Replacement Hip

These past two week have been the start of my stricter working schedule, and it has been working well so far.  I gave myself the task of making a more final version of the hip joint, working on a single piece each day.  This joint was designed and redesigned several times, and I could never find a version that really satisfied me.  As I’ve said before in this blog, hips are possibly the single most difficult joint to get right.  Initially, I may have had a joint that looked great standing and moving forward and back, but moving sideways was incredibly awkward.  It took a lot of trial and error to find a solution that looked right from every angle and bend.


The solution I’ve arrived at is a spherical joint making up the hip/top of the butt, with the surrounding leg rotating revolving around the sphere.  The hip area has a ring the sphere sits in that rotates freely in the socket, covering any gaps that might otherwise appear from the joint.  The joint itself has gone through so many design changes I’ve lost count at this point.  I had been using a more common sphere joint, but since they would be sitting so close together within the hip section, there was no room to securely attach any pins coming out from the joint, or I would have had to point the pins upward, which would make moving and posing an awkward task.HipDesign2  Instead, I opted to find a way to put a pin from the pelvis into the joint.  It took a fair amount of engineering, since the joint has to rotate around this pin on two axis without getting in the way.  What I’ve arrived at is a central disk that sits snugly on the pin and rotates on one axis, and then two outer sections that make up the rest of the sphere rotating on the other axis around this disk.  This design seems a little overly-complicated to me, but as far as I can see, it was the only way to get the look I wanted with any degree of structural integrity.

I’m currently fixing the knee to a print-ready form.  As soon as that’s done, I’ll be prototyping a full leg, from hips to ankles.

Updated Concept


I have some new concept art to follow for this piece.  The longer this project goes on, the more outdated the original pieces feel.  The design is largely the same, with some changes primarily to the legs and helmet.  The original had these large plates on the front of the thighs that were getting in the way of the rest of the leg with articulation and holster functions.  At first I liked the way they looked from the side, but the more I stared at them, the more they felt like a weak point in the design.

The same sentiments apply to the helmet.  I still liked the original design, but the shapes just needed to be pushed a little more, mostly around the eyes.  When building this in 3D, the shape of the eyes wasn’t making a lot of sense.  Once again, the more I redraw the helmet, the more the design gets pushed towards something I’m really liking.

Finally, the first design also had these coattail elements around the back.  I lost them in the drawing for the sake of seeing the rest of the design better.  I’m on the fence about putting them again.  I like the design both ways.  I’ll probably give it a few weeks and see how I feel about it.


With the hip complete and a few updates to the earlier geared knee design, the leg is nearing completion.  I’m still testing a few designs for the knee pad.  My initial idea was to have a two-piece knee pad that slides when the knee bends.  That is still very much a possibility, I’m just trying to find a way to do it with the fewest moving parts.

In the next week or so I plan to start prototyping the leg and hip area.  As I move on to the rest of the body and finish designing the structures there, I’ll prototype those parts to fit with current prototypes, eventually building out a full prototype body.  Something like this really helps to see not only what the final product will look like, but also how all the articulation works together and the range of poses it will be capable of.  Seeing it on the computer is great, but a physical product is always better for me.

For my tasks in the next week or two, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on the knee and moving onto a prototype ready design for the shoulder/upper torso area.  The current version works well already, so the main design challenges are to make it more compact and clean it up a little.  Once that’s finished and printed, I will have a mostly complete prototype body.


Back from Hiatus

I’m finally coming back to this project after what turned out to be an extended hiatus.  I ended up stepping away after burning out for a bit, and tried a few other projects.  Luckily, some of those projects were other quick figures which provided some better direction for this figure.

BladeDesignMost recently, I spent some time prototyping the arm blade.  This is probably the single most redesigned piece of the entire figure.  I posted some concept art a while back thinking I had a design I liked, but just days after it went up, I had my doubts about it.  I went all the way back to the idea stage.  I realized I was being way too safe with my design, and was worried anything really cool would be difficult to make.  But, if it’s worth doing, might as well do it right or not at all.  What I do have still isn’t finished, but it’s heading in the right direction.  I’m picturing something where the whole forearm spreads out into this big, intimidating blade display.  It’s difficult to get everything packed into such a small form, but I’m getting there.  I know how most of it needs to work.  Really the issue now is trying to reduce the number of moving parts and create the most efficient mechanism I can.

