THE QUARIAN PROJECT
I have a tentative list of Mass Effect characters that I evaluate based on that equation. Topping the want-to-make list would probably be EDI or Samara: I just can't think of how I'd make their outfits. For do-ability, Garrus/generic Turian would probably be next on the list because it's another armored figure project.
Tali/generic Quarian falls somewhere in between. I did some tests to answer some questions (can thin leather be heat-engraved with a fancy decorative pattern?), but there are plenty more that will be answered as I encounter them. As usual, I'm not dead set on making the character as she appeared in the Mass Effect trilogy, so that opens up a lot of options.
The Donor Figure: Always a good place to start. In this case, I chose an old Volks figure because of its size. I envisioned this as a tiny figure, and the Volks dolls are extremely scrawny. I have some reservations about using this because the plentiful articulation isn't particularly robust (you can remove all the limbs almost too easily), which could turn around to bite me later during the costuming. Nevertheless, it's a starting point. It was also easy to bend her shins to the curved shape because they're so long and thin.
Change of plans: The loose articulation made me nervous, so I switched to an old Cy Girls figure. She's not as scrawny, but without high heels she's shorter than the other figures.
The Mask: This is the signature piece of the project and most visibly defines the character as Quarian. It made sense to start there. The plan was to thermoform a clear visor and sculpt the rest of the mask around it in epoxy putty. The mask would need to be removeable so I could tint the visor and possibly stuff the doll's head with lighting for her eyes. Yeah, I'm not big on battery-powered gimmicks, but it seemed like an essential feature.
This required some planning: A Worbla mask was made for the super squishy head to give something rigid to sculpt on. The visor was sculpted in epoxy putty for thermoforming the clear plastic. I first tried thermoforming PET-G from packing material, but it was too thick and didn't stretch completely around the visor form without leaving folds. This gave me an opportunity to experiment with transparent Worbla. I'd seen a video about working with it, and everything they said about it was true-- its working temperature is above the pain threshold for bare hands handling, and it is extremely stretchy: Totally unlike black Worbla. It's also not as clear as PET-G, but that wasn't an issue for this application.
I covered the Worbla mask and visor form with Saran Wrap, placed the clear visor on top, and sculpted the mask around it. The mask was sculpted using my "aged" epoxy putty in three main sessions: First, the top/brow and side sections to capture the visor; second, the bottom breather/filter section; third, the side "wings" flanking the breather. Between sessions, the putty cured and was sanded to make it safe to resume sculpting.
Many hours later, I was faced with the problem of getting the opaque Worbla/putty visor form out! The squishy head came out easily, but the Worbla & epoxy visor form were trapped in the epoxy putty mask sculpt. The heat gun and hemostats came to the rescue and let me extract the Worbla and visor form in pieces without damaging the mask. Whew!
Looks like orange but the visor is actually tinted magenta; the hardest part of the project so far!
Tinting the Visor: Quarian visors are shown in different colors, but I fixated on Tali's purple visor. The visor color ended up being mixed towards red, so I think it's more accurately called "magenta". I like the color.
I'd read that transparent Worbla could be dyed, but I didn't have red and blue transparent dyes. What I had but what didn't work: Tamiya clear paint. I couldn't mix a shade of purple that I liked (plus the stuff is kind of thick and nasty), so I tested another alternative: Sharpie markers.
The two colors produced some very nice shades when blended with alcohol on a flat test sheet of plastic. Applying an even coating to the inside of the dome-shaped visor proved more difficult-- as you can imagine, it pooled. Sharpie marker ink is very soluble in alcohol, so attempts to smooth/even it out with a soaked Q-tip ruined any sections that actually had looked good and made it look worse. I needed to make an airbrush sprayable mix-- in theory, not too difficult. My advice: Wear gloves when trying to milk Sharpies. I spent two days with magenta ink outlining my fingernails and there's still a trace of it. This was even after trying to clean up with water, alcohol, acetone, and scraping.
(After-the-fact, I remembered that I'd squirreled away some inkjet printer refill ink... somewhere.)
