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Old 06-03-2015, 12:51 PM   #1
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Default Miniature Sculpting 101

Mkay, so I promised a tutorial on miniature sculpting... even though I've not really done much of it. So really, this is less of a tutorial and more of a behind-the-scenes, side-by-side sort of thing. You'll get to see what I'm thinking, how I do things, and also how I screw up.

Tools and Prep

So, let's get to it. First of all, what are we sculpting today?

I've been working on a 1:48 scale J7W1 Shinden, with some pieces from other planes kitbashed in. The model itself is great; easy to assemble, nice fit, good detail... but the pilot provided is in a standing, gloves off, non-piloty pose. So I want to sculpt a new one.

Generally it's a good idea to draw concept art, and then sculpt off of that. But for these one-offs for myself, I generally just wing it. So, off to the tools required.

From left to right, we have:

- 24 ga galvanized steel wire.
- Two-part epoxy putty (ProCreate, in this case)
- Pin vise (miniature hand drill)
- Craft knife
- Sculpting needle
- Clay shapers, size 0, extra firm, flat chisel, angle chisel, cup chisel, and cup round.
- Pliers and wire cutters.

To go over in order what each of these things is for...

Steel wire: It forms the armature on which you sculpt. Some people prefer brass wire. The thicker the wire, the stiffer it'll be, but also the more problems you'll have if you screw up the armature. It's nice to have a variety of diameters you can choose from, but a good all purpose wire size is 22 ga wire. I simply like 24 for women (who this is going to be) due to it being slightly thinner for their thinner bodies.

Two-part putty: There are a lot of them out there, but the main ones really fine enough for miniature work are Green Stuff, Brown Stuff, Milliput, and ProCreate. I've rewrapped mine in parchment paper because the plastic it comes in sticks too much to it. It's possible to vary the mix from 50/50 to get either a more flexible putty or a harder putty. I'm using ProCreate simply because it's easier to take pictures of.

Pin vise: Occasionally you'll need to sculpt parts like heads separately, drill a hole, stick in some wire and glue them together. That's what this is for.

Craft knife: When all else fails, you can redo a part by hacking your way back down to bare wire.

Sculpting needle: You can make your own by attaching a nail to a stick and sharpening it. This is for the finest of details, like eyes.

A close up look at the clay shapers. These are silicone shapes attached to a brush-like handle, and quite simply, they handle 90% of all my sculpting needs, with the remainder taken up by the needle and my fingers. They're not strictly speaking mandatory, but I would place them very high on a mini sculptor's wish list.

Pliers and wire cutters: Should be self-evident.

The Boring Parts

The first thing you need to do is cut a length of wire about 3x the height of the figure you're sculpting.

Which reminds me... how long is that?

For scale modellers who work in easily understood conversions like 1:72 or 1:48, the answer is pretty simple, height of an adult / 48 x 3 = a bit more than 4 inches. But if you're working with stupid scales like 28mm or 54mm, that height is theoretically from feet to eyes of a 6' man. I don't bother, and instead I print out this helpful scale reference guide from Patrick Keith, someone who actually does this for a living.

Either way, you're probably going to want to print a properly scaled reference figure of a skeleton, and work off of that. Miniature sculpting is very unforgiving with proportions, because being just a little off translates into pretty big errors.

So anyways, bend the wire in half. Make a tiny little skull-sized loop for the head, then twist the two legs of the wire under it until you reach shoulder height. Slip in a longish length of wire you'll trim later, continue twisting down to the pelvis, and then split them away from each other. Make sure to crimp at the knees and ankles, you'll want those for reference later.

...I forgot to mention another thing, didn't I? That clamp is pretty simple to make, just a bolt, wing nut, some washers, and a piece of wood drilled through and split in half, and the ends coated in Apoxie Sculpt, a much cheaper, but rougher two-part epoxy putty. An easy alternative is bottle corks, which many sculptors swear by.

Now, we can finally start sculpting!

Take some water, dampen your fingertips a smidgen. Not wet, just slightly damp. These putties are EPOXY putties, and can be very sticky at times. Green Stuff is notoriously sticky.

Take a tiny pinch of both parts of putty. It really doesn't take much to do miniature sculpting, so less is more. You can always mix more later. Mix them until it's nice and homogenous. Dark green in the case of Green Stuff, gray in for ProCreate.

