| 01/23/17- I recently replayed
the Mass Effect trilogy and this time I actually finished it!
I don't think the plot's the most original, but I don't have a problem
with that. What kept me playing was the weave of characters, stories,
interactivity, and shoot 'em up gameplay. It's like a video where
you bond deeply with the characters and story because you feel like
you know them and can exercise some degree of control over their fates.
Beyond nitpicking, they're just fun games to play. The hero team characters
For what it's worth, I'm ambivalent about many of the Reaper minion
creature designs-- some seem too detail-busy in the popular "gory
mutant abomination" style that I'm not fond of (I do understand
that Reapers do what Reapers gotta do...). The Collectors and Cerebus
had a few interesting designs. On the other hand, I don't have any
problem with the prevalent visual pandering to male hormones (shocker,
huh?)-- I believe it's in our DNA, and probably a good thing for
the perpetuation of our species. The virtual "romancing"
schtick... well, not so much.
It was natural for me to seek out the related toy lines that it
had spawned and that I'd missed. I was surprised to see that so
little was out there given what appears to be a sizeable and enthusiastic
fan base... but I guess that's what happens when there are a zillion
media properties for manufacturers to farm and a limited number
of bucks for them to harvest from collectors' pockets.
The most complete lineup of the hero characters is/was some 7"
PVC action figures that are currently scalped on eBay; a few companies
did spotty releases of some popular characters, and it appears that
preorders are being taken for some 1/4 scale statues, probably to
capitalize on the revival of interest generated by the imminent
release of the Mass Effect: Andromeda game.
Most of the design mojo went into the hero characters. I doubt
that any of the ME trilogy baddies and minions will ever be produced
because their designs just aren't as cool. I see it as a missed
opportunity for spin-off merchandise-- baddies are often the more
interesting character designs (i.e., Star Wars), and their memorable
designs sell well. I realize that it's easy to say that-- coming
up with interesting original designs isn't as easy as it used to
My Insightful Review of ThreeZero's 1/6th Scale Mass Effect
Figures: In 1/6 scale, there's ThreeZero's John Shepard
and Legion. That's it, even though there are other popular and interesting
hero characters from the Mass Effect trilogy. Of course, they had
to do Shepard, the main hero of the trilogy; I think Legion was
a good second choice-- the Geth designs are unique and interesting,
and they do play a major role in "message" of the trilogy.
These were released around 2014, so it looks like ThreeZero's
done with 1/6th Mass Effect. They're expensive (but almost everything
1/6th seems overpriced these days) and received few glowing reviews.
I got my John Shepard recently on clearance at retail, so it must
not have been a hot seller. Legion was harder to find at retail
but wasn't marked up to eBay's scalper prices. For what you get,
these seemed like a better deal than the 7" action figures, most
of which were obscenely marked up on eBay.
I think the figures are well done; Shepard is as articulated as
you'd expect and holds poses well. The design of the Mass Effect
3 N7 armor doesn't limit articulation much, although there's practically
zero abdominal articulation. The unhelmeted headsculpt would have
been a welcome inclusion in the standard edition since it's probably
a more iconic look given the game's customizing options and how
many/most people play it. I don't miss it since my John Shepard
doll is intended to be a generic, faceless grunt. Dolls like this
aren't manufactured to have removeable outfits these days, so including
a helmetless head so the oddball customer could bash the casual
look probably wasn't on ThreeZero's radar.
Legion has a "rubber" skin to hide limb joints. As many collectors
have learned, flexible materials aren't as durable and long-lived
as rigid materials, and paint doesn't stick to them as well. It's
a sacrifice for the sake of looks: They're made for display, not
Unfortunately, the rubber suit is fairly thick around the hips and the legs don't have rachet-lock pivots-- you know what that means, right? You can't really adjust the pose of the legs. Well, you can, but they snap right back to where the rubber suit wants them to be. Bummer.
