When I was a kid I always desired to create toys on the characters of my imagination. I used to craft creatures often with whatever I had on hand. Yes, I was young with a lot of time and no money.
Now that I have money, I have very little free time and even less imagination. Despite this, I managed to finish a project that I had been wanting for… decades.
I was inspired by those vintage action figures by Hasbro: essential shapes, simply posable and they fit in one hand.
The main idea was to produce a 10cm (3.75 inches) action figure with 5 joints ( head, two arms and two legs). Taking Hasbro’s figures as reference, I wanted to create a character from scratch, then 3D print the different parts as follows:
- Swiveling head and limbs (arms and legs) printed in flexible material
- Torso printed with rigid material in such a way as to accommodate limbs and head
For the prototype I created a character from scratch, let’s call him Kerr, something between He-Man and a generic barbarian warrior.
To model the figure I proceeded with ZBrush as usual: first blocking the overall structure with generic shapes, then gradually sculpting adding details and props.
Below the final hi-poly sculpt and some polypaint for reference:
Preparation for 3D printing
My intent was to define a process to create articulated figure from almost every kind of 3D character. The first step is to make the figure assume another position other than T-pose, maybe bending shoulders, elbows, knees.
Once the pose is satisfying, we can proceeding with “cutting” the geometry into pieces by using auxiliary shapes. In this case the ZBrush’s Boolean features allows to generate separate geometries for head, torso and limbs.
An important aspect concerning the production is to “toyfy” the model, keeping in mind the following points:
- Bulking subtle details: especially for small figures, little details could be disregarded by the slicing software, for this reason it is a good idea to bulk some details such as nose, ears, fingers, hair strands…
- Removing useless details: a super-detailed iris could be useless in a 10 cm figure, or worse can be confusing in the final result, so better reduce its LOD.
- Smooth sharp edges: in addition to an aesthetic reason, smoothing sharp edges between mobile parts facilitates movements when the model will be printed.
Here comes the funny part. As for all the “retro-like” action figures, there will be at least five cylindrical pivots for the rotations of head, arms (shoulders) and legs (femur head).
Below the main 3D keys for these pivots:
These tapered cylindrical pivots were designed to facilitate the insertion of the limbs into the torso block, making them hold and rotate at the same time.
The printing process took about 10 hours with a low cost filament extrusion 3D printer. As stated above, the torso was produced with rigid material (PLA), while limbs and head with flexible material (TPU).
Flexible limbs will resist to torsion, bending and pressure. But the most important aspect is that flexible mobile parts allow the entire figure to be fall proof.
After a series of crash tests against the floor, the figure is ready to be hand painted with acrylic colors.
In the future maybe I will explore the production of more complex joints (doubled joints, ball joints…) for more articulated figures. Also, since filament extrusion implies unpleasant inaccuracies in the final product, I will explore other production ways.