Action figures pique human imagination and offer a vehicle to escape into the unknown recesses of the mind, enabling the creation of a world that, at times, defies reason and the physical limitations of everyday living. From superheroes to super-villains, from knights in armor to dungeons and dragons, from galactic space cadets to alien troops, from warrior soldiers to ninjas, from a dizzying array of characters, anyone can identify with an alter-ego in a face-off with their supreme nemesis. By extension, almost every person might find themselves creating action figures fashioned, if not with their own hands, with their minds. After all, what could be more enjoyable than playing with one’s own uniquely created action figure toy through which one could experience adventure and the imagined without bodily risk?
While today’s action figure toys are generally manufactured in large assembly lines, it is possible to create one’s own action figure toy by hand. This article describes the materials, tools and steps to take to customize your own action figures.
• Work in a well-ventilated area
• Use protective goggles
• Use nose and mouth mask
• Use gloves to protect your hands
• Use all the tools as suggested by the manufacturer with care, especially power tools and sharp implements
• Base body that closely resembles and moves like that of the desired action figure
• Head with facial characteristics like that of the desired action figure
• Part A and Part B Apoxie®Sculpt, Green Stuff Epoxy, Magic Sculpt Epoxy Clay, or Fixit Epoxy Clay
• Base paint
• Detailing paint
• Varnish and Sculpy Glaze
• Colored pencils and sketch pad for drawing your action figure
• Detailed sketch or pictures with rendering of desired action figure
• Safety goggles to cover your eyes and nose
• Drop cloth or sheet to protect the work surface
• Disposable brushes
• Dremel rotary tool with shaping attachments
• X-acto knife
• Wire cutters
• Implements to help shape the Apoxie®Sculpt (e.g., plastic knife, fork, toothpicks, wax carvers)
Draw and design your action figure character, or model your action figure after a character or person that closely resembles your action figure concept. Finalize the concept of your action figure, and create illustrations of it from several different angles and perspectives. If you have your concept firmly captured, you will be less likely to stray and suffer rework because of changes in design on the fly.
The method for creating action figures that is described here assumes that the base body upon which you will build your creation is readily available and, also, that you will need to make only a few modifications to the base body. Use an action figure base body that is close in shape, design and color to your desired creation, but you can make it easy on yourself if you craft your design around the types of action figures that are readily available. There are many soldiers, superheroes, knights, and other generic action figure toys that would serve as suitable base bodies. You may wish to stay away from base bodies that have many attached pieces and accessories that will need to be removed, requiring a lot of time and effort to pry off or sand down.
Once you have selected the candidate base body, give it a thorough cleaning, removing the manufacturer’s oil and powder, and any grime, dust or lose particles. Careful washing with soap and water, and then scrubbing with something slightly abrasive like fine sandpaper or a toothbrush will do the job. Be sure to give the crevices a good cleaning, as well, to assure that your customized accessories and features, as well as the paint, will adhere properly. When working in the sink, be sure to securely cover all the holes so that any loose parts cannot stray and disappear down the drain with the running water.
After washing, prepare the base body, removing unwanted accessories and features with pliers, wire cutters, an X-acto knife, and a Dremel power tool with attachments, as appropriate. You may need to soften areas of the body to ease this step. Run hot water over the body for 30 to 60 seconds to help make it softer and more pliable. You may repeat the hot water treatment as often as needed while you modify the base body. A nail buffer or very fine sand paper can be used to smooth and finish the body.
Always wear goggles and a nose and mouth mask when using a Dremel to sculpt and shape the body. A Dremel is a power tool that should be used with absolute care so as to not hurt yourself. Also, using a Dremel creates lots of hazardous dust and chunks of hot plastic that can easily and unexpectedly fly into your eyes.
The next step is to prepare the head of your action figure. You may possibly use the head from another action figure that more closely resembles your conceptualized drawing. Simply pop off the old head and replace it with the new head. Naturally, you will want to thoroughly clean the new head so that it will be ready to accept add-ons and paint, as well.