So that's it: Just two figures. I guess I should be grateful for
that, since it was just like the good old days when I made things
because I couldn't buy them. I'd replayed the ME series as FemShep
who seemed to be fairly "do-able" as a 1/6 doll, mainly an armor
THE FEMSHEP PROJECT(Female Commander Shepard, a.k.a. "Jane Shepard")
Project Overview: I collected a bunch of reference pics to
guide with the costume design and realized that there's almost too
much freedom: The games have so many options for armor and customization!
The same goes for the face/headsculpt. Therefore, you could probably
do any weapon-heavy space armor with any headsculpt and claim that
it was Commander Shepard... but what would be the point in that?
It's nice to have some boundaries to scribble within.
I decided to aim for a quasi-game default Mass Effect 3 FemShep
so that it was recognizable as being from "Mass Effect" as I and
many others played it. Because of the "customizable" escape clause,
it didn't need to be exact, which works with the limitations of
"home-made". It's hard to get the detail and precision of computer-controlled
fabrication tools when you rely on bad eyesight and shaky hands.
Definitely old-school: "Made by a human... How quaint!"
That's oddly appropriate for a game that's themed on the repercussions
of the machines that we build. That theme infiltrates more and more
of our lives as self-driving cars promise to displace human drivers
in the near future. Even burger-flippers aren't safe. John Henry
looks down and winks.
Why bother doing old-school when you know that technology and
$$$ can kick your ass? Because I'm doing this for fun, not to make
money. Honestly though, if an established manufacturer made a 1/6
FemShep, I'd probably buy it... and miss out on all the fun of making
it. We can't help ourselves. We're doomed.
The Sacrificial Figure: The base figure is a more-or-less
stock Cy Girls figure from yesteryear, dressed with Palisades
Final Fantasy feetless boots and an old Hall of Fame GI Joe
jumpsuit-- exactly as it was when I boxed it up years ago. (I later
replaced the jumpsuit for a generic black one because it fit better.)
The figure had good articulation for an armored doll project, and
all of its joints were tight and smooth. I may eventually do something
to give it ankle articulation, but for now that's not a priority:
I wasn't up for sculpting and was content to re-hair and repaint
a Cy Girls headsculpt: Not quite the game's default FemShep but
close 'nuff and a lot easier. The look of default FemShep's face
changed through the trilogy, so there's room for artistic interpretation.
Besides, she's not even a real person.
Armor Analysis: Studying the basic ME3 N7 armor, I noted
that it was a mix of detail pieces and shaped armor pieces that
could be approximated with a few different techniques and materials.
Detail pieces like the backpack and pauldrons (shoulder pad armor)
could be copied in resin from ThreeZero's John Shepard.
There were several candidate materials/techniques for the shaped
armor pieces; I considered vacuformed styrene, resin casting, hammered
copper sheet (like medieval armor), and foam sheets. Other possibilities
were leather or sculpting in epoxy putty directly on the figure.
A consideration was the texture detail on some pieces. The N7 armor
design changed slightly between ME2 and ME3, but since the ME3 texturing
seems to be present on so many N7 cosplay costumes (and the ThreeZero
figure) I guess it can be considered to be a near-essential feature
of the N7 armor and worth attempting.
My Internet research provided reference pictures, but also turned up a detailed
cosplay Mass Effect FemShep costume-making project. In that project,
armor panels were constructed with textured foam floor mats. Clearly,
that material was too thick for 1/6 scale costuming, but it showed
me how someone had gone about creating patterns for their version
of FemShep armor. It showed how a close, but not exact copy of the
armor looked pretty good. Best of all, it served as a stepping stone
to other cosplay costuming articles about relevant techniques. How
do you finish the stuff? How do you paint it?
There are many geekish similarities between sci-fi doll-making
and cosplay costume making. The scale difference and usage makes
for important differences in materials and techniques used: You
can't stick a real human on a vacuforming platform and lay a 400-degree
Fahrenheit sheet of styrene over them, for instance. However, a
dollmaker can learn plenty of useful techniques from cosplay projects.
I'd never heard of "Worbla" until I kept running across references
to it on several costume-making pages pages (it's a relatively new
product on the market). It piqued my curiosity and I ordered a couple
small sheets of it. That's a clear benefit of 1/6th scale-- Worbla's
Worbla: It turned out to be very different from what I'd expected.
