THE TURIAN PROJECT
03/27/17- I felt obliged to do this project because Garrus & Turians are such a prominent fixture throughout the Mass Effect trilogy. Turians have a distinctive appearance, although there are many variations throughout the trilogy and especially in the fan art. It's not just the outfits/armor: There are thin and stocky Turians with very different facial features.
Garrus sports what I consider to be the male Turian warrior look, and that's what I'm interested in making... but without his distinctive scars and wounds. As with my other Mass Effect projects, I'm not aiming to make the trilogy's character as he appeared in the games. I think Garrus' transparent left eyepiece looks funky. Also, I've had enough of blue armor (I look at my Quarian and see GI Joe's Cobra Commander)... I'll figure out the particulars as the project progresses. Despite what I initially thought, it's not simply an armor project: The Turian physiology is different, and the headsculpt presents some interesting challenges as well.
The Base Figure: I used a Hot Toys medium-build TrueType figure for this. They have quality articulation that holds poses well, and is about the right height to fit in with the other Mass Effect dolls.
The only part I don't like are its ankles: They're the ubiquitous dual ball/socket barbell design that doesn't handle a heavy figure very well: Since this would be wearing armor, it could easily become a top-heavy doll. The ball/socket gives virtually unlimited options for foot posing, but has as many opportunities for the ball/socket to slip, since there are no positions where the articulation is inhibited, except where the ball shaft hits the edge of the socket. To add to the grief, the barbell has articulation like this at both ends. My "fix" was to putty the shin-side socket so that I only had to worry about the foot-side socket. It seems to be working.
The Turian physique has some unusual features, like a very thin waist. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to achieve in a plastic figure (versus modifying a human body for a Cosplay costume). With heat and grinding, the TrueType figure's midsection can be made just thin enough at the sides before you hit the inner structural elements.
Another physiological oddity is the hip design. In many pictures of Turians, the legs are spaced far from the center of the hips; this creates a wide gap between the legs, and the leg seems to extend laterally beyond the width of the hips. In a plastic figure, the legs are articulated by a shaft at the hips and attempting to lengthen the shaft seems like a really bad idea. Therefore, I heated the thighs to bend them slightly so that there's a wider gap between the legs when standing straight-legged. Unfortunately, it also affects the thigh rotation joint (located above the bend) which is now more prone to rotate at a standing pose. If they're loose, the figure will have a hard time standing.
The hands are the familiar 3-finger design, so shouldn't be a problem. The shins are straight, human-like so that's one less thing to work on.
The Headsculpt: I came across a very good Garrus costume build article, that offered a lot of insights in all aspects of the project. The fundimental objectives and techniques are the same as dollmaking: Building a costume around a human form. However, dollmakers have it much easier since the toy figure can be altered fairly easily-- humans, not so much. Costume-makers also have a much bigger and harder job dealing with the issue of scale and wearability, which often requires making flexible castings with plaster and latex. Ugh. Me lazy.
I used a lot of the pics at the website to guide my efforts thinking that it would make sculpting the head easy. The numerous fittings photos showed how the mask fit with a human head behind it, and the multi-angle photos of the clay sculpture seemed ideal for sculpt-copying. I worked for hours and followed the basic order of construction. I thought things were going great as I sculpted the mandibles and attached them to the head-- finally, finished! Then I attached the head to the body and posed it with my other Mass Effect dolls.
Gack!!! The head was too big! Damn, I hate failure.
I cut a lot off the head, but evidently not enough. As I later figured out, because this is an alien head with a lot of stuff added to it, the core head needs to be reduced significantly: Basically, a neck mount opening with pin retainer and not much else.
There were also some bizarre sculpting errors due to perspective distortions in some photos that I had faithfully copied. Bummer! The lesson learned is that when you're working from pics, it's best to look at a lot of pics and interpret and extrapolate instead of trying to copy from a few. Getting bogged down on details can make you lose sight of the big picture. Step away for a while and come back to evaluate with a fresh perspective. I wish I took my own advice.
I'd spent a lot of time already, so I didn't want to start over. Plan B was a salvage operation: I cut the sculpt and head in half to shorten it, and took whatever I could off the sides to make it more narrow. Still too big. Back to square one to start over with a clean slate.
Plan B: Still too big. @#$&$!!! Many wasted hours that I won't get back...
The Headsculpt, Take 2: This was a massive bummer of a setback because I wasn't super-enthused about this project in the first place: I'd rather be working on ideas for an EDI project... Soldier on, I must.
My biggest mistake was starting with the headsculpt by itself. For relative size reference, I needed to make the upper part of the torso armor before starting the headsculpt. All the reference pics of Garrus show him wearing armor, so I needed to see the head in context with the armor to have a better idea about its size.
