Last modified:
Sunday, December 21, 2003 3:39 PM


12/13/03 GETTING UNDERWAY- Finally, huh? I don't wanna restate what's obvious, but I'll say it anyway: Yes, this is a doll-whacking project. You can tell by the pictures, which don't contain any guitars, schematics, or circuitboards. Although I haven't done a doll project in quite a while, I can't say that I'm back, because I didn't go anywhere. So although this may seem like a good place for some deep, insightful expository prose, I'd rather just say, "Hey, lookit the cleavage!" How's that for deep?

This is another "retread" project, using a figure previously identified as "Voodoo Gal" from a buncha years back. Although I wasn't unhappy with the way she looked toting a Minigun in the store-bought fatigues, she had some construction issues that I wasn't happy with (mainly, arms too long). Since my dominant area of interest is now Brass Bras & Jockstraps, I decided to transfer her to that genre, which would motivate me to fix some of those problems.

Doodling is a great way to come up with ideas, and a low-commitment way of taking a first step towards starting a project. I usually don't bother, since I usually have a general idea of what I want to make. In that case, experimenting with materials is more useful to me, since that lets me deal directly with actual construction issues. In this case however, I did several pages of doodles of creatures and figures, and selected the pic on the top left to begin work on. As usual, it's not a very inspired costume design, but it had one feature which interested me: Scales.

Scale armour is hardly a revolutionary concept. I'd half-assedly played around with it before ("Impotentate", somewhere in this site), and have a few doll costumes that use pre-fab sheets of the scale-like material from Whitting & Davis purses. However, I'd never attempted to make my own as a means to showcase a doll's hooters. Actually, I'm pretty sure that most people don't attempt that sort of thing, since it's really not a very normal thing to do. One thing I learned from "Impotentate" was that it was a bitch to make identical rounded rectangle scales with precisely-placed drilled holes, especially if you need a bazillion of them. However, if you used a hole punch, you could make a bazillion round scales with far less effort and tedium. Furthermore, if you just glue them on, you can get the basic overall effect while preserving your sanity.

The picture at the top right shows a quickie rendition of that. I say that this is a quickie rendition-- however, it's near prototype-quality and has been built-up past the test point with fasteners and straps. It would probably only require some fixes in the pattern and additional detailing- scales with exposed top edges probably should have holes and lacing to suggest that the scales aren't magically fastened. Yeah, they look like sequins... but sequins aren't made of nickel-plated copper (unless you special-order your underwear).

Incidently, this also shows that the design-with-materials strategy has overridden the original designed-on-paper intentions. It's difficult for me to imagine how the different materials work together until I actually try them out. The construction idea needed to be tested to see whether it would work; as more of the scale pattern was assembled, the "look" was evaluated and the design evolved. Basically, I decided that the brassiere wouldn't look right by itself with scales because the pattern would be too irregular. The torso section looks good with scales because it establishes the repeating pattern. Joining the two sections makes the irregularity of the brassiere scale pattern less objectionable. With that out of the way, the look of that section led to design of the shoulder armour, and the selection of the headwear. At this time, the lower half of the figure is going through that same process of design: Try an idea out, and if it doesn't look right, try something else. It's sort of like deciding which socks to wear, unless all you have are black socks, and they all have holes...

The headgear is really only an 80% go-ahead. I like her original afro hairdo, and she looks pretty good bald-headed wearing the chainmail coif that I slaved over (gotta use it for something). The odd-looking helmet was another tedious undertaking of the past-- my failed attempt to hammer one out from a single sheet of metal-- but it was pretty far from becoming a sallet when I finally gave up on it. It's great to find uses for stuff which you've put lots of hours into.

Overall, the helmet makes her look slightly Egyptian or maybe Phrygian (or Mixolydian... scales, y'know?). Or maybe even Battlestar Galactican (TOS)? It's an interesting thing for the sake of variety, but I think it looks a little weird. So it may change depending on what the bottom half of the costuming does to the "look".

Regardless, Egyptian or not, it's clear to see that at heart she's just a snarly-faced, amply-chested warrior woman, destined to take her place amongst the burgeoning sisterhood of snarly-faced, amply-chested Amazonians.


12/17/03 THE FIGURE- Even though I'd intended to fix some things on the figure, I tackled the costuming first. After the fact, I could say that I did this for a good & smart reason, but I was really just in the mood for costuming. Nevertheless, it was a good and smart thing to do, since the activity of interactively designing the costuming can bung up the figure. Wouldn't you be pissed if you'd worked real hard on the finish, only to screw it up by smearing a glob of glue on it, or snapping an arm off? (Indeed, I did snap one of her feet off-- but it happened at the right time...) Yet, oftentimes you can't really design the costume unless the figure's already most of the way there-- otherwise, how are you going to size it to fit? So your approach has to be flexible and evaluative: In other words, think about the order in which it all fits together and don't do stupid stuff which just wastes your time.

