Under The Hood – Making A Custom
I thought I’d do something a little different today and show you all how I make Custom Action Figures. Customs can be as easy as swapping a head or other body parts (Known as Parts Swapping) or as complicated as sculpting and fully painting a figure. Join me as I go from custom inspiration through creation and ending with photo editing.
So last November I was at a toy show digging through a bin of loose figures when I happened upon an Indiana Jones Mutt Williams figure. Now, this isn’t the greatest figure or anything, but he has a really good leather jacket piece that can be used for customs. I didn’t know what I was going to make at the moment but I knew I was going to use it for something. While talking with the vendor selling me the figure, I found out he was a fan of the zombie movie Return of the Living Dead. I too love this film and especially the movie poster. It was at that moment I knew what Mutt’s leather jacket was going to be used for.
So here are the main figures I’ll be using for this custom. From Left to Right, Mutt Williams, Boss Fight Studio Vitruvian Hacks Male Elf Blank, BFS Skeleton and the Series Z Irradiated Zombie.
My initial idea was simple, Plug the Zombie torso and head onto the Elf waist and legs, plug the lower skeleton arms into the upper Elf arms, plug those into the Zombie torso and putt Mutt’s Jacket vest piece on the figure….
My first hiccup was that the Zombie torso and Elf waist were not compatible with each other.
So I figured I could just take the Elf Legs off and put them on the Zombie waist. The thighs can be heated up with water or a hair dryer and pried off the inner hip joint.
Once I put the Elf legs on the Zombie waist, I found out that the ball joints on the waist are a tad too small. To keep the legs from flopping all around, I added some clear paint to the ball joints to thicken them up. This helped a little, but in the end wasn’t quite enough to really stabilize the legs. I may have to try putting some super glue in there and move the legs around while that dries. This process has a similar effect as it’ll add more bulk to the ball joints.
Moving on to the arms, I wasn’t pleased with my original idea. Thankfully I remembered the Mutt torso is soft plastic and you can pull the arms out after heating it up. The arm pegs are much bigger than BFS arm pegs, but after grinding them down a bit with my dremmel tool, they fit nicely. This also works better as I don’t have to worry about paint wear in the arm joints now that I won’t have to paint them.
I then went to cut off Mutt’s hands. I thought they were part of the lower arm, but after cutting the first hand off, I realized there was a wrist joint. I was then able to pull the hands off the jacket sleeves. I changed the bit on my dremmel and drilled into the lower arm widening the hole the hands were in as well and making it longer. I stopped just short of the elbow joint. I cut the Skeleton lower arms and shoved them into the jacket sleeves. I also used my exacto knife to cut the ends of the jacket sleeves to appear ripped and torn.
It was at this point that I put the custom down and started the procrastination period. Not every custom gets a procrastination period, but those that do, get one that lasts months. Most of the time, my procrastination comes at the start. I’ll have the parts selected and will wait months before I make the first cut. Mainly just because I’m not ready to start and may screw it up. There are some customs that wait years because I’m waiting to find the perfect parts. (This was the case with my 3 3/4″ Warduke) I don’t remember why I stopped this particular custom but the parts sat in a bag from December 2020 – June 2021 (7 months!) before I started back on it.
Starting back on this custom, I grabbed my dremmel and hollowed out the eye sockets on the Zombie head.
At this point, I started sculpting. You’ll notice that now there are two half figures here. During my planning stages I was going to just make the Mohawk Zombie. Then I realized I could use most of the left over Skeleton and some other parts to make the girl next to him. Back to sculpting, I used Aves Apoxie Sculpt. There’s a few different two part epoxy compounds out there that people use for sculpting: Aves Apoxie, Kneadatite/Greenstuff, Milliput, etc… I’ve only used Aves and Greenstuff. While Greenstuff has a little flex to it after it dries, I’ve found that the sculpted details get a little softer. Meanwhile, with Aves, the details stay as sharp as when I sculpted them. The flexibility is not there with Aves though.
I have found that it’s hard to measure how much epoxy you’ll need so most of the time I measure out what I think I’ll need, then only take half of that. Once you mix the two epoxy parts, it’s a little hard to sculpt right away. The epoxy is just too soft. I’ll usually try to get the basic shape done at this point, then let it sit for a bit. (Maybe 5-10 minutes) After the epoxy has stiffened up a bit, I’ll grab my sculpting tools and start with the finer details and possibly shaping the parts better. The eye on the Mohawk Zombie was the only exception to this rule. I just rolled a tiny bit into a ball, placed it in the eye socket, then used my poker tool to press it in. (while simultaneously making the iris of the eye) Even with trying to use less epoxy, I still had some left over so I made a spray paint can and a small skull. The small skull has nothing to do with this custom, I’ve just started doing this with left over epoxy because I don’t want to just throw it away.
