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Sculpting multi-part figures

Discussion in 'Sculpting' started by microsculpt, May 25, 2005.

  1. microsculpt New Member


    I have a question for the "collective brain" — When sculpting a figure for production with multiple parts (heads, arms, etc.) how does one sculpt that?

    Is the figure sculpted in individual parts? Or, are the parts created by making castings of sections of the figure afterwards?

    It seems sculpting in parts would create major challenges creating convincing body movement, anatomy, etc.

    How does one create an armature if you are working in parts? Use something like MagicSculpt?

    If it is done in parts, how are the parts tacked together while working?

    Actually, I guess that's a lot of questions. I'm trying to expand my experience into more complex action poses and wanted to hear how others approach the problem.


  2. pkess Member

    I am not a sculptor but know several as well as several people who cast kits. Masters are supplied in parts for casting. That is why some sculptors never do commercial kits. The engineering of the "kit master" is sometimes more involved then the actual sculpting. Alan Ball or Mike Good are the guys to ask.
  3. bonehead A Fixture

    Hey Tom!

    Fancy meeting you here!

    The problem you pose is a dilemma that must be sorted out by all sculptors who want to reproduce their work. There are two schools of thought:

    The first is to do as you seem to suggest: sculpt the figure in one piece than cut it apart into separate pieces. This is a tricky proposition at best, but there are many sculptors who swear by it.

    I ain't one of 'em! Here's why: anytime you take a saw to a homogenous piece, you lose a little material. It is not much, but it can play havoc with getting the parts to ever fit right again. It can be done, but for me it creates a lot of headaches! The other problem with this technique is that most part mating lines are not naturally straight whereas a saw cut, done neatly (always a tricky proposition with irregular shapes), is . This means yet more fussing and fitting after the fact.

    Too much trouble, in my opinion.

    The second way is to make the parts separate from the beginning.

    Many years ago i developed techniques for "pre-engineering" my figures. This involves preplanning and a little fussing up front, but in the end you do not have to deal with ill fitting parts. The bit of extra work and planning involved is much less nerve racking than cutting up a finished piece as far as I am concerned.

    This involves deciding where you want to break the figure at the armature stage. Before filling in the armature, I add in plastic discs with mounting lugs securely fastened to these discs. These "lugged bulkheads" will divide the pieces once the aramture is finished and are inserted wherever you want a break in the parts.

    Once the bulkheads have been introduced into the armature, it is simply a matter of greasing up the bulkheads and lugs with Vaseline and then filling in the armature with putty. The one trick to this is that you have to leave parts of the armature wire exposed so that it can be nipped apart once the putty has hardened. It is then an easy matter to fill in these unsightly voids afterwards.

    Once you have done this, however, you end up with nice separate parts that fit together prefectly every time and will not have to fussed with again throughout the sculpting process. How cool is that?

    That is what works for me. See Alan Ball for a completely different way of doing things........ !

    Hope this helps!

    Daniele likes this.
  4. minimaker New Member


    Well, most people seem to make the whole sculpt and cut it apart though I've seen a few figures too which were sculpted in separate parts.

    With 28mm figures most use green stuff. This is easy to slice through using a hobby knife (no material loss) so what I do is that I make a cut all around the armature wire. Then I either bend back that part to expose the wire and cut it with a saw or twist it till it snaps.
    I also heard of people who make sure that areas that need to be cut are GS while other materials can be used in orther areas.

    Bye, Ming-Hua
  5. stormtrooper New Member

    I would agree with mike you have to think how your figure is to be cast and then break it into its constituent parts first. Cutting complete figures is one pain where the sun dont shine.How and why you break a figure differentiates pattern producers and sculptors as you have to have an understanding of the casting process and thats a learning curve full of mistakes . One tip is to allways use a wire armature with the usual pelvis/chest blocks and get this right in terms of pose etc .You can then use mikes version or just sculpt say the boots cut with a saw to the break point but DONT cut through the wire keeping the integrety of the armature.
    I dont know whether this makes sense but its what I do and it works for me. Some people dont use wire armatures but unsuported putty tends to break especially when casting in resin so requiring you to re sculpt/fix the master
    GOOD LUCK and be prepared to make mistakes.

  6. microsculpt New Member

    Thanks to all for the replies!

    Well, it seems I have much to think about. My preference would be to develop the figure as a multi-piece sculpture rather than trying to cut it apart after the fact.