I really didn't want to do a complete body reworking, partly for sentimental reasons but mainly because it was easier not to. This was one of my "early transitional" designs. The base figure was a vintage-style Joe, with heavy reshaping of the hips and torso, and adding some meat to the legs. The torso/hip ball & socket articulation was retained, instead of being moved up under the boobs. I'd left the arms alone, except for trying to fix the beloved "nose-picker" right hand grip. I'd also made a hollow cast resin head to fit the standard (but sawed-off) neckpost.

For this costuming, the mid-torso articulation was entirely appropriate. Functionally, that's probably a better place for articulation than under the boobs since the cross-section there is more symmetrical. It just looks lousy if the costuming exposes the belly or midriff. Not a problem here, so lots of work saved.

The arms were a different matter however-- when the doll was wearing military fatigues and brandishing the Minigun they didn't look bad, but nekkid, they were waaay too long by my eyeball. This meant that the two segments would need to be shortened. Since I would be chopping the arms up, I decided to do the midsection flip, which eliminates the mid-bicep seam. It turns out that it wasn't necessary (hidden by costuming), but I'm glad I did it anyway.

Back in those days, spare hands were rare, so I modified those that came with the figure. Besides being stuck in a relatively dorky-looking pose, they wouldn't let me pose the doll as I wanted: Holding my ubiquitous staff weapon prop with a low grip. I've become spoiled by the dual axis wrists that come with Takara's Cool Girls, so I had to replace the hands-- fortunately, they give you plenty of spares hands (but not nearly enough of the dual axis kind with a generic, useful pose). I used the full gloved kind since the bare skin ones are scarce, and grinded off the detail on the top of the hand.

I thought about modifying the hip/leg balls to my current standard-- this would eliminate a set of seam lines. However, doing this would require rebuilding the hip section, adjusting the elastic's exit angle and carefully trial & error fitting of the sockets. I'd gotten a pretty good fit and function with my original modifications and the new costuming hid most of that area, so I decided not to bother.

I'm not too fussy about a figure's feet, but those longboats they put on vintage Joes bother the crap out of me... nowadays, at least. While the extended heel actually does make the doll's standing pose significantly more stable, the extra length in front doesn't do much except look strange. So... chop, chop, weld, weld.

Finally-- the head. I have a love-hate thing going on with this headsculpt. It's got somewhat masculine features, but I really like the "eat-shit-and-die" expression and the ethnic features of the sculpt (Takara's "Ebony" looks a little too much like a white gal dipped in chocolate). However, I really didn't do a very good job... the features are too flat & non-dimensional, the head's slightly large-ish (made to fit on a standard Joe neckpin), and the top of her nose is flat with an angular crease-- as in, flat and angular with an unrounded blend to her face (I'm not sure why I didn't see that originally). I could live with that stuff, having convinced myself that it contributes to the "character"... I really didn't want to resculpt the head. The thing which bothered me most was her eyes-- I'd done a good job painting them (way back when I could actually see really small stuff), but like the recurring fault with this headsculpt, they were too flat, with an inadequate curvature. Unless they were photographed properly, they looked like dead eyes to me.

The dead eyes were grinded out and replaced with green-iris'd back-fitted eyeballs (The green's hard to see in the pic). This was especially challenging with the hollow resin head. My funky rotocasting process was always an inexact thing, and this head had a huge, thick glob of resin behind one eye, formed when the resin had become too thick to flow, and congealed. It took a lot of grinding to remove it, all the while being very careful not to grind through to the face surface. The eyeball fit was acceptable, though not great-- At least they're not cross-eyed. I've given up hoping for perfect alignment in the eyeball's surface light reflection (but frontal lighting worked out well in the above pic).

Anyway, that's the story of the figure. It didn't require a lot of work-- thankfully-- it was just the right amount to make the project more interesting without making it bog down. By the way-- I've probably mentioned this a few times before, but when you're doing heavy metal armoured figures (and this is a very heavy figure), the vintage Hasbro design with metal hinge pins is really the only way to go. Most modern figures-- unless they have the miserable joint ratcheting thing in their hinges-- are afflicted with PVC hinge creep. They may not shelfdive today or tomorrow... but eventually they will. Metal makes a big noise when it falls, and can hurt things.


