FAK-Q         part 2

This was going to be Julie Strain as FAKK2, but as you can see, she doesn't really look like Julie Strain... besides it's impossible to produce the correct costuming because of the amount of bare skin and where it's bare... ewwww, who wants to see naked articulation seams? Instead, she's similar, like a cheesy knock-off from Taiwan. And she is now known as FAK-Q, "Queen of Tips"...

"Training them can be a brutal experience and takes lots of patience, but once they're housebroken, Alien creatures make wonderful house pets."


SCULPTING THE HEAD

(What follows is narrative from early in the project... so don't get confused.)

For right now, I'm calling this "TBD" which stands for "To Be Determined". It would be premature to name this "FAKK2", since that depends on the costuming-- I'm still a long ways from that!

For those who don't know, "FAKK2" is an animated sci-fi feature which will be released sometime in 1999. (Here are some links to some cool pics & info: Henkotec and UnderTheBridge.) It's reputedly a followup to "Heavy Metal", and the main character was inspired by Kevin Eastman's (creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & publisher of the magazine "Heavy Metal") wife, Julie Strain. She's an actress... well, let me put it this way: she's been in a lot of movies... but I like to think of her as a gal with great looks and an in-your-face attitude. The ultimate Femme Fatale. So I'm going to try to create a 12" GI Joe version of FAKK2, using her face (or whatever turns out). She's already been featured in a few magazines wearing the costuming, so this isn't an original concept.

These are some reference photos of Julie Strain that I've been using for the face sculpt. (Without going into a lot of detail, they're from Penthouse, Femme Fatale and probably Cinemafantastique. --I read only the best literature.) She looks chunkier in pic#1 than pic#2 (but is still outrageously foxy, doncha think?). As you can see, she wears a lot of makeup. (But she compensates by wearing less clothes.) Pic#3 is the only side shot I found of her, and it's a crummy washed out photo-- however, you can see that she has a sorta peculiar nose. Pic#4 is a Boris Vallejo painting of her, and from what I've heard that's almost as good as a photo (wink, wink... Actually, I like Boris' work a lot).

So, here's the challenge: From these two views, I try to recreate the three dimensionality of her face, relying on lighting cues to guess what's going on. Unfortunately... I don't have a full set of mug shots to help. (Having her here in person would be even better, but that's not likely to happen.) Lighting differences affect what the lighting does in a photo...duh. People change over time, and from day to day. Expression changes affect what the muscles do, and therefore what the lighting does. Makeup is deceptive. Television controls your thoughts. Anything else? Probably. On the positive side, she's recognizable as Julie Strain... that means that hopefully, when you hit something right in the sculpt, you'll say "aha !". That is, if you can see through the makeup!

07/05 - 07/07/98: Easier said than done... Here, I humiliate myself with a progression of sculpts, none of which look remotely like her. #1 is downright embarrassing, but it shows how we might actually be the descendants of an alien race.

On top of the problems already mentioned, there are a few others: For this sculpt, I used Super Sculpey. I think it hates me. I can't 'see' this stuff (it's too bright & pink!) and no matter how hard I try, I always get it dirty! I swear, I washed my hands with soap before starting, and five minutes into it, it had ugly black streaks in it-- and that it makes it harder to read shadows. The other problem is related: No one looks the same without hair or makeup. Because it's hard to visualize how close a sculpt is, I like to retouch scans along the way. Unfortunately, the camera is also tricked by the dirt in the clay, so photo retouching isn't as helpful as it could be.

STARTING THE SCULPT: So... where do we start? The first thing to consider is size. It's a good idea to have a Joe head in front of you so that you'll have a general size reference. It would be horrible to spend hours sculpting only to find out that the head was waaaay too big! Next, consider the neck size, since the head has got to fit on the neck pin of a GI Joe. That pin is pretty thick, but it's a given. I tear off a chunk of clay and place it on a cut-off neck pin and start forming the neck and head. I'm not going to worry about the beauty of the neck, or the whole head just yet, so I stick a pencil in the back of it to act as a handle. That way I can stick it in a pencil holder without worrying about it falling over. (Gee, I wonder if that's where that black stuff came from?)

The next step is to rough out the face, trying to put the features in, relative to each other. You can always add clay to the top and bottom later, but it's a major hassle to reposition things like eyes.

