Monday 15 July 2013

Making an armature for sculpting

This is a short tutorial about how to make the armatures that I use to sculpt my 120mm figures as seen on this blog. I am not a professional sculptor (far from it) and I am sure that someone will see this and point out my many "errors" as far as the armature construction is concerned. All I can say is that this method works for me, its simple to do and costs very little.

The tools/materials needed:

Soldering Iron (optional)
Solder (optional)
Helping hands or some other way to hold the work (optional)
Small pliers
Wire cutters
Small length of household lighting circuit twin and earth wire
any other thin copper wire or aluminium armature wire.


What I have done is to find a simple line drawing of the human body and re-size to 120mm height for reference when making the armature. This makes things very easy when it comes to referring back to size and proportion for the armature. The only other preparation really is to strip the plastic coating off the electrical wire if your not using aluminium armature wire, turn the soldering iron on (for the copper if your soldering it) and make a coffee which is always essential for any model making as far as I am concerned.

The Legs

I find it easier to start with the legs. Take a length of wire and bend it using the pliers in such a way that you get a U shaped dip in the crotch area of the armature. As mentioned I find using the printed figure that I mentioned earlier great for using as a comparator for getting the proportions correct. You will also notice from the picture that I have deliberately left the leg wires longer than the figure at this stage.
The Torso

For the torso I use a single piece of wire that I wrap around the U shape in the crotch and solder in place. Again I use the printed and sized image as a reference and leave the wire extend past the head about two inches at this stage. If your using aluminium armature wire this joint can be crushed with a pliers and it should hold without the need for solder. 
The Arms

For the arms, its a single piece of wire again that's wrapped around the single torso wire at the appropriate height (using the figure print as reference) and soldered into place. I then use the pliers to bend both sides of the wire into the shape of the shoulders and arms and trim off the excess length with the wire cutters at the finger tips of the armature. (again aluminium armature wire can have a crushed joint over solder.)

Finishing the armature
To make this a usable armature for sculpey we really need to add something to the basic frame to ensure that the sculpey can grip onto something as we begin to add it to the frame in the sculpting process. For this I use a thinner gauge copper wire that I usually scrounge from anywhere I can lay my hands on it. As long as its "solderable" then its OK to use. I begin by wrapping a small section around the leg joint at where the foot ends (remember I left the legs long) and then solder it into place. For aluminium armature wire I tend to wrap it tightly and hold it in several places with a drop of CA glue.

Once the leg has cooled sufficiently, I then begin to wrap the wire around the armature frame in a tight spiral, first up one leg and then down the other, finishing at the foot of the opposite leg. At this point I then solder it into place and trim of the excess wire. I also pick a few more places around the spiralled wire and solder these as well to ensure that the wire does not move very much around the frame wire.

I then continue this spiral wrapping of the thinner gauge wire around the entire figure, soldering at various points and trimming off the excess wire where appropriate. you will also notice that I have not extended the wrapping onto the hands or the head in the photograph. This is because I have the option to sculpt the head and hands separate from the figure if I so wish and add it later. The single wire making it easier to mount and work with. 
The Feet

For the feet I use the thinner gauge wire and take the reference point for the feet from my printed drawing. I solder a wrapped piece of the wire to the frame and then trim/bend as required. the thinner gauge wire is better for the shoes, especially if the figure is to place in an action pose and the feet flexed. I would add that as I get more and more confident with sculpting, I tend to leave the feet armature out completely, opting to sculpt the feet in a separate sculpt and then glue to the body once both are baked. Either method is OK to do and I know that there are quite a few more styles adopted by other model makers for you to choose from.

The finished product

The armature is now finished. For the extended wire at the head, I bend this into a loop allowing me to suspend the figure for sculpting from my home made sculpting stand, or I can stand the figure on a wooden base to sculpt by drilling two small holes the same diameter as the wire and popping in the extended feet portions of the armature into them. I hope that you found this little tutorial helpful and if this will be your first time sculpting, then I hope that this simple frame is as easy to work with for you as it is for me.

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