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

This is another "GI Joe wearing a garage kit" project. The particular kit is Horizon's Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Vinyl Kit, licensed from a movie of the same name (minus the "Vinyl Kit" part) from a few years ago. The kit is out of production, and I dimly recall rumors that Horizon may be out of the garage kit biz too. Since this is a 1:6 scale vinyl kit, it seemed like a quick & relatively easy way of putting together a suit of unusual armour. (Check out this custom 1:1 steel suit which Valentine's Armouries made for a customer.)

Making the first cut with the Exacto blade is always the hardest, since you don't know for sure if anything's going to fit, and it's a shame to desecrate a perfectly good garage kit. So you make your cuts conservatively at first so that it could still work as a garage kit (in case you have to bail out). Just because something sez it's 1:6th scale doesn't mean it's the same 1:6th scale as your other 1:6th scale stuff! (I know, it doesn't make sense...) Fortunately, that wasn't a problem here. The majority of the pieces fit the Dragon figure without having to do a lot of radical surgery (Unlike my Guyver Zoanoid project).

There are a few problem areas though:

(Note: The armour isn't perfectly symmetrical, especially around the shoulders. This is because the kit was sculpted in a slightly asymmetric pose, with the head turned. It's hardly noticible though, and things would have been a lot worse if the sculptor had posed him in a crouch or with a twisted torso!)

To take care of the area cut away by the removal of the helmet, a scrap of excess vinyl with the same general contour was superglued in place, and "welded" at the edges by a soldering pencil. (I deliberately enlarged the neck opening since the fit was pretty tight.) Putty was filled over the top of it and sculpted to (sort of) match the existing pattern.

This isn't an ideal solution. The problem is that putty is a rigid material, and the vinyl isn't. With flexing, the putty patch will separate. Although putty has good adhesion qualities, it doesn't actually fuse with the surface, so it's a good idea to scuff up the surface to give the putty something to grab onto. Knowing this, you shouldn't flex the part!

It would be preferable to sculpt directly onto the vinyl, but that's difficult. With engraving, you get one shot to get it right because you're removing material. Heat sculpting always leaves a messy surface, and you have to zero in on the exact temperature so that the plastic isn't charred, or underheated. My guess is the longer you work it, the more the plastic breaks down into the charred ash-like stuff. (This is where every plastic seems to be different.)

Soooooo... The belt area was grinded out, leaving room for some patching material. In this case, the patching material definitely needed to have some flex: This section of the armour has a single seam along the back, and is pried open to fit it onto the figure. (Humor me, this is magical fantasy armour, right?) No flex, and it cracks along the sides. I used Promat polymer clay (Premo or Fimo would prolly work as well) because it has some flex, and according to a test patch, it adheres fairly well. I usually avoid using polymer clay for "permanent" parts because I don't trust its chemical stability over a long period of time. In this case, there wasn't a more attractive alternative. This probably would have worked better than putty for the shoulder patch job, but I'm not going to redo it since that's holding in place just fine.




05/20/99- I've got to confess that this turned into a rush job, because it stopped being interesting. Unlike the other scratchbuilt armour projects, I started asking myself, "Is this all there is?" The design of the armor itself is very cool, but it's clearly someone else's design, and the sculpted rendition of it is clearly someone else's... so all I'm doing is cutting it up and fitting the pieces together. Part of the satisfaction I get from working on projects comes from seeing it improve as I work on it. In this case, it was pretty much fully realized once removed from the box!

If I felt comfortably free to stray from the design, I'd have changed some parts to better hide the articulation seams, particularly around the hands. But with this model, changes like that would just make it look like an inaccurate version of the movie's armour. Unlike the King Arthur armour, which was more of a style worn by all the knights in the movie, this one's too distinctive, so I don't feel comfortable changing it too much. That's why I decided to stick with their reddish color scheme (although I couldn't go with the bright crimson).

Maybe that's just a rationalization for why I didn't even bother to do anything with the helmet. I stuck it on and thought that it looked pretty good, so why mess with it? I'm undecided what to do about the eyes though. I don't like the look of human flesh peeking out the sides; it looks less malevolent.

One of the recurring issues in this and other armour projects is the thickness of the armour. The armour goes over a layer of material and things can start looking kinda bulky. This is even worse with vinyl, since it's cast pretty thick, compared to the range which is available in styrene. So while all the stock pieces do fit the naked Dragon figure snugly, you do have to split the armour to accommodate that layer of material which goes underneath. This creates another problem for you -- if the armour is split, how do you, or should you bother to fasten it? The armour doesn't actually need to be fastened, since it closes around parts snugly and stays in place. As a bow to 'realism', you could always make little buckled straps so that it would look like the armour were securely fastened. This would deviate from the movie armour's design, since it doesn't appear to have any fasteners. (or seams for the matter either!) So that gets to the root of the problem: This isn't real armour! Chances are, they made it out of foam latex, so it's not heavy and isn't made of plates which need to be secured.

One of the ways out of this would be to treat it like it were real steel armour, like Valentine's Armouries did. This would mean front and back chest armour, split at the sides and secured with straps. Same for the legs and arms. The reason I didn't do this was because I didn't want to cut the armour in the middle of a pattern-- I tried to limit the cuts to the edges of patterns and places where patterns converged.

I really can't complain though. This is what I said it was-- quick & easy. You really don't have to go through some of the patch work (like the belt) if you don't want to. And you could go farther than I did, since I got lazy: The lower arm pieces need some work! And the helmet...

(BTW: I've been deliberately using the "Briticized" spelling of "Armour" not to sound cultured, but because of something that I read at Valentine's site. Apparently, it helps with searches for "armored vehicles" and "armoured knights". If everyone did this, I suppose it might work, but ya gotta start somewhere...)