I'd assumed that it was a foam-like material, but it's a thermoplastic
and actually closer to sheet styrene but with some very different
and useful properties for the doll and costume maker. The black stuff
feels sort of like a sheet of nylon, rough-textured on one side and
smooth on the other; thicker than the .030" styrene that I use for
vacuforming. It's an interesting material to explore. When heated
with a heat gun, it goes limp quickly at a fairly low temperature
and can be stretched/formed over an object or shaped by hand for maybe
10 seconds or longer: Much longer than styrene. While hot, it sticks
to itself and other things (like fabric or metal), but not too aggressively,
so it can be peeled off fabric when it cools. Once it cools, it's
very tough-- it doesn't tear easily, is flexible, and has excellent
"shape memory". It can be used to make fitted wrap-around parts that
stay in place, yet can be pulled off. If you get the part wrong, it
can be reheated for a second try without any noticeable change in
its properties. I've seen Worbla scraps being heated up and mushed
together and used like a sculpting medium. I didn't experiment with
Worbla's heated-to-cooled transition envelope is relatively long
compared to styrene, but it passes through some property phases
fairly quickly. For example, you can leave fingerprints in the material
(or emboss it) when it's hottest, but its a fairly short window
of time. It self-glues strongest when it's hottest.
It's low melting point and stickiness can be both a good and bad
thing. For quick assembly, the stickiness can reduce or eliminate
the need to glue. But in situations where more time and careful
placement is necessary, gluing is usually a better option. Superglue
works and creates a strong bond. The stickiness can be a liability
for heated texture stamping because the material tends to stick
to the heated stamp and lifts up when the stamp is removed.
My feeling was that the temperature had to be just right
to do surface/texture modifications like stamping and embossing
after the material had been shaped and cooled. It would be difficult
to maintain the material at that perfect temperature to do a large
section of texturing. I tried with the focused heat of an adjustable
temperature soldering pencil. Too hot and the material sticks to
the stamp. Too cold and you're just pressing the stamp onto a hard,
unyielding surface. The material doesn't have the same "give" and
flexibility that craft foam and leather have.
The v-shaped plate above the boob armor was done with Worbla and
shows my attempt to emboss an aluminum screen pattern onto it. I
tested on several scraps, and the final piece is okay-- it has a
slightly ragged and uneven surface though. I used Worbla to make
the untextured arm armor pieces and the base for the leg armor because
it was thin and easy to form and attach add-on pieces to.
While the low melting point makes the material easy to work with,
I wonder how Worbla parts fare when stored in a hot summer environment?
Craft Foam: Other materials are easier to texture than
Worbla. The "Silly Winks" craft foam was a breeze to heat texture
and create designs on. I believe that's because the foam compresses
under the heated stamp and the pattern is fused/melted where it's
most compressed. A heated blade edge and side creates a dimensional
look, especially for lines and panels.
I used craft foam for the lower front and back pieces, because
craft foam is quite flexible and therefore more articulation-friendly
than any of the other materials mentioned. It has a broader and
more uniform range of heat sensitivity, so its surface can be slightly
smoothed with a low temperature soldering pencil. It was easy to
emboss the texture pattern and carve dimensional lines into the
pieces with a heated blade.
Craft foam can be loosely shaped with heat but it doesn't hold
drastic shapes very well. That's why I glued the outer craft foam
panels to the Worbla leg armor. I did the same thing for the hood/neck
armor, along with a sandwiched strip of brass: The brass was glued
in before I had the Worbla to shape the craft foam, but was actually
unnecessary after I added the Worbla. The Worbla does a much better
job of retaining the shape because of its great shape memory.
For flexible, intricately sculpted detail, flexible castings are
probably a better choice. That's another level of effort, expertise,
and expense though. Craft foam is dirt cheap and easy to work with.
Vacuformed Styrene: The first parts I made were the vacuformed
upper torso boob plate and back. These were cut from full-figure
vacuforms; Before I knew about Worbla, I envisioned cutting other
pieces of rigid styrene armor for the legs, arms and in areas where
its relative rigidity wouldn't interfere with articulation. I ended
up using Worbla for these.
