Form and Function


Legs blocked in

Pressing ahead with the modeling process.  I spent some time this week getting most of the body blocked in.  Instead of trying to focus on one piece at a time to completion, I’m finding it easier to block in everything first, then come back and polish everything up piece by piece.  The block in process has gone surprisingly fast, but I’m sure I’ll get caught up with adding in all the little details and spending more time there than anticipated.

This is also the point where I’m trying to tighten up a lot of the articulating parts.  I’ve modeled the pieces to look correct (roughly) at this point, but haven’t tested the angles of articulation yet.  Playing around and rotating things in Maya is the quickest and easiest way to test a lot of these things before going to print.  The hip joints, for example, had only been roughly placed in.  I placed a sphere where they would go to find the center point of rotation, and moved the joint there.  Then I was able to move the hip piece and reshape it so it would still look right no matter how it is posed.

I’m finding hips are a little more difficult to get right compared to the rest of the body, because you’re trying to mimic a very fleshy part of the body (i.e., the butt) with hard plastic.  Most figures I’ve seen handle it in a few ways: either the classic G.I. Joe T-crotch  (terrible), a plate-like design for the butt to cover the joint from behind (awkward in most poses), or make the ball joint that combines most of the mass with the rest of the leg (best option).  I’ll be going with option number three.HipJointEx


Another piece that’s been taking a while to figure out is the back and shoulder area.  Many of the figures I like incorporate a rolling shoulder for better articulation, and when posing, makes a huge difference between more natural poses and that infamous stiff action figure pose.  However, I want to try something new (at least I’ve never seen it before, that is).  I want to add in a shoulder blade on the back, connecting the inner shoulder joint to the outer body.  If done right, I think that piece could add some cool detail, and have one more moving part to make poses even more realistic.


This is taking a little bit of planning to get right, because it’s essentially a floating piece with two connection points, and needs to be able to handle a weird range of motion.  The piece attached to the shoulder needs to be a ball joint, while the part attached to the back should be a ball joint that can slide, hinge and rotate.

Again, I’m still in the blocking phase, but it’s never too early to start thinking about this stuff.  The sooner I get it figured out, the easier everything else will be in the future.


Body Work

Progress_UpdateI just wanted to post a quick update for the work I’ve done on the model so far.  Originally, I had planned to complete this project piece by piece, finishing the head, then finishing the body, and so on.  Instead, I’ve gone a different route and started broadly modeling the whole thing before getting carried away with details.  There are a few reasons I find this a better way to work.  I want to make sure the model works as a whole and solve any problems as early as possible before going in with the finer details.  I also know my style and technique tends to evolve and improve over the course of a project, especially one as long-term as this, and I don’t want to finish the head first only to go back and improve it later.

I plan to work from head to toe getting everything rough in, then toe back up to head with the details.  I’m going to have to redo what was already a very tentative schedule, but I think I will actually finish the modeling a bit faster than anticipated this way.  Hopefully I can have all the 3D modeling done by summer.  More posts to come as this comes together.

I think I will be designing the thigh holster mechanics next.  The design I have planned is actually pretty close to the mechanics used in the helmet, so that process should be much quicker.


Designing the Helmet


The initial concept

One of the biggest features I wanted to include with this figure was a helmet that can open and close.  I want to show her face beneath the helmet without having to make a second, swappable head the way most manufacturers do it now.  Also, having complex moving parts may make the build more complicated, but I think the end product is far more impressive than simpler figures.

I started this process with a basic idea of how it would function.  Maybe a hinge at the top of the helmet.  Then I added in a parallel set of arms in the helmet to make the movement more interesting and mechanical.  I started playing with the length and angle of the arms to see what effect that had on the angle of the open helmet, and even mocked up some quick ideas with Lego pieces I had available.  Once I had something I thought could work, I quickly laid it out in Maya and went to the 3D printer for prototyping…IMG_3068

…and my first attempt was a mess.  Parts printed poorly, critical pieces were designed too small, some of them broke immediately on use.  I was a little disappointed, but I learned a lot.  Just because something looks like it will work on the computer doesn’t mean it will translate well to a physical model.  So I went back and adjusted.



Success from failure

My second one came out far better.  It actually worked!  Pieces fell off here and there, but it was successful as a proof of concept.  However, after that initial excitement wore off, I tried to look at it more critically to see if there were any more improvements necessary.  I realized that while it did work, it wasn’t actually opening as far as I needed it to.  This design wouldn’t even get the helmet above her eyeline.


Tweaking for better results

Since I knew all the basic components worked, I went back to Maya and made a few different designs there.  I tried changing up the arms to see what would give me the most clearance, and once I had something that looked better, I printed out the new pieces.


Working prototype

The resulting helmet is even better.  These pieces will make up the internals, and I can build the body of the helmet around it.  I’m hoping to have the head completely modeled by the end of April.