The Face: Tali appeared masked throughout the Mass Effect games until a keepsake snapshot is shown in ME3 (if played as MaleShep, romancing Tali). Many fans were not happy, especially since the portrait appeared to be a minimally photoshopped version of a stock photo of an attractive model that could be found on the web. It's hard to know for sure what Bioware intended by this-- I suspect that it's a tongue-in-cheek joke for the too-serious fans who had pestered them for a reveal: The situation is ripe for a thousand massively cheap jokes, something that probably wasn't lost on the developers (who are a smart bunch with a sharp sense of humor). The original concept art by Matt Rhodes showed a much more alien face-- one that wouldn't be considered by most to be a romanceable face! Of course, some fans made their own versions of Tali unmasked (and some with fetishy physique enhancements).
Obviously, it has relevance for this project as well: I made a mask and it fits on a head that has a face. The mask is removeable because it was natural to make that way. I originally selected the Volks figure in part because of the head-- it's not their anime version, but it's highly stylized and looks somewhat alien (as I think it should be). It's bald. I lopped off its ears and fitted pearl eyeballs to reflect light through the visor. I think this is a better solution than installing lights in the head-- Bioluminescence evolved to serve a different purpose. Why would any creature's eyes have phototransmitters instead of photoreceptors? (Answer: Because it looks cool.)
Her gap-toothed buck teeth, double chin, and stubble are better left unseen.
03/15/17- I expect that the biggest part of this project will be the costuming. It would be hard to accurately reproduce a particular game costume (like Tali's), and I'm not sure I'd want to since there are some things about Tali's costume design that I'm ambivalent about. Fortunately for me, I don't obsess over fidelity to source material. Anyway, that's further down the road...
The Hands and Feet: In the meantime, there are some concrete tasks that need to be done, like the hands and feet.
I altered the hands with Worbla, just like I'd done in the Krogan project. For these non-human hands, Worbla works great: It sticks securely to the hand stump (even with the original fingers removed) and Worbla fingers can stand the flexing that happens when fitting a pistol. It's easy to shape and size the fingers to ensure a good "kung-fu" grip on a pistol.
The feet received a similar treatment, aside from the gripping feature (that's for the arboreal Quarian clan). I used the Cy Girls bootfeet, minus the pleather covering and the heel plate. The bottom was grinded flat and filled with putty, mainly to secure the ball pin so that it didn't wobble. The feet were cut about mid length and the Worbla toes were attached there. The feet were then shaped with a Dremel sanding drum to make them less bulky, blend the toes (Worbla does respond to the sanding drum), and extend the channel between the toes. Finally, I filled holes and smoothed transitions with putty. I may do the feet armor with putty or Worbla, but it depends on how the shin armor is constructed.
The Hood: This turned out to be very challenging, and it took many tries to come up with something that worked, that I was okay with. The challenge is in finding the right material.
Ideally, the hood would look like Tali's in the game; otherwise, a generic Quarian hood would do-- there are several different designs and colors. Tali's hood has some very specific requirements: It's light purple with an intricate design printed on it and it drapes a particular way to frame her mask, display an upper chest clasp, and disappear under her arms to the backside.
The 1/6th scale doll format has one additional, very important requirement: It should allow the head articulation to work while retaining the proper drape of the material. For me, this was more important than replicating the appearance of Tali's hood in the game.
I wasn't having much luck with that anyway-- I didn't have any light purple material and the white leather that I'd done burn engraving tests on was too thick to drape properly. That was the problem with most of the other materials that I tried. A Worbla hood had the best drape (simulated) and shaping, but interfered with the articulation, even after shaping it with a bit of clearance at the shoulders-- it's flexible, but not that flexible! This is like a smaller action figure's sculpted solution, although they would likely cast the hood in a highly flexible plastic.
The solution that I eventually accepted was to cut off the drape of the Worbla hood and glue a thin stocking material over it. Stocking material works better than most for capturing the weight and physics of 1:1 material at 1:6 scale. This gave the stocking material a fixed shape and placement on the head, while allowing unrestricted head articulation. Unfortunately, I don't know how to put a pattern on stocking material without affecting how it drapes.
