THE TOLL ROAD TO HELL
Part Eight: The Undead Project

armor knight doll

Last modified:
Monday, January 20, 2003 8:02 AM

 

12/22/02- Here we are back at the Hounskull Manor, and as you can see, the patient is still breathing. (But you'd already know that if you'd revisited the earlier project pages for my stealth teaser update.) Yes, I've made peace with the historical straitjacket and decided to play this one fairly "straight". As of this update and as the color pic below shows, I'm over the hump but not finished. Some of the armour is press-fitted onto the figure and few pieces of armour aren't attached (Heh, I forgot to attach his heel plates, so I digitally blurred the heel instead of taking new photos.). Some trim needs to be gold plated. He needs a belt, sword (besides the Sideshow Toy prop) and maybe another weapon, and I need to work on his head. Maybe gauntlets too. But damn! It seems like it took forever to get to this point; the rest should be cake.

 

armor knight doll

THE CHAINMAIL

The big stumbling block of this project was chainmail, and I've devoted a few page's worth here exploring my options. In the end, I decided that using real chainmail (versus faux chainmail cloth) was the only way I could do it and maintain my honor: The defining feature of this figure's look is the chainmail, so it would have been shameful to compromise on that. (That's one of the good or bad things about doing these projects in public-- in private, I might have followed my slacker's instinct.) Metal chainmail also goes better with the electroformed metal parts. As it turns out, I'm glad I did it this way because it breathed new life into the project.

Creating a coif totally from scratch convinced me that I wasn't willing to spend the months required to make, knit and solder the thousands upon thousands of rings necessary to create the chainmail smock (Hauberk) from scratch. However, assembling premade sections of chainmail wouldn't take nearly as long, and I was up for that challenge. First, I made the Aventail-- the chainmail curtain which attaches to the helmet and covers the neck area. The pattern is similar to a Bishop's mantle, which expands outward from the neck onto the shoulders by incrementing the number of rings in the rows. Using premade sections, I only had to add the expansion rings, join the different length sections and join the ends.

I did some research before starting the Hauberk; there's not a huge amount of information out on the Internet about this, but there seems to be consensus that there are a couple main ways of doing it-- a good and a not-so-good way. The good way drapes more correctly and gives greater freedom of movement, and presumably, the not-so-good way (described as the T-shirt pattern) doesn't. Undoubtedly, the good way is more complicated or no one would bother making it another way. That's just the way things like that are. The only pattern I found was complicated and required joining a bunch of different shaped sections to form the neck area.

Research is great for defining your options so you can weigh what you've read and decide which parts you're gonna ignore. I noticed that the Hauberk is remarkably similar to my all-time favorite tailored item, the potato sack smock. This is probably what they mean by the T-shirt pattern. Yeppers, it'll be a cold day in Hell before I do the extra work for a figure's comfort and freedom of movement-- it's just a doll ferchristssake. If there's an historically accurate knitting pattern to be proudly displayed at the neck area, it would be covered by the Aventail and breastplate. So I won't tell... (DOH! I just did...) I guess the most important part is using your instinct to guide you into making it big enough to put on and remove, but not so big that it drapes like a curtain. Unlike humans, dolls don't have quite the flexibility or supple flesh to negotiate a tight metal dress. That's not a discovery you want to make after you've soldered what you thought was the last link.

The biggest compromise of using premade chainmail is that you're stuck with the ring size that you're given. Chainmail that's made of super-small rings is very rare, and the stuff that's fairly common is almost objectionably out-of-scale (Sometimes you have to raise the limbo stick a bit and keep dancin'). Making your own rings gives you the freedom to make 'em as small as you can stand-- but that's got its own set of drawbacks, as I learned.

