REMARKS 06/26/99 - 08/18/99

Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2001 2:07 PM

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08/18/99- I'm posting my (slightly edited) long-winded reply to an e-mail query so I don't ever have to write this kind of thing again. Read on and yawn...

...This is just a hobby for me. I'm not a professional sculptor, and I haven't studied Art, other than a blow-off pottery class I took in high school. It's hard to assign a time-length to it all; I built & painted models as a kid, but not continuously. Realistically though, it was a gradual process which evolved from modifying 3-3/4" figures (painting), and led to more drastic modifications. At some point, I decided that it would be easier to sculpt a figure's head fully out of clay or putty than it would be to alter one-- Mebbe the Tarkin figure at my web site (?) about 3 years ago.

The resin kits were a brief period I went through after I "graduated" from customizing Star Wars figures. Pure sculpture is a lot of fun and very freeing in terms of what you can achieve-- plus, it's a fairly easy way to make a few bucks through home-brew production. However, I stopped doing this because I was more interested in making new things than in endlessly producing copies of what I'd already made. This is where I learned how much more valuable time is than money! Besides, the IRS has complicated forms for you to fill out... Anyway, despite the freedom of pure sculpture, the figures themselves and the technique was rather limited. That's when I decided to customize GI Joes, where you have a wide choice of materials & techniques, and you can pose the figures. A couple years later, and I'm still doing it.

So it's really a continuum of trials and learning, driven by the desire to make, or improve stuff. Motivation is really important, as is the experimentation, failure, and success you encounter along the learning curve. These work together to teach you problem solving skills which you don't learn by "paint-by-number" methods. I think that it's good to get raw ideas from other sources, but you have to apply them to something you personally care about to fully incorporate them into your arsenal of skills. General modeling probably requires the sharpest problem solving skills, since all your experience with tools & materials is a pool from which you draw for solutions. These are problems like what type of material you should use in a given situation. This comes up very often.

Sculpting, on the other hand, is one of the most direct and straight-forward processes. There aren't very many materials or tools to choose from, and the rest is just eye-hand coordination and the ability to see when something doesn't look right. Unfortunately, that may be the hardest part to teach, since our brains are wired differently! You don't need books to discover this... On the surface, it seems very simple: if you look at yourself in a mirror, you see all the curves that go into making up your face, in 3D! Provided that you have the manual dexterity to manipulate the clay, you should be able to produce an exact copy, given enough time. It involves looking at the mirror, looking at the sculpture and making corrections. Sounds simple. However, I think that most people would give up in frustration before they finished. Most people don't have the patience to spend the time necessary to tweak a sculpture, and give up assuming that they don't have the innate talent. Maybe there is an innate talent to being able to judge relative distances & patterns quickly? I honestly don't know. But an overlooked part of that are the roles of patience and motivation. I believe that we do get faster at doing things, the more we practice. And you have to be motivated to practice. On the other hand, if you can't see when stuff doesn't look right, I have no idea how one goes about developing "the eye"! (Looking at girlie magazines is supposed to make hair grow on your palms.)

A headsculpt takes at least 4 hours, but can easily take much longer. The roughing in goes quickly, and the rest of the time is spent working on the symmetry and finish, or alternate expressions... or scrapping it and starting over. .A likeness head sculpt can take days & days to complete. It's imperative to walk away from your work so you can assess it with a fresh eye. Your eye can get fatigued and along with impatience, mislead you into rushing the process. I typically work obsessively, starting very early and try to force myself to take a few breaks. On some weekends (not lately though) I've worked on stuff 12 - 16 hours continuously without breaks. Needless to say, all this is hard on the neck, and hunger (which you don't notice if you're really involved) makes your hands shake. It helps to have an understanding wife, too.

I believe that schooling is probably best if you aren't motivated to find things to work on and bring them to completion. Having someone else control your work at least forces you to put the effort in, and you are exposed to applied technique. I see several problems with this however: If you're doing it for yourself, do you need someone telling you what to do? You can be your own best critic, since you'll know when you're satisfied and when you're having fun. This all gets back to the need to be self-motivated, and I think learning is most powerful when it's self-directed. The specific techniques and ideas are everywhere-- books, the Internet. They're the gems which you seek when you're looking to expand your horizons. If you get them first and need someone to tell you how to apply them, then I think you're working it bass-ackwards. This is supposed to be fun, and not so you can pass a test!

Anyway, I'd recommend diving right in. If you're doing this for fun, you really only have yourself to please, so you can't lose. If you're thinking of it as a money-making career, well... I'd check out something in computer technology instead! The market is presently very competitive, and I don't think the future looks bright for this skill. Increasingly, designs will be rendered in computers and output to 3-D plotters or film. It's a great sideline hobby though, and you could probably eke some spare change out of it. But I do it because it's fun.

