Hey, three Predator-inspired projects in a row! Inspiration can have a domino effect: Without inspiration in the driver's seat, ideas and production go nowhere.
To hedge my bets in the all-important speculation about the fictitious female Predator's size, I've decided to make a second one that's larger than the Hot Toys males. To make this speculatively plausible, I'm calling her a "Queen", which to some might suggest that the species could have some sordid lifecycle secret that squeezes out king-sized Queens in addition to twin-sized (by their standards) female hunters. Kinda like termites or Aliens (the galactic feeding trough for ideas). This doesn't mean that she's got a huge termite-like eggsack hooked up to her butt, or that she's the supreme ruler of all Predator-dom. It means whatever you want it to mean. To me, it just means that she's bigger, looks a bit different, and it's a cool title. The "Battle Queen" part comes from a Julie Strain flick that I haven't seen, but the concept makes for a more manly, armour-wearing doll ("Prom Queen Predator" would have required more sewing skill than I've got). Note that she's also got boobs (like Julie Strain) -- For those nattering nabobs of negativism who think that this stuff needs to be filtered through the dry lens of science (as we know it): This one isn't for you. This one's for folks who appreciate a giantesses with bountiful boobs and gnarly mandibles, as God hisself intended. (Besides, they're really... uh... venom sacs? Yeah, really!!!)
This project was made possible by the acquistion of a spare 14" Predator body and head. It's a natural basis for making a taller figure: You can lengthen the body somewhat without widening it before it starts looking too stretched, and that's half the work of making it taller and wider. Actually, that may make the body look more normal (human-like), but more on that in a moment... hey, this is an alien, so maybe that's a moot point? At any rate, the body gives her a wide chest and super beefy arms, which looks kinda like one of those bodybuilder ladies; heck, you can almost smell the testosterone! (Actually, there's some YouTube footage of Michelle Ralabate, who's actually got some serious zest appeal in one of her videos.)
Without their outfits, the Hot Toys Predator bodies are pretty odd looking, almost scrawny: The armour adds bulk which makes them look more powerful so it all looks good after the doll is dressed. They're taller than Hot Toys' Truetype 38 bodies, but it doesn't come from the length of their legs. Surprisingly, the length of the leg segments is about the same as the Truetype 38's, and gives them a relatively stocky appearance. Therefore, the legs would be a good place to lengthen the figure. I added about a 1/4" each to the shin and thigh sections, but she ended up about an inch taller (probably from the torso).
[Digression #1: The Predator figure's ankles have the same setup as the hands, which means that you can pose them with their feet flat on the floor no matter how the legs are posed. This looks better than the dual ball/socket that's on the Truetype 38 figure, but it's nowhere near as fast and easy to pose. Another problem is that the hinge peg anchors into the soft rubber foot, which has some "give". As a result, it takes a few moments for a pose to stabilize, and if you take your hand off too quickly, the doll can decide to fall, just for spite.
Digression #2: The ankles can be tightened by screwing a "right-sized" screw into the opening on the side of the ankle. I don't know exactly why this works, but it does.]
Besides the usual stuff, the other main body alteration was to shorten the upper torso and fuse the hips and the abdomen section. I did this to bring the seam closer to the boobs so that it would be hidden in the front by the slight overhang. Although the separate abdomen section does make torso twists and bends more natural, it puts more limits on costuming options, and makes it harder to achieve a good sculpted look of the hips.
Since this was going to be something new -- a Queen -- it would be an opportunity to diverge from the design of the "standard" Predator head, if there is such a thing: It may be something that only geeks would notice, but there are differences in the different versions of the movie Predators-- the Predator 2's lower mandible is especially creepy, with fangs along the inside and bottom. I mainly rearranged its parts-- the mouth section breaks down into the two mandibles, the jaw, and the upper fangs. I trimmed these so that they were more compact, and gave a more flattened side profile. I also gave her a pair of front fangs on the top-- tooth count is another difference between the AVP and the earlier Predators; I did it for aesthetic reasons. The dome was smoothed and simplified to look more skull-like and elongated with some extra stuff at the end. I added some horns around the sides, like a Styracosaurus, which I figured played into the "horny" theme of the creepy mandibles. My aim was to make her look different from a garden-variety Predator, but I'm also still chasing that impossible dream of turning that that "ugly muthafukker" look into something more appealing while still keeping her in the family. It's not nearly as drastic as the difference between the Alien and the Alien Queen, but I wanted to retain the Predator's signature look, which is mainly in its facial features and costuming.
