CHOP SHOP

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

07/10/99- To be perfectly honest, I don't know what this project is going to be! After finishing the last Medieval project (Merlin), I felt it was time to change gears, so I did a few lightweight reviews and the Palpatine head-- yup, filler. So what next? Several ideas: a Peter Cushing head for Hasbro's gawdawful Grand Moff Tarkin... or a Flash Gordon thing... or returning to the FAKK2 motif... or tackling the hounskull bascinet knight that I'd barely started. Then I noticed the old Marmit figure from my Ultraseven project next to a Dragon Klaus figure that I'd fixed the neck on... only to later spontaneously bust at the torso (must be the stress of those killer 1-G forces). Grrrrrrr... Rather than cut the Dragon apart again, as punishment I decided to graft his limbs onto the Marmit figure, which doesn't have hands and feet. The Marmit figure's knee and elbow joints don't have the range of movement that the Dragon figure does, but it has much better torso articulation and better shaped body-- at least according to me. There's still the matter of the neck articulation-- the Marmit doesn't have any! It's not an easy Frankensteinization job either, since neck articulation is tied in with the torso tensioning on the Dragon figure, and the tolerances for a home-made socket would have to be really tight. Of course, there are lots of approaches, including Medicom's untensioned design. On the other hand, since I don't know what this figure is going to be yet, maybe it doesn't matter? It's going to be one of those types of projects...

(I've spared you the gory dismemberment pics because it's easy to imagine what a heap of two bodies' worth of plastic parts looks like. Besides, I would never pander to anyone's desires for cheap thrills.)

To get a better idea of neck installation strategies, some exploratory stuff is necessary. Have you wondered why the Marmit figure has better torso articulation than the Dragon? Here's why: Instead of the four point oval cutout on the Dragon's lower torso, the Marmit has a long front-to-back linear cutout on the lower torso, plus a long side-to-side cutout on the upper torso. As you can see in the lower picture, the shaft is also hinged inside the lower torso, which permits the long front-to-back travel, plus is intelligently designed to use the direction of force to allow solid (vs. tentative) posing at all the angles within its range. The actual tensioning mechanism is very similar: a spring-loaded shaft with washers, but the Marmit's secured by a screw at the top instead of a 'C'-ring. (Be assured that if this were cast with defective plastic, it too would fracture... ) Note that the spring tensioned-articulation is used to secure two ball joints, just like the Dragon figure but they're at the waist and upper torso instead of at the upper torso and neck. That's why the neck thing is a problem. (With vintage-style figures, the elastic tensions ball joints at the legs, the torso and the neck.)

I don't like the friction-tensioned ball joints at the shoulders. Although they do permit an additional bit of articulation (shoulders forward & back, up & down and all around), and they're repairable since the figure is put together with screws, it's too finicky a design and prone to repeatedly getting loose. It's a heavy traffic articulation point and I don't enjoy constantly tinkering with figures for stuff like this. The design could have been made more trouble-free by cross torso self-tensioning, like the vintage design. (Doncha just love the way I make up those fancy-sounding phrases?) Am I gonna do anything besides whine about it? Probably not.

By the way, if you want to reassemble the figure, the upper torso & hip halves get assembled first, then the lower torso halves get inserted between and screwed together.

What about the neck? Uh... we'll worry about that later.

07/11/99- Well, it's later, so I've worked out the neck articulation. Actually, it was easy: I cut off the original neck stump, beveled the edges, and connected a vintage-style neckpost with a spring to the figure's center spring. The plastic was fairly thick so the beveled edge creates a decent recessed socket without the neckpost falling through. The neck's range of movement is better than the Dragon's since it's the vintage design. A light spring was used since it was easier to hook it to the center spring at a single point instead of messing with an elastic loop-- probably more long-lasting too.

You could "improve" the Dragon figure by doing something similar, but it would be more work because the Dragon figure's neckpost fits a wider diameter socket. The socket would have to be narrowed and drilled out to accommodate a vintage-style neck post. The reason why the vintage neck works better is because it has a long slot cutout, which permits a long range of travel (discussed above), versus the Dragon's basically circular cutout. The Dragon cutout does have two extended cuts in the circular shape but they're not very deep. You could extend those cuts, but they might look funny because the plastic shaft which fits through is fairly thick, unlike the paperclip-thin hook on the vintage style. To it's credit, the unaltered Dragon neck looks better because the slot doesn't show, but that's the old articulation vs. appearance trade-off.