ANALYZE THE SUBJECT: Back to the Julie pics. We need to pick out her salient features. Well, she's got pretty prominent cheekbones. You can see that on the left cheek of pic #2-- the highlights and the hollow (darker) part right below the cheek indicates this. But pic #1 looks sooo different...!? True. That's one thing that makes this so fun... The more pictures you have, the bigger pool you have to pick up general feature patterns from. Other features to note are her nose: the nostrils and nose tip, the width, and the skin that flares out above her nostrils, starting right underneath her eyes. This patch forms a slight crease under the eyes. Eyes: most of this is exaggerated by the makeup, but you can see that the skin below her eyebrow, to the outside above her eye is very rounded & fleshy. The shape of her lips is difficult to discern, since the lipstick interferes with seeing the actual shape. Her jaw is rather wide and squarish where it meets the neck, but tapers fairly normally at the chin.

By habit, I caricature the person first with exaggerated features. Once you've gotten the essential features, you can tone down the exaggeration and make them look more realistic. But you can see from the cursory analysis that there's nothing really obvious and distinctive about her looks, except for her nose (from profile) and makeup. This makes it more difficult to capture her essence in clay. Also, when you exaggerate features, they tend to make the sculpt look sort of... ugly. For example, exaggerating her jaw and high cheekbones tends to masculinize her. This points to a few things you should concentrate on to make her look like the attractive babe she is (and not a rugged foreign-faced man): Symmetry and finish.

Symmetry: Use your lighting to view the sculpture from all the angles, and check for symmetry. It's the only way you can see what the planes are really doing. You need to be directly under the the light to see if the highlights & shadows are balanced.

Finish: Logically, this is one of the last steps you should worry about, but I touch it up periodically as I work. If there's a slight chance that it might help you see the "aha !", then it's worth it. The majority of the sculpting is done with fingers and my flattened burnishing/edge tool (the one on the bottom). The tool really does do a good job for the majority of the sculpt, but it's not easy to get minute curved shapes with it. For example, the eyeballs can be rough shaped to a curve, but will have tiny flat spots. You can smooth those out by using a soft brush dipped in either (yummy) spit (for slight friction) or Astroglide (for more lubrication). Astroglide works really well for finger rubbing the larger flat and rounded planes of your sculpture. It's also great for sex, but I recommend you get a dedicated bottle for that. Your mate will appreciate the gesture.

FACIAL LANDMARKS: It's impossible to put into words all the separate little tweaks that go into sculpting a specific face. Below, I've tried to describe some areas to pay particular attention to, with regard to general facial sculpting. Basically, it all boils down to observation. Your own face is a good, easily accessible example of how a human face is constructed. It's all the nuances and subtleties that make us look different. That's the stuff that takes hours and days to hone in a likeness sculpture.

Eyes: Study your own eyeballs to see what's going on. You'll note that the eyes are indeed "balls", and that the skin around them follows their contour. One of my mistakes is considering the area around the eyes as an expanse of flatness, when in fact, your eyes rest in sockets on top of your curved cheekbones. The eyeballs, eyelids, and skin underneath should look as if the eye is a round object sunk into the eye socket. Directly under the eyes, you'll note that we have a soft fleshy area right above the cheekbones: it's where the bags/circles and wrinkles eventually form. Study what the planes do. If you're really sharp, you can even try to render the area between, where the lower eyelashes grow! It's hard to sculpt all of this, and it's where steady hands and patience come in handy. As usual, start with the general form, work it until you're satisfied, and then do the details.

The cheeks: Observe the fleshiness of your cheeks-- they cover from the sides of your nose downward to where your teeth are, off to the side and up. The intersection of the planes is important: your upper lip forms a plane juncture, but the cheek blends in with the jaw muscles. The area where your jaw opens can form a hollow which accentuates the "high cheekbone" look.

The nose: This is a complex shape. Observe how the meat around the nostrils forms into a rounded shape and connects to the face and to the main shaft of the nose. Observe from a side view how the nostril separator (the septum?-- please 'scuse the terminology, 'cuz I'm not an artist or a doctor.) joins with the area above the lip, and how it's lower and further out than the outer edge of the nostril.

The lips: Another complex shape. Study how your own lips are connected. On the top, the pigmented area joins at a slightly rounded angle with the slope of your upper lip area. The lower lip has a more drastic curve where it meets the unpigmented area, and another sharper angle where it meets the chin. The fleshy areas on either side below your mouth is more pronounced in some people than others.


07/08/98- Here's a scan of the sculpt and the retouched version. I never saw the magical "aha !", and she looks kinda fat-faced and "dead" to me. But I'm getting tired of working on her, and I'm willing to say, close enuf... Hopefully the painted casting will look better? Maybe?

