Saturday, 17 November 2012

Lip sync character creation- part 1

With my micro project 2 character fully designed, I could begin the fabrication process. For this, I used Super Sculpey heavily, for the model does not need to move per se- this is, after all, only a lip sync text with facial expression.

As always when sculpting, I began by blocking out the basic shape. You can see that I used two plastic beads for eyes. Of course, I could not put these in the oven when baking the Sculpey as they would melt, hence the need to split the head into component parts (as per my hand drawn designs) to be able to pop them back in afterwards.

From this project, especially important concerning my personal learning aim of using new materials, I have used Super Sculpey for the first time, and hold a strong first impression of it. I have found the material to be incredibly workable and easy to sculpt. It is not unlike wax in texture, and is perhaps more rubbery than Plasticine. It holds its form well (but needs to be bulked out if thicker than a centimetre or so), and despite its workability is really quite resilient, with minor knocks and scratches not showing as badly as other materials. I would also commend its colour, (which is a personal preference I suppose since grey and white variants are also available), as it is rather solid and gives strong shadows necessary to judge the 3D shape. I have found many a time when using bright white clay that light bounces and shadows virtually disappear, making it difficult to see the depth of details you have sculpted.

Another benefit is the ability to bake the clay when you are happy with the shape. Instead of waiting for air-drying clay to harden overnight, you can simply bake Sculpey in under half an hour, and your model is ready to be painted. This is a lifesaver when working to a tight schedule, and something that I must say I have been under appreciative of until now. You do naturally have to be careful not to burn the clay by being impatient and using too high an oven temperature, or leaving it in too long. I have found that if you use a slightly lower temperature, you can bake the same piece multiple times without any negative effects, which was very useful considering many of my components were sculpted atop an existing piece.

An interesting observation is that the Sculpey appears to harden as it cools, and not as it bakes. On my first attempt, I baked it for quite a while longer than recommended as it remained a bit soft. I found however that, as the piece cooled, it became rock solid. As aforementioned, I did bake some pieces multiple times- wherein I discovered that a hardened piece can in fact soften again in the oven, a property which lead to one of my components breaking! More on this later on.

The shape of the forehead component was perfected, and the back was hollowed out to make the model more lightweight and to conserve material. As you can see, the eyes were sculpted into the head to ensure the sockets were a perfect fit- I needed to use a blade therefore to carefully cut the correct seam lines into the model.

In this instance, everything below the mid-point of the eyes needed to be cut away, to leave a smooth seam. The K & S connector was built onto the back, and the eyes were prised from their half sockets to reveal my fully sculpted part. It was important to bake this first so that I could build the lower face around it without damaging the sculpt.

Using the lower half eye socket that was cut away previously, I sculpted the rest of the head directly around the baked forehead piece:

The back of the skull was then hollowed out akin to the forehead piece earlier. The tricky part here was to create the K & S connector slot that would form the basis of attaching the two pieces firmly together.

The recess where the connector sits was carefully cut away with a blade, before being smoothened with sculpting tools. The K & S slot, which needed to be exact, was created simply by pushing a piece of square brass tubing through the Sculpey to punch out the hole.

With the top of the head complete, I turned my attention to the mouth. As my designs indicate, the mouth piece must be separate to the press mould for my replacement Plasticine parts. Contrary to the press moulds I have used during work experience, whereby the initial ‘blank template’ mouth shapes were sculpted with Plasticine (more often than not leading to them being destroyed when being removed from the mould), I decided that I would create my template mouth with Super Sculpey. Its solidity would mean that it can be pressed into the mould base clay, and subsequently removed from it, without damage. Similar to how I removed the forehead component from my initial sculpt, I had to cut the mouth piece from the head. In doing so, I completed the shapes for both the mouth and main head, which then needed to be baked.

With the head solid, I was able to add the ears relatively easily, as I could press against the hard Sculpey to smoothen the join. All of the parts were sanded smooth with fine sandpaper followed by wet and dry paper, to remove any minor surface imperfections.