THE BASE COLORATION
I borrowed the pale coloration direction from the pic of the Samurai Predator in my previous "Hooters Predator" article. Although I don't think that I could ever do justice to the kit's bleached-skin vampiric paint job with all the subtle hues, I really like the concept. The red eyeballs are an extension of the "albino" concept-- again, I don't know enough about physiology to know whether this would be logical since they're supposed to have fluorescent green blood. At any rate, in the distant background I was partially channeling a '60s low budget sci-fi movie titled "Queen of Blood"-- check it out the next time you're at a cult video store.
The costuming was much more difficult this time around since I wasn't adapting someone else's design, and didn't have all those pre-made pieces I could adapt. An initial hurdle was trying to imagine a role other than the typical Predator's role as a hunter. I ended up concluding that I should show a bit of respect for the Predator thing-- I didn't want to defile it by placing her in a totally made-up role and setting, like wearing a gown in a Predator homeworld palace. Sure, you can do it, but if it looks totally goofy you may ruin things for other folks: Once you've seen something ghastly like that, you can't un-see it. So I ended up following the basic Predator costuming template, and letting the differences do the trick. The Elder Predator is an example of how the role shift is reflected by variations in the costuming: In AVP, he wears the typical hunter's outfit, but has a cape, blue dreadlocks, and his tools-of-the-trade are mainly decorative and less functional. This implies that he's reached a level of accomplishment and no longer needs to be an active hunter. I felt okay taking her down a similar route, perhaps as an Elder's boss, stationed in a Predator mamaship. When she wanted to hang out with the boys, she'd dress the way they do-- at other times, well... we don't even need to speculate about her see-through negligee, since I'm only making one outfit for her!
The costuming was sculpted as parts according to the hunter's template-- the helmet, the shoulder armour, the greaves, etc. I tried to stay within the range of decorative details on the suits worn by the three movie Predator designs, but was heavily influenced by some Lord of the Rings Ringwraith armour that I used as placeholders for the tassets and greaves (In fact, I built over them, changing the surface features). The main motif is simple layererd armour plates with a hammered texture, but occasionally I got sidetracked by the sculpting version of mindless doodling. I blended some mechanical/alien tech detail into the armour by using organic motifs (the forearm slicer), but there were cases where the difference needed to be apparent (the control panels). The ornate/decorative detail is sparse, but is meant to hint at her special social status while playing to that rustic-futuristic motif.
The Predator armour design "style" is really all over the place; the AVP guys have mainly "Lord of the Rings" like plate armour pieces, while the Predator 1 suit has some plane fuselage scribed panel-like detail. One motif that's absent from all three film costumes is using bones and skulls decorations sculpted in their armour-- I suppose that it's not totally off-limits, but it might have too much of a "Dungeons & Dragons" flavor. As I mentioned in my project preview, the line between AVP armour and Jackson's Lord of the Rings armour is pretty thin.
THE MESH SUIT
I wanted her to wear a mesh net suit since it's a big part of the Predator signature look, looks neat, and I even had a spare. The net suit is a tight fit on the Hot Toys Predators (and one of the things that restricts articulation) so I knew that her taller body with oversized thighs & boobs would be an impossibly tight squeeze. Yep, progress stalled at her thighs, and I was afraid I was going to destroy the suit if I proceeded. Plans 'B & C' were to cut the suit and mix it with other materials to increase the size, or cut it into pieces and use the mesh only where it would be visible to create the illusion of a suit. I ended up doing a variation on the alternatives: The suit was cut into a pants and upper sections, and the sleeve was removed. Miraculously, I was able to coax the mesh pants over her thighs, very, very gradually. The top section was converted into a wrap-around and glued to the lower edge of the bra (there wasn't enough material to go any higher).
A big part of a costume design design like this is figuring out how it's going to be fastened on the doll. It has lots of components that have to go on in a certain order. As a practical matter, I try to reduce the parts count and make it as easy to remove as possible, since parts come off and go on many times during construction. This is counterbalanced against how securely the parts attach, the way they work with articulation, and the way it all looks. Some of it's the easy, standard stuff like attaching forearm armour, but some of it isn't.
