Saturday, November 27, 2010


Paint Master: I’d originally considered casting Marley in a translucent resin. The more I thought about it, the more problems presented themselves. I’d always intended to have the line produced as cold-cast collectibles, and so many of my decisions regards engineering and paint applications were governed by that. It would have been possible to do a one-off or a two- zee, with a translucent casting, applying a series of air brushed clear glazes with some opaque touches, but as a production piece, it would have been unmanageable. The same consideration went into the chains. I think it would have been cool if they were all rusty and corroded, but hard to keep consistently in production. I laid out a template for the length of chain sections, where they linked and how they were to be arranged on the figure. I don’t know what a “glowing lobster” looks like, and I don’t know that it would have changed my mind in Marley’s color. The color scheme for his costume is bland, dull and washed out, keeping the focus of the piece on his portrait. There was a good deal of dry-brushing and washes in painting him up. The only gloss touches were the eyes and glasses on the bound head and the eyes and interior of the mouth on the unbound head. The locks, keys and ledgers were painting in a buffable gunmetal paint. With a little dark gray rub. The base too, was grayed out. I’d played with a few versions of a ringing bell but thought a cast shadow of the bell in a different position would get the idea across. That was the plan, anyway. I still hope, one day, to be able to bring these figures to market and complete the line. The future’s a big place. Body parts crossed for luck.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Resins: “Tis better to gate in abundance, than to labor over a faulty resin.” These days, I probably over gate. I’ve become less ambitious when it comes to casting and cleaning resins than I used to be. The trick to good gating is to think like resin. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve been outsmarted by urethane more times than I’d like to admit. The torso was a direct pour, cast with the neck pin in place. The base, too, was a direct pour, with the pivot pin cast in place. Both were swapped out with a steel peg. I ran a lot of little gates for the hair on both heads, pins cast in place. Both hands were loaded molds and then tapped to dislodge trapped air. For Marley’s props, I sculpted two locks, to keys and one ledger. The larger lock has my initials on one side and my wife’s on the reverse. The smaller lock has my son and daughter’s initials. I had intended to have these figures produced as cold cast collectibles and so needed to keep the props down to a manageable assortment, otherwise, I would have probably done a couple more keys and locks and a smaller ledger. His glasses were cast in clear and the frames painted in. I used the same ponytail for both heads. PART 5 - PAINT MASTER, wil be posted on Friday. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Wax: With a set of wax castings, I started the finish work. I needed a resin head to make sure of a good fit into the body and so finished the head first. Next, I worked the hands and created temporary keys into the sleeves. With a resin of the head and hands, I concentrated on finishing the body. One of the beauties of wax is being able to work individual parts to finish and then wax-weld them into place. I don’t think I could have gotten the kind of movement and finish on the torso if I would have had to work around the arms. With the arms and torso done, I reassembled the figure, finished out the seams and was ready for molds. The bandaged head of Marley became the gape jawed Marley. I wanted to keep as much consistency between the two heads as possible, and so used the original head as the base for the alternate head. Having resin parts to work to a wax makes keying parts much easier. The head, hands, and ponytail were all resin parts keyed to a wax.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Every figure in this series began life in clay. We’ve discussed in the Pop Sculpture, the importance of working out the various issues posed by a sculpture by working them out in clay. After taking a series of pictures of myself as Marley, reciting his lines as I did so, I found a pose I thought worked well. (I won’t share those pictures of me as some of may have just eaten) I sent a set of pix of the rough clay to my friend and Master Sculptor, Tony Cipriano, who suggested turning his left hand, palm up, instead of the palm down version I had. A subtle difference, but an important change that helped balance an accusing finger with a open gesture of generosity. With the clay done, I made a series of waste molds, cast waxes and started the finish work.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I’ve read A Christmas Carol nearly every Christmas season since I was seventeen. The book has grown with me as I’ve grown. That, to me, is the test of a timeless tale, one whose relevance keeps apace with the view of the world in which we live. Late in 2007, I started work on what I’d hoped would be an eight figure series of busts based on Dickens’s Christmas classic. The last figure of the four I completed was the Ghost of Jacob Marley. I started by rereading all the passages relating to Marley and researched the various incarnations of him that have appeared over the years. By imagining who this man was, “in life”, I looked ahead to whom he had become. (The picture in the upper left hand corner is my first attempt at a Marley sculpt done in 1983)