Run hot water over the head for 30 to 60 seconds as you did with the base body to help make it softer and more pliable. Remove unwanted hair or other adornments so that you have a stripped-down base head with which to work. Have your tools of choice handy: pliers, wire cutters, an X-acto knife, and a Dremel power tool. Be extra careful to not cut or harm yourself as you modify the body with the tools.
If the head starts to harden, run hot water over the head once again until it is malleable. Continue running hot water over the head between pulling, shaping and cutting until the head is properly prepared for your customizations.
If there is excess paint to remove, you might try rubbing it off with a cloth saturated with nail polish remover. Be careful to not remove the paint for the eyes as the eyes are the most difficult facial features to paint with precision.
Now, you are ready for your customizations. A product like Apoxie®Sculpt is key in making the customizations to your action figure. Apoxie®Sculpt comes in two parts that are kneaded together to form a compound that hardens and cures in about 24 hours. It is non-shrinking and non-toxic, but while it is uncured, it can dissolve easily in water. The Apoxie®Sculpt instructions claim that it can be worked on for up to three hours, but it is recommended that you work with it only up to two hours for best results. Other products like Green Stuff Epoxy, Magic Sculpt Epoxy Clay, or Fixit Epoxy Clay may also be used. In any case, be sure to use a two-part compound that air-dries and self-hardens, not a compound that needs to be baked in an oven because baking will deform your action figure.
Take equal amounts of Part A and Part B: just enough for the feature or accessory that you are making. Part A comes in many different colors, but for customizing, white, natural or black are recommended if you plan to paint the compound. If you choose to use a Part A that is white or natural, you can add dye or powdered coloring to make your own hues of the clay.
Mix Part A and Part B, kneading until the two parts are homogeneous and with the consistency of clay. Before working with it, let it harden a bit for about 30 minutes. Note that the compound can sit for up to 3 hours before it is no longer malleable.
As you shape each piece, work quickly as the compound may harden or be difficult to remove if it stays on your hands a long time. You may wish to use gloves because of the stickiness of the compound, or wash and dry your hands frequently. Also, be careful about marring or staining the surface on which you are working. Cover it before you start.
The Apoxie®Sculpt can be used to adorn or change the shape of your action figure. It can be used for mustaches, beards, hair, belts, accessories, face masks, helmets, crowns patterns, designs, grafting, and removable weapons and accessories, like capes and swords. The Apoxie®Sculpt can also be used to build up body parts, like necks, chests and arms. Apoxie®Sculpt can also be used to fill in undesirable holes.
Shape each accessory or feature using your selected implements and referring to your drawings as you go. Clay carvers, a knife or other implements can be used to shape the Apoxie®Sculpt or move it in the direction you wish. You may need to make several attempts until you get just the look that you desire. Once you are satisfied with the result, let the compound dry and cure.
If you have used the Apoxie®Sculpt for a removable accessory, let it cure detached from your action figure so that it does not become permanently attached. If you have small parts that need to be glued to the action figure, use a super glue. There are many different good brands of super glue from which to choose.
For best results, let the Apoxie®Sculpt harden for at least 24 hours before painting. Prior to painting, rough-buff the body and head first and then polish-buff for a smooth, satiny finish.
You are finally ready to paint your action figure. Study your concept pictures and drawings. Dark base paints are effective in enhancing the appearance of vibrant colors. Light base paints are best as undercoating for lighter colors.
Paint lightly and evenly over the entire body for the base layer, taking care to not move the articulated joints as you paint. Let dry. After the base paint is dry, move the joints to crack the paint, making sure that the joints are not glued together with the paint, then paint those spots that were not painted during the first pass. Put on another thin layer of paint where needed. Let dry.
After the base paint is completely dry, paint on the finishing details all over the entire body and head until you get the effects you are looking for and as illustrated in your concept drawings. Be careful around the joints and points of articulation as paint can hinder movement by clogging the ball-and-socket areas of the joints. Let the painted action figure dry completely. You might consider placing the action figure in direct sunlight for faster drying.
Once the paint has set and is hardened, move the action figure’s parts, and touch-up as needed. For the a finishing effect, you may want to use a coat of varnish or a satin glaze on those parts of the action figure that you want to have more sheen.