1:6 Scale Alien
Part 4: Queenie Gets a Facelift
11/22/09- The face was saved for last because it seemed to be the most involved part of the build and I didn't want to rush through it. Or maybe it's just to save the fun part for last?
The kit's clear casting of the face section seems like a neat idea because the Queen has clear teeth and tendons; the sculpt isn't bad given the references that were available at the time. However, since Sideshow released their 16" diorama, there are now many more closeup views of the face from different angles, and these help to make sense of some of the photos of the props .
The main thing that I didn't like about the sculpt was the teeth-- they were too short and weren't nearly as mean-looking as they should have been. I don't know if this is a limitation of clear cast resin: I know that it's much more finicky than regular resin (you have to deal with entrained air bubbles, and a more involved cure process). From the casting, it appears that details aren't nearly as crisp so perhaps this is indicative of the reason why you wouldn't want to cast long, thin & pointy teeth.
There were other things that I didn't really like about the single-piece casting. The inner tongue is rather indistinct, being a sculpted detail directly behind the teeth. The tendons are sculpted onto the sides of the face, and don't really capture the sense of a thin, stretched part. Overall, the single solid casting doesn't mirror the actual construction of a hollow head, with internal and external parts. The only parts that needed to be clear were the teeth and tendons, so it really wasn't necessary (or desirable) to cast the whole thing in clear resin, in my opinion.
My first instinct was to resculpt the entire head in putty but once I started fiddling with the casting, I just kept going. In fact, it may have been easier and may have produced a better result if I'd sculpted it from scratch, but I was too impatient to build up the basic structure and wait for it to cure. Instead, I fiddled with the casting, first taking baby steps (so I could back out), but soon passing the point of no return. This was basically corrective surgery, so I'd have a good basis for what was to come.
The biggest delay in getting started with the sculpting (additive) part was in finding the right material to use for the teeth. I considered all sorts of clear & translucent plastics-- cassette cases, model sprues, CD bulk pack tops, etc. I wanted something that wasn't brittle, was thick enough, and was relatively easy to shape. The search ended in a box of spare toy parts-- I found what I believe was a support stand for some kind of doll or toy vehicle. The plastic was yellowed, but dense and flexible. It could be cut, sanded, and polished with a Dremel, and behaved very nicely under a heat gun (for basic stretching and shaping with fingers-- ouch!).
|The first "point-of-no-return/no regrets " step was to grind out the tongue and make the mouth hollow.|
|Making the teeth was a tedious and
imprecise process. Basically, a section of plastic was cut into thin rods.
A rod was heated to the point where it became clear and limp, then was
shaped by fingers (yowch!) into a conical, slightly curved shape. The
shape was refined by grinding and polishing. I had to make a lot of them
so I could pick the best ones for the size and position. The front chicklet
teeth were a little easier to make, although the polishing bit flung a
few of them into oblivion.
By this time I'd committed to replacing the teeth, so I cut the original ones off at the gum line. I thought the length of the top half of the head was too short, so I was thinking that I could extend the gums to better match the length of the jaw.
|I'd become concerned with the jaw
length and how far the mouth was stretched open; since I had nothing to
lose, I blasted it with my heat gun and discovered that this resin could
be bent with heat. The mouth was closed slightly, although I discovered
that I needed to be careful with the right-to-left jaw alignment. The
tendons were finally cut away.
I considered doing a closed-mouth pose, since every model rendition of the Alien Queen has her with her mouth wide open. For a while, I even considered articulating her jaw, but I got lazy. First of all, I didn't know how her jaw was articulated, and then I'd have to make flexible tendons. I'd only briefly thought about the tendons-- I was sure I could make fixed-length tendons (somehow), but wasn't so sure about making flexible ones.
|The heated resin does bend quite easily,
within a reasonable limit. However, it won't stand up to an attempt to
force the jaw back 1/4", and anyone who attempts to do that could
be thought of as a slack-jawed yokel. When this slack-jawed yokel saw
the tear start, he didn't stop because he knew that the jaw could either
be torn off or cut off. Cutting it off makes a lot more dust.
Once the jaw was free, it could be repositioned further back and pinned
by wires. The area inbetween would then be bridged with putty.
|I first tried to glue the teeth to the original gums before adding putty, but decided the gums needed to go bye-bye if I were going to position the teeth uniformly. It was a lot easier to build the gums entirely out of putty and sink the teeth into the putty. Once the teeth are all in place, the gums will be cleaned up and the lips will be resculpted to give her a more snarly look.|
|The bottom teeth nubs needed to go bye-bye too. I thought the nubs might be helpful for tooth placement, but as I learned from the top set, it's better to just "wing it". If the teeth are close to the correct size, you can insert them one by one and everything seems to wind up okay. Although I tried to duplicate the correct sizes and counts of the teeth (from what I could see), I think the most important part is to capture the general chaotic and menacing look of a bunch of long and sharp teeth. If the jaw were articulated, it would be important to work out the precise placement of teeth so that they could mesh when the mouth was closed. For this, it's not necessary.|
|11/25/09- The upper lip adds the "snarl". This took me a while to figure out from looking at different photos (but I'm not saying that I've got it figured out!). When you're sculpting something like this, it helps to know how the original prop worked -- which parts might be rigid and which might be flexible. If you're "winging it" with a made-up composite pose, this tells you where the skin might plausibly have folds. As near as I could tell, the prop had a flexible membrane "lip" which covered the gums, with 3 main animatronic control points (left, center, right) so it could be retracted to produce the snarl.|
| There aren't many useful reference shots of Queenie's tongue, but I found a photo of a prop tongue for the AVP Queen, thanks to Google. It lacked a view of the bottom, but that's not a big deal since the bottom would probably never be visible. Still, while you're sculpting it, you might as well put something there.
Sculpting Giger-esque stuff is fun and somewhat like doodling. If you can't see a particular detail, it's relatively easy to improvise using the patterns that define the style. I believe that's why there are so many garage kit renditions that take a stylistic, rather than a literal approach, and why each Alien movie introduces different riffs on the original creature. Heck, Giger riffed on his own original design...
| 12/13/09- Like the teeth, there are
probably lots of ways to do the tendons. I considered using Saran Wrap
and hot glue, but settled on strips of translucent plastic from a DVD
50-pack top and a soldering pencil. The strips were anchored, shaped,
and striations were detailed with the pencil. The melted plastic doesn't
stick to the resin very well, but that's actually a good thing since the
strips will be removed so the area underneath can be painted. They'll
be attached with hot glue, which sticks much better.
Some of the ribbed detailing on the head were smoothed out. The kit duplicates the Halcyon kit's detailing almost exactly, but I thought it looked unnaturally symmetrical and couldn't reconcile it with the prop photos.