The pauldrons (shoulder armour) are connected to a rigid piece that crosses behind the neck, with projections that reach over the shoulders and extend downward towards the bra, like straps. (These were originally intended to be the bra straps, but the design had to be modified.) A back with side panels is connected below that, and the side panels appear to be connected to the bra, but aren't (could easily be tied or strapped, but who likes to mess with tweezers?). These provide the press-fit to the upper torso section, and conveniently hide the upper torso/abdomen seam.
The bra is shaped so that it only requires upwards pull to stay in position-- there's no side back strap. It's pulled upwards by an elastic strap that's partially hidden by the shoulder armour, and the strap hooks around a spike directly behind the neck on the shoulder armour (to isolate it from the neck and secure the shoulder armour). The lower edge of the bra connects to the sheet of mesh netting that wraps around the abdomen and is secured by hooks at the back. A couple of hooks were relocated to the bottom rear edge; this secures the mesh pants so they don't begin to slide off.
The belt fastens the tassets (thigh armour) and the crotch armour, and helps to visually blend the mesh netting where those two sections overlap. This was one of the more challenging design issues, and I played around with different positionings of the tassets and different belt configurations. My first design placed the tassets fairly high on the hips: I'd discovered that Velcro could be used to secure things to the mesh suit (although not very strongly). The advantage of securing things directly to the mesh suit was that they would act as weights to keep the mesh suit from bunching up, whenever the torso/abdomen was re-posed. The problem was that the tassets were shaped like rockers; Although I wanted the lower edge to flare outwards, gravity balanced the upper and lower edges. The mesh suit, not being skin-tight, would lift up where the tassets were secured at the upper edge. It just didn't look right, despite numerous attempts to reshape the tassets to fit the body contour. They also came off too easily since they were only held there by Velcro. I then attached them to the hip belt along their top edge, but they didn't look as good as they had when they were positioned higher. I went back to square 1, and dickered until it dawned on me. The solution was so simple: I attached the tassets to the belt at a lower point, so they rode higher. The stability and rigidity of the belt was enough to hold the tassets with the upper edge flush against the body. Duh... I've treated you to this entertaining blow-by-blow summary to demonstrate how a little problem like this can tie you up for hours, or even days. (Trust me, it was much more tortured in real-time.)
My biggest failing in the make-it-easy-to-remove department is the cape. For simplicity, I attached it to the neck covering from the P2 doll, which is a rubber casting shaped like a ring; to put it on the P2 doll, you have to remove the head. I'd made Ms. P's head more rigid by backfilling it with putty, and the horns make it considerably more fragile, so pulling the head from the neck isn't a good idea. Therefore, short of coming up with a side or front fastening solution for the neck covering, the head and neck need to be removed from the doll. This isn't too difficult-- pull the head up, grasp the neck hook with hemostats and unhook it-- and keep the hook outside the body. The problem is that you then have only one hand free to place the covering/cape onto the neck and hook it back up. The friggin' cape and dreads get in the way of seeing what you're doing, and you do regret not having an extra hand...
THE FOREARM ARMOUR & BLADES
The forearm armour was built over the LOTR pieces, with the original detail replaced by a simpler design. They're one-piece, so the hands must be removed to remove/outfit them. A faux tech device (computer/detonator?) was grafted onto the left forearm armour because all Predators have 'em. I didn't go through the trouble of making a cover panel, since I didn't want to increase the bulk (and cuz I was rushing).
On the other arm, I grudgingly gave her a forearm slicer: I don't like them because they limit the wrist/hands posing, but they're a standard Predator fixture and they do look cool. I bought spare forearm armour on eBay just so I could get the blades and copy the inner mechanicals-- they look and work better than anything I could make. My housing for the slicer is simpler, more rounded and "organic" than the movie Predator versions-- I thought it blended well with the style of my/LOTR forearm armour, but maybe it's just because I was too lazy to try to sculpt a bunch of faux decorative/mechanical detail?
The greaves (shin armour) started out as removable pieces, but I figured out that they didn't need to be. The shin segments are easily removeable from the body, the armour didn't need to be repositionable on the shin (unlike the forearm armour) and there wasn't any need for me to ever see her naked shins (since I wasn't making the see-through negligee outfit). This saved me a lot of work since I didn't need to make each one as front and back pieces with strapping. A single piece design wouldn't work unless I cast it in a flexible material, since the part above the calf tapers inward. As constructed, the shins and armour are actually two separate pieces (because there's a sleeve inbetween), but the armour can't be removed without breaking something.
