A female Predator doll project... golly, betcha didn't see that one coming! This project follows a natural progression of events, from my BLAKK2 project which was heavily influenced by watching the Predator/Alien movies, which was motivated by buying some Hot Toys Predator and Alien dolls, which was motivated by buying some Hot Toys Truetype 38 figures. In the course of this I found out that there's going to be a second "Alien Versus Predator" movie in about a month, so I guess this could be called a timely project.
While doing my usual OCD immersion thing, I ran across eBay listings for some female Predator garage kits, and then some Predator websites with lots of pics of buildups. All I can say is "WOW!" I never knew that there had been so many Predator kits made, and that there were so many talented sculptors and painters out there. The Predator modeling scene is like the ultimate proving ground for figure modelers and sculptors. The sculpting part clearly takes a lot of talent, and one sculptor that seems to stand out is Narin. The Predator "platform" combines expressive figural sculpting with precision detail sculpting across mechanical and organic themes, and the textural detail is astounding. I'm totally in awe at some of the sculpting work I've seen.
|This kicks some major, serious ass! I believe this is Narin's Female Samurai Predator, and I probably nabbed this sample from Predatorstuff.com. Look for the full size pics there and be both awed and amazed. (I'm kinda embarrassed to show this on the same page as my less-than-impressive work...)|
The modeling part is all about painting, and separates the men from the boys. The best modelers use layered applications of washes, airbrushing, translucency, veination... and lots of other techniques that I can't pretend that I know anything about. The bottom line is that the Predator is a 3-D canvas unlike any other. Just browsing through a small sampling of kit pics may modify your opinion of Hot Toy's Predator dolls. Compared to other dolls, Hot Toys stuff rules. Compared to good garage kit buildups, they're like ...toys? It's apples and oranges, but looking at good buildups does give you an insight on how one might improve upon the raw material that Hot Toys provides, if one has the skill. Big "if" there.
Why make a female Predator? From pics of the garage kits, it seems to be about sex and violence. The kits show a lot of skin, pushed up boobs/cleavage, a mean-looking weapon, and a seductive "come 'n git it" pose. That's about as shallow as it gets, but it's right up my alley. The part that's incongrous is the creature's face. The biggest challenge that no one seems to have overcome is how to make a Predator face look vaguely attractive or seductive to match the rest of the figure... by human standards, that is. It's gotta be dem mandibles and teeth. Putting the mask on helps a lot, but that's just another way of putting a bag over her head. But maybe that's the point-- the incongruous mix of sex, violence and ugly is interesting... or attractively repulsive... or arousingly creepy. There's some shock value involved, like the first time we see the Predator's face in the movies. I've made demoness dolls before, but I generally try to stick with the human facial features, like lips & a nose and no mandibles...
The concept of a female Predator is controversial among Predator fans. It's been argued that they're aliens, not mammals, and shouldn't conform to our concept of human male/female sexuality-- do they even have two genders? Should the females even have boobs? (The males don't have nipples.) I'm content to believe that it's just science fiction entertainment; by my reckoning, boobs are entertainment, and if robots can have 'em, why not Predators? Once you accept that, you can ask probing questions like, "Are the females larger than the males? What sort of roles might female Predators play? What is their society like?" It can be useful and interesting to think about that kind of stuff because it might give some unusual and insightful twists to include in an interpretation. Games, comic books and novels have attempted to flesh out the backstory and make it a more cohesive "universe". In this case, I believe that the creatures weren't designed from the ground up to stand up to that level of scrutiny-- they're just interesting creature designs for movies. Who cares what the mandibles are for, or why their blood is flourescent green when their mandibles' inner flesh is pink? It looks cool! Until it's spelled out in a movie, anyone's interpretation is as good as anyone else's. So when you're making a doll, you can take advantage of this and tailor your assumptions to what's practical.
Ferinstance... trying to make a female larger than the 14" Hot Toys Predator would be a problem for me since I don't have a base figure larger than that unless I go to 24". An off-the-shelf 1:6 female figure looks ridiculously dinky next to the HT Predator. It's not simply the height-- the body has to have enough mass to make it look right. Therefore, the next likely prospect would be a 1:6 male figure, preferably one of the taller, beefier ones. As luck would have it, I'd just bought a couple of Hot Toys' generic "Truetype 38" figures, which are at the taller end of the 1:6 male figure spectrum, and reasonably beefy.