That concept of relative size comparison applies throughout the project. I selected and modified the figure first to see how it fit with the other Mass Effect dolls. Without measurements and size-scaling info, eye-balling and relative size relationships are your only tool to help guide you away from unpleasant surprises later on.
03/30/17- Sculpting is hard! The second version was much closer to the target size, but still a bit wide at the top. It got "baked in" when I placed the head quills on the slightly too-wide headsculpt core: Everything that followed was referenced to that.
The Turian headsculpt is more complicated than most. The sculpt is made up of sections that I worked on in sequence: The quills, the cheeks/mouth/jaw, the nose, the eyebrows, top center plate, and the mandibles.
You find out that something's screwy when sections don't fit neatly where they're supposed to. For example, if the eyebrow ends don't line up at the right place on the right quill, then something else isn't where it should be.
Polyclay is better than epoxy putty for making corrections while sculpting because you can go back and correct things that you thought you'd finished. Epoxy putty, with its constantly ticking clock, guides you work on one area at a time, usually referenced to the last area that you worked on.
The head quills are long-ish, but it's easier to shorten them than to lengthen them.
04/02/17- With the draft of the head and neck done, I was back on track and could finally move on.
The Undersuit: As tempting as it was to jump right in on the armor, I needed to make an undersuit for the areas that armor wouldn't cover. It would also provide a layer that the armor could be attached to so that it could move with the articulation-- similar to what skin does.
It would have been easier to use a store-bought jumpsuit, and I did try several (some were quite colorful), but in the end, a black spandex undersuit seemed the safest bet, especially since I had no idea what the armor would look like. I looked at many reference pics to give me ideas for the armor and the overall look.
The Armor: My initial direction was the familiar look of Garrus in armor-- hence, the big open neck ring/back hump. As I mentioned above, this was to provide a size reference for the headsculpt. As I studied pics, I came to realize that he wore several different armors throughout the trilogy, with the Mass Effect 3 version seeming to be the most-often used in costumes, toys, & artwork. I considered trying to recreate it, but some costume profile photos convinced me that the design wouldn't work well for an articulated figure. The front chest armor that attached to the neck ring extended across several articulation points of the torso. Unless the whole shebang were free-floating across the torso (as some Cosplay costumes were designed), it wouldn't allow the torso articulation to work. Designed as a free-floating unit, it would leave a huge gap if the figure's torso articulation were arched back.
I looked at depictions of other Turian armor for alternatives: Were there any armors that would work better with the figure's articulation? I didn't find any, so I looked for common themes and design elements that I could cobble together for a Turian-esque armor design. Other than variations on the neck ring and the long rear shin spurs, there wasn't much that was uniquely Turian that wasn't the result of the armor pieces being designed to be worn on a Turian physique. So far, I've cobbled together this (in progress):
"The neck ring comes in handy when you've just finished a smoke or a beer and you don't want to litter. But it's a real pain-in-the-neck when trees start dropping leaves. They're flammable, y'know?"
I kept the neck ring because it says "Turian". I'm not sure what purpose it serves though-- do they have especially vulnerable necks? I was also curious about how Garrus could fire a scoped sniper rifle with the neck ring since it's in the way of shouldering the rifle's stock and peering through the scope. Very few pics show this clearly, but as near as I can tell, the only way he could do it is by putting the stock within the neck ring. Other neck rings with interior padding or a thicker wall wouldn't fit the rifle's stock. For that matter, I don't think that a sniper would need to wear much armor since they can hang out pretty far back from the action. Well, this is science-fantasy and armor looks cool. (Without it, the figure looks like a diplomat or politician.)
"I look mighty studly posed with my bad-ass sniper rifle."
"This pose might make sense if I had eyeballs instead of these damned black patches. I'm as blind as a frickin' bat."
04/07/17- Amazing grace... Now I can shoot stuff and stare at titties!
Turians got tiny eyeballs! I made a bunch of different sized epoxy eyeballs and had to use the smallest ones... and they're still slightly big. While I was doing the neck, I stuck on the mask and gooped it by Q-tip with a mix of caulk and Vallejo Ivory/German Cam Medium Brown/Neutral Gray/Green Brown/Black. (In person, it looks more gray than brown.) The markings were done with thinned Ivory by brush. It's the raw sculpt; I never got around to sanding it.
04/03/17- Turians and their Stupid Feet: The feet were the last thing for the first draft of the armor. I didn't even think about them until I got there and started studying pics. Damn! Turians have cat-feet. The feet that it plants on the ground are actually just the toes, and the rest of the foot doesn't even touch the ground. It's like walking around on your toes, or wearing high heels with a missing heel. We can do it because we've got senses and muscles to shift our weight and balance; dolls don't.