Baked once again to harden the ears, I moved on to the K & S slot. A length of square brass tubing was cut and cemented into the holes created earlier using Milliput.

Unfortunately, this is where I began to experience a few problems. Despite the fact that Super Sculpey is not supposed to shrink as it hardens, I found that it definitely seemed to do so- minimally, but this tiny difference meant that the previously perfect eye sockets were just a fraction too tight. I had to sand the inside as best as I could using rolled-up sandpaper to widen the sockets. This in turn made the sides of the sockets very thin. Eventually, as a result of my trial and error testing of the sockets’ sizes, the corner chipped away.

My first attempt to fix the chip was to re-sculpt the side of the socket with Super Sculpey, and place the head into the oven once more to bake. Whilst this did work initially, I found that the new piece had ultimately failed to bond with the main head, and fell away after a short time. Glue proved ineffective, and so as a final resort I patched up the chip with Milliput. Thankfully, this worked well. 

The next major task was to create the character’s hair. With the head components baked and fully sculpted, I was able to shape the hair directly atop his head. As always, I began by using small pieces of clay to build up the shape I desired- making sure to check the side profile was correct too. As you can see on my designs, three large points and one small one further back can be seen on his flicked-up hair from both the front and side views. I wanted my sculpt to be as accurate as possible, and recreating this shape was a great challenge! My solution was to actually create two sets of points- depending on which side you view the character, one of these sets of points will align directly in front of the other, rendering it unnoticeable on his silhouette.

Small pieces of tissue were placed into the eye socket seam during this sculpting process, as I was afraid that the pressure of pressing down upon the forehead component could cause further damage to the thin Sculpey, and wanted to soften the effects of the two parts constantly grinding together.

The hair sculpt was very intricate and fragile, and so I decided that the tuft of hair on his crown would be created once the main hair shape had been baked. This would minimalise damage to the details when pressing into the clay surface, and through handling. The Sculpey had actually stuck to the head pretty well, and removing the fresh sculpt from the hard components beneath, without damaging it, was difficult. Eventually though, I was successful.

The irony here is that the hair had to be baked atop the head anyway, so that it would hold its shape in the oven. It was important that it was only placed atop and not stuck however, as otherwise I might not have been able to remove the hair component from the head after baking.

With the hair, I experienced a similar slew of problems as with the eye socket. Once the hair had been baked, I sculpted his tufts on the top. At this point, I had no idea the Sculpey would soften as it baked, and so placed the hair on a baking tray and left it in the oven for the tufts to harden. When it came to taking the piece out, I discovered that the Sculpey had softened and under its own weight, the hair had broken and collapsed. The left sideburn was broken off.

This time, I tried using Milliput like an adhesive to stick the sideburn back on instead of having to re-sculpt it. This didn’t work, and I was forced to build it up from scratch with Milliput. All seemed fine, until I tried the hair on the head and the sideburn broke straight off again. More Milliput (and some poly cement) later, and the piece was sufficiently fixed. Nevertheless, this process of repeatedly fixing and braking was a real setback. Since I was forced to use Milliput, I had to wait the better part of a day every time for it to set before I could progress.   

Just as difficult, if not more so, was attaching the small K & S peg that plugs the hair into the top of his head (to prevent it from moving around). I had not anticipated that, when the forehead component is attached to the head, I have no way of seeing inside to determine the peg’s position. Trying to align the two K & S square tubes using touch alone is no easy task, especially when the peg itself is weak! Several times, it broke away when I unknowingly pressed against it, and I had to repeat yet another fixing process time and time again. This was a very tedious and frustrating few days, for the end result of my time and effort was merely to return to the position I was in before things broke.


  1. Thanks very much Mark! With the little breaks all fixed now, hopefully I can press on and get this model completed soon. This has definitely been a steep learning curve of what I can and cannot do with Super Sculpey! Next time I should stand in better stead and things will no doubt go a lot smoother!

  2. Great job!
    Thanks for the lesson!
    I want to continue to monitor your actions, there is still something to see? your work?

  3. possible write me an email
    possible exchange of experience!