Apply to the torso, and legs. Arms will stay bare wire until the torso and legs are done. Try to keep small gaps at the joints, so you can pose it before doing more.

And... now you're done for this session. Take a break, stretch your legs. If you have leftover putty it's probably a good idea to make more armatures rather than let it go to waste.

Yep, miniature sculpting is a lot of waiting for putty to cure. Trying to sculpt on top of uncured putty is an exercise in frustration. Better to wait until hardened. You can speed up curing using MILD heat, like that from a halogen lamp, but I still wouldn't expect more than two sculpting sessions in a day, one in the morning, and one in the evening.

Oh yeah, go wash your hands. A major component of these putties is BPA, a plasticizer that reusable bottle manufacturers all over the world now try to keep out of their products.
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Old 06-04-2015, 12:54 AM   #2
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Oooooh nice man !
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Old 06-04-2015, 10:46 PM   #3
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So, now we have a T-posed armature with a little bit of putty stuck to it. It has fingerprints all over it, which is actually what we want right now, because the added tooth helps when adding putty on top.

If you plan on making several miniatures in a given scale, feel free to pump out a couple of these for whenever the sculpting bug bites you. Sometimes I spend my putty curing time sculpting a different mini.

Disclaimer: I have never sculpted a mini sitting down before. This is probably going to lead to some hilarious errors down the line. You have been warned.

First order of business is to bend the skeleton into position. Of the putties I mentioned, it's noteworthy that Green Stuff and Procreate are somewhat flexible. Bending stuff significant amounts or repeated flexing will cause them to crack, but slight adjustments are fine in the early stages. I've noticed she's rather straight-backed, so I've added a bit of the natural recurve of the lower back.

It's not too important to really push the skeleton into the seat just yet, as plenty of flesh will be added on later.

A couple things here. First, a little putty on all those joints I said to leave bare. These lock the skeleton more into position, which makes later sculpting easier. Secondly, a bit more putty on her sides, ribcage, and her crotch. Unlike the limbs, the body is much less cylindrical, and so it's important to build up those areas first. The crotch area needs filling in as well, to break out of the V-shape caused by the armature. Underlying putty influences everything above it, and the sooner you can define forms, the better.

Your fingers are your first and most intuitive sculpting tools, but unfortunately, they're textured (for most of us). After the initial putty on the armature, smoothing starts getting important for anything added. Nothing sucks more than realizing that the silhouette and volume are right... but there's a section of fingerprinted putty because you built up that area too quickly without smoothing it.

So, smoosh a blob of putty into the rough shape needed (conical, in this case), splat it into place, and run it over with a clay shaper until it's nice and smooth. If you're using Green Stuff, there's the so-called coveted "shiny green", which is a sculpt so smooth it literally has a glass-like shine to it. Clay shapers, and a little bit of water on your tools as lubricant, goes a long way. Not too much water though, since that'll interfere with adhesion.

Ideally, what you're going for is a perfectly smooth, anorexic body that you can bulk up as needed.

Yet another fit check. Here I think is a decent enough place to insert my thoughts about T&A and how they apply to sculpting.

No, not thoughts like "it's gratuitous and omnipresent and objectifies women, etc", but actual, practical concerns when it comes to sculpting. Even more than drawing, in sculpting, getting anatomy right is mandatory, because clothes are quite literally built up on top of a nude body. (Seriously, trying to sculpt anything freehanging, like capes, is a pain) So, suppose you've sculpted up this beautiful sculpt of a nude woman (not necessarily a sculpt of a beautiful woman, mind you), and you're ready to add clothes.

Well, the problem is, clothes tend to bind and squish fatty blobs of tissue like T&A, and after adding clothes on top of hard putty breasts, suddenly a previously modestly endowed woman is sporting a pendulous pair of knockers larger than her head. So, erring on the small side for those bits is always a good idea. For, ahem, flatter women, sculpting them as part of the clothing layer is not a bad idea, especially if there is going to be some sort of texture or pattern on top.

So yeah. Her butt is going to need to be squished in, seeing as she's sitting on it.

Oh right, last thing, a small bead of putty on the head provides a "skull" for the face. Which I'll probably do next installment.
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:41 AM   #4
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I've been thinking of sculpting something small and this looks mighty helpful so far. Moar moar
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Old 06-06-2015, 04:40 PM   #5
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Facial Massage

First of all, a note. Sculpting the face will be the only thing you get done this session. Working on the face requires a lot of fine control, and your fingers will go all over the mini trying to stabilize it. After you've sculpted it, you really don't want to touch it again until it's cured.

