Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The story of Alex Armstrong.

So I've been reading all these cool websites about customizing toys and getting all into it and did my first project (the Coyote - a few posts back).  And after that first taste of customizing toys, I realized I really liked it, and wanted to do more of it.  Walking through the toy aisle at Target a few weeks ago, I saw the Captain American Hydra: Dark Threat deluxe action figures.  Just looking at them, I thought they could be made to fit into my G.I. Joe collection universe.  I figured I would grab a few and think up something to do with them.

Stage 0: figure in the package.
A few days later, inspiration struck.  I would paint one red and black, and turn in into a crimson guard-esq heavy weapons type soldier.  I figured for this first project, I was just going to work on painting.  Actually xacto knifing a set of action figures and putting the pieces together would need to come later.  Baby steps.

I took my figure out of the package and took him apart as best I could.  He was so beefy I named him Alex Armstrong, after the character in Full Metal Alchemist, a series my friend Matt is a huge fan of.  In the show, Lt. Armstrong is a ridiculously over muscled and overly emotional agent of the government and ally to the two main characters of the series, the young brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric.  There was something in the figure's sculpt that struck me as a little flamboyant (especially if it was painted red) and that a character like this might himself too seriously, and that made me think of Lt. Armstrong.

Stage 1: figure disassembled.
Well, as in the case of the Coyote, I didn't know where to start, really.  Spray paint worked pretty well the past time, so I decided I would try with it again.  I split the figure into parts:  I stuck the figure in a cup of water I had microwaved for 2 minutes to heat up the plastic in the head so it was flexible, and popped the head off.  I unsnapped his belt and then I removed his webgear.  His guns/fire/ice blasts I decided to leave alone.  No painting for them.  So far so good.

And then I got out the spray paint.  This did not go as well as I had hoped.

Step 2: not the look I was going hoping for.
I found a red Krylon brand Fusion For Plastic line can of spray paint at the store, set up a little spray paint spot in the backyard with an old cardboard box, and slowly and carefully went to town.  Unfortunately, the paint pretty much all pooled in the lower areas of the figure and did not apply themselves to the raised sections of the figure's exterior at all.  I posted some help requests on various action figure customizing forums to see if anyone had any advice, but I didn't get any posts back.  I had read about using short, smooth motions with the can, but it didn't seem to be doing the job.  The the paint left the figure looking like a mess, and I worried that by the time I used enough paint to cover the raised elements of the figure, all the shapes and details of the sunken aspects of the figure would have down out and covered over by the paint.  I needed a new approach.

I went to the hobby store and purchased some acrylic paint and some brushes.  I had read online about doing a base coat of a light or dark color to make things really stand out, but I wasn't sure which way to go- light or dark.  Since the figure was already red to begin with, I thought I would just keep that up and painted the entire guy, his head and his webgear red.

It didn't look too cool.

Done! Paint applied and ready to go.
It looked kind of lame, actually.  But it was time to add the accents.  I painted the boots black, as well as the straps on the action figure itself.  Now it started to pop.  I used tiny brushes to try to get the details in correctly.  It took a *long* time to paint, and to make things harder, I actually only have one eye.  My right eye was lost in an accident when I was an infant, (today I have a fake eye in my right eye socket) and this made it pretty difficult to get the tiny brush exactly where I wanted it, and it also led to some frustration when I would dab a bit of black on a well painted red section, or the other way around.  I figured out a way to watch the shadow my brush cast on the figure I was painting to determine how close the tip was to the place I wanted to paint.  I don't have the steady hands of a surgeon however, and mistakes were made (over and over and over again), especially right at the edges of where I wanted one color to stop.  Straight edges are hard to accomplish with a paint and brush.  I'm not sure if I should have used paint tape or not- does that work with action figures?

When I was happy with how things looked, I spray painted it with clear spray paint.  I had read on the web that this would protect the painted colors from wear over time.  However, about 24 hours after spray pointing the figure, I noticed that a lot of the black layers had cracked a bit, resulting in red from below showing through.  I did some repainting and fixed it up.

I was also worried about heating the head up again with hot water to make it flexible enough to pop back on the body.  My acrylic paints, when wet, we water soluble.   Would they stay on if the paint was dry?  Did it make a difference if the water was hot?  I did more research and found out the hair dryers also do the trick.  I propped the head on the end of a pencil and held it in front of my wife's hair dryer for a minute or two, and it softened up perfectly, and fit right back on the body.  No need to worry about messing up the paint job with water.

I was not thrilled with the final result, but I was proud of the effort I had put into it. I wish it had turned out better.  Many of the custom figures found on websites like and are clearly built and painted by people who have substantial skill, knowledge and experience in the art of painting things; far more skill, knowledge and experience than I have.  My figure does not hold a candle to theirs, but as I said, I'm proud of the fact that I tried something new, the effort I put into it, and the fact it didn't turn out awful.  I am working on another custom project, this time a small vehicle, but a post on that will have to wait until later.

Until next time, have a good one.

David D.

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