The Neck Armor: I looked forward to making this because it was straight-forward and it called on a different technique and material: Thin sheet brass (not Worbla). The brass strips were flared along the lower edge by light taps with a hammer-- probably overkill since the brass is so thin and ductile. However, I wanted to do it because I hadn't done it since making medieval armored dolls. Metal is fun to work with, and the thicker/harder the metal, the more difficult it is to work with (and makes you admire and respect the work of the 1:1 scale armourers). Unfortunately, the constant hammer tapping was driving my wife crazy, so I had to stop.
Should look better once I make the front clasp.
The Shin Armor: This was much more ambitious than the Krogan shin armor, which was simply formed over the figure: This time, I sculpted an epoxy putty form for thermoforming the Worbla. The main reason for doing this was that the Quarian shin armor has a complex shape, with some flat and curved surfaces and edges. As a practical matter, since the armor is symmetrical, I could make armor for both shins from a single sculpt, and they'd be closer to identical than if I'd sculpted the same part twice. The shin armor would consist of front and back plates, so they would also be removeable. This could be useful if I decided to change the bodysuit, or needed to repair something. The armor would be lighter, although that's not very important in this case.
There are a some downsides:
Unusual-looking shin armor and IMO not very practical: Bend your knee back and say "ouch!" But hey, I didn't design it.
"Ummm... I don't like Quarians with big breasts..."
Tally'Wacker vas Deferens?
"Well, I didn't make her... for YOU!"
03/18/17- (...to paraphrase Frankenfurter.)
Yep, it looks like I took a detour through The Fetish Zone (once again), but it's the figure's fault-- the breastplate armor is just a thermoform of the figure's unnatural attributes. At least I didn't add nipples. Hey, it's a frickin' alien, ferchristssake!
That pretty much set the tone for the project and after that, the armored parts more-or-less made themselves. It ain't Tali, which was a relief. That meant that I didn't have to torture myself figuring out how to put those damned artsy doodles on her outfit. Or make those ugly "space chaps". Or figure out how to make articulation work with those nonsensical sashes wrapped around her thighs. I could just have fun the old-fashioned way.
Magnets are kind of a gimmick, but unlike LEDs and sound features, they don't take batteries and they're always "on". Think Green (or cheapskate).
The Omnitool is a partial casting of ThreeZero's accessory (I've pulled a lot of mileage from the John Shepard doll!). If I'd found one for sale parted out, I would have bought it... but there are none to be found, or any other accessories from the ThreeZero Mass Effect series. Ya gotta make yer own.
Clear casting is kind of scary: Clear epoxy resin requires a very exact mix ratio or you get parts that don't cure, or remain sticky. The worst part is that it takes forever to cure, especially for a thin part like this-- I couldn't touch it for at least 24 hours, and it took over three days for it to slowly reach full hardness (which isn't super hard or brittle) and wasn't tacky. Three days? I've got the attention span of a gnat! The good thing about this is that you really don't have to worry about air bubbles in the casting. However, because of this, you can't do slush casting in one-piece molds. You'd be moving resin around for 24 hours before it cured enough to build up on a vertical surface of the mold. Gravity keeps the resin flowing back down, seeking the lowest point. I don't make 2-part molds, so my options are very limited.
For this casting, I didn't want the omnitool's blade, so the mold didn't include it. I didn't notice until it was too late that the mold included a channel for the blade. This let resin escape. With regular opaque casting resin that cures quickly, this wouldn't be a big deal. Clear casting resin is different. I wasn't able to retain much resin in the disc. Consequently, it's thin on one edge and thickest on the side that didn't have an escape channel. Furthermore, I wasn't going to get slush cast straps for arm mounting, so I needed another solution. I didn't want to attach it with opaque straps since the Omnitool is supposed to be a magical piece of futuristic technology. That's where the magnets came in.