With that in mind, let's begin.

Blob some putty on the head, and try to get it as symmetrical as possible on the front half. The back half will be covered by hair later, so it can be rough and somewhat lumpy. Define the jawline early, if there will be issues due to overly thick armature wire or putty cured in the wrong place, you want to know now rather than later. Take some time to smooth everything out, you do not want to be trying to smooth it later while trying to preserve details you actually want. The cup round clay shaper is excellent for this.

Some things really don't change from painting to sculpting. Eye line in the middle of the head, as always. This line will define both the brow and the nose bridge depth, so take your time with placement. Push in at the sides to the outside edge of the eyes, and check to make sure it reads well in profile. You could sculpt a perfect face from one angle, but have it look completely off from the side.

"And now sculpt the rest of the owl!"

Just kidding. Push in the sides of the nose in a sort of isosceles triangle shape, with the upward point at the nose bridge.

"But what if I want a long, narrow, nose?"

Still do this. Creating a vertical strip, and trying to sculpt it into a nose results in a bridge too high and a nose tip too low. The extra putty at the base of the triangle is essential to creating short, flat noses, and thin, large noses.

Also use the flat chisel to push out the bottom of the nose and the start of the mouth. Sculpting a face is like trying to paint with the liquify brush. You want to make as few strokes as possible, before the whole thing devolves into a mess. Multiple, light pushes with the edge of the shaper often gets better results than dragging the shaper through the putty, which often takes some putty along for the ride. Of course, there are a few times that's actually what you want, like the corners of the mouth.

There are some tools you use because they're good almost everywhere, like the flat chisel clay shaper. Then there are those tool you use because they do one thing exceptionally well, like the sculpting needle. Need the tiniest lines possible? Sculpting needle's got you covered. In a sort of overlapping pushing motion, scribe fine lines under the brow to form what will become the eyes. Push with the flat chisel under the mouth line to form the lower lip, and smooth out the outer edges to taste. Pushing with the corner of the clay shaper helps deepen the corners and add some depth, and can be used to add dimples too, if you so desire.

By the way, you're probably not ambidextrous. I'm not. Don't expect symmetry until you've gotten more practice. As you can probably see, I haven't gotten it right either.

Another push on the top of the severe-looking brow forms the top eyelid and lightens her expression somewhat. At this point, the facial features are looking okay... but kind of small and narrow. The ruler also points out something that's been bugging me. A 4mm tall head, with about a 36mm tall figure. That's... 9 heads tall. Ew.

Well, if you can sculpt a smaller face, you can sculpt a bigger one no problem. I was considering scrapping this face and trying again, but decided to see if I could fix it. It is possible to add putty to a face like this, you just have to be very very careful. I plopped a tiny blob on each side of her face, and blended it back in and distributed it a bit more around her face. There, nice, fuller, younger cheeks.

It really doesn't take much putty to fix up proportional errors. We're talking decimal millimeters here. For a 7.5 head figure, that'd be a 4.8mm head, and for an 8 head figure 4.5mm. Not to mention sculpted hair tends to be rather thick, proportionally, and it's much better to sculpt a slightly too small head than a too big one.

On the flipside of that, though, there's "heroic scale", which basically means exaggerated head, and usually hand and weapon sizes. All depends on what you're looking for. Games Workshop humans are something like 6 heads tall. Generally, 7 heads is a good compromise, without being obviously cartoony without being side-by-side with a scale model human.
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Old 06-07-2015, 11:34 PM   #6
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This is awesome. That smile is a bit nightmarish though
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Old 06-16-2015, 07:05 PM   #7
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Thanks guys!

RobotCat: Yeah, I can never really tell how a face will turn out. If the look needs to spot on compared to something else, I'd sculpt it separately on a bit of wire twisted into a loop and once I'd gotten it right, twisted a new armature around it. If I were better at painting faces, I think I'd do better with sculpting... hopefully it flows the other way too.

Setting Up the Foundation

Sorry guys for the long update time, but a heat wave was rolling through my area, and besides it being really hot and stuffy in the room where I sculpt, high temperatures also cause the putty to cure significantly faster. ProCreate already sets somewhat fast for my liking, so with the heat wave I don't think I would have gotten any pictures if I'd sculpted anything.