Styrene has it's own strengths and weaknesses. Of all materials
mentioned, it's probably the easiest to finish and paint for a glossy,
shiny look. It can be sanded to a smooth surface and scribed with
lines. Because it's relatively rigid, epoxy details can be sculpted
or added on its surface. It's easy to glue, patch, and paint. However,
it can be torn and gouged more easily than Worbla, and the heat
(speed) of engraving bits can melt it. It can be heat-embossed,
but like Worbla, finding that right temperature is essential. In
that application, the fact that it doesn't turn sticky with heat
is an advantage: the embossing form doesn't stick as readily. Its
higher melting point and quick cool-down make it ideal for vacuforming,
and it tends to fare well when stored in hot places.
Resin Castings: One of the reasons I bought ThreeZero's
John Shepard figure was for the weapons and so I could make castings
of some armor parts for this project.
Sci-fi armor has been done so many times that the Mass Effect
designs don't seem that special to me. Even though my first playthrough
was as MaleShep, the doll just looks like generic armored spacedude
to me. (I'd be more inclined to buy ThreeZero's iconic Halo Master
Chief if it hadn't received such abysmal reviews.) To me, FemShep
is more iconic, even wearing basically the same N7 armor.
Castings can reinforce a uniform look across figures and help
make them look like they came from the same place and belong together,
even if there are other major differences. A home-made version of
a detailed part tends to stick out like a sore thumb next to the
precision of a machine-manufactured part. The pauldrons are a good
example of this: I could never hope to match the texture pattern
either by manually sculpting it (yeah, sure...) or by trying to
find exactly the same texture stamp (unlikely). I ended up casting
copies of the pauldons, the front part of the belt, the backpack
pieces, the "N7" lettering, and a few other detail pieces. So by
displaying the helmeted John Shepard with the home-made FemShep,
the common parts help make them look like they belong together.
A useful quality of resin castings is that they're plastic and
can be reshaped, i.e., bent and stretched. When pulled from the
mold before they're completely cured, the castings are quite pliable.
How pliable and how long it remains pliable depends on the resin
itself, manufacturer, how old it is, and the mix ratio. Some mixes
seem to take forever to cure, and if you badly screw up the ratio
or it's really old resin, it never seems to cure. (I had an exceptionally
difficult time with this batch of resin!) Even fully cured resin
can be slightly reshaped with heating. This comes in handy when
fitting castings like pauldrons to figures that are not the same
size, or making a casting conform to a curvature. Of course, resin
can be reshaped by cutting and sanding, glueing, and with epoxy
Painting: Miraculously, all of these materials are spray-paintable,
even ones that I had doubts about, like craft foam. I tested auto
lacquers and Tamiya lacquers, without any of the melting that happens
when you spray paint styrofoam. I didn't surface seal the foam and
Worbla: I sprayed everything with black auto lacquer and dry-brushed
craft acrylic on top. It made the armor appear more "used" than
ThreeZero's Shepard armor, but I think it looks okay considering
how little time that I spent on it. As you can see, the vacuformed
boob plate is the most shiny, replicating the "eye-magnet"
effect that's everywhere in the games.
Sorry, I left out the resin-worbla-foam belt. The "N7" logo
was too big to fit where it was supposed to go... one of many
Fasteners: As you may have noticed, the front and rear
torso armor pieces are joined with elastic at the bottom and secured
with adjustable miniature quick-release clips at the top. These
things are great, and I'm glad I bought some from Good Stuff
To Go before they went out of business years ago. I haven't
seen them for sale to hobbyists anywhere else since. I also used
them to secure the thigh armor which are joined to the front torso
armor with elastic.
ThreeZero's John Shepard includes two weapons: The ubiquitous
and iconic M-8 Avenger assault rifle, and the huge M-5 Phalanx heavy
pistol (as well as an Omnitool). The trilogy has lots of
different weapons with many variations (VI, VII, VIII, etc.-- way
too many in Mass Effect 1, IMO) and they're so easy to acquire in
the game, so unless you're an expert ME geek or gun fetishist, they
tend to become an indistinguishable blur of sameness when you're
focused on playing the game.