To join sections, you need rings. With butted ring chainmail, that's not a problem-- you can get them from the chainmail at the correct size. But if your chainmail is made of stainless steel welded rings, there are a few problems. Snipping exactly at the weld isn't easy and if you don't the ring may break while bending; besides, stainless steel isn't an easy metal to solder. So you can make your own rings, and hopefully match your rings to the premade stuff-- that's not necessarily a gimmie. I was able to match the wire gauge easily enough, but never found a ring-winding dowel which matched the diameter of the manufactured rings exactly. The inner diameter of a ring is a less precise measure for eyeballing than the length of wire used in a ring (the circumference); consequently, diameters which appear to be "close" may actually be not as close when you straighten the ring. I searched high & low for the perfect dowel, but ended up using the shaft of a Q-Tip. Close enuff for me...

The standard of "authenticity" is only skin deep though: I didn't make a padded gambeson for the figure to wear under the chainmail. This was partially due to laziness, but was also a deliberate decision to keep the figure as trim as possible. Out-of-scale chainmail rings don't simply mean that the rings have oversized diameters: The out-of-scale wire gauge has a dimensional depth effect which doubles when woven in the chainmail pattern, creating an out-of-scale layer. This contributes to making the figure look fatter and impacts how tight the arms can close on the body. The undersuit was therefore made to be relatively form-fitting, using the faux chainmail material which I had tested in an earlier article. Its main purpose is to provide an opaque background for the see-through rings and to provide a frictional surface for the metal parts to rest on. In areas which are unarmoured or which might become unarmoured due to posing (back of the thighs, elbow pits), it's unobtrusive and mimics the coloration of chainmail.

 

THE FIGURE

The way I write these articles and updates guarantees that I'll blather on and on about something and then later, do an about-face. Such is the case here, concerning the choice of figure. In the previous "Pogosnout" installment, I extolled the virtues of Hasbro's SAJOE. Well, maybe for that figure. When developing this figure, ol' SAJOE just didn't cut the mustard. The fact is, chainmail is heavy. While SAJOE has tighter ankles than most figures out there, it's still a flawed design by virture of the materials used. The ankles are tight because the hinges are wedged up into the lower calf sockets. That limits the amount of deflection, but it doesn't do much for the keeping the usable range tight. With a bit of wear, that usable range becomes very soft and there's no elegant way to tighten it (squirting superglue into the joint and moving it to-and-fro as it kicks is an iffy solution of last resort). So you can get the figure to stand while supporting a considerable amount of weight, but it requires you to pose the legs at a position where the ankles are their tightest. That places quite a limitation on posing. Even then, the soft plastics make it prone to delayed-action shelfdiving. Several occurances of that convinced me to find another figure.

Yep... after all these marvelous figures advancements we've seen in recent years, the most stable and sure-footed figure is still good ol' vintage style Joe. The main reason I hadn't used the vintage body in the first place was the fit of the breastplate (Cuirass) on the Pogosnout figure; here that wasn't a consideration because this one's equipped with a single frontpiece, with no back plate (and the reason why I needed to use lots of chainmail). With its light weight body and metal rivet tightened ankles and knees, the parts hold their pose, even under the weight of added chainmail and plate armour. After switching figures, I could tell almost immediately-- Vintage Joe doesn't require tentative, critical posing to plumb the exact center of balance, and the upper weight can be distributed fairly far off axis without incident. You don't have to watch the figure for that gradual creeping forward or backwards which precedes a shelfdive; in fact, since I switched, I haven't had a single shelfdiving event.

There were other factors involved in this decision too. SAJOE's arms are unnaturally beefy-- while that goes with the he-manly bare-chested look, unlike real arms, the flesh is rock hard and doesn't conform to fit within reasonably sized armour casings. Without altering the arms, the casings would have to be oversized to fit them, or conform to the contour of the muscles. Tres funky. I'd hoped I could avoid having to alter the stock figure, but ended up grinding down the forearms before giving up on the figure. Another oddity is the sculpting of SAJOE's calves. They're sculpted very much like CCJOE's, but they didn't look good there and they don't look good here. There's too much meat at the centerpoint. Finally, the neck-- Hasbro's made a lot of progress in reducing the head size to normal proportions, but that's compromised by having to adapt it to the overly fat neck. The headsculpt shows it in the outward taper to match the neck, and it does look funky. It didn't matter that you can't see that with the helmet on-- it annoyed me. These problems were solved by switching to the Vintage Joe body.