Anyways, enough excuses.

So, I've decided on a variant on the classic skintight pilot suit, so as I was finishing bulking out the legs and thighs, I decided to add a few wrinkles. Better to add them early and fill them in if not needed than try to cut them out of a smooth body. Of course, it's important to remember that you can in fact "erase" sculpting by cutting the offending section away and sculpting afresh, but it's a pain to blend the seam in perfectly and it's a big waste of time (due to layers) and putty. So, last resort, not really tool.

Ah yes, take the mini off the clamp to detail the back of the legs, the crotch, etc. With this much putty it should be fairly solid (expect a bit of flexing in the limbs). I haven't really bothered with the legs because she'll be sitting down and that area won't ever be seen. But to get the smooth transition from the belly to the crotch, you'll want to take it off the clamp or cork from time to time.

Boobies. I've gone over this before, but it bears repeating. Sculpt one or two cup sizes under your target. As you smooth and adjust and add layers you'll find they'll grow to size all by themselves. Speaking of smoothing and adding layers, as you build up material, you'll notice it tends to round out previously sharp angles and details. Building in the form early lets you spot the rounded forms of these details, and rescribe them in. Here, a bit of extra putty on the knees makes her kneecaps come back.

Proportionally, you might have been able to pass her off as having a pear-shaped body. But it was getting kind of ridiculous with a ribcage half the width of her hips. A bit of putty, and shifting around her newly sculpted breasts helps solve the issue. Maybe I overcorrected a bit, I'll decide later.
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Old 06-17-2015, 01:38 AM   #8
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I am tragic at sculpting boobs in Zbrush, is it similarly difficult irl?

Looking really forward to seeing this finished.

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Old 06-18-2015, 06:18 PM   #9
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Arms... kinda. (Clothing)

Lamb: In some ways, yes and no. You can't magically cause more clay to appear like in Z-brush, so you need to be able to estimate clay volume fairly accurately, but tools in general feel a lot more intuitive due to tactile feedback.

Normally, I'd wait on sculpting the arms, but the need to sculpt the collarbones for the classic unzipped flight suit pose says otherwise. So, off to sculpting the arms. Snip the wires so that it ends roughly in the middle of the palm. If she were holding some long object like a sword or rifle or something, I'd sculpt that object on its own armature wire, loop the wire around that, and snip there for a more secure hold. For smaller objects, it's possible and easier to sculpt it as part of the hand, and so only a small loop similar to the head needs to be there to support the putty.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, since we're not even getting to the lower arms today. Build it up just like before, except this time, since the left arm will make it harder to sculpt other things behind it, leave it unsculpted from the elbow down.

The collarbones are made by rolling thin sausages of putty out, pulling off the proper length, and then squishing and smoothing them in place. Important technique for a lot of fine details, we'll be using it a lot more later.

Bring on the smexy flight suit! Skintight clothing is the easiest thing to sculpt; no need to build freehanging structures, no need to detail anatomy all that much. Roll a long putty sausage, drape it around her neck, and blend in the clothing-side edge while reinforcing the skin / clothing edge, and there we go, instant collar / zipper / seam.

At this point I figure the ribcage - belly transition is too harsh, so I smooth it out with some more putty. Also add a few wrinkles at the waist. These can be sculpted with almost any tool; I prefer the flat and angle chisel to just lightly press them in.

The zipper down the middle is similarly sculpted; run a sausage down the middle, flatten and blend, and then run something down the middle to split it. I use my craft knife blade, and then flip it and use the back to spread the crack wider.

At this point I'm envisioning a sort of thick canvas or leather jumpsuit with cutouts revealing skintight material underneath for flexibility. So I run two long thin sausages along the thighs up to the bottom of the zipper, building up something sort of like chaps.

Built up more seams on the sides to outline another cutout, and then a little bit of material between the seams helps thicken the not-quite-skintight portions between the two seams, and a bit goes onto her boobs as well to make it clear the thicker material is running over those as well. A tiny bit goes into her cleavage to emphasize it just a bit more. Cup round is indispensable for making it nicely round and smooth.

Areas under consideration for next chapter: Legs/feet, arms, hair.
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Old 06-24-2015, 07:57 PM   #10
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Hair and Hands (all the tiny sausages)

So far this has gone remarkably well for a sculpting amateur like me. But it's about time for me to realize that a) I've never sculpted long hair before, and b) I've never sculpted an open hand not resting on anything before.

