Once I began kneading the putty (the head is big and takes a lot of putty!), I realized that I was an idiot for thinking that I could do it: I needed a lot more time just to work on the basic shaping. When sculpting, you have to reconcile the front, side, and back views in 3D form, and you don't have a lot of time to figure that out when you're racing against the clock.

I switched to polymer clay, which lets you futz and tweak for as long as you want. Because polyclay is heavy and not very durable, I'd have to mold/cast the final version in resin. On the plus side, this would take care of the diffused lighting-- the question would be how to contain the light so it didn't glow where it wasn't supposed to.

When I originally first wrote this article, I extolled the benefit of "blueprinting" the head-- sketching the frontal, back, and side views at actual size. The value of doing this is to establish the size of the head; you can hold the sketch up to the body to see if the head size works with the body size. While you're sculpting, you can use the blueprints to verify that you're staying within that size and putting the details where they should be.

However, the blueprints aren't a substitute for photos when you need to interpret depth from light and shadow cues. When sculpting, you absolutely need those cues.

Sketching is like a quickie rehearsal for sculpting; it helped me learn features and notice things that I hadn't noticed before. In clay, once I established the object's 3D shape, I sketched the details on the surface with the sculpting version of a pencil. After that, the details need to be made dimensional by moving clay around.