Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wheel of Time Action Figures Part 5: To Make A Trolloc

Hi kids, welcome back! I hope everyone had a fun and festive holiday season and that 2011 is treating you all well so far. I have a late Christmas present for all of you, another entry in my custom Wheel of Time Action Figures series - a special one this time! As I alluded to a few weeks ago, I was going to devote some of my free time during last week's mini-vacation to creating a new Wheel of Time figure and also try to do some sort of "making of" feature along with it, possibly in real time here on the blog. Now I had taken the week between Christmas and New Years off anyway, but the free time I ended up having during my "mini vacation" was greatly multiplied by New York City being buried under a metric shit-ton of snow; our wonderful Dept. of Sanitation leaving us that way for two or three days for whatever reason, and the fact that at the slightest hint of inclement road conditions, Joey's Beemer only drives sideways.

Also, I'm not quite sure how I expected to do a blog post in real time, but regardless, the post is here now. I know I also said I would be doing the "aborted and abandoned figures" article first, but I decided I'd do this one instead. If this bothers you, what can I tell you, deal with it.  Oh, and if you're new here, you can check out the previous articles here, here, here and here.

So yeah thanks to the snow I ended up with even more free time than I planned on having last week, and despite Santa bringing me a whole bunch of new books and DVD's I managed to pry myself away from my Christmas presents long enough to create a brand spanking new Trolloc figure. Actually I pried myself away long enough for two marathon sessions of painting and sculpting on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively; from 10pm to 4am-ish both nights. And I guess I didn't really pry myself away either, the first night during the sculpting I finished off The Simpsons Season 13 (which was much better than I remember it being) and Flash Gordon (which was fucking ABYSSMAL... I mean really, what the hell was that?). The second night during the painting it was all Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 1, which I have to admit is a surprsingly excellent little show, despite being based on the... ugh, prequels. Why you care what I was watching while I created this figure, I'm not quite sure, but I'm just trying to give you all the total experience of what went into this toy's creation process. Wait, should I tell you what I was wearing too?


Anyway, as I discussed in the previous articles, the real key to creating a great custom figure - especially a custom figure based on characters that "appear" primarily in a written medium, and where most of the visual depictions of them range in quality from "inaccurate" to "piss-awful" - is finding the correct base figure (by which I mean the correct existing figure, or figures from which you will create your custom). In this case that was fairly easy. Ever since I used the body of the Thundercat Panthro for one of my original Trollocs, I had it in my mind that some of the evil mutants from the Thundercats line would make excellent base figures for more. Not only were they already half man, half animal/creatures but they were also kind of big and bulky and almost the right scale as well. In preparation for this little project, I scoured ebay for some loose Thundercats figures and ended up grabbing a Vultureman, Monkian, Grune the Destroyer, and the one I used to create the subject of today's article, Jackalman.

This guy

Ok, so having the figure is one thing, deciding what its going to look like when you're done customizing is something different. I got the idea that Jackalman's head shape would make a great goat-headed Trolloc, so I started by Google-imaging goat pics, to get an idea of what a goat's face and head actually look like. I made some decisions, did a very rudimentary sketch (no you can't see it, it sucked... and I threw it out), and I was ready to get started.

The pics below are all the materials and supplies in my various art boxes. As you can see there are various knives and cutting implements including my awesome X-Acto knife kit (which is not so awesome when it takes out errant chunks of flesh because you decide hacking away at a piece of hard plastic is a good idea) and my box cutter (you guessed it, purloined from the Gap stockroom many moons ago), needle and thread (although I don't think I've ever sown anything), several different glues, sponges, various grits of sandpaper, Sculpey in many different colors, sculpting tools, and a bunch of other odds and ends I've come across, all of which I've used to assist me in creating these toys. I also have over a hundred different colors of paint and many, many brushes. That orange spring clamp (part of the visual presentation kit for the Gap's "Are You a Jean or a Khaki? campaign... it was used to hold up posters) I use for holding the figure while I'm using the hair dryer to harden the Sculpey because my willingness to suffer for my art does not include getting hair dryer burn wounds. Anymore.

Those eagle-eyed of you will notice a baggie of black rubber "o-rings" for repairing loose or broken G.I. Joe figures. But thats a story of action figure customizing for another day...

As an aside, it really annoyed my manager when I would loudly and adamantly insist in front of customers that I was neither a jean nor a khaki, but in fact a human being.