Design: I wanted the various characters to be able to interact with each other while maintaining a base-front display. I pitched the pivot idea to DCD years ago for a series of mini busts. The figures were to pivot within an iconic rock structure with a Justice League logo carved into the front. At the last minute, the idea was scraped, as was the logo. What resulted was a series of figures stuck on a rock, which made no sense. The next opportunity to try the pivot was on a series of Hellboy busts I did for Dark Horse followed by a series of Elfquest busts with the pivot feature. What a designer considers the money shot isn’t always shared by the collector. The pivot allows the collector to position the figure the way they want. Not a world shaker, granted, but anything that gives the collector a little more influence over his/her purchase is a plus.

So, the figures of the Christmas Carol Collection would pivot. I also wanted to tie the figures to the book as literally as I could. I researched what the first edition of the book looked like and recreated art to reflect that design. The book evolved into a removable ornament with text from the book relating to that particular character. That, in turn, led to the creation of an alternate base front. Scrooge’s bed curtains play an important role in the story. The alternate base front uses the parted bed curtains to reveal a low relief sculpture directly related to that character and their place in the story. With Scrooge, its Marley’s head as the door knocker (shown). Tiny Time is his crutch and leg brace. The Ghost or Christmas Present is the boy and girl who represent Ignorance and Want. For Marley, I used a bell, as the bells ring throughout Scrooge’s house announcing Marley’s appearance, without moving. The pivot feature is easiest to accomplish using the casting-the-peg-in-place method, described in Pop Sculpture..

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making Marley

Next week, in celebration of the Season, we'll be running a multi-part post of the making of Jacob Marley. From clay studies, to wax, molds, casts and paint master, we'll cover, in detail, the creation of the last figure in Tim's Christmas Carol Collection. Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jim McPherson: A Digital Interview About Digital Sculpting

When putting together Pop Sculpture, we knew we wanted to touch on digital sculpting in some way. Luckily, RubĂ©n knew Jim McPherson, 3D Art Director and one of the lead sculptors at Gentle Giant Studio, and he was willing to share some info about the process. While his insight is included in the book, we didn’t get a chance to get into his prolific career, which includes makeup design with the legendary Rick Baker, as well as iconic pieces for DC Direct, Electric Tiki and more. Read on for the complete interview!

What made you want to become a sculptor? How did you get into the business?

Jim McPherson:
I was really inspired by the early toys from Ideal, Captain Action and especially the Justice League/Batman Playset. I'm not sure how many people sculpted on these, or if it was mainly one really talented guy. The figures are very naturalistic, but also it seems to me that the comics the characters came from were looked at very carefully. I'm guessing they pulled a Wonder Woman comic, an Aquaman, a Justice League of America and a Dick Sprang Batman Annual among others. There's a perfect Dick Sprang-style Joker in the set, for instance. Captain Action's Captain America Mask looks a bit like Jack Kirby's design, and the Aquaman looks like Nick Cardy's. It's sort of the early version of now, when Tim Bruckner does dead-on Alex Ross figures. I was really impressed by that.

I loved The Munsters, which got me interested in makeup. I loved the Adventures of Superman and Batman TV shows, which got me interested in toys and comic art. I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I had always done sculptures. In college, I decided I liked sculpting a lot more. I actually walked into a company called the Puppet Workshop and got a job sculpting puppets and walkaround costumes and performing in the puppet show(!).

I moved to New York, sculpted on music videos and commercials and Broadway shows and then moved to California, showed my portfolio and got work helping out on Howard the Duck ( the makeup on Jeffrey Jones, not the Duck). Eventually I got hired at Rick Baker's and did a lot of behind-the-scenes character design work, which is really my favorite thing to do. Rick mainly sculpted his character designs in clay. Sometimes he did airbrush paintings. I do a lot of character design and visual development now, and use much of what I've learned from Rick and the other great artists who worked for him.