Good luck!

Model-making god Martin Bower's article in the short-lived "Fantasy Modeling" magazine made a really big impression on me... (Unfortunately, his official website is underdeveloped, unlike his gals.) Guys like this set standards and inspire, but it's up to you to put the pieces together.

Sorry if this sounds pompous and pointless... But see? I told you I don't have any answers! ;^)

08/05/99- First off, I hope you've checked out E. Richard Bonham's latest Japanese weaponry. There's more to come, including a model T-99, T-100 and some German WWI things. All very cool, and Cotswold is very fortunate to have found him!

As you've noticed, my current obsession is with Takara's Neo Henshin Cyborg series. After some false starts, I hope to have some more samples to write about soon. One of the things I've been thinking about is how I'm going to customize them-- Some of it seems really simple & obvious, like adding more stuff to the innards (Love those screw-assembled figures!). Depending on how the arm extensions attach, there's also the possibility of making less dorky... uh... unusual-looking prostheses. Also, since you can cover up the bods with outfits, new heads and hands might give you a normal-looking, but very articulated figure.

I want to get back to the "Chop Shop/Maria 2k" project too. I can see that it's going to be nearly impossible to match the look & feel of the NHCs, since clear cover plates won't do it. The NHC are see-through like an X-ray, and the thicker structural plastic doesn't look like thin clear acetate. I'm dragging butt on the project because I'm near the point where I have to make major, difficult-to-reverse design decisions. Besides, I'm distracted by all these new toys.

Terence Higuchi sent me this link to How To Make Noah's Doll. This is an article about scratch-building an articulated doll, using some unusual techniques and materials. It's very step-by-step, but of course it makes it look easier than it actually is! I'd probably do a few things differently, but it's enlightening to see someone else's approach. Thanks Terence!

07/28/99-- Coming soon: Neo Henshin Cyborg stuff, from Takara. Cam, at the Sandbox got me interested in this so I scoped out info on the WWW. There isn't that much in English (useless MIB pics), but the Japanese web sites and Hobby Japan magazine (5/99) have some pics showing the incredible articulation and variety of these figs (the pic above came from an advertisement in the 9/98 issue). Besides having a see-through "exoskeleton", these figures appear to have replacement limb extensions (some pretty dorky looking IMO)-- but all in all, there seems to be a lot of potential for imaginative customizing of these figures. That's one of the best things about the sci-fi genre. I sure hope they're neat, cuz I've got 3+1 on the way...

Somehow, that's related to the slow progress on the Chop Shop project. That one was heading in a strange direction-- it became female, and then the ghastly headsculpt... You probably didn't realize it, but that was an inner head for the Maria II robot mask I made last year. Anyway, the hardest part of this project has been in trying to do something different and more interesting than just slapping some boobs on to make another Amazon femfig. So I'm waiting for the Henshin Cyborg figures to arrive, to give me some parameters to work with. My hope is that I can somehow make her fit in with the theme, even though she isn't made of a clear plastic. I'd like to believe that transparent and opaque skinned figures can peacefully coexist.

So... I plan to do some articles with pics of the figs, ideas, & links to some web sites & distributors. And maybe even finish the Chop Shop figure some day? Stay tuned...

07/24/99-- I'm posting this mainly to let you know that I've fixed a few links in this "Remarks" section: 07/22/99- the Sixthscale link, and 07/06/99- the Tavares interview jpeg link. I get sloppy sometimes.

I don't find much time to browse, but Tung Nguyen sent me this link for Clayburn Moore's spectacular FAKK2/Julie Strain action figure. Wow! I could live without the bodybuilder physique, but I want one! I hope the movie is as entertaining as Heavy Metal, but these days with all the supplementary merchandise, does it really matter? Lotsa cool stuff at Heavy Metal's web site; D-Boy's web site has an interesting cold-cast statue of Ms. Strain with fabric costuming & stranded hair.

Hey! Thanks to Mark at Toy Syndicate, Alfrex noticed my review & wrote to thank me! They're the folks who produce the neat Zatoichi and Toshiro Mifune figures, and they'll be at the San Diego Comic Con winning new converts to their samurai heroes line. I haven't installed Shockwave Flash, so I can't tell you much about Alfrex's web site (in Japanese). But from the promo materials which accompanied my Mifune figure, a Makoto Fujita figure is in the works. Heck, I don't know who he is, but doesn't he look neat?

Finally, although you're probably sick of hearing about this, I've installed JObject's latest version Java search applet, which is supposed to be compatible with Navigator 3.0 and IE5. I found that it required an updated version of Java VM, an esoteric piece of system software... Since I have a strong interest in this, I downloaded & installed it (but haven't bothered with getting Shockwave Flash?) on my computer. Although the upgrade was easy, I can see why these specialized web tricks have such a limited audience! Would most people bother with this kind of stuff? Prolly not.