12/21/03 FINISHING STEPS- With the figure stuff taken care of, it was time to get back to the costuming. Actually, the process wasn't nearly as linear as this article indicates-- I worked on the figure and some costuming elements at the same time, going back and forth. The main reason for interjecting the figure improvements was to finalize the arms so I'd be able to fit the forearm armour. However, once I had the figure back together I was able to evaluate how the doll in its totality looked, and made further costuming decisions based on that. This is the fun part because you can better evaluate improvements after the main things are in place. That doesn't mean it goes any faster-- in fact, the fun part is taking your time to agonize over improvements: The upper arm armour was revised, and I made a couple versions of the forearm and hand armour.

Some the costuming improvements were fundimental, like making the armour skirt, the shin and forearm armour, and the sandals. Although there are a finite number of variations you can do with armour, it still takes some time and experimentation to decide what you think looks best-- particularly in this peculiar genre of Fantasy cheesecake armour. There are a lot of considerations involved, but probably the least important is how practical the armour is.

I wanted the powerful look of heavy armour, with the large shoulderpads of Medieval times-- but I used some features drawn from earlier classical times, too. Adding a few more pieces of metal would cover any trace of dollflesh, which would create a robot-like, androgynous look. I felt that leaving those areas of exposed flesh created an interesting tension between blatant cheesecake sexuality and hard, masculine aggression: It's a sleazy and kinky kind of sensuality that has roots in the realm of the dominatrix. Ergo, the exposed cleavage and the thigh meat. The cleavage was a no-brainer-- 'nuff said. The thigh meat was a little more subtle: Thigh armour drastically changes the overall look by transforming legs into pants, masculinizing the appearance. This also concentrated all the exposed flesh in one area. Since the scale armour of the torso tends to flatten out curves (again, masculinizing the appearance), I felt that the thigh flesh helped to balance that out a bit. The armour skirt exaggerates the flare of the hips, to help make things right in the world. The other bits of exposed flesh-- the sandals and unvisored face --mainly work to "humanize" the doll, making it look less robotic.

The underlying consideration was purely technical-- I wanted to cover as many of the figure's seamlines as possible. With armour, that's easy: It's much harder to find places where you can show dollflesh. I'd preferred to have shown some flesh in the arms, but the quantity and location of joints and seamlines made that extremely difficult. Although it creates an imbalance between the top and bottom, I figured that it was kinda like seeing a gal in a long sleeve knit top wearing hotpants (and roller blades).

Another aspect is figuring out how everything attaches. Of course, you could build the costuming over the figure, since practically speaking, it's unlikely that you'd ever remove it once the project was finished. Besides the nifty satisfaction of creating removable armour, there's a good reason for doing so-- maintenance. If the figure's elastic stretches out 10 years down the road, you don't want to destroy the costuming to fix the figure.

Fasteners and attachments can take a while to figure out. Costuming usually goes on and comes off sequentially in layers, and to make things easier, it's tempting to reduce the number of separate parts by joining sections which might not be joined in real life. It also reduces the number of separate parts which might fall off or require adjustment. I did this whereever possible; the front chainmail skirt is fastened to the scale torso armour, for example. However, there are many places where it's not possible; the skirt armour had to be a separate section for it to attach easily, buckle properly and hang correctly. Hooks installed in the scale armour keep the skirt from slipping downwards, and hooks on the skirt's belt hang the rear fur/chainmail section. Similarly, the shoulderpad armour are a separate section which hooks onto the neck chainmail armour, goes over the upper arm armour section (joined to each other by weak elastic to pull upwards and across), which goes over the shoulder chainmail which is attached to the torso scale armour section. This was the best way that I came up with to make the parts work with the figure's articulation and still stay in good positioning. Fortunately, all those gyrations are hidden by subsequent layers.

I made a few bare essentials accessories-- the shield and scimitar. The shield was a quickie, but the scimitar took considerably more effort, with the usual loud grinding and polishing. Even though it looks kinda huge, I got the scaled blade length from the shortest sample I saw at a website. I gave it a long handle (it's a three or four-handed sword) because I thought it looked interesting, made out of a wooden dowel-- very simple. Additional accessories may be made later (or maybe not).

At this writing, I still haven't gotten to the final pass of detailing-- that's where you add decorative rivets, flourishes, or weathering (if desired). That's the stuff that makes the doll look like more realistic. However, I felt obligated to put the lacing on the top row of scales in the front, only because I mentioned it in the first part-- the effect isn't dramatic and doesn't make me want to redo the entire section with drill and thread. The faux leopard fur trim (scraps leftover from "Huaca Juaca") looks neat, but was added mainly as a practical matter-- it keeps the metal armour from scuffing up the figure's finish. It also was needed under her rear chainmail skirt because her formerly prominent butt had all but vanished under the armour!