Well, time to change that.

Hair can be done a couple of different ways, depending on hairstyle and personal preference, but the tools and flow remain the same, more or less. A cup round shaper to attach locks to the head, a flat chisel shaper (you can use the cup round here too) to tease them into the right position, and the sculpting needle to texture them so they look like hair.

Here, I'm doing long, messy hair, so two considerations come into play. First, since it's long hair, I want to do the longest locks first so that the later locks can build up volume. I roll up a few tiny tapered putty sausages, and smooth one end against the head with the cup round. Longer than is required is important here; putty can be pretty sticky, but anything that cures in separate sessions is not the strongest of bonds, so you need to make it up with surface area. It's going to look ugly for now, but it'll be covered up as you work your way up the head.

Second consideration is that it's messy hair, and therefore has smaller clumps. With more even hairstyles like straight cut bangs, it's easier to instead sculpt it as large sheets and texture them with the needle. The sculpting needle goes in to texture the tubes, making them look more like a bunch of strands going the same direction instead of tubes growing out of her head or a cloth draped over her face. Watch the ends of the hair, getting the silhouette right is important since they'll most likely be free-hanging, and thus, virtually impossible to sculpt.

Here we're just continuing to add clumps and strands, bringing it forwards and up, and also down the back (less important though, given the angles she'll be seen from). Where all the hair strands meet is where the hair will part, and it can be sculpted in just by pushing the ends of the strands down slightly. I also add eyebrows with two tiny bits of putty (craft knife good for getting those tiny bits of putty). A few small bits of putty sticking out make the hair look a bit messier.

Tips for other hairstyles:

Bun: Can be plopped on the back and sculpted as a separate piece, as long as you sculpt the locks towards where it attaches.

Long ponytail or braid that flows away: Ideally you'd have prepared for this in the armature stage, and included a wire in the head that sticks out the back. If not, well, carefully drill a hole in the back of the head using the pin vise, superglue in some wire, and sculpt on top of that.

Long hair blowing in the wind: Instead of doing it all at once like I do here, consider sculpting a thin sheet as a foundation, letting it cure, and then sculpting on top of that.

Hairstyles that show one or both ears: Sculpt them before doing the hair.

Anyways, let the hair cure first before doing anything else. It's fairly fragile and also hard to fix if dinged.

Hands! This really applies to open hands. If you're sculpting a character holding an object, count your blessings, because you only need to do half the work on a far more secure sculpting base.

First thing you will want to do is take the wire where the hand is and crush it flat using your pliers and a good bit of strength. Round wire is more likely to interfere with your sculpting, and that's the last thing you want working on something this small and delicate.

Sculpt out the palm, and you can do (most of) the thumb in this stage as well. Here you see me being an idiot and sculpting it far larger than I need to, and it'll bite me later. Smaller is better for this. Clip off more of the wire if you need to. Seeing as this is a free standing object in an awkward position, I use the craft knife blade as a flat surface I can support it on whilst sculpting. Make sure you lube it up with whatever you use; you don't want it to tear what you sculpt afterwards. Wait for it to cure.

More tiny sausages! This time, the attachment point is the back of the hand. Try to roll them as smooth and even as possible, and squish them onto the back of the hand with the cup round. You can sculpt them into knuckles if you want, or you could save knuckles for later.

Here, because of my previous mistake, I needed to do some careful cutting work with the knife after it cured.

Finally, in the palm of the hand, add little sausages and smooth out the seam between the fingers and palm, and also add the thumb swell.

...her hands are too big. Maybe they'll pass for gloves after I finish sculpting the forearms.
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Old 06-30-2015, 08:10 AM   #11
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Bulked out the arms a bit more, added the velcro cuffs of gloves, and I think I can call this done, more or less.

For a normal figure, I'd sculpt her boots and such, but... well...

That's a bit depressing how little shows up in the end. Even looking down into the pit you can't see anything from the knees down. Ah well.

Anyways, I hope this was informative and helpful for you guys, and as fun to watch as it was for me to do. If you want clarifications on any steps, my opinion on how to approach odd sculpting dilemmas on a case-by-case basis, or just want to chime in, well, C&C is always welcome .

Till the next figure!
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