Design Updates

The rest of the design has been changing slightly.  Every time I draw Orchid Mantis in my sketchbook, I tweak the suit in one direction or another.  And I like it a little more each time.  There haven’t been any major changes or anything, but I’d say enough to warrant some new concept art to follow.  Most of it is better shape designs on the armor pieces.


Recent sketch with newer (better?) shapes and armor pieces.

Some Reflection

After burning out on this project for so long, I felt the need to examine why it took me so long to pick it back up again.  I think for entirely too long, I’ve been relying on motivation alone to get me through this project.  I had been lucky enough to be motivated about finishing this for months, which is a rare feat for me.  I typically burn out on a project after a week or two and want to move on to something else, so I thought I had this one locked down.  It may have taken longer than normal, but the burnout was inevitable.  I wanted to try a few other things to get the creative juices flowing again, and so I did, and naturally got wrapped up in those things.

I think the issue is that the majority of the creative work on this project is done.  Now comes the tedious part where I just have to sit down and make it.  That can burn someone like me out fast, especially when you try to force yourself to spend a whole day doing as much as you can.  So I’m trying a new schedule.  Two hours a day, then do something else creative.  Every day.  Each day I open the file, I give myself one task, rather than trying to do a little bit of everything and end up doing nothing.  This week I’m finishing the hip joint, one piece at a time.  Next week, probably the rest of the leg.  Slow and steady.  Motivation started this project, but discipline is what will finish it.



Rethinking Designs

Arm2This week I’ve been thinking about how to get the arm blades to extend in a way I’m satisfied with.  The original concept worked, but after looking at it again, I want a design that keeps the blade a little closer to the arm when retracted.  There were a few basic concepts for the opening mechanism I was considering, and I eventually went with the one I felt was the best combination of practical and aesthetically pleasing.

Designing the mechanism was a bit of a challenge as you want something that can move enough to make a noticeable difference, but compact enough that you can conceal it in the forearm of the figure, which doesn’t leave you a lot of working room.  I’d like to incorporate a simple lock feature into it somewhere so the blade is moving around loosely, along with a trigger piece so you’re not directly sliding the blade in and out.  I feel like designs like this are at least 20% cooler if your hand doesn’t get in the way of the piece being moved.

This concept acted as a chance to redesign the arm itself.  The arms in the original concept worked, but when I look back at it now, I think maybe they didn’t get the amount of detail they could’ve had.  That’s just the nature of concept work, I guess.  You want to design as much as you can upfront, but you can’t get hung up on making every little piece perfect or you never move forward with the project itself.  So, I gave myself some leeway to redesign things along the way as necessary.  Further redesigns will be coming later, but for now I’ve got work to do on these arms.


End Concept Phase

The concept work is done (for now)!  I’ll be getting these printed and hung on my wall later this week to start a mood board.  Sometimes just little things like that can help keep me on track with a project or get me in the mood to work.  I might have spent a little too much time working on the layouts for these boards, but considering these will be hanging on my wall for the rest of the year, I think it was worth it.

On the final model, I’m hoping to make all the moving parts shown here actually work.  I really want to incorporate the helmet-opening feature, the weapon holsters and arm blades.  I’ve also got a few sketches for how all the joints will fit together that I haven’t published yet.  I’m going to try to do something a little better than the standard ball-and-socket or hinge joints on most figures.  Concept sketches for that stuff will probably show up from time to time.

Moving forward, I plan to get started modeling this week.  I’d like to try to stay on a regular schedule with the updates.  I think I’ll be setting up a calendar this week as well to keep my progress on track.  We’re just getting to the heart of this thing!


