Making an Action Figure Prototype (Part 2)
After the craft wire skeleton is complete and the tinfoil is wrapped tightly around it, it’s time to add the polymer clay. This is the second part on how to make an action figure prototype out of polymer clay. I’ll walk you through the rest of the process including how to properly bake it.
Is your idea for an action figure prototype ready?
We have our skeleton ready to go and he’s looking pretty good. I must confess that I don’t have a set idea on the direction I want to take this character. Basically, this is just to walk you through the process. You can add more detail and spend as much time as you need with it. While I’m doing this action figure prototype on the fly, I highly suggest you have a more concrete idea before taking the plunge. Know what you want to sculpt whether it be a picture, sketch, or something engraved in your mind, use it to guide you. It’ll help save time too. In this particular situation where I basically wing it, I lose time in trying to figure out exactly what I’m going to do.
So, I picked out a few colors (slimy green and light purple), what a mix! I’m now committed to them for better or worse. I know I want something lean yet muscular. I’m going to go with some kind of sword and sorcery style nonhuman warrior. Sometimes the clay does take you in a direction other than the one you planned. That’s okay, you can go with it, but to reiterate what I said earlier, it’s best to have a more concrete guide such as a photo to keep you on the path. Especially when you’re new to polymer clay sculpture. Now let’s see where this one takes us.
Adding polymer clay to the action figure prototype
We have our craft wire skeleton wrapped in tinfoil ready to go. Remember, don’t skip this step. These prototypes need a skeletal structure or they’ll crack and fall apart. I have my purple clay rolled up and standing by. It really doesn’t look like clay, does it? That’s because polymer clay isn’t earth based. In fact, it’s not clay at all. It’s PVC, a type of plastic.
I cut a piece off the roll and split it in two. You can do this with a sharp plastic cutting tool that makes clean cuts. Children must always be supervised by an adult when working with such polymer clay sculpting tools.
I use the first piece I cut for boots. I always do the feet first so the figure can stand. It’s also the most logical first step when creating such a figurine. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this point. We still have a long way to go and such micro detailing is carefully added towards the end.
Repeat the step on the other foot and our prototype is already standing up on his own two feet. Further detailing is ultimately done with a combination of standing and laying the figure on its back. As more clay builds up, the figure will get heavier and its feet won’t be able to support it. This issue is finally resolved after baking is complete but in the meantime, I use a water bottle to help the figure stand on its own. You’ll see an example of this a little later.
I flatten out another piece of purple polymer clay using a roller. It’s then added below the waist of the figure. Don’t be overly concerned with detail at this point.
Some green is now added to the legs and torso. This is the skin of the character. For now, I’m keeping it as lean as possible. My primary goal is to get the figure completely covered in polymer clay allowing no pieces of tinfoil exposed. I often say on my YouTube tutorials that it’s going to look like a whole lot of nothing before it looks like something.
It looks like we’ve got it completely covered in polymer clay now. The consistency of the clay is dry up until this point. What I mean by this is it’s pliable but not excessively moist. This is the difference between polymer clay and earth-based clays. I do run into some wetter polymer clay later on when I make the eyes. More on that to come.
It’s already time to start adding some muscle. I take a ball of green polymer clay and split it in two. These two halves are for the shoulders. I do the same for the biceps only I use a smaller ball of polymer clay. He’s already looking buff, isn’t he? The transformation is rather dramatic as the process continues.
We’re now going to start working on the head and face. Arguably the most important part of the process when it comes to detail. I take an appropriately sized piece of green clay, roll it into a perfect ball and cut it in half.
Constructing the face and head
I’ve already created a lot of facial parts here. First, I poked two eye sockets with a wooden match head. I then add a nose by the technique of layering. Actually, the layering process began when I started adding muscles. Finally, I take my thumb and index finger and gently press the cheeks giving the face a more lean appearance. I then build up the chin a bit more.
Next, it’s time for what I call dental work. I create a mouth by using a tool similar to a flathead screwdriver only smaller. Gently make a slice where you want the mouth to go and work the clay up and down so it seems that the mouth is open a bit.
You can see the result. The mouth offers different opportunities for detail. This includes a tongue, teeth, and lips. It really depends on what look you’re aiming for. In this situation, I’m going to skip the teeth but I’m going to add a tongue and lips.
I take a small piece of red polymer clay and shape it into a tongue. I then use a toothpick to carefully place the tongue in the mouth. Once the tongue is in the mouth, I gently press the toothpick down in the middle of the tongue making an indentation for detail.