07/22/99-- This is off-topic, but so what? Nyahhhh! :^) One of the things I enjoy about this web site is the web site stuff. I'm not a techno-wiz by any means, but I enjoy farting around and figuring out the wonderful things that the true techno-wizards create. Like the new SEARCH ENGINE, from JObjects! Yeow! This web site badly needed a search utility, since there are nearly 200 web pages of onsite stuff. It's a Java applet-- I'm pretty sure doesn't work on version 3 of Netscape or Internet Explorer (sorry!). But it does work on version 4 of Internet Explorer, which is what I use. It's plugged into a Javascript interface template (No, I don't know Javascript programming either), and the combination almost brings tears to my eyes. To think of all the hours I spent typing and wracking my brains in my attempt to manually compile a list of keywords for the previous Javascript search utility! If it doesn't work for you, well darn... I wish you could test it out. Sorry to those of you who hate frames & Java & Javascript... for a web site hobbyist like me, it's like getting new toys! I promise not to use them too frivolously, except where absolutely necessary.

So that's what I've been doing... Sometimes, you've just gotta take a break from all the fun and find other fun stuff to burn out on. Anyway, the "Chop Shop" project is at an impasse, since I can't decide how she should be endowed: big or small? Or one of each? Auuughhhh, I don't even want to think about it.

All the real customizing is elsewhere: I just found out about Eagle's It looks like a great community resource for the 12" figure customizer-- it's got a listserver, accepts guest submission of tips... well, just check it out and you'll see what I mean.

I almost forgot-- again, thanks to everyone who participated in the 50K survey!

07/14/99-- Hey, the counter's about to hit the 50K mark, and that's not too shabby for a lunatic fringe web site. Thanks to all who have visited, and for the repeat visitors-- I'm glad you've found a reason to return. Also, big thanks to the folks who have written something in the Guestbook-- y'know, that feedback stuff is a guilty indulgence, but it feels good to have the ego stroked!

I'd like to apologize for the snide remarks that slip in here & there. I know I slag the Classic Collection figure a bunch, but it's because one squashed my favorite pet roach during a shelf dive. So it's personal, and not intended to insult those twelve people who actually like 'em. (Hmmmm... that didn't come out right... Hey, cut me some slack, wouldja?) The same goes for corporate loyalty too. The companies love us for our money, and we love 'em for what they can do for us-- The relationship between producer and consumer is suck-up/suck-down-- not that there's anything wrong with that (although it's embarrassing to watch someone get their nose dirty)-- but you should recognize it for what it is, lest you exhibit the traits of a misguided nazi and lambast folks for their opinion. Remember, nobody loves you but jo momma (and she could be jivin' too). But I digress...

I'm not really big on celebrations, but I thought it might be appropriate to make you work and give me some feedback about the web site before its total revamping as a shrine to "Precious Moments" figurines. Get your hands dirty here.

07/06/99- Toy Syndicate: Great Guys! I just have to say that, and particularly about Mark there. It started out as a casual inquiry about how to contactMarmit for a replacement part (see the Marmit Stormtrooper article) -- and Mark sent me a replacement, for FREE! You might think, "well, so what?" That wouldn't be so shocking if not for the fact that I had bought my Stormtrooper at a local Collector's Expo, and "customer support" had packed up after the weekend and left town! The only Marmit contact info I had was a telephone & fax # in Japan. So mega-kudos and my gratitude go to Mark and Toy Syndicate for making my Stormtrooper live up to its full potential as an accurate replica of the movie version! (BTW, have you ever watched ROTJ 's Ewok battle scene in slow-mo and noticed how ratty some of that Stormtrooper armor was?) Anyway, head over to Toy Syndicate's web site and check out their unique and exotic stuff! The upcoming Indy Jones figures, though pricey, looks like the most accurate one that's been produced to date! (But don't get the Toshiro Mifune figure until I've ordered mine.)

Kudos also go to Francis Tavares for his interview with Rich Michals in the July 16, 1999 issue of Toy Shop magazine! This is a full 3-page spread with an interview and photos of Francis' work. Of course, you can see his great work in color by just going to his Battlefields web site. Congratulations, Francis! (And if you go right now and tell him Jimbob sent you, he'll give you his entire collection for free! (Just kidding!!!))

Here's a link I picked up at the Sandbox: The Dialectizer. Running this web site through in the Redneck or Swedish Chef mode will make it much better.

Meanwhile, here: The Javascript search idea is dumb, since a lot of the categories are mapped out in indexes and headings. It's a lot of work to set it up too, and if it isn't useful, it's gonna disappear. While I'm at it: Hey, write something in the guestbook dammit! It's embarrassing to see it sitting there doing nothing! (Those who did, thank you for signing it, sniff, sniff...) If you don't, I'll hold Richard Bonham's new stuff back-- no wait! Even worse, I'll start posting pictures OF MY CAT!!! Bwahahahahaaaaa...

