Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sculpting task: the return of Benny!

It's been a while since I've seen this little guy! This week’s task required me to design a character with several different exaggerated expressions, and to then sculpt those expressions from scratch. For this, I decided to revisit the character of Benny, whom I designed for my flip-book task for the ‘Illusion of Life’ module last term.

The reasons behind this decision are that I like to challenge myself when making a model- Benny has a large head compared to the size of his body, and so I aimed to find a solution to prevent him from toppling over. I should note that although the task did not require me to do so, I chose to sculpt the body too, such that the interchangeable heads can be replaced. This was purely a personal choice, as I feel that a model of just the head would look somewhat unfinished.

To plan my model, I felt it was necessary to consider the character in three dimensions, something that I did not do for my flip-book. This helped greatly as reference when sculpting, enabling me to judge proportion and scale. Minor alterations were made to the character- This is for the most part a natural progression of the design, however certain details (such as the slightly wider limbs) are indeed conscious decisions to make the character more sturdy as a physical model. The expressions that I chose to sculpt were taken directly from the original flip-book; smiling, shocked, and whistling.

To make my model of Benny, I decided to use light, air-drying clay. This is the medium that I regularly work with, so I understand its properties well. Since the purpose of this task is to sculpt, not animate, I am not required to move the model. I believe therefore that something a little more durable and lasting than plasticine is useful, or the model may become damaged or lose form over time.

The clay is also incredibly light, and recommended to be used where weight is an issue. This is true for Benny, as his head is large. The clay can be sanded, filed and painted once dry which enabled me to touch up any imperfections once the initial sculpt was finished.

I began by making the rough shape of his head entirely by hand. At this early stage it is easier to make any changes to size/proportion, rather than having to carefully alter the model afterwards. Using modelling tools, I shaped the material further, adding grooves etc. where appropriate, and lastly once dry I filed the surface smooth. The bottom-right image shows the completed head sculpt, closely resembling the hand drawn character. 

The body was created with clay, with a ridge added to highlight the distinction between Benny’s shirt and trousers. 

For Benny to stand freely, he needed some stability that clay could not provide. For the legs and arms, I created a basic framework with some malleable garden wire, which was pushed into the clay body before it had dried. I covered the bulk of the wire with masking tape to pad it out.

The same technique was applied to the arms. Afterwards, I removed the rubber coating from some spare electrical cable and slid this onto the wire limbs (after cutting to the correct length, of course). Not only does this increase the durability of the model, it offers a far more consistent surface finish than had I attempted to sculpt a cylindrical shape by hand.  

The body and head were painted by hand to resemble the character designs. Several coats were applied to achieve a smooth finish. To Increase the cartoon feel of the model, and make Benny look more like his 2D hand drawn counterpart, I added black outlines where possible.

Originally, I made models as a whole before painting the entire thing afterwards. I found problems however in that some areas became hard to reach to paint, typically under the arms and the inside of hands. As such, I switched to creating a model of component parts, which are painted individually and later assembled. The hands (above) were carefully sculpted, before being painted and glued on afterwards. The shoes were blocked in with clay around the sturdy wire frame, ensuring they remained even and level, and were smoothed over with tools.

The same process as used for the first head sculpt was used for the subsequent alternate expressions. Again closely mirroring the hand drawn designs, I added outlines to simulate a cartoon appearance.

The final model is shown below, with each of the heads in place. I am very pleased with the end result which I feel retains the key aspects of the cartoon character.

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