So now that we have the figures sculpted, it’s time to start painting. I started with a base coat of light green for the Mohawk Zombie. While letting that base coat dry, I realized I forgot to add some torn flesh to the bone arm of the lady.
After the base coat dried, I added a dark green wash to the Zombie. The wash is fairly easy to do, you just add a little water and some paint together then smear it on the figure to get into all the little crevasses of the sculpt. You don’t want it too runny or it won’t stay and you don’t want it too thick. Most people say make it the consistency of milk. If there’s too much, you can always wet down your brush and wipe some away or grab a paper towel and wipe it away. Once I was happy with the wash, I let it dry and did a dry brush of a very pale green over the figure. Dry brushing is just what it sounds like, you get a little paint on the brush, so little, it’s mostly dry, and you lightly run that across your figure. You want to only hit the high points of the sculpt. This can usually make the figure sculpt pop, especially if there’s a lot of sculpted detailing.
Originally I wasn’t going to paint the jacket at all. Unfortunately, Mutt’s name was still printed on the jacket and I couldn’t effectively scrape it off. So I decided to paint the jacket and arms. I used a Semi-gloss black on the Jacket and Boots so they could have a leather sheen to them. I knew I would be using a flat black on the pants, so I wanted the two blacks to be a little different from each other.
While letting the Jacket dry, I started painting many other parts like the Mohawk Zombie legs and the female. First I took the female shirt and added more damage to it. I had used an exacto knife earlier to cut some tears into it, but then I grabbed my dremmel to add a couple of holes and frayed edges. I then painted that red and trimmed down the torn flesh I sculpted earlier. I thought the torn arm looked a little too big when compared to the regular one. So I used my exacto and whittled it down a bit. I also broke some of it off from the bottom to have more bone sticking out at the elbow. I painted the figure in a base green, then used a black wash on it and the red shirt to dirty them both up. I also added a black wash to the knees of the Mohawk Zombie legs to get some paint into the joints so they don’t show up as much if I move them.
Here you can see I’ve done a dry brushing on both zombies and the female’s hair. I went with a paler grey/green for the female’s bone parts to differentiate them from her skin. I also used that same paint to do their eyes and teeth. Unfortunately, I put too much on the female’s teeth.
Thankfully, most paint mistakes can be fixed easily. Here I just added a dark wash to her teeth, then did another dry brush over the teeth once they dried.
I happened to remember I had these tiny chains from a previous project so I figured I should add real chains to my Mohawk Zombie. I measured out about how much chain I was going to need, then I stripped a twist tie. I wrapped the chain around the Zombie and slid the long twist tie through the links where they all intersected around his belt. I twisted the twist tie, cut off the excess and had the chain secured fairly well to his belt.
While messing around with the chain, I noticed that some of the paint on the Female’s arm had rubbed off. I just mixed some dark green paint and lightly painted over the yellow epoxy showing through. I find that there’s always some bits of paint that get rubbed off while you’re handling the parts when making them so you just have to keep an eye out and go back over them every so often.
Now I grabbed a lot of epoxy and made the gravestone. (I also added a ridge to my spray paint can using some more epoxy) Since epoxy will adhere to whatever it’s touching when drying, I like to use non-stick tin foil. To get the rough nature of weather worn stone, I lightly rolled my dremmel sandpaper bit over the gravestone while it was drying. I also sculpted in a few other details here and there. After it was dry (I usually wait overnight to let epoxy fully dry) I tested out how it would stand. It was a little wobbly so I used the sandpaper dremmel bit and shaved down the bottom bit by bit until I was happy with it’s stability. I then used the same painting techniques as I used on the figures. Grey base coat, dark green wash. However, this time, I ran some tissue paper down the stone to try to make the green wash streak down like water wear on a gravestone. I also used a light grey to dry brush and make some details pop a bit.
Now came one of the harder parts….writing with a paint brush. I used a small #1 brush to do all of the big lettering and a tiny 000 brush for the small lettering. I then went back over all of the lettering with the 000 brush and a darker red to replicate the movie poster art. I also added some paint drips on a few of the letters with the 000 brush. I found it easier to do the drop under the letters first then add the thin line connecting them to the letter.
And now it’s time for photographs! This was my first picture in my light box using the typical light settings. I thought it looked a little too bright and I wanted to add some moodiness to it…
So I cut down the regular lighting and added a makeshift blue light. I did this with an led flashlight with a blue grocery bag wrapped around it. This looked a little too bright still though.
So I moved the blue light further away from the customs to darken the picture a bit.
After getting the pictures off my phone and on my computer I ran the two best finished pictures through my Gimp program. (It’s a free photoshop-type editor) I played with the brightness and contrast a bit to make the pictures not be so bright. In this one I also painted out most of the dust and scratches on the plexiglass flooring of my light box.
Hopefully you enjoyed this look at how I make custom action figures.