Small Neodymium magnets are very powerful, but that can be a problem: Glue doesn't hold 'em well enough to ensure that they won't come off when the thing that they're supposed to be holding is removed. I usually try to seal them in with a covering. This helps weaken the magnetic attraction too. Thankfully, there are plenty of random doo-dads stuck on her arms so the magnets don't look horribly out-of-place.
The magnetic attachment gimmick was also used for doing the "gunslinger" look. The Quarian costume usually has plenty of belts and straps, so a traditional holster would look natural (IMO) and give the belts a utilitarian purpose. On the other hand, this is supposed to depict the Future, where everyone has powerful magnets embedded in their buttcheeks. (It makes amusement park rides much safer.)
The FlexBond Finish: I like black, so I was okay with the raw (unfinished) black Worbla finish... but I'd already used that excuse for not putting any finish on the Krogan project. Besides, the photos show how rough the unfinished black Worbla can look, especially when stretched (i.e., over the boobs). I really needed to do something about that.
While you can sand Worbla (with a Dremel sanding drum), it's mainly useful for removing material for coarse shaping, not fine shaping or sanding to a polished smooth finish. I'd run some tests on a small flat sample of Worbla using FlexBond to smooth the rough texture, but this was a good opportunity to live-test it; I felt confident that I understood its basic properties. It's very different from most finishing materials that I've used.
FlexBond is a viscous liquid that looks a lot like white glue. However, it has two other properties that work well with Worbla: It's very flexible and stays put-- it doesn't come off very easily, even when it's flexed, and it's surprisingly tough. It goes on white but quickly dries clear with a glossy sheen.
The viscosity lets you paint it in thick coats, and the thick coats are what cover the rough texture and create the smooth appearance. Black Worbla's texture can be covered (smoothed) in about two or three thick coats. It thins with water so you can apply it in thinner coats to reduce the formation of brush strokes-- of course that takes more coats, so it takes longer.
Dealing with imperfections and brush strokes is where the material most differs from other finishing materials. It's a flexible coating, so sanding doesn't work: It's like sanding rubber. So...what works? Water. Or spit. To smooth the coating, the solvent is used to partially soften the surface so you can rub-smooth it with either your finger or a fine grit wet sandpaper (if it makes you feel more civilized). As you do so, the coating turns milky white until it dries back to its original clear, glossy sheen.
It's weird-- it doesn't react to water like paint does to a strong solvent like alcohol or acetone (removes the paint). If you rub-smooth it, you don't end up with much dissolved material on your fingertips. You'd have to wet rub really hard to actually remove the FlexBond. The stuff is super tenacious, as I discovered when trying to remove from a 3D printed pistol. Because water doesn't act as a strong solvent you many not be able to completely remove prominent brush strokes and imperfections, but you can reduce their prominence.
You can also avoid brush stokes by applying FlexBond with a stippling sponge: That produces a slightly "hammered metal" look after smoothing.
As you can deduce from its properties, you don't want to put it on thick in areas where you want to preserve fine sculpted detail, unless being able to see it through the clear Flexbond is acceptable. If you paint over it, the detail will disappear.
Another obvious point: It's not waterproof. It's not excessively water sensitive and it seems to take extended exposure to water to reactivate and turn milky, so you can handle it without it feeling tacky or sticky. Regardless, I'd rather the finished coating be less sensitive to a solvent that's present in a sneeze. When I was satisfied with the level of smoothness, I sprayed some coats of clear automotive gloss lacquer over it.
FlexBond is also considered a primer, so it can be painted over. I tested that with thin accents of acrylic violet interference paint (which isn't an opaque paint, but shows violet when light strikes it at a particular angle). As it dried, it transitioned from milky to clear and looked as expected.
Because FlexBond is water-based, acrylic paint can be mixed in the FlexBond and applied at the same time in the same coat (I used Vallejo Prussian Blue and Midnight Blue-- I felt like I was painting a Guyver model). Be aware that wet FlexBond is white, so the color will be lightened when mixed and painted, but will return to the original color when it's dried.
I could keep this going by adding minor details like belts and gold trim, but I think I can call this one "done" (for now).