    Mike, I have seen your joints – they fit very positively. However, I will need to modify the technique some, since I work in Premo for surface detail (because of the infinite working time). This requires low heat curing that would distort plactic. So, I may have to substitute the 'bulkhead' material with something else.

    What about simply stamping the joint area of the torso (for example) during the armature/fleshing-out stage with a rectangular male object to create a recepticle? Harden that area, add a release agent to the joint area, and then press modeling material (with an armature wire inserted in it) into the recepticle area, and harden that. Theoretically, you'd end up with perfectly matched male and female joint.

    Would that create a strong enough joint?

    If you have a multi-piece figure, what do you use to tack it together while working?


  7. Alan Guest

  8. microsculpt New Member

    Thanks to everyone for the suggested methods.

    Since I already have a few figures in progress, I'm opting for the sausage and vaseline method (sounds rather sordid). I'm working in 1/48 scale right now and so far the procees is going well.

    I'm aftraid I'm hopelessly rooted in working in Premo. At this point I do the basic understructure in MagicSculpt (for the rigidity) and then "skin" the figure with a surface of Premo. This way I have an infinite amount of time to work wrinkles and anatomy. I fire the figure as I go, as each stage is completed.

    I'll try to post some images of the results afterwards.


  9. Alan Guest

  10. Alan Guest

  11. microsculpt New Member


    FWIW, I both carve and model as I work on a figure. Generally I'll flesh the figure out in MagicSculpt, and when hardened, make adjustments by carving. Add more. Adjust. So on. Same with the Premo layer. Some sharp details are refined after the surface is hard. Also, I think you can get crisper edges using a knife on a hard surface.

    To me it is a matter of choosing the right technique from your 'bag of tricks' to achieve the desired result.

    I must admit, I'm on the verge of doing figures without an armature as well. All too often as the figure developes, I find the armature is more of a hinderance than a help. I like to work in 1/48 scale and it doesn't take removal of much material to expose the wire in an arm or a leg.


  12. btavis Active Member

    I also do a lot of carving, grinding and sanding, then add more putty, then carve/grind/sand some more. For me, it is the best way to get very crisp edges and allows you to build up the form gradually allowing for more opportunities to adjust, tweak and make corrections. I use a crockpot to quick cure the putty so I can continue working with little interruption.

    I also agree there is no right way per se, just the method that works best for yourself. It is the final result that is paramount.
  13. Manfred Active Member

    Sigh ! Yes, recently stumbled over this in the same small scale. Yesterday I started my first arm without a wire :)

    I also had to repose a leg on another figure and found it a bit of a pain to repair the wide cut because of the wire inside.

    Also making 1/35 hands for the first time. Found out that by carving I can get form and fingers quite well but sculpting hands produced only items suitable for mutants ;)
    Only thing is, carving is very slow for me - lots still to learn.
  14. Dan Morton A Fixture

    Interesting. Thanks so much for the info, Alan, Bob, Manfred. I'll try the carving thing on my next figures, but since I'm mostly working in larger scales, I think I'll keep using armatures in most cases.

    Once again I'm struck by what a great resource this online forum is!

    all the best,
  15. nagashino New Member

    Hi all

    Interested to follow this thread about the pros and cons of armatures etc. The following picture is of a scratchbuilt 60mm piece done entirely without armatures and largely carved in grey Miliput post-curing. Not my work, I'm afraid


    Guess its what suits you at the end of the day. Some folk like the armature and block method as it helps in the proportions and posing. Others (Alan is one I can think of) just go in with the knife. Me, I admire anyone who can do this sort of thing.

    Cheers all

  16. garyjd Well-Known Member

    I know a lot of guys that do garage kit type pieces in castilene for the most part do not use armatures. For me it's a scary prospect having always used an armature.~Gary
  17. microsculpt New Member

    Well, like any technique, I'm experiencing a learning curve...

    SO FAR:

    Management of the vaseline has proven tricky. Being clear, it is hard to detect and easily gets where you don't want it. A minute speck goes a long way.

    A few plugs have sheared off. One instance was caused by the female recepticle having a slight undercut thereby not allowing the cured male plug to be released. The other instances were caused by simply too much force being exerted on the part while carving and modeling. I will need to revisit the use of an armature in the limbs. At 1/48 scale the plugs are very small and need some reinforcing.


    I think I'll modify the sausage and vaseline method a bit for this scale. Inside the female receptacle I'll drill a small hole to accept a fine wire armature. Then pack the sausage in the cavity around the wire. This wire should increase rigidity and help distribute the shear force at the joint when working on the part.

    I'll let you know how it goes.


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