THE HANDS & FEET
I simplified the detailing of the Predator 2 parts because I thought they looked over-the-top, with all their sinewy criss-crossing ridges. The feet have sculpted-on sandals, and I sculpted some extra stuff on the back of the hands. There's a mini version of a cannon on the left hand; I did it when I wasn't sure if I was going to make the shoulder-mounted cannon.
THE SHOULDER CANNON
Since the AVP Elder Predator doesn't have one, I wasn't sure if I'd be making one-- they both wear cloaks, which would interfere with a cannon mounted on the back of the body armour. Once I started playing around with the placeholder parts I'd used for the tassets, I figured that I could make a second set of pauldrons that would be worn over the cape; these could form a frame for mounting a shoulder cannon and its power pack. The cannon shaft is stripped from a Big-Assed-Gun that came with a Cy Girl, with a casting of the "balls" of an AVP's cannon grafted onto the end (hey, I'm just going along with someone else's phallic imagery!). The arm is from a small Terminator toy with some added articulation axes. Finally, the power pack (I assume that's what it's supposed to be) is a putty casting from a Mattel Predator. The pieces are joined together by a thick strip of copper, which allows some positioning adjustment.
THE SPEAR AND TROPHIES
Initially, she wasn't going to get a staff/spear since I figured that a Queen (or whatever she is) wouldn't want to carry extra junk around. However, as she began to look more warrior-like, she looked like she needed one. I changed her open palm pose, but only was able to get the fingers to go so far, so the spear had to be fairly fat. I finally accepted that I wasn't going to be able to make a good telescoping staff, so instead I gave her a conglomerated pointy thing. In keeping with the motif of trophies, the spear's tip is what's left of the real Lance of Longinus (Spear of Destiny) and resembles a mutant version of my sculpting tool; on her other shoulder she carries the Gladius of Biggus Dickus, and Light Sabre of Luke Skywalker. Yep, she gets around. (As I've sculpted tiny animal skulls for the Predator costumes, I've wondered why such badass hunters would be proud about killing such little critters. Are these supposed to be the skulls of their beloved pets? Maybe they're last night's dinner?)
THE FINAL PAINTING
Normally, I'd call this the finishing step, but because I'm ruled by meaningless gestures, I bypassed the finishing part and jumped straight into painting so I could deliver this article before Christmas/release of AVP-R/the end of the year. It's an allocation-of-time issue: The costume covers much of the body and the decorative surface details are much more visible, so that's what I concentrated on in the final stretch.
The painting routine followed the one I used for Hooter's Predator: I mixed acrylic to match the putty and used that as the base coat. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to try a pale color scheme so I used a single pale flesh tone as the base, figuring that it would be suitable for the unknown alternate shades that I'd be airbrushing. As it turned out, I bracketed the base color with whiter and browner shades so there's only a fairly small band that actually matches the base coat. The contrast range isn't very wide, so the overall effect isn't very dramatic, and is reduced by the costuming, including the netting. A lot of the subtleties are lost by this low contrast approach. If you look closely, you can see the freckle dots, but they disappear at a distance. I experimented a little with green and blue veining, but they're nearly impossible to see. My lesson from this experiment: It seems similar to theatre makeup in that you have to exaggerate contrast if you expect effects to be visible through the costuming and from a distance. What looks reasonable through Optivisors isn't indicative of the big picture.
So that's one major thing that I might have redone if there hadn't been a self-imposed deadline (whew!). On the other hand, it seems like such a hassle and not worth the trouble. One thing I'd like to do is more tattoos-- the forehead experiment turned out okay, and I really liked the flying monkey boob tattoos of Sci Fi's recent "Tin Man" miniseries. I wouldn't want to rush or improvise on this since it's hard to restore/reset an airbrushed surface to its before-experiment state.
THE FINAL WORD
One of the reasons why I've rushed to finish this in advance of the AVP-R film is that I didn't want it to influence this project. I know very little about the film except for a few previews and the release lineup from Hot Toys. Even that limited exposure made me think about giving her a whip, dual plasma cannons, and revising the look of her forearm mounted console. If the film actually shows a female Predator or a Queen Predator, I'd rather know after I'd made mine. (Then I can steal ideas for my next one!)
Merry Christmas, y'all! (and why doncha leave your frickin' comments HERE before scurrying off to gossip about it elsewhere?)