That's not to say that it was a perfect, easy fit-- that's rarely the case. Vintage Joe has his oddities too, like the extremely long and oversized feet. I ended up shaping them to fit the foot coverings (Sabatons), so they're not really feet anymore-- pointy, with no toes. (For some reason, that doesn't bother me as much as fat necks.) There was also the problem of adapting the fat necked SAJOE head (which is a much better starting point than the Village Person-ish sculpts in the NYPD/FDNY sets) to the thinner vintage neckpost. I'd intended to rework the entire head anyway, so this was just the first step. But overall, in consideration of practical, functional issues, this was the better path. Vintage Joe rocks. (I even went out and bought three more sets at the Target clearance price.)

 

THE PLATE ARMOUR

I really hate it when you put a lot of work into something only to not like the final result and not be able to salvage it, especially when it's due to a stupid oversight. Such was the case of the armoured gloves (Gauntlets). I'd done the relatively easy operation of adapting SAJOE to accept Dragon's hands and selected Michael Chan-style gloves to build the gauntlets on. I should have realized that these were somewhat bulky to begin with, even on the Dragon figure (my opinion)-- okay, maybe they're supposed to be super thick gloves. So I didn't like 'em and I didn't mind sacrificing them for the cause. It was stupid to think that I'd like them any better after adding armour, which made them even bigger! Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until after I'd electroformed them... (and actually got pretty good electroforming results, for a change). Oh well, I can write them off as failures and maybe tackle the job again later. In the meantime, I'm using the leather gloves from a Sideshow Toy Monty Python Michael Palin figure. That was the only part of that figure that I considered worth salvaging.

I finally appear to be getting the hang of electroforming (crossing fingers); it just took some valuable hands-on fuckups to learn the importance of setting the current correctly (duh...it really helps if you calibrate the meter). On the polishing side, I've learned a few things too-- mainly, I'm a dumbshit for not doing my homework at the very beginning! It occurred to me that I needed a more abrasive compound to speed up the rough finishing. Sanding and abrasive buffs were a bit too much and didn't get the finish down to a suitable state where the jeweler's rouge could easily take over. Just like sanding techniques, you need a progression of abrasives and I was becoming aware that there was a "missing link" in the polishing process. In fact, there are many different types of abrasives with different cutting and polishing qualities. Emery and Tripoli compounds can save lots of time in getting a rough piece to a near final state, in less than half the time that it would take to do it using only rouge. Part of the time savings I experienced probably came from the much bigger blocks of the stuff that I had purchased; In the tiny Dremel packages, you're much more conservative about usage (besides it being more of a pain to use). Dremel's product is also a rip-off since you can get a pound block of rouge for just a couple dollars more.

I took a mixed, experimental approach to adding the plate armour's detail. As a result of the electroforming nightmare I'd dealt with making the breastplate, I decided to do the leg armour as simple forms, adding the brass trim and rivets after I'd electroformed the parts. The results were good, although I broke The Perfect Sized Drillbit while finishing up the kneecaps. With this approach, you're limited in the "rivet" sizes you can use; basically, the smallest pinheads you can find. The pins are somewhat functional in that they hold the brass strips to the armour by virtue of a little glue and The Perfect Sized Drillhole. While the brass strips are also held down with contact cement, that's not a reliable, standalone solution for bonding metal to metal.

I was emboldened by some of my better electroforming results and did the rest of the armour by predetailing before electroforming. This allows more decorating options, like smaller-sized rivets and odd decorations. It's also easier to work with styrene. But the final results aren't as nifty and are analogous to molded-on detail in model kit building. It's always much cooler to apply real brass strips than it is to color an area that's molded to resemble an attached brass strip.

 

Part 7   Part 8-2