 

07/15/99- Finally getting back to this project. I still don't know specifically what this is going to be, but I've tacked down a general direction simply by going with the flow. The Marmit figure's physique is interesting-- it has a very superhero-ish look to it, with a broad chest and heavy, muscular thighs. The stylized sculpting of its chest suggests an androgynous robotic figure. This was my original thought waaay back, and I had a vision of a white or silver female robot with smooth features; sorta Soryama-ish. It still seems like a neat idea, but it would lean too heavily on the body shape that Marmit sculpted: If I'm going to go through the all the work, the components shouldn't be immediately recognizable. It's a matter of pride, straight from the world of modeling. You don't want someone to say fer instance, "Hey-- those are Tamiya bogies." Sometimes it's unavoidable, but you try to minimize that sort of thing, if you wanna be slick. A lot of models in the first Star Wars movie were masterfully executed kitbashes, but one of the cheesier things they did was use the lightly-modified Mausers and MG-34s. In contrast, the Colonial Marine Pulse Rifle fromAliens, uses components from a Thompson & Franchi Spas but they aren't as easy to pick out.

Since I'd already done a little work "feminizing" the hips of the figure, I've decided to go all the way. Okay, it's not very innovative, but it's a more difficult project, and the figure is only half of the project. The details which determine what it's going to be are the other half. Once again, too late I discover that this isn't an ideal figure for this project because drastic work is needed on the upper torso. The difficulties are many-- because of the ball & socketed arms, the tensioning screw closure of the upper torso needs to be maintained. This limits your freedom to hack away at the shoulders to bring them closer together. The placement of the screws is another limitation, since you have to respect them when you're grinding & hacking. Finally, the length of the upper torso makes it difficult to hide the articulation seam using the most obvious strategy-- unless you like 'em REALLY, REALLY BIG. ;^) I'm going to have to think about that...

At this point I've replaced the arms and legs. The joins are reinforced with screws and metal tubing, anchored in Magic Sculp epoxy putty. The reinforcements were probably unnecessary, since Magic Sculp is rock hard, and I've already had to saw one leg apart to adjust the length (@#%&!!!-- me stupid). Some all-over body shaping was done, and there's still plenty more of that ahead. Riveting, or installing a screw/washer/nut at the ankles is a good idea, since the figure will gain a bunch of weight. Even with the click-stops, the Dragon figure's ankles are too weak to handle much weight.

 

07/17/99- Major slicing and dicing. To bring the proportioning more in line with what I think it should be, I've cut the upper and lower torso sections up and reassembled them. The upper torso was shortened and made narrower, while the lower torso section was lengthened. The cut lines were selected so as not to mess with any of the screw assembly fittings or the ball and socket surfaces. Although I'm willing to mess with the cosmetic aspects of the figure, I try not to touch any of the articulation surfaces. I don't have the ability to do the precision work necessary to scratch build articulation surfaces that work smoothly. I suppose this could be done by trial & error, but it's much easier to use theirs.

Because of the structural changes, the inner articulation mechanism needed to be reworked. I'd initially intended to reconnect the spring directly from the lower torso to the neck pin, as I'd done earlier. However, this does limit the posability. With a single spring-loaded pin, the tensioning force is perpendicular to the plane of the two articulation surfaces. When you string several articulation areas together with a single tensioning mechanism, the posing of the different areas may interfere with the tensioning mechanism's natural tendency to pull or push in a straight line-- it all depends on the pivoting points. Consequently, although the range may be built into the structure, the tensioning may work against the poseability at the extremes of that range. (Whew! That's not an easy thing to express in writing.) Anyway, to keep the neckpin tensioning from interacting with the torso articulation, they were split into independent sections.

The torso was easy-- I just used a longer screw, since I'd lengthened the lower torso. I tapered the end of the shaft so the washer wouldn't bind. While I was at it, I replaced the plastic washer with a thin brass one and used a more appropriate spring for the new length. The neckpin conversion involved making a retainer which secures to the upper screw housings on the interior, through which a spring-loaded linkage connects to the neckpin (visualize that!). In concept, it's a hybrid of the vintage and Dragon-style neck connector. It ain't pretty, but it limits the neckpin rotation to a little under 180 degrees, which is a bit more realistic than 360 degrees rotation (of course, the head can rotate 360 degrees on the neckpin though).

Once again, I'm sacrificing the lower torso articulation because of the ugly seam, and because the female tummy & hip area is another important biologically programmed eye-magnet. (To me, at least =^) Although the Marmit's joint has a wider range of articulation than the Dragon's (because it's a ball joint), similar functionality is built into the upper torso ball joint, with a greater range. My philosophy is that if sacrificing some disposable articulation allows her to wear skimpier outfits, ya go for it.

The result of all those gyrations is that the upper torso and lower torso/hip sections are made of two halves each, secured by screws. As I mentioned earlier, the upper torso needs to be this way to tension the arms' ball joints. Unfortunately, the lower half needs to be made this way because of the order in which the parts are reassembled. Trying to get the upper torso halves to fit under the tensioned washer ain't easy, which is why the upper torso is assembled first with the washer loose, and the lower torso is inserted to leverage the tension. I suppose you'd have to be here to know what I'm talking about...

 

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