The problem is the two tiny footprints balancing a tall figure. It can be done, but it's not easy or very stable. When the feet are side-by-side, the support area is wide, but narrow front-to-back, and likely to fall forwards or backwards. Ideally, the support area should be wide all around the figure (like a stand).
The obvious solution is to insert a support rod in the foot's heel to increase the front-to-back support length, like a tripod on each foot: The wide toe area stabilizes side-to-side movement and the heel deepens the front-to-back support area. The problem is that it looks like high heels and it's hard to make inconspicuous. I've seen pictures of a variation on this approach (the wedge) on toys and costumes, and immediately saw it as a women's shoe. Turians don't wear wedges.
I ended up using a variation on this approach: Inserting a coathanger rod into the back side of the short foot section, parallel to the ground. Conceptually, it extends the toe section rearward to create a longer "foot" under the actual foot part that's lifted up. It's still visible, conspicuous, and looks funky, but doesn't immediately make me think "women's shoe". It still looks high-heelish when the legs are posed at different arcs because the frozen toes positioning should adjust just like ankles-- they'd need solid articulation comparable to ankle articulation.
The Second Pass Through: With all the main pieces of armor roughed in, the doll looked like a Turian. The first draft of the armor was simple and had lots of rough edges. The leg armor was especially minimalist, being basically thin tubes around the legs. This let me move on, but with the intention of returning to the thin tubes to build a more interesting design over the top of them. The second draft is to clean it up, bulk it up, add details and do things to make it look more finished.
There are lots of options for embellishing: craft foam, Worbla, putty, plastic parts, jewelry... etc. You could sculpt all the parts in epoxy putty as if you were making a statue-- it would give the most control over the details and finishing, but it would take a long time and a lot of effort. Some parts, like undecorated flat planes, are just easier and faster to make with a cut and glued flat sheet of material.
Craft foam is quick and easy for adding bulk and structures that don't require tight shaping. Because it's fairly thick, it's also good for flat surfaces-- it doesn't have a tendency to pick up unwanted dips and high spots like Worbla and sculpting do. It can be challenging to decorate with anything but basic lines, since they have to be engraved with heat at just the right temperature. (I had more trouble creating clean lines this time.) I used craft foam over the Worbla shins to give them additional bulk so they wouldn't look so scrawny. I also used it for detailing with small, simple shapes.
Worbla is also quick and easy; good for adding fitted parts with tight shaping, but not as good for adding bulk since it's fairly thin. You can create hollow bulk fairly easily, but unless it's thermoformed over a refined form, large shapes can tend towards uneven dips and high spots, which is hard to smooth out. Like craft foam, heat detailing can be difficult. Generally, I use this to add decorative shapes and straps over existing armor to make it look more detailed.
Putty is much slower to work with but gives most control over the finish and detailing. I used it over the Worbla feet so they could be made to look armored with flat planes and sharp edges.
The carapace (back hump) was another piece that needed to be cleaned up. I'd Worbla'd it out of segments to quickly make the size-reference placeholder, and it had a lot of lumps and depressions that were hard to work out. I didn't want to remake it and waste the Worbla. Putty seemed to be the best bet for getting rid of the segments and smoothing it out.
It's not easy. No matter how smooth you think you've sculpted a large surface, it really ain't. Carefully blended putty additions almost always seems to show edges that need to be smoothed out. Epoxy putty is a hard material when cured so it takes a lot of tweaking to get a smooth rounded surface-- I know because I stopped with "good 'nuff" after a couple passes with sandpaper, paint, and putty fill.
04/09/17- The Finish: Once again, I really liked the black unfinished look (because it's easy?), but I felt that I needed to do something different than the Krogan's armor. This was clearly not going to be Garrus, so I browsed armor color schemes and came up with a couple of dead guys: Nihlus (from ME1) and Victus (ME3), both black with red highlights. This wasn't going to be them, because... they're dead! I did study their armor early on and although I like the way their pauldrons increase the perception of upper body mass, determined that the design would cause problems with arm articulation: Just so you know-- the non-Mass Effect design that I cobbled together wasn't totally random.
Back to black: To capture that look without doing black, I used a dark gray, with a matte/satin sheen. By itself, it looks black, but makes it possible to do blacker than black to force things like black panel lines to stand out. I was conservative with the red highlights to keep it from looking like a race car.
Hey, it's the obligatory group size reference shot! Except the Krogan is actually taller than the Turian. See what I said about the gray? I'll leave it up to you to imagine it with dry-brushed silver weathering, etc. (Yawn.) Did I mention how tired I am of this stinkin' project?