I apologize for the boring column-like placement of these pics, and the pics below. I really tried to arrange them, and the text around them with a little bit more creativity, but either this blogger is really limited in the way it lets you place images, or I'm a retard and just can't figure it out. You decide!

Now that I had a mental picture of what I wanted to do, step one was to lop off Jackalman's snout like it was the tape on a shipment box of Gap logo tees, and also to cut a notch in the now-flat part of his face. The notch is so that when I sculpt his new muzzle, the Sculpey has something to anchor onto. I also shaved down some of the triangle-shaped tufts of hair on the side of his head, and tried to shape them into something more like what a genetically-altered man-goat's head would be shaped like. As I re-read that last sentence, I'm not really quite sure what it even means... especially since my first idea of what a man-goat should look like is that time when Jasper from the Simpsons took the wrong medication.


But anyway, after I banished that image from my head, I got to sculpting. I had a little bit of trouble with that "split front lip" thing goats have going on, and I had to match the mouth lines up to what remained of Jackalman's, which also took me a few tries to get right. In the end I think I captured what I was going for quite nicely though. I shaved down the toy's ears to give them more of a goatish shape and also carved little notches in the top of the head, this time to anchor the horns.

I gave him short, slightly curved, cone-shaped horns mostly to distinguish him from the other Trolloc I did, whose horns are more curled and ram-like. I added detail to the Sculpey using the point of a bulletin board pushpin for the wider, larger details like the mouth; and a long skinny pin-like implement (which I don't even know the origin of, but it has a nice long handle is really excellent for putting little details into Sculpey - you can see it in my X-Acto knife kit, laying right above the saw). Its especially useful for tiny stuff like the teeth, the gums, the nostrils, the little ridges on the horns, etc.

Once I was satisfied that I had carved all the detail into the Sculpey that I wanted, I grabbed my sister-in-law's hairdryer and blasted the hell outta this thing. Now, technically, Sculpey is intended to be baked, but let's be honest, putting a plastic action figure in the oven is a monumentally horrible idea, and especially when the Sculpey you're hardening isn't too thick, a hairdryer works really well.

In the past I would have painted the whole figure at this point and worried about accessorizing later, however I chose not to for two reasons. First, I've found in the past that adding the various accoutrements after painting leads inevitably to having to repaint parts that get chipped or otherwise ruined. Second, for the purposes of doing a step-by-step making of this figure, I felt that it would work better to show the finished figure unpainted first, that way it really hits home just how the paint applications change the toy's appearance. Also, I was getting tired and wanted to stop working for the night, and adding the accessories was going to take way less time than painting the toy would have.

Going into this, I had no concrete idea of how I was going to accessorize the figure. I have this giant bag of action figure parts, weapons and other things that I collected over the course of years, full of basically anything  I thought had the right look for future Wheel of Time figures. Among those things were a bunch of pieces and parts from some old costume jewelry and earrings. I found these fat metal hoops that I thought would make perfect shoulder armor. So I bent them up a bit and glued them in three or four places to the top of the toy's shoulder, just above the arm joint. Luckily, I was able to do this and also maintain the toy's shoulder articulation, which was an added plus. The bandoleer strap underneath the pads is just a thick white rubber band I had lying around. It fit nice and snug but I glued it in place anyway, because I didn't want it to move. The skirt around his waist is removed from the Gabrielle figure from the Xena line. I added this last minute because the toy looked kind of plain without it, and it has that cool sheathe with removable knife molded onto it. The chains on the front of the belt are also part of the earrings, and are also held in place with some glue.

Looking at the figure like this I was pretty sure I was done, however I did briefly toy with the idea of lopping off the front of his feet and sculpting him some big ass hooves. Before I did that though, I had to determine if the figure could stand up without its toes. So I placed the figure at the edge of a table and slowly moved it forward, to see where its center of gravity is. Unfortunately, the toy is hunched over in such a way that all the weight from the upper body and head are counter balanced by those big floppy-looking feet, so it toppled over almost immediately. I didn't want to take the risk that I would screw up the sculpting of the hooves and end up with a toy that couldn't stand on its own. So I'm saving that idea for the next Trolloc figure. If I actually do another, that is.

So at this point it was about 4:00am and I'd had enough so I went to bed, and if I'm being honest, I had no idea if I was gonna be in the mood to finish up the painting the next day.