It would be cool to have 1/6th replicas of some key pieces of
the trilogy's arsenal. On the other hand, the overwhelming variety
clears the way for almost any sci-fi raygun to fit in as a ME-style
weapon, including the huge-assed Final Fantasy railgun-ish
thingamajig that I gave my John Shepard doll. I stuck an N7 logo
casting on it, and I think it fits in. I consider it pretty obscure,
even though the Final Fantasy video wasn't awful.
Nerdish Rantish... If one were to point out nitpicky things
like plot holes, bad writing, and improbabilities, I would throw
in the sheer number of weapons that soldier Shepard carries and
can equip-- an assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, heavy pistol,
submachinegun, grenades, and an occasional heavy weapon. That's
a shitload of firepower! But it's a game, and it makes the game
fun, adds a strategic element, and is doable through the magic of
animation and programming. For real-world doll and model-making,
In the virtual world of games, the weapons could just magically
appear when selected or be pulled out of her ass. To make it appear
plausible, the weapons are "Transformerized" into compact boxish
shapes so that they fit on the surface of the backpack and extend
to operational size when drawn. It would be wonderful if one could
replicate the mechanics to do that at 1/6th scale. However, I don't
think it's possible, and I don't believe that it would be possible
at 1/1 scale either.
It's probably something that only a 1/6th scale dollmaker or modelmaker
would notice or care about. Given 1/6th scale's GI Joe real-world
military roots, there's an appreciation for "working detail", like
removeable outfits, weapons with retractable stocks, removeable
magazines and pouches that can be opened and filled with ammo clips
and rounds. 1/6th scale tries to model real-world functionality
as best as it can, which is one of the things that sets it apart
from smaller scale action figures.
Digital sci-fi creations often monkeywrench this. Movies and games
can show mechanical devices that appear to work according to real-world
physics, but actually don't. You can't model working mechanisms
in plastic that don't work in the real world.
This is very different from sci-fi's magical suspension-of-disbelief
staples like biotics, levitation, teleportation, beam weapons, etc.--
We don't expect to be able to replicate their operation; we simulate
that with conventions of representation, like supports to simulate
levitation or the clear plastic used in the Omnitool. Someone who's
not familiar with that convention might wonder, "Why is that
big orange thing stuck on her arm and where does she store it when
she's not using it?"
"Working detail" seems to be something that few care
about: Nowadays, most high-end 1/6th scale dolls are designed for
display, not play. Manufacturers don't bother with things like wearable
helmets-- they often provide two versions of the headsculpt (unless
you're ThreeZero and make them available only as limited exclusives).
It's an easy solution and you never have to confront the issue of
whether the helmet was designed to actually fit a bare head.
The display solution for Mass Effect weapons stowage in 1/6th
scale is equally simple: Sculpt the stowed states of weapons individually
or as a block with a magnetic attachment. Create deployed versions
of those weapons for the doll to wield. Build a stand with sufficient
hidden storage underneath so you can store unused parts like spare
headsculpts, extra hands, weapons, etc.
Personally, I prefer a simple figure/stand (preferably without
stand if possible) setup with as few unused extra parts hanging
out as possible, so I chose to stow the fully extended M-8 Avenger
magnetically on Shepard's backpack. The M-5 Phalanx pistol isn't
supposed to be a Transformerable weapon, so it can be magnetically
attached to her thigh armor and be in compliance with the facts
of the fictional world.
Nevertheless, I hastily sculpted a one-sided approximation of a
stowed Mantis sniper rifle to magnetically attach to the backpack.
I discovered that to match the scale of the assault rifle (based
on the pistol grip and trigger guard size), it had to be scaled
to a size that didn't fit neatly and compactly on the backpack.
It's hard to imagine squeezing a shotgun and submachinegun in there.
I concluded that the mechanisms that deploy the weapons must not
only extend the stock and barrel, but also enlarge the parts as
well. That's some mighty fancy technology!