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



I Demand a Rematch! Dang... If I get the energy, I'll strip Primal Man and start all over again... Rushing to finish shows just how many rough edges there are in the sculpt. Of course, it isn't easy to do battle with time pressures and the driving force of curiosity. The chest hair thing was an experiment; unfortunately I didn't heed my own advice to test first, so it's currently an amalgam of the experiment which didn't work (the dust clumps) and the one which held promise (steel wool hairs). You don't glue this stuff on (unless you're a hopeless perfectionist); you douse with sealant & drizzle. It's all or nothing in a limited amount of time and you don't get a second chance to fix things. If only Life had an "UNDO" button.

Of course, before this, you've already invested hours in your final paint coat. I tried my "new" airbrush compressor with its 5 gallon air tank (worked great!), and I learned that you really should paint the figure unassembled, despite the difficulty of seeing how the overall effect looks. Another bit of wisdom: if you use airbrush for shading, you pretty much give up any hope of easily retouching paint damage with a paint brush. Looks cool though, and a properly pressured airbrush is a fun tool (except for the cleaning).

Regarding the CC figure: After you've puttied the crap out of it, it's not too bad. Most of the problems related to its inability to stand stem from its semi-rigid plastic, which slowly gives from weight over time, and shifts the center of balance... then aiiieeeeee! Shelf-diver. I re-riveted one of the ankles, but that didn't seem to make a lot of difference-- the rubber just flattens out, giving no more tension. (Texturing the smooth plastic contact surfaces would probably help.) The putty makes the parts rigid, so the give of the thin legs ceases to be a problem. Unfortunately, it can't fix the problems of the semi-rigid hinge inserts at the hands and elbows. If you rotate them, the hinge flexes a bit, then bam!... the hinge jumps into the new position. Not really good for much precision. All in all, I'd say that it's not the horrendously bad figure I'd previously characterized it as... All the poseability of the newer Dragon figures comes at a cost: the exposed hinges and articulation seams are truly ugly. However, you do have to invest a lot of work into fixing it, and the solution ain't ideal. A thin layer of putty over flexible parts is just asking for trouble.

A Word About Figure Modifications: It's easy to get so caught up in what you're doing that you forget about the bigger picture. Throughout all these projects, I've never concerned myself with how other people might be using their Joes-- I know how I use them, but it never occurred to me to point out that what I've been doing might not be appropriate for what you do with your figures.

A lot of people wonder about paint durability. I thought I'd addressed that issue elsewhere in this project, but I now realize that what's acceptable to you depends entirely upon your expectations. My perspective is probably very different from most folks: I "play" with the figures while I'm making them-- making them is the fun and the imaginative part. Once they're finished (and even during), I pose them for website photographs. Thereafter, all I require of them is that they stand and collect dust. In other words, I make poseable models. I mean models similar to the kind that you glue together, paint and display. I don't play with mine: Grab them in the wrong place and you might break something. Turn them upside down and parts may fall off. Move a ball joint enough times and the paint will wear through.

This isn't too surprising. My home-brew modification of figures uses techniques from the world of modelling, where the rule is that no matter how much you hack and bash, you can fix anything with putty, sandpaper and paint (and Future polish). The point is to make it look good for display, not play. The poseability thing is a bonus-- a hybrid between the two worlds which allows the figures to be "reconfigured" or dressed in different outfits. The outfits and accessories themselves are an interesting modelling challenge. It's great when they have some "working detail", no matter how impractical or fragile. This aspect opens up horizons to many more techniques and materials than traditional sculpting or modelling. You also have much more freedom than the toy manufacturer when you don't have to worry about making durable, playworthy stuff. There's a continuum between the extremes, but I think that once you begin altering the figure with putty & paint, you find yourself on the modelling side of the fence. Durability and play value go out the window.

Anyway, I thought that it was important to point this out, lest anyone have unrealistic expectations about what they can achieve with modelling techniques. If you want toys to play with, you won't find them here...