The next question is what to do for dreadlocks? The basic attributes are the shape, size, and flexibility. I wracked my brain trying to think of something that would work, or be converted to work... and came up dry. I tried to think of how they could be fabricated on the cheap, but came up with some funky, so-so solutions. The best fabrication solution would be to cast them in silicone, but the investment cost is too high for one-of prototype use. Besides that, I really don't like moldmaking and casting-- it's such a big & nasty production. A much more practical solution for me would be to use the dreadlocks off of a Hot Toys Predator (The Predator 2 figure, with the good dreadlocks). It's not a smart solution to buy a second doll just for the dreadlocks, but if one were able to buy just the head... great! Almost as good, I found someone selling Predator 2 figures with the head on eBay at less than half the price of a full figure. The great thing about this is that I'd end up with a spare 14" body for other projects. Even better, since I already had one, I could sacrifice mine and go to work on this project immediately, before the replacement arrived.
I also bought the netting body suit, which would have been another obstacle, although not as important as the dreadlocks. I wracked my brain over that one too, and found that there weren't any do-it-yourself options that were anywhere near as good as the Hot Toys suit. Their suit's a freakin' marvel, and to me, it's the most impressive thing about HT's Predators. I've read somewhere that it's hand-made: There are tutorials on how to make netting on the Internet, but the process of making a net in the shape of a suit seems even more daunting than making chainmail.
That took care of most of the obvious obstacles; I felt that the rest would be within the limits of my abilities, even the airbrush part (I'd just keep trying until I got it right). The goal would be to make something that could stand next to a Hot Toys Predator and blend in, and not stick out like a cheesy homebrew approximation. I wouldn't know that until the end, but I had enough confidence to feel that I could proceed.
The side-by-side figure comparison test of the Truetype 38 figure with the HT male Predators seemed to indicate that it would work, although it's hard to tell using a male body and a non-human face. The only thing I could say for sure was that the body mass comparison looked reasonable, by human standards. Feminizing the Truetype body might be a little tricky, since (humans) females aren't just males with boobs-- the hips and legs needed some work, but needed to fit within the net suit. I wanted to add my own peculiar twist to this female Predator too: Instead of the lithe, sexy depiction in the garage kits, I wanted some meat on her bones (no surprise there). The Truetype 38 body worked for this as well. The Truetype 38 figure also had some "preferred" features that the HT Predator figure didn't: The arms have smooth, not ratcheting articulation, and the ankles have the ball/sockets instead of simple hinges. Normally, I prefer the hinges for their stability, but the HT Predator ankle hinges with the plastic rivet are under-engineered for their body weight and can't be tightened easily.
This was an opportunity for me to get to know the Truetype figure a little better. I'd done minor exploratory disassembly for the Truetype 38 figure article, but this time it was going to need surgery. (FWIW, I discovered that some of the screw-fastened parts are also glued together... ???) I'd decided to fix 3 main things: the torso, the legs and the neck. I don't like the way the neck is articulated since it has large gaps around it and it doesn't give a great range of travel for such a fancy design. I'm willing to give the fancy stuff a chance, even if it looks ugly, as long as it brings something special to the table and there's not another easier way of doing the same thing. The shoulder joints fall into that category, especially since they're hidden behind armour. The legs get my usual elastic-tensioned modification; I believe it improves the appearance by removing extra seamlines and getting rid of the obvious leg balls. This solution also fixes two other things: it gives the torso/hip joint more range and works naturally with the neck joint reworking. The only loss is the figure's ability to sit down in a Jeep, and that's something that I don't really care about. (Hot Toys Predator dolls, despite the figure's underlying articulation, aren't very poseable because of their hair & costuming.) I fused the upper and mid torso sections because the seamline was too visible-- it's located further down than my usual conversions, and there was no convenient way to hide it. Besides, the torso/abdomen is the largest area to display the Predator paint scheme, so I wanted it to be fairly clean.
Hot Toys has set a pretty high standard, so a comparison with my poor old Medicom Predator was unavoidable. Even though it's neat in its own right, the Medicom Predator looked much too small standing next to the new guys, like a pre-teen with an attitude among adults. Therefore, I considered it obsolete, and felt no compunction about salvaging whatever was usable. Surprisingly, quite a bit of it was usable because of the "figure in a rubber suit" construction. Some pieces of the bodysuit were easy to use as is, and others required trimming.
I really only had to sculpt a few sections: the face, the mask, the bra, a portion of the greaves (calves armour), plus some decorative doodads. I used the Medicom head but sculpted a closed mandibles face so it could wear a mask. It was also an exercise to see if I could do anything to make it look a little less ugly, or a little more feminine... Nope. I don't think that's really possible. The mask was loosely influenced by a 1:1 scale costume that someone was designing. Their concept was to do an Alien Queen's head (which looked great), but I didn't want to brazenly steal their concept, so only borrowed a few hints of it. (Actually, I had to completely redo the head and mask after I finished the costuming because I didn't like the slope of the brow... and my attempt to fix it ripped off the top half of her head! Oooops.) The bra is relatively "industrial", compared to the elegant look of many of the female Predator garage kits. Again, I wanted to do something different, which was the unimaginative path that no one seems to have taken-- make her similar to a "standard" male Predator. (This also was the easiest path, since most of the costuming parts were coming from a standard male Predator.) The greaves needed to be modified because they weren't long enough.