Now for the lips. While it might be tempting to add red lips, I suggest against it. Red lips are too much of a contrast and will make the figure appear to be wearing lipstick. I generally make lips the same color as the skin. A bit more skin color clay is now added to the chin once I have the mouth set.
Time for the eyes. I use white polymer clay for the eyeballs. Two small pieces of polymer clay are then rolled up and placed in the corresponding eye sockets. This clay is moister than what I used up until now. This is because it’s a different brand. As you can see from the picture, one eyeball is bigger than the other. While I usually like to aim for the eyeballs being as close to each other in size as possible, it doesn’t matter in this case. I’ll be adding layers of thin, (angel hair) spaghetti-like polymer clay strips to the upper and lower eyelids completely covering the indifference.
Adding eyes and more detail
After adding the layers above and below the eyes, it’s now to add pupils. I take two extremely small pieces of black polymer clay the size of a pinhead. They are both placed carefully in the center of the eyeball with the aid of a toothpick. Alternatively, you can paint the pupils if you choose. I prefer doing it with clay.
I’ve decided to go with some facial hair. As I mentioned earlier I don’t have an exact plan for this particular figure so I’m making it up as I go along. Accordingly, such a figure may come out a little off with color coordination and style. This is usually avoided by having a concrete plan before you start sculpting. I usually use a picture as a guide but sometimes (like today) I’m in the mood to just go whichever way the clay takes me. After making some spaghetti strand strips of white polymer clay, I add them as a beard. I then use the steel wire brush tool to add detail. It gives texture and detail to the hair.
I now take the face and the other half of the ball I made earlier and attach it to the figure. This sets both the head and face in place. Gently connect the lines of clay and blend them together smoothly so no creases show. I like to use a wooden match head to blend creases together then smoothing them out further with my fingertip. Our skin, especially our hands has oil in them which is helpful when blending unsightly seams together.
Connecting the face and head to the body
After I added the leg muscles for further detail, I decided to add a hat to the head choosing something like a flexible cap (not unlike Santa Claus wears). This gives it an impish folklore kind of feel to it. I take the blunt end of one of my pottery tools and make some random indentations adding more detail. Don’t overdo it, less is more. Too many indentations take away from the overall appearance. Something will appear off.
Now I add a yellow band for some decoration. I use the pipe cleaning tool to give detail to the band giving it an animal fur appearance. It goes completely around the waist and up over one shoulder. It’s a very common look for such medieval style characters.
After adding a few more bands I add even more detail. At this point, it’s mostly about eye candy. I add two silver bracelets around his wrists and points to his boots. Again, don’t overdo it when adding detail. Our figure now needs the aid of a water bottle to stand on its own. I’m about to fix this by placing it between two coffee mugs and adding an appropriate amount of clay around the feet (boots in this case). I add enough so that when it cools down after baking, it’ll add the leverage needed for the figure to stand on its own.
Baking the action figure prototype the oven
As I just mentioned, the figure rests between two ceramic coffee mugs and is then placed in the oven at 275 °F for forty-five minutes.
Some things to keep in mind,
- Children must have adult supervision during the entire process of polymer clay sculpture and baking.
- Use oven mitts to remove the cookie sheet from the oven to avoid burns. Refer to the packaging of the clay you use for exact temperature and baking time (such details vary).
- Only use ceramic coffee mugs that are expendable. While I’ve never had a coffee mug incur damage, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
- Cover the cookie sheet with tinfoil. Save and reuse the tinfoil for your next project. Remember, tinfoil is always used to coat the craft wire skeleton. Don’t grease the tinfoil, the clay won’t stick to it as a result of baking.
- Allow a few hours for the figure to cool down after taking it out of the oven. Leave It between the two ceramic coffee mugs giving the feet time to properly harden. Taking away the mugs too soon may result in the figure’s feet bending and not being able to stand on its own. Trust me, I know this from experience.
Finally, our work is complete. As you can see our polymer clay action metal is fully capable of standing on its own two feet without tipping. Kind of a weird-looking being but it suffices for our purpose.
All in all, not a bad project but certainly not my best. Remember, I kept things very basic with this figure just to show you how it’s done. If I had plans for it like adding it to my story or presenting it to a toy broker, I would have spent more time on it and I’d focus more on detail. I hope this tutorial is helpful and shows why polymer clay is a great choice when creating an action figure prototype.