Building a Better Shoulder

Much like the knee design a while back, I wanted to improve on many of the standard designs for shoulder joints seen in action figures on the shelves.  To start, I decided I wanted to incorporate a rolling shoulder design in addition to the normal shoulder joint that you see on every figure.  This isn’t that unusual, and if you haven’t seen it, a rolling shoulder makes a world of difference to the realistic pose-ability of your figure.  Without it, you end up with very stiff ‘action-figurey’ poses instead of the more human poses seen in higher-end figures.

ShoulderJointEx

There are already plenty of good examples of rolling shoulder designs on the market.  Many of them use a ball joint deep in the chest which the outer joint is attached to.  This is fine for smaller 1/12 scale figures, but I was concerned about a ball joint reliably holding a pose on a figure this size.  I also wanted to avoid the ball joint since it would allow the shoulder to move on 3 axis, and I wanted to limit it to 2 (being able to move forward-backward and up-down without rotating).  To solve this, I put two single-axis joints together inside the chest cavity.  This gives the joint all the movement I wanted it to have.  I also put a ratcheting ring in each of the joints to help hold poses.

ShoulderDesign

The shoulder blade went through several different iterations before I had something I thought would work.  At first I thought of putting in sliding joints on ball joints, all this complicated stuff that would be really unreliable, prone to breaking and would most likely get stuck too frequently to work.  Instead, I put the whole scapula on a small rotating piece on the back.  The scapula is attached with ball joints on the shoulder and rotating piece to give it freedom of movement.

ShoulderPrint

While this prototype isn’t perfect, it turned out far better than I expected for a first attempt.  Everything works as intended, and it actually looks really cool when it moves.  Something about adding that shoulder blade in gives the movement a very natural, organic feel.  There are still changes to be made before moving onto the final version, but this will do for now.  This piece was probably the most experimental part of the figure, and the one I was most concerned about getting to work.  But holding a working version in my had is deeply satisfying.  I’m feeling a little more confident about everything else.

-Nick

Fancy Footwork

The main body has been blocked in, so I’m now working my way back up with some additional detail.  Starting at the feet, I made my way up the knees with some more concrete design work.  I’ve also been fleshing out a lot of the specifics of construction.

Foot_Detail.jpg

The feet have taken some work.  I had a general idea of what they were supposed to look like, but they were admittedly not my biggest focus when creating the concept.  I’m probably going to be doing a few follow-up concept pieces throughout the build to get a better sense of the details.  For right now, though, I like the idea of bringing in some elements of trail shoes to this robotic foot design.  It also made me start thinking about different materials I could use when casting the final pieces.  I want to look at what’s available, but doing the soles of the feet and other parts out of a flexible rubber would really give the final piece some extra flair.

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I’m trying something new with the knee design to solve a problem that most likely no one else is really  bothered by.  I’ve always found it a bit awkward how so many figures on the market use a traditional double-knee joint.  Many Play Arts Kai figures, for example, use a ridiculously over-sized joint, which makes for weird poses when bending the knee.

Knee_Example.jpg

I’ve also had the experience that when you bend the leg, usually one joint will bend all the way before the other starts bending.  So, in an attempt to fix that noise, I’m adding geared teeth onto the joints to ensure the leg bends evenly every time.  It’s most likely over-engineering for such a minor issue, but this is my project, dammit, and it will be meet my expectations.

Knee_Detail.jpgI had gone through a few different versions of implementing this idea.  The last had exposed teeth on the joint, and although it was simpler, I hated the idea of being able to see the inner workings of a detail that should be invisible.  Currently, it’s fairly similar to many of the double joints other figures use, just hollowed out to make room for the teeth on the inside.  I will most likely be prototyping this piece next.  I plan on trying a few different gear ratios.  Right now it’s set up for two gears of the same size, but I think one large and one small gear may actually give a more realistic result.  Looking at the way a knee bends, the kneecap appears to stay in line much more with the shin than the thigh.  To achieve this effect, I think I’ll need a small gear for the top joint and a larger one for the bottom.  More to come as this develops.

-Nick

Form and Function

Body2

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

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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.

Shoulder

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.

-Nick

Begin Sculpting Phase

Base_Mesh

I spent a little time in ZBrush this weekend to get a simple base mesh fleshed out.  From here, I’ll be importing the base into Maya to work on bit by bit.  This base is really only to serve as a guide, since the final version will be made of several little pieces.  Not concerned about the details (like fingers or muscles), I just want to get the basic proportions down to have something to work with.

In the past, I would’ve probably done an isometric drawing to work from directly in Maya, but I’ve found that takes a lot more time and probably isn’t quite as accurate.  This way feels much quicker and intuitive.  While I have had some experience working in ZBrush, I’m far more familiar with Maya.  I haven’t had much opportunity to use the two together on a single project, but I’m definitely seeing the benefit in being fluent with both.  The next step will be to get the first pass at a skeleton set up with all the joints in place.  From there I can build out to the bigger pieces.

-Nick