The costuming is pretty much what came from the Medicom doll, and is basically the design from the first movie. If I'd been working on my second Predator doll, I'd probably have been more motivated to diverge from the standard look but for the first one, having something which follows the standard is good. Fortunately too... This has been a sculpting-centric project, and the few parts that I sculpted took a long time, even in race-against-the-curing-putty mode. I was soooo grateful for each piece that I didn't have to sculpt. Original design flexible armour could be fabricated, but it would be a lot of extra work: I'd rather not mess with molds and casting.
The soft rubber and semi-rigid vinyl Medicom parts worked out great. The soft rubber shoulder armor doesn't inhibit the arm articulation and makes doll-dressing easy, with the well-fitted parts staying on very securely. This is one of my main gripes with Hot Toys' Predators-- their armour is heavy, too. The vinyl greaves and arm coverings are pliable enough to slide over the widest parts of the forearms and shins and stay put. The hands were fitted with cut-down hand stumps from the Truetype 38 figure, and the Truetype 38's feet were inserted into the Medicom vinyl castings from the soles. I had planned to pin the fingers, but haven't found the need to so, with her makeshift weaponry (borrowed from the Chopper Predator).
The bodywork is a bit of a kludge. I anticipated several problems from wanting to give her a scaley texture in some areas, and from wanting to do a blended color paint scheme. With smooth-skinned figures, you can sand and work on the finish until you're ready to paint. To do scales, the texture has to be stamped into wet putty, with no easy way to fix things after-the-fact. The multi-color paint scheme presented a new challenge: I usually tint putty to match the paint to make paint scrapes less visible especially if the base figure's color is vastly different-- how do you do this for an airbrushed paint scheme? Faced with these issues, I reasoned that only certain parts of the body would be visible through the costuming, and that I didn't need to worry about things like the shins or forearms, which would probably be scraped when the tight-fitting vinyl armour was slid over them. For the coloration, I used two tints corresponding to the general areas of the paint scheme, not really worrying about how they'd blend. Actually, in practice, I was less selective than that-- the head was sculpted in a chocolate tint, while the back was sculpted in the yellowed flesh.
I had lots of fun mixing the tints and primary paints to match. Initially, I planned to brush paint the entire thing because brush painting is much more durable than airbrush (besides the fact that airbrushes and I don't seem to get along that well). Using acrylic Retarder, I was able to get some decent blends in the face, but the body was a larger area and much more difficult. It takes a lot of effort to blend wet acrylics, and it's easy to accidently put intermediate blend colors where they shouldn't be. The result can be kind of a blotchy mess that looks somewhat blended, but with no smooth gradient. After a few hours of that, and painting bunches of the dark pigment dots, it looked pretty bad. I decided to give the airbrush a try. I was skeptical, since I was using my custom blend of thick craft paints which had plenty of lumps... However, once thinned, I was able to skim off the best of it and fill the color cup with some smooth-blowing mix. It doesn't take much, and the airbrush was able to smooth out that ugly blotchiness and tone down some of the stark pigment dots. I was happy: The brush/airbrush gives a good combination for durability and smoothness. After several dousings of Dullcote & Glosscoat, I was ready to assemble the beast, dress her and see how she looked with the P-dudes.
I rushed through the second helmet, so it isn't a huge improvement over the first. After destroying the original head, it was something I had to make, not something I wanted to make. The putty cures quickly, so there's barely enough time to shape it and put a few details in before it gets too stiff to do any texturing. (The mistakes always become apparent after it's fully cured.) I was going to make plastic lenses, but the gold screen looks okay by itself.
I thought long and hard about making a telescoping spear, but there was no way I'd be able to fabricate one as cool as Hot Toys'. Those are amazing! I decided to use the Chopper Predator's long forearm blades as her weapon because I considered them to be spare parts: I don't like the way they look on the Chopper Predator, and they made him more delicate than he already is.
Like anything that has anything to do with Hot Toys, this has been an expensive project. It's an amagamation of a HT Truetype 38 body, a HT Predator 2 and a Medicom Predator. Added together, that's some big bucks! However, if you can get choice parts from the Predator 2 (or can justify creating the leftover parts) and don't mind writing off a Medicom Predator (and can see doing something with its leftover armature), it's not so outrageously extravagant.
Coming soon: Hooters Godzilla!