THE ASARI PROJECT
04/12/17- The Asari are one of the major alien species in the Mass Effect trilogy. The character Liara plays a big role of providing background info in each game, serving as a squad member in ME1 and ME3, and available as a potential romantic interest for Shepard. Yadda, yadda, yadda. You're supposed to like her, with her big ol' puppy dog eyes, soft-spoken demeanor, and bad-assed biotic powers. The Asari are the most human-like of the aliens, with five fingers per hand and boobs... with nipples! Yeah, they've got blue skin and weird hair, but they don't look like birds, reptiles, frogs, bats, or insects. And they've all got boobies because there is no such thing as a male-looking Asari (in the original trilogy). In fact there are no overweight, short, or ugly Asari either-- they all look like blue-skinned (occasionally green or purple) models with weird hair and frequently sport substantial breasts. Hubba, hubba! This fits the male hormone-friendly visual style of the Mass Effect trilogy, back before Bioware lost its way...
From that exposition, you might think that my Asari project would be an ersatz version of Liara. Actually, I think that would have been easier, costume-wise. Nope, not interested. I think Samara is much more interesting looking, not just because of her in-your-face cleavage, her hot bod and skin-tight outfit, but because of her facial features. What incredible cheekbones, lips and eyes! She perfectly fits her role as an enigmatic and stoic Justicar.
At least, that's the plan. As with all these Mass Effect projects, the most straight-forward part of this project is the headsculpt; that doesn't mean it's going to be easy or that I can pull it off, but at least I know that all it takes is sculpting, time, and a good eye for spotting what's off (and being able to fix it).
The outfit is the far bigger hurdle: Without an outfit, you've got no doll project-- the headsculpt's just a 1/6th scale hunting trophy, minus the plaque. I'd prefer to do a reasonably game-faithful outfit because it looks so cool (despite being totally impractical as a fighting outfit) and plays such a big part in the identity of the character as Samara. With my other Mass Effect projects, I was okay doing generic characters so the outfits didn't need to be game-accurate. I was content with doing in-the-style-of, especially if it was more compatible with the figure's articulation. Articulation's not an issue with a skin-tight outfit with very little hard armor (didja know that her cleavage is actually an emitter for a super high-tech invisible shielding device? Badda boom!).
The biggest problem is the material itself: It's covered with elongated hexagonal patterns, each with a depression and stud in the center-- it looks almost sculpted. It's not something that you can find at a fabric store or online. In fact, Rana McAnear's (face model for Samara) cosplay costume doesn't have the sculpted look, so it may be something that's doable in the digital world, or on a statue/sculpted action figure, but not so much as a costume (IMO, cosplay and 1/6th scale have much in common). That lowers the bar a little. Of course, decorating a 1/6th scale outfit with hexagonal patterns doesn't sound very easy either. At this stage, these are only distant dreams and wishes. In the end, what's do-able always wins.
The Headsculpt: I didn't feel confident in being able to pull off a human-likeness headsculpt in the short working time of epoxy putty, so I sculpted the facial features in polymer clay. When I'm satisfied with it, the facial sculpture will be copied in a 1-piece mold, cast in resin, and attached to a doll head blank; the easier details ("hair" & "ears") will then be sculpted in epoxy putty, with reptillian texture stamps copied from dinosaur models. That's the plan, at least.
I believe the sculpture is getting there: I've assessed it with a fresh eye over a couple days, and have seen a hint of the Samara likeness.
Enlarged photos can be helpful for pointing out things that your eyes don't notice. Here, I see various things that are asymmetrical, but they're barely noticeable to my naked eye (even now that I know where to look). Sculpting a likeness is about lights and shadows-- they're clues for interpreting 2D images as 3D shapes to guide moving the clay around while you manipulate the sculpture under your lighting source, which constantly changes the highlights and shadows. To avoid being misled, use info from several 2D images from different perspectives. The brain does an amazing job of juggling all these things and stitching them together to guide sculpting. In my case, the brain is also ignoring one of my eyes (which it's decided doesn't need to focus).
The sculpt started with a well-kneaded lump of Super Sculpey (the gray stuff; it's a little stiffer than regular Sculpey), about the same size as a bald 1/6 scale female headsculpt.
The size reference is very important and should be checked periodically early on in the sculpt to confirm the size: It's easy to get engrossed in sculpting details and discover (too late) that the sculpt is too big or too small: Not an easy thing to fix. It's natural to be reluctant to write off the time spent, thinking it can be salvaged. Often it can't, which you learn from investing even more time, before starting over (See my Turian project).
The clay lump is mounted on a rod that can be easily manipulated for sculpting and viewing. I put a knob of tape on the end of the rod so the clay would stay put; this means that the baked sculpt probably isn't coming of the rod unscathed-- but it only needs to survive until it's molded and a good casting is made. The rod should be parked safely in a stable stand so that it doesn't fall over when you aren't sculpting. (Duh! And don't let your pets chew on it.)
The bead eyeballs are embedded once the basic facial geometry has been mapped out. This deforms the clay, so you don't want to get too far along with the details and cleanup. For me, the hardest part is embedding them to the same depth since they aren't both visible at the same time from a side view. The best view is from the chin side, looking up. The lateral and vertical positioning is easy to gauge from the frontal view.
For shaping, I prefer firm polyclay because it responds predictably to a hard sculpting tool without being overly sensitive. If the clay is too soft, surrounding areas move when you push clay around-- very aggravating. Aged Super Sculpey is usually firmer than fresh. On the other hand, blending and smoothing are easier with a softer clay; you can soften clay with solvents like Turpenoid.
Rough shaping starts with the fingers, but soon shifts to a sculpting tool for the majority of the feature shaping. On one end the sculpting tool has a smooth metal tip without sharp edges for shaping, smoothing and blending, and a metal spear tip on the other end for detailing and precise clay-moving (like eyelids). Once details have been sculpted, a brush is used to remove tool marks, and to smooth and round sharp edges. A dry brush works best for clay-moving (like a softer version of the sculpting tool). To smooth the surface, wet the brush with spit or Astro-glide (these reduce friction), or Turpenoid. Note: Turpenoid acts as a polyclay solvent and makes the surface soft and vulnerable to brush marks. It's absorbed into the clay so surface hardness returns, but I suspect that it softens the clay generally, so you don't want to overdo it.
Raw casting with blue tint added to resin (although you can't see it-- I had a hard time getting the photo to show details, so I mucked with the camera settings). For one of MY castings, it's not bad: There's the eye-bubble and a dimple in the cheek, which isn't visible in this pic. Those will have to be fixed.
The Body: I usually talk about this before the headsculpt, but since this was a human figure that didn't require any special surgery, I didn't. I thought I'd figured out the blue paint thing, so it would be a simple matter of sticking the head on the body, and moving on to the costuming challenge. It didn't work out that way...
If you want to, you can read about it in this long sidebar rant: 1/6 Scale FemFigs 2017
To be continued...