INTRODUCTION – Converting a 75mm Fantasy Figure
For some time I’ve wanted to paint a figure based on an online show I enjoy, Critical Role and that means the need for converting a 75mm fantasy figure. However, for those of you not familiar it’s a show ‘where a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons.’ Might sound like an odd premise for a show, but this past year they also kickstarted their own animated series which the critter community helped to become the highest funded film or television project in Kickstarter history. So, it’s got a good sized following.
Therefore, I decided to pick a character from their current campaign. Unfortunately the cast of characters is not really that close to any commercially available figures. No basic elves or dwarves, instead there are tieflings, firbolgs, a female goblin, an aasimar barbarian, etc. As a result it meant that whichever character I picked would mean converting a 75mm fantasy figure. I’ve dabbled a bit, but this would be my most involved conversion to date.
I kept an eye out for commercial kits that were close and searched through my collection of painted miniatures. I settled on the Child Thief from Terrible Kids Stuff, which I’d begun painting a while back. However, I had stopped and was unlikely to ever return to and complete. Something about the pose reminded me of Mollymauk and I thought it could work.
Molly is a tiefling who, when we first meet him, is working at the Fletching and Moondrop Travelling Carnival of Curiosities. Converting a 75mm fantasy figure is much easier when we have something that can closely resemble the character we wish to portray. His clothing is very flamboyant and covered in design work. So, not only would this be a challenge to convert but painting him would be no picnic either! Here you can see the official character art and the model kit I decided to use as my base.
CONVERTING A 75MM FANTASY FIGURE
To begin converting a 75mm fantasy figure, I removed the unneeded details from the original kit. Thankfully this was a resin figure, so much easier to cut into than a metal one. I use a hobby knife and clippers to remove the larger pieces and then resorted to files and sanding for the finer bits. The original figure has a shirt of sorts but I had to cut away at the bottom of it. I also removed the details on the edges of his pants and filed down the stitching details on the front. I cut away a bit of the collar from his jacket as well. Thankfully I was satisfied with the pose, so I did not have to make any adjustments to that part of the figure.
At this point I begin to build back up. I decided to work with ProCreate, a 2 part putty similar to green stuff though not as tacky. For the horns and tail, I twisted together two thin wires to build an armature that I then inserted into the resin figure. The horns should look symmetric, so take extra time and care to get the armature as symmetric as possible. Errors at this stage will make your job even tougher when the putty is applied. Since the putty hardens over time, I worked in small sections. I add details and allow them to harden before moving on to the next area. Take your time, trying to do too much can often cost you more time through mistakes than it saves.
ADDING NEW DETAILS
I sculpted on a new shirt and added the belt. He’s wearing boots, though all I needed to add was the top of the boot and let his existing pants/shoes stand in for the rest. The character wears a long coat, so I extended the existing coat on the model. For this I rolled out the putty on wax paper (helps avoid fingerprints in the putty) and cut it to the desired shape and size.
I then gently bent the putty into the shape I wanted and let it harden. Once that was done, I glued it to the figure and used additional putty to hide the seams. This is probably not the ideal way at getting free flowing cloth, but it worked well enough for what I need. Like I said, this whole process was a learning experience for me.
I also added in a vest between the existing coat and his shirt. Little by little I continued to fill out the coat and add more details to the piece. He’s got this patchwork look on his sleeves. Rather than sculpt that, I was able to cut into the existing sleeves with a hobby knife and a file and shape them how I wanted.
I’m mostly adding putty to create what I want but this is not always enough. There are times where carving away at the existing sculpt can also be used to create your desired shape.
Here is a look at the completed version with a coat of white primer applied. By no means perfect… but I’m pretty happy with the results given my level of experience with sculpting and converting. I also was hopeful that I could make up for any errors in my sculpting with my painting.
PAINTING THE FIGURE
I began by painting the face, as I often do. I’m working with Reaper Master Series paints but the purples I had (Imperial Purple and Amethyst Purple) were a bit too warm compared to the character art. So I found some comparable blues to mix in and cool them off a bit.
The main light source is directly overhead (zenithal) and, since the head is titled down, that creates some nice dramatic shadows on the face. Light hits the forehead, nose, and then just a bit on the cheeks, lower lip, and chin.
After the face I started to work from the inside out, painting the shirt and vest beneath his coat. There is a bit of freehand design work on his collar, but that’s only the start for this figure. I began by sketching in the checkerboard pattern resulting in some pretty rough looking work. From there I start to make slight adjustments to help make sure the sizes are the same and the lines are straight. As I go back over them to add highlights and shadows I refine my work, touch up lines, and sharpen up the corners of the squares. There’s a decent amount of back and forth here until I’m happy with the consistency of the design.
PAINTING THE CLOTHES
I then moved on to the coat, pants, and boots and base coated each. Often I will do this step earlier so I can see how the various colors work together. However, since here I had a reference for the colors I didn’t feel it was necessary at the start.
One of my goals with this piece was to improve my freehand design work. I’ve had a good deal of practice on other figures, but one area I wanted to improve was the highlighting and shading of my designs. I might have large contrast on a solid colored region… but when I added the designs they tended to have more muted contrast and didn’t match the rest of the figure. That was something I hoped to fix on this piece.
My first real test was the designs on his pants. Again I followed the character art in terms of the design and color choice. I roughed in the shapes (like with the collar) and then refined them as I highlighted and shaded. At this point I felt pretty happy that the contrast in the design work matched the contrast in the rest of the figure.
With the pants finished I started on the leather belt and boots. Leather provides an excellent opportunity to work on painting texture. Simply painting these parts brown won’t do. Instead I use a lot of stippling and short strokes to create the illusion of texture. You can find a fuller tutorial I’ve written on that subject here.