BAKING THE CLAY: 07/09/98- (Does this article ever end?) Having decided "enuf!", it's time to proceed with the baking. First, with a low temperature heat gun (an embossing gun), I "soft bake" the front of the sculpture. It's important not to get too close to the clay, or it will char it & create nasty blisters. (I'm sure there's a use for this technique though.) It's only a surface baking and the back & interior are still squooshy. This allows me to remove the neckpin size reference and pencil "handle" jabbed into the back of her head, resculpt those areas and soft bake them too. The reason for doing this soft baking is so that you can handle the piece (very gingerly! Any mashing will create surface cracks on the baked crust) without creating fingerprints. Finally, it goes into the oven at 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit for the duration of about 1 beer. (Time isn't that critical; just don't cradle a beer for an hour-- it'll get warm & taste funky.)

Once it's out of the oven, I go over the major planes with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper. This lets you see very quickly that the areas you thought were smooth, aren't really... Next, steel wool, and finally, some plastic polishing compound. (I use the stuff left over from when my wife had a Miata.) You may notice some clay nicks and gouges which should be filled. You can brush on some Turpenoid, blend fresh clay into those areas, and spot bake them.

CASTING: Finally, I'm ready to commit to the casting phase. There are a lot of options here, but since I'm impatient about this, I use Bare Metal & Foil's A&B mold putty for the mold. This is a two-part mix with the consistency of silly putty; after it cures (in 15 minutes), it's fairly stiff like an eraser. It also tears pretty easily. This is not really a good choice because it's so stiff-- you can't demold something with undercuts without pieces of your clay pattern breaking off. Also, because you mash the putty on, the quality is more uncertain. You don't get tiny air bubbles, but you're more likely to get air pockets! You really only get one chance to do this because of the damage it does to the pattern, but I figure I can stand the risk: I only need one casting, and I can just as easily repair the resin casting. To demold, I slit the back of the mold all the way up to the top-- with a one piece soft silicone mold, you don't need to do this. It's disheartening to extract the clay master in chunks, but chunks are better than crumbs. Fortunately, only the neck gets damaged-- all the facial features seem to be intact.

Just in time to go to work: since 4 AM, reading e-mail, newsgroups, the mold, the casting, this article segment and photo, some coffee and a shower...! That's why I get impatient waiting for those "cures in 24 hours" molding compounds.

As you can see (or maybe not), there are a few imperfections in the casting, but most of them can be easily taken care of by an Exacto knife and sanding. In addition to the excess material on the left (her left) corner of the lip, there was an air pocket at the juncture of the head's left eye and nose. An air pocket becomes excess material which will need to be grinded out with a Dremel mototool. A medium-sized ball grinding bit should do the trick. Of course, the back of the head has a flash seam, but that's a trivial matter to take care of.

Despite appearances, everything is not hunky-dory. The resin I've used is old, and this becomes evident once I start to sand the casting. Zillions of pinholes reside just beneath the surface, waiting to be exposed. This is not a horrible problem, since they can be filled-- the process of brush painting with fairly thick paint will take care of this. The other problem is not as trivial. Old resin tends to "weep"; that is, it sweats a clear liquid which behaves like a solvent, and which you can't paint over. You can accelerate this by heating, but it just keeps coming! Because of this problem, I'm forced to make another casting with a different batch of resin. Fortunately, this stuff is newer, but getting near its time. There is a small amount of weeping, but it's only in a few places. To fix this, I seal the spots with small dabs of thin superglue. Although a little detail is lost, there's really nothing else that can be done (that I know of). Except buy some more resin?

Here's the painted head, with the yarn hair just leaning against her head. Well, I gotta say... she doesn't look much like Julie Strain! Sheesh, she looks sorta like a tramped-out Madame Alexander doll.

I'm sorry for leading you on for so long to witness a failed attempt to capture a likeness! What can I say except that... sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't?...uhhhh... (grin) Nevertheless, she's good enuf to wear sleazy costuming and tote a big-assed gun, right? Heck, what can ya do except keep moving?

Next: Costuming Considerations

Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM


"If you've ever hung around with Predators for any length of time, you see what unpleasant and boorish creatures they really are. Besides their foul breath, they have an annoying habit of cleaning their teeth with their outer mandibles in public. Yuck.

If this weren't bad enough... after leaving an embarrassingly paltry tip at the diner, these two argued loudly for hours about how many facehuggers were aboard the Sulacco at the beginning of Alien3."