Monday, October 08, 2012

Being Lazy for the Greater Good

But... working on customs is hard! It takes skill, time, dedication, knowledge, and motivation. That said folks, don't make TOO much work for yourself. Know your limits, but also use your knowledge to help you suceed and save time.

For example (and excuse the tangent), I recently started this custom, a Gisel/GG Valentine to what originally I had planned to be a Park Saddlebred Stallion.

Initial moves with a long road ahead.

Thankfully, I had some great folks come forward and educate me about the Saddleseat riding style in general. Not all Saddleseat is Park. Park is the "highest" form of Saddleseat, in that they are the most dynamic, energetic, high-stepping, eye-rolling, tails-on-fire type of Saddle horses.

This would have been too much work to make the model be this way. Technically, I was not sacrificng my original vision, because I realized I didn't want this custom to be that lively. I did, however want a high stepping Saddleseat mount, but honestly, the Show or Country Pleasure was more the speed I was looking for.

Notice Silks' legs, this is about as high as they get at the trot unless he's REALLY excited.

Memories Silk here is a good example of a Saddlebred who is naturally suited and trained for Show Pleasure. The knees and forearms on a Country or Show pleasure horse usually never go above horizontal (or if they do it's very minimal), with Country tending to be slightly below the horizontal. He doesn't quite have the insane knees-bumping-chin action that the Park horses have, but still has plenty of action that, with the aid of his shoes, gets him to somewhere between Country and Show Pleasure. With proper training and conditioning, he could (and has been) a solid Show Pleasure entry.

I like this style best, the horses tend to be more my kind of personality, not as hot, still very beautiful with lots of yummy action that doesn't go into the extreme.

This leads me to my second dilemma: I had intended this Gisel to be a Saddlebred. As I looked at her, I felt that her body type, especially the thickness of her legs, did not match a true Saddlebred. Granted, there are some Saddlebreds with good bone, but the general instant image one usually has in their head is that of a long and lean yet strong, elegant, spindlely-legged, high stepping, swan-necked locomotive that just won't quit. Gisel had too much of a "family" vibe (which makes sense as she's sculpted after a broodmare) and her legs were just a tad too thick than I felt comfortable for a Saddlebred.

After yet another person's suggesstion, it made sense to me: A Morgan. They are strong, robust horses in comparison, with good bone. They are often used in Saddleseat riding (as they are very proud, flashy, and stylish horses). They are, however, a lot more short-coupled than a Saddlbred or Gisel, so some different alterations would need to be made but we'll get to that later.

"Sneaky" (On Second Thought) isn't the best example of a Morgan, but he has the basics down :)

The main concern against making Gisel a Saddlebred was the thickness of her legs. While one could "shave down" the legs on a custom, this is a LOT of work. I'd have to reduce from all sides, not lose leg detail, or worse, have to resculpt it back in. It's a lot easier if you don't have to change a horse's basic leg shape at all. Moving a leg is one thing, even adding detail or cleaning up mold or sculpting flaws can be done fairly simply, but trying to add or take away thickness is a pain, and I think, beyond my comfort level and skill.

So with breed and pose finally decided, it was time to attack with the new game plan in place. I don't suggest constantly changing your original plan (it's gotta get done at some point!) but if something lends itself to a better or more convenient idea that is still pretty awesome, I say go with the flow and do whatever your artist's heart is telling you to do. Learning along the way is just the icing on the cake.

Remember how I said Gisel's back is too short? Well, let me just say the process of lengthening or shortening a back is somewhat inconvenient. First you have to chop the back in half, usually in the middle. Then you have to either take off 1/4 inch or whatever extra you don't need, or stuff the crack with epoxy AND make sure it's even. Sealing up the old cuts is the worse part, you need to make sure the epoxy goes over the whole thing without leaving a bulge or letting tiny cracks show through. Shaping the back and barrel so it matches, praying it doesn't all just fall apart (because the whole process compromises the structure of the model), smoothing it all... it's just a huge pain.

Not to mention it's creepy as hell *insert mad scientist laugh here*

So, this is where all that "Form-To-Function" knowledge you have about real horses comes into play. Not only was Gisel's back too long, his shoulder was too straight. That is, the angle from withers to point of shoulder was too steep and needed to be laid back more. In real horses, you can't fix this, it's just how the horse is made by how their spine (withers placement) and scapula (shoulder angle) is all put together. The longer slope or more laid back a shoulder is on a horse, the easier it is for them to bring their shoulder forward and up. It's also great for a smoother ride.

Thankfully, in my case, he had both of these problems. By cutting behind her shoulders, up over her back, just behind the withers, I was able to "lay her shoulder back," thus shortening his back and bringing his legs up higher. Two birds, one stone, hee!