So enough dramatic tension, I decided to finish up the painting the next night at around 10pm. So I fired up the Clone Wars Season 1 DVD and got started.

Step one was to choose a color pallette for the figure. I figured since the previous two Trolloc figures came out so well, why tamper with what works and used the same basic colors I used for them. This Trolloc's main body/skin color was a mixture of approximately 3 parts Dark Brown, 2 parts Dark Gray and a few drops of black. I don't really picture the Trollocs as having a completely uniform skin color, so I would only mix up a small amount at a time, that way no two mixtures were exactly the same.

The claws are a mixture of a color called Country Twill with a little bit of Dark Brown mixed in. I also used this mixture for the horns. The Bandolier and kilt are Brown with a few drops of Gray and Black and the metal shoulder and waist pieces are painted in Gunmetal, which is a very cool looking dark grey metallic paint. The blades of his weapons are painted Gunmetal as well. You will notice below that at one point while I was painting, the figure fell over and his horn snapped off, which would later require some gluing that I was scared was going to ruin the figure. Luckily, the paint hides it entirely.

One detail I paid extra special attention to is the eyes. One of my goals with this toy was to try very hard so that it isn't instantly recognizable as having been made from the Jackalman figure. This was particularly hard because of Jackalman's yellow eyes and his distinctive goofy facial expression. One of the keys to achieving this, I think, was changing the eyes, because that yellow really stands out. Once they were painted white the figure really stopped looking like Jackalman and started to... "breathe" on its own is how I would describe it, I guess. Also, the eyes all white like that looked really cool and creepy and if Jordan's description of Trollocs and their "too human eyes" didn't strictly forbid it, I would have used it for the final look. As it is, I just did my best to paint human-looking eyes as well as I could.

The last step was adding the details. Pretty much all the paint applied so far were basically the "base coats". Detail applications would involve two techniques; "washing" and "dry brushing". A wash is basically a thinned down paint that when applied will seep into the toy's molded low points, cracks and crevices. This creates the impression of depth and shadows. You basically just pick a color, mix in some water and get it to a milk-like consistency. Once the wash is done, you can add highlights with dry brushing. Dry brushing is just what it sounds like, you dip the brush in the color you want, wipe it off with a napkin and then gently run the brush back and forth over the figure kinda like you're dusting it. Little bits of color will attach to the figure, giving a great highlighted appearance, if you do it right. You really have to toy around with these techniques a bunch of times before you figure out how to make it work.

To be specific, I dry brushed some black onto the metal, to take away some of its luster and make it look more used and... Shadowspawny; and also onto all the furry parts, to add depth. I washed a different shade of brown into the horns to give them that ringed look, which I really like, and I washed all the muscles with a very dark shade of brown, again to add the appearance of depth. Also, on this Trolloc, I experimented with the idea that Trollocs faces are "twisted" mutations from men's faces and so I dry brushed some flesh color into the area surrounding the muzzle. I gotta admit this took me a long time before I acheved a look that I was happy with.

So there you have it, the making of a custom Wheel of Time Trolloc figure. I must say I really enjoyed doing this again and I'm pleased enough with the outcome that I can also say I'm happy that I've still "got it" when it comes to making custom WoT toys.  Not sure if I'm ever going to get enough free time to do another one, but if I do, there will be more. The wheels (no pun intended) are already spinning in my head...

Oh, and finally, a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who expressed their thoughts, prayers and condolences to me on the loss of my grandfather. Each one of you made getting through a difficult time a little bit easier. You guys rock.


  1. I can not wait to see these pics Joe... keep em coming!!!

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  3. Yeah, im a dick and made that comment before I saw the Read more thing... looks great!!!! Jackalman was a homo, but this goat guy looks baaaaa-d ass (see what I did there... more like a sheep, but whatever!)Keep em coming... and get me another 80's toy blog asap!

  4. You're getting to good at this.

    The finished products look 1,000 times better than the figures you purchased to create them.

    My only sorrow stems from the fact that you're creating figures from a storyline I know nothing about.

  5. Again, I'm stunned by your level of craftsmanship. Thanks for sharing this and I thought you might like to know I've spotlighted your figures again.

    Great job!


  6. These action figures are truly amazing. I love seeing the final product and these blogs actually made me pick up the series again. Keep up the good work =)

  7. Thanks man! That might be the best compliment I've ever gotten!