I saw on your Website that you sculpted the stretchy-face Ash prosthetic from Army of Darkness?

Yes, he was Plastic Man and didn't know it! Plus, stage one was made to look like Fred Gwynne (of The Munsters), but I never told anyone until after it was on film.

What material did you work in before you went to digital?

I worked in Plasticine (oil-based) and WED (water-based) clay on all the film sculptures, and Sculpey for toys. I wish I had used wax, but I didn't want to make any more molds, so I spent weeks sanding the Electric Tiki sculpts until every scratch was gone. Maybe I should have suffered with a few more molds and some wax burns.

When did you first go to digital? Did a specific project prompt the move?

A friend, Chris Bailey, was developing his own short called "Major Damage." I did Sculpey maquettes for Major Damage himself. I asked if I could learn how to build digital models, too, and he got some sponsorships from Maya and Hewlett-Packard, so I was able to work on the computers those companies lent to the project. I ended up modeling the Giant Stone Tikis that are in the short.

What program do you use?

I use Zbrush, but any high-poly sculpting program will work. I like the advantage of painting my sculptures while I'm sculpting them. The client and the artist have a much better idea of what the final painted product will look like, in my opinion.

What are the benefits of working with a digital program over traditional sculpting?

A large part of what I do is character design, and I used to design film characters as clay maquettes. Doing them in the computer is a lot faster, and often directors and Visual Effects Supervisors sit with me, and we collaborate on the designs. I can actually save many versions in the same file, so that I can easily flip through them and see which ones I like best.

I did a sculpture of a walking, crouched dragon for Reign of Fire traditionally, It had armatured wings which had clay on both sides, and I was constantly grinding away the armature to get the sculpture to look thin enough. Years later, I designed my own dragon digitally. I have a printout of it at my desk and a casting of the Reign of Fire dragon, also. Rick Baker came by one day and said "the digital one is way better." I can see a big difference in just the sculptural quality. On the traditional piece, at a point I could no longer change the armature without having to re-sculpt something that had already taken many hours to do. I was stuck with things I didn't like and had to give up on improvements. Digitally, I could change the pose and proportions all the way up until I was done. I have no more problems with "make the head 10 percent smaller" critiques from a client. In traditional sculpting that's an unpaid "do over."

Does traditional sculpting experience help you as a digital sculptor?

Of course. I think about everything the exact same way I always did. I still have to pick up tools off a table and add or subtract clay to try to achieve what I think is good sculpture. Except now I pick my tool up off a menu on a computer screen. I've done a 7-foot figure and a 12-foot cartoon shark back in the day; now we're milling figures larger than this, which are sculpted digitally. Learning about how form creates character applies to all three-dimensional work.

Do you still send physical prototypes to the factory for tooling? If so, do you output and prep them yourself, or send the digital files directly to the client?

We have printers at Gentle Giant. One of the printers we use mostly for small action figure parts, as it leaves no artifacts to be cleaned up. But we do whatever output and prep that is necessary in-house. We do send digital character files out for films and sometimes don't print a physical copy.

What are some pieces you've sculpted the traditional way, and what are some you've sculpted digitally?

Actual traditional sculpted products include the early Spumco Dolls and Pencil toppers -- Jimmy, George Liquor and Sody Pop -- and nine of the earliest figures for Tracy Lee's Electric Tiki design. These were all done in Super Sculpey. Digitally, I've sculpted a Will Eisner Spirit PVC for Dark Horse, the Batman Year One Statue designed by David Mazzucchelli, and two Superman action figures for the Superman vs. Doomsday animated line. I also do a large number of likenesses for actors and sports action figures digitally.

What is your favorite traditionally sculpted piece of your own?

A seven-foot Zeus sculpture for Jekyll & Hyde's Restaurant in New York City that I sculpted at Creative Character Engineering. My favorite makeup is the Planet of the Apes orangutan makeup test, and my favorite digital piece is my Atomic Dragon...