See how regal he looks now? And more adhering to Morgan breed standard as well. That made him exactly what he needed to be with really very minimal effort. At this point, I had done nothing to his neck except slightly heat it so it's striaght (very slow n' steady process) and it just so happen to be in the position/angle it needs to be. Perhaps that why I felt Gisel would work so well for this project. Not having to create an entire new neck is helpful to say the least.

Now I'll get back on topic: that "slow n' steady" thing works wonders! I use to be one of those that would burn it up, scorching the plastic, air bubbles poping up everywhere, saying I'll just fix it later. Well, when later comes, you're cursing yourself for making so much work to do later. Sanding, filling, smoothing, all can be avoided if you make minimal cuts and scorching if you can avoid it. Or else you get stuff like this:

That horse has 99 problems and it's all in that leg.

This guy STILL isn't done. Mostly because I don't want to fix all the newb "work." I do plan on finishing him, but the desire is not strong and I must count him lucky: some stuff that looks similar or worse than him have since been sold, traded, given, or thrown away. Don't stifle your own creativity later and make your own artist block. Make sure you are patient and practice so you have the skill to be able to move a leg without cutting a damn thing if it's posisble. Such as this guy..

Can you believe I did not make one single cut on that front outstretched leg? (it's a Bluegrass Bandit/Bear, so that leg was tucked before) I got lucky I think, but I'm begining to wonder if I should apply at Peter Stone as one of their Factory CMers.

Now this is not a place for me to brag or anything, it's where I can tell you how to do this. the "Slow N' Steady" heating method is a good one. You don't need the 1000 degree Paint Stripper to move a horse (although I totally had one when I first started and used it in just the evil way you are thinking), I prefer an Embossing tool, found in the scrapbook section of your crafts section. It's a smaller, more controlled heat flow (can "pinpoint" heat a surface the size of a fingernail rather than a silver dollar pancake, so it's good for Stablemates too), it can get hot enough to scorch but only if you don't keep moving. It's original use is to sort of "iron" paper into raised shapes and designs (or, emboss).

Yes, it's glittery... and yes, that little guy should be scared.

No matter what you use, keep your heat source moving evenly at least 3-5 inches away from your model, and remember to heat the other side of whatever your heating to prevent wrinkling. For example if you're trying to unbend a knee, spend most of your heating time on the underside of the knee, but keep the front/top of the knee warm too so it can squish with the move when you add pressure, not just wrinkle and fester. Most wrinkles can be gotten out by stop adding pressure and letting the heat blow on the wrinkle for a SHORT time. The plastic should shrink back (as will your move to a degree) You may then continue to slow move and add your pressure again. Keep it even, keep it steady.

If you see bubbles and smoke, remove the heat, let it cool down a bit, and reapproach more slowly. A few bubbles will have to be fixed later and sometimes, can't be helped (the plastic may naturally have trapped air bubbles from the molding process). Sometimes random "stresses" will pop up, they look like like big, flat, popped bubbles. These are completely random and there's no preventing them that I have found. They just react to heat and are either due to a weak spot in the plastic or just an oddly chemically mixed part of the plastic. I have noticed this tends to happen more on the newer Stablemates or on a Traditional's joints sometimes.

All of this just takes time and practice on your models. Not all plastics are created equal. I prefer (and have instructed based upon) the newer Breyer plastic. Breyer has gone through many plastic changes over the years. In the 70's, they experimented with many different kinds of plastics, mostly recycled, as the U.S. went through an oil crisis. This is why some Breyers are "chalky" or painted white first before they were painted because their plastic wasn't white enough... or a different color entirely, like hunter green or bright, neon pink!

Some of these older or aged plastic may not take to heat well. Such as this guy who hails from around the 70's... (the young and squeemish may want to look away)

You have no idea how much this hurts...

I could not work with this plastic. While it is white, it was old, tough, like jerky. Even the smallest amount of heat caused the surface to char and bubble furiously. It wrinkled, no matter what. Only when I scorched the hell out of it was I able to get it to move, and even then I had a very short time frame to do it in because it once again held firm. I ultimately had to find a newer version of the mold.

Heat is a great tool for working with plastic. I use it especially with any cuts I need to make. Cleaner and more precise than just a dremel cutting wheel, you warm the plastic, but not too much, just enough to make the plastic cut like butter under the sharp blade on an X-acto knife. Always use a fresh, sharp blade when you use it to cut warm plastic, prevents dragging and catching. Be careful not to overheat your plastic, or it will simply just stretch away with your blade.

This is definitely a crucial technique for moving heads (escpecially those that I still want attached to their original necks). I did this for the Gisel Morgan as well, cutting just behind the ears and behind the cheek half way, down underneath it and cut out the inside of the jaw (that on a real horse is the soft part between the mandibles). You can also see that I did this around the groin area.


That's all for now, more on customizing adventures later!