Ball & Socket Articulation: One of the home-brew things you can do to figures is give them additional articulation or improve the articulation that's there. If you keep your figure fully dressed, you don't have to worry about how pretty it looks, and you can concentrate on the function of the mechanism. If it's an exposed part, you may have to sacrifice function for appearance.

The main attraction of elastic (or spring)-tensioned ball & socket articulation is that it's self-tensioning and doesn't need adjustment as long as the elastic or spring are healthy. It's found throughout the vintage Joe torso, and ideal for things like the torso/hip joint when you're concerned about the appearance of a scantily-clad figure: It allows 360 degree rotation and stable angled posing with a minimal gap in the articulation seam. The tradeoff for this is that the angle of pose is limited (for reasons explained below), and the small gap along the articulation seam means more friction, which means more paint wear.

Elastic-tensioned articulation is a balance of force and friction. In the ideal case, a ball mates perfectly with the socket, and are made of materials which give a good balance of smoothness and friction. You can stray from the ideal case to create articulation which is suitable for your needs-- you just have to tweak the other variable in the equation to bring things into balance. And live with the difference.

The first diagram shows the directional nature of the tensioning force. The ball is pulled in the socket by a force which prefers to go in a straight line (the elastic or spring). In the left half of the diagram, the line has no problem: it's a straight shot from its point of origin to the center of the socket. On the right side diagram, the line can't do that. The channel through the ball makes the line ride along the inner surface of the ball's channel to its opening. From there, the line goes straight to the center of the socket. If the contact area is frictionless or if enough force is exerted by the tensioning line, it won't hold this position-- the ball will return to the straight up position. If there's enough friction between the ball and socket to counteract the strength of the force, the ball will hold its off-center position.

The other thing to notice is that the maximum angle of deflection is influenced by the size of the opening. A larger opening allows the force line to be straight when the part is positioned at a more acute angle. You can see that there are limits to this: at some point, a large opening would mean that the ball ain't a ball no 'mo. How can you get around this? You can use a narrow slit instead of a circular opening. This lets the ball remain a ball, but allows the deflection only along a linear axis.

The second diagram illustrates the role of surface contact area and friction as they relates to the design of the ball and socket joint. On the left side, the ball and socket are perfectly mated. This gives the largest amount of contact surface area between the two pieces, and creates a very stable joint, with no wobble. If the surfaces are rough, there will be a lot of friction-causing surface area. If the surfaces are smooth, the joint will operate very smoothly, but more prone to slippage. On the right side, the mismatched parts share only a small amount of surface area contact. Consequently, the parts aren't very stable and may tend to wobble. All the force is concentrated into a much smaller area, so this will tend to concentrate the wear. By extension, if either the socket or ball have irregularities on their surfaces, these will decrease the amount of contacting surface area. This effect is applied throughout the range of the rotation, and produces "favored" positions along the range where the mating is most stable. In a real figure, this applies to rotation in all three dimensions. That's why stable ball & socket articulation works best with symmetrical and well-mated parts.

Unfortunately, the cross-section of the human body at the hips isn't perfectly cylindrical, so this throws a monkeywrench into the works. Most toy manufacturers use the circular/spherical shape embedded within the more oblong exterior sculpt. This produces the big articulation seams at the waist of some figure designs, but it does allow the waist to rotate smoothly. If the figure had a more realistic oblong cross-section, rotation would be impeded.

Some designs don't work ideally due to the shaping or the friction characteristics of the materials: The Dragon figure's upper torso socket doesn't allow much deflection in it's angled posing (because of the small star-shaped opening), and is prone to slippage (because of hard plastic against hard plastic). This was a big problem in their original figure design, so texture was added to both sides to increase friction and decrease slippage. They still haven't done anything to remedy the limited angle of deflection though. This is probably deliberate and done to avoid the ball's opening from showing when positioned at extreme angles. The vintage-style figures get a good range in the neck and arm ball sockets because they're grooved: instead of a round or star-shaped opening, the opening is in the shape of a long directional line. But the opening is ugly, so it's a trade off of appearance for function.