Finalizing a concept


I’ve been spending the last month doing the concept work for this project, and it’s almost finished.  I’m just finalizing the rest of it, but in the mean time, I wanted to post the main concept.  The rest should be coming later this week.

Looking back at my earlier concepts, I do feel this is the one I’m most satisfied with (as one would hope).  I incorporated several aspects from earlier designs that I felt were working while trying to refine everything else.  In the beginning, I was trying to start from scratch too much.  I quickly realized I had already done a lot of the footwork for this design with my previous concepts, and it didn’t make sense to throw everything out.

This design has actually been about 90% finished for a few weeks, but there were a few parts that weren’t working, like the arms and legs.  I usually find that taking a break for a little while and coming back later to play with different ideas is the best way to get some fresh perspective on it.  In the past, a lot of my designs would turn out just ‘good enough.’  There would usually be aspects about them that bothered me, but I’d be too lazy to fix.  Instead, I decided that if there was any part of a design I wasn’t excited about or felt like it didn’t fit, it deserved special attention until I got it right.  For the longest time, the arms and legs weren’t working for me, so I kept trying things until I came to something I liked.  I had started getting a bit burned out on this for a while, which was expected, but I’m excited to push forward again.


Concept in progress

Not a whole lot to post yet, as I’m still in the process of getting all the concept work finished for this character.  I’m liking where it’s heading so far.  I thought the main concept was done about a week ago, but after coming back to it, I started making some changes that I think really helped.

Looking back through my sketchbooks, I started to see how much this project had been building up, even before I officially started working on it.  Just pages and pages of ideas, designs, diagrams and quick sketches.  So I’m not going into this thing with a blank canvas, and I’ve had a pretty good idea of what I wanted for a while.  But when you sit down to really flesh something like this out, you start to realize just how much you still haven’t figured out.  When doing the concept work, I feel like I tend to get the first 80% of the design done pretty quickly, and all my time after that is spent sorting out the smaller details.

When I was getting started with this whole thing, I scanned all the pages in my sketchbook that related to this project.  While not everything below was done as part of the Orchid Mantis project, it all contributed in some way, guiding me to the final design I’m working on now.  This collage is more or less a timeline of my ideas, with the newest on top and the very first sketches I did a few years ago at the bottom.  I always find it insightful to see the progression of ideas, and if you’re reading this, maybe you will too.



Over two years worth of ideas and exploration

Project Start


Ver. 1 – My first attempt at this character

The Orchid Mantis Project is something I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while, and I decided to finally give it a go.  This whole thing started as a one-off character from my sketchbook a few years ago that has grown into something more.  When I originally designed her, I was still learning a photoshop and digital painting techniques, so it was mostly to gain some practice.

While at San Diego Comic Con that year, I had a portfolio review from some of the professionals there.  They looked over it and gave me some good advice on changes I could make to the character.  After coming back home, I wanted to take another shot at it.


Ver. 2 – Redesigned after some feedback





Version 2 was more satisfying to me, and I learned a lot while working on it.  During my senior year in college, I decided to make this character part of my thesis project.  After a some further sketching, I wanted to do another version to fit the overall project, and push the insect features further.


Ver.3 – Pushing the Mantis features





After the 3rd version, I was satisfied with the direction it was going.  At the same time, I started getting into some 3D printing projects.  One project I really wanted to tackle was making an action figure.  I figured why not make one of this character I’ve been working on?  Once again, I wanted to redesign it, this time to work as an articulated figure.


Ver. 4 – Adding in some physical function





Since it was going to be a figure, I thought it would be cool to try to work in some little features, like making the helmet open, or giving it some small transformative features.  I’m writing this blog as a way to keep myself accountable to this project and keep a log of my progress.  Hopefully it can also serve as a guide to anyone else interested in doing something like this.

I’ve given myself a year to finish this thing.  Here in January, I am working on some new concepts and breakdowns for the figure (officially Version 5).  By March, I want to be modeling in 3D, and start some prototyping by May.  I’m looking forward to where this journey takes me.