I next moved on to the coat. This is a part of the figure will be covered in freehand. In this case the design work will be a marathon, not a sprint. I did this over many painting sessions and took plenty of breaks to avoid burn out.
My first step was to shade and highlight the underlying dull red for the coat. This also provided a reference for highlighting and shading the designs that I will paint over the top. I used the character art as a guide, though it required a certain amount of interpretation as I was unable to see the character all the way around. There were also simplifications. A lot of that depends on the scale and your level of confidence painting freehand.
On a smaller figure, I would have simplified even more. I began with major images/shapes to help me position them in the proper place. As I moved on to the smaller parts of the design, I adjusted or left out portions as I felt necessary.
For any geometric design, I try to break it down into its basic components and then build up to the final design. I also rely on measuring and placing guide marks so the shapes are as uniform as possible. This will help it to look less like freehand and more like something actually printed onto the fabric. Take the suns on his coat, for example. I started by taking a scrap of paper. I mark the distance from the centre of the circle to the outside. Then a second mark for the distance to the end of the arm (triangle).
I use a scrap of paper rather than a ruler since I can bend the paper to follow the contours of the figure. Using that improvised ruler I placed a dot for the center of the circle and then held the paper at different angles to mark dots along the outside of the circle and at the end of each arm. Instead of trying to freehand a circle, I could follow the dots to keep it much closer to a true circle than if I’d just eyeballed it. I then went about thickening up that line (first image below).
Next I painted on radial lines for the arms. Then I went about placing more guide marks around the circle, two evenly spaced between each arm. These were close enough that I did just eyeball it (though if you wanted to be real precise you could measure that too). Then I painted in the lines connecting these marks with the ends of the arms (image 2 and 3).
Next I had to add the squiggly triangles in between. I started with a short line between each triangle, done at a slight angle (image 4). Then I went back with a stretched ‘C’ shape (image 5). Finally I painted the lines on either side, letting the existing curve help be my guide (image 6).
You may notice in the above image that I’m doing some highlighting and shading as I lay down the initial design. I tried to mix a handful of colors (3-5) to use as different shades in the design. My focus here is on getting the design down and not smooth blends. But I can create a rough sense of shading by jumping between a handful of mixes as I work on the initial design. Afterward I can go back and focus on smoothing out the design in the couple spots where it’s needed and won’t have to go back over and over the entire design to layer in the blends.
The inside of the coat is lined with half-moons. For these repeated designs I take a similar approach. Just eyeballing them will lead to a lot of variation in their spacing and shape and result is a piece that looks sloppy. So again I use a scrap of paper and measure out a series of guide dots. They are done in diagonal lines and indicate the center of each moon (seen in the dots in the circles below). To help standardize the crescent shapes, I paint a circle around each dot.
Again I use a scrap of paper to help me check the diameter of each circle so they are consistent. Only then do I go back and paint the crescent shape. With the evenly spaced circles as a guide, I can keep these much more uniform in their shape and spacing.
I continued to add designs to the coat, filling up every open space just like in the character Art, and then added some patterns to the patchwork sleeves.
I did a final bit of detailing on the horns. Though they had been sculpted smooth, I felt that they needed a little something more. So I painted a series of parallel dark lines to break them up. Furthermore, I then painted thin light lines and did a bit of shading to create the illusion of a 3-D texture on the otherwise smooth surface.
CREATING THE SCENE – CONVERTING A 75MM FANTASY FIGURE
Converting a 75mm fantasy figure is now essentially complete, therefore I turned my attention to the scene. Given his pose and the character’s backstory, I pictured him standing in front of the carnival tent. Perhaps with his arms extended to welcome people to the show. I looked at a variety of reference images from old carnivals and renaissance fair tents. This should give me some ideas for how it should look and how folds in the cloth might appear. I sculpted the tent out of Super Sculpey Firm. Unfortunately, after baking, some of the thinner parts developed cracks in them. Super Sculpey can be brittle and it looks like I did not provide it with the proper support. So, sadly, I had to ditch my initial attempt and start over.
Now I switched over to Fimo. I didn’t find it as easy to work with, but it is a lot more durable. I also switched up the design for the tent, making the entrance taller and allowing the top of the tent to disappear outside the scene. As for the height of the tent I sculpted (in both cases) I applied the golden ratio and made the tent 1.62 times the height of the figure.
The area of the base around the figure was pretty empty. While I did not want to distract from the focus of the piece, Mollymauk, I felt like a little more was needed to help convey the world he was a part of. Conveniently the show provided a wealth of information about the character and plenty of little details that I could add. Early on he uses a tarot deck to tell fortunes. I decided he’d just finished doing a few of those outside the tent. To strengthen this narrative, I created a stool and crate (from balsa wood) that perhaps he’d been using.
I had some thin foil sheet that I cut into rectangles to make a deck of tarot cards as well and clipped a few pieces of resin off the end of a cylindrical sprue to create a few coins. That filled up the left side but I still wanted to add something on the right to help balance it out. I decided to create a wooden sign post and, with a piece of metal foil, added a paper sign advertising the traveling carnival of curiosities.
Below is the final piece. From converting a 75mm fantasy figure, to painting it and creating a suitable setting! I definitely learned a lot with this project and it gave me the confidence to do more conversion work in the future. After hanging on to the finished piece for a little bit, I was able to give it to Taliesin Jaffe, the actor who played Mollymauk on Critical Role. And I’m already well into my next Critical Role conversion… so hopefully that will end up as another tutorial in the future.