06/28/99- This is an apology for a comment I made in one of the updates to my Marmit Stormtrooper article (I've since removed the comment from the article). It read:

"(I ran across an identical version of Jaxion's translation at another seller's site who had watermarked it with their logo. How frickin' obnoxious! From the language, it's easy to guess who probably made it, so that other place gets no mention here. Besides, they charge more too.)"

Although I didn't mention names, the reference could be inferred. I feel that I should apologize to whomever they are ;^) for implying that they had ripped off Jaxion's version, when in fact they hadn't. I've been (very politely) informed that the translation was provided by Marmit to distributors, and I'm grateful to the unmentioned party for bringing it to my attention so gracefully. So patronize their business, because they're good, honorable folk. (Dang, it's hard to praise someone when you don't want to tip the scales by mentioning names!)

Now for the damage control... I'll be the first to admit that views expressed in this web site are purely subjective, and I pass judgement on many things based on "vibes". I try to have a reasonable, logical basis for what I say, and usually rely on that rather than chasing down facts. After all, I'm not a reporter, and I have an ingrained "conditional" style of writing. Sometimes however, the logical approach leads you to wrong conclusions: In this case, there were two different versions of the instructions, with the third watermarked version being a variation on one of the two. None of the versions were identified, or identifiable as being an official Marmit version, and the crease across the center seemed less-than-corporate quality. I assumed that the non-watermarked version was created by the Jaxion web site owner, partially since the non-native English fluency of the web site text closely matched the instruction sheet's. So it was an incorrect conclusion, based on a few facts and a lot of speculation.

It was a minor aside in the context of the article, and included as an opportunity for me to get a dig in about honor-- I deplore people stealing other people's work, and a lot of that goes on in the Internet because it's so easy. That wasn't the case here, and nevertheless, it's still wrong to make a point like this at someone else's expense, especially when you're off base in the first place. Even when you think you're being clever by not naming names. I'll try to avoid doing this sort of thing in the future. Honest. Cross my heart.

(Now if #%$#!! Marmit would release their products with @#%@! professional-looking English language instruction sheets, complete with contact info... But nooooooo, they like knowing that we suffer! ;^)

06/26/99- Instead of trashing 21st Century for making us wait so long after all their advance hoopla promo (compared to Dragon, which just frickin' delivers!), I'll talk about less controversial subjects...

I've added some new functionality to the web site: The Guestbook was reinstated without the weird idea of it being an interactive forum. I couldn't keep up with that, and this "Remarks" section serves some of that original purpose. The E-mail thing is... well... kinda funny huh? Finally, the Javascript Search is an experiment to see if I can make it a little easier for you to find things at the web site. I know it's difficult to remember where you've seen stuff before, since my article titles aren't very helpful (but I can't help myself). Unfortunately, it's not a very powerful search tool, and I have to manually maintain it... plus it's not anywhere near complete. If you can think of a more useful approach or suggest meaningful classification keywords, I'm all ears.

I'm using more Javascript tricks because they extend the environment. I don't plan on adding fancy decorative things like animation, and making buttons change colors on mouseover though. (The seemingly frivolous E-mail gag does serve a purpose...) Anyway, I hope these work in your browers , since I'm testing in only a few version of Internet Explorer and Netscape, PC & Mac.

You may recall this picture from the "Naked Female Dolls" article (from Hobby Japan magazine). At the time I didn't have any other info about it, but now I do. This is a resin figure kit produced by Volks, and reputed to be 1:6th scale. Although it's a cool and high-quality kit, scale-wise it doesn't fit in very well with the usual 1:6th scale toy figures (as an adult)-- you can see this from comparison with the Dragon figure's arm at the top. But the concept is interesting to me, since it's an approach to constructing a solid cast resin articulated figure. The ball joint pieces are made of a flexible "manufactured" plastic, and a few rubber 'O'-rings are involved in the construction. As I'd suspected, it would be difficult to "home-brew" a figure from general purpose casting resin, since you do need some manufactured parts to take the wear of articulation. Or so it seems...

Here's another interesting pic from the back of Hobby Japan magazine. If you can make sense of it, you'll see that there's a steel armature, with pictures of them pouring what I assume is a flexible resin or silicone into a two-part body mold... Man, is this not KEWL? Reminds me of the stuff at the Realdoll web site. (Of course you know what I'm talking about, right? ;^)

Be sure to check out Ransome's new web site, which features his ETO WWII figures. It's excellent work in a diorama format, with interesting and well-written text commentary.

After a long absence, Fred Jeska's web site is back online. Check this out if you're interested in Hollywood-themed figures-- he even sells his stuff!


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