Toybiz Thing Action Figure Conversion Pt. I
For this article I’m customizing a Thing 12” action figure made by Toybiz for the upcoming Fantastic Four movie. While I’ll be going through customizing this particular figure step by step, most of the basics will be applicable to any rotocast figure. These figures are made very similar to vinyl figure kits and usually cost a fraction of the price (~$10 versus $40-$50 and up). With a little extra work you can have an inexpensive but impressive figure to stand along side your other kits or statues. All of the main characters of the Fantastic Four movie are being represented in the 12” format, and also the Hulk, Spiderman, Green Goblin, and Wolverine have been previously produced, just to name a few of the rotocasts out there. Anyway, on with the show!
Here’s the hero of our story, Mr. Grimm, minus his head (fig. 1). I couldn’t get it back on to take the picture :). Overall, the Thing will be more difficult to customize than a lot of other figures because of the rocky skin texture and the separate ball joint shoulders. If this is your first time attempting to customize a figure, you’ll want to start with a figure that has less detail, like the other Fantastic 4 members or the Hulk from the somewhat recent movie.
While you’ve still got the figure together, play around with the pose until you come up with a pose that you like. Once I’ve picked the pose I generally use a Sharpie and make a mark across each joint so that I’ll be able to realign them after the figure has been taken apart.
After that, it’s time to start taking the figure apart. The easiest way is to drop it in a sink full of hot tap water for a minute or so (fig. 2). After soaking, all the joints will pull apart fairly easy. Take them all apart and remove any hard plastic retaining connectors like the one holding the torso together (fig. 3). Don’t worry about taking apart the shoulder ball joints if you’re using the Thing, the entire shoulder parts will be going in the trash.
I noticed after soaking the parts in hot water that the water looked a little oily. Toybiz uses some kind of oil in the joints, so you’ll need to wash the parts with detergent and an old toothbrush (fig. 4). Otherwise, later on when you go to paint it, the paint will not adhere well.
Time for a parts check: you should have 2 hands, 2 arms, 2 shoulders, 1 upper torso, 1 lower torso, 1 pelvis, 2 upper legs, 2 lower legs, 2 feet, and a head.
Now any parts that have molded in plugs, like the leg sections, need to have them removed, so that the joints will fit as snuggly as possible. If you don’t, that’s just extra puttying to do and I hate puttying!
To remove the plugs, heat up the surrounding vinyl with a hairdryer, embossing tool, or use hot water again. If you do a lot of work with vinyl figures, I’d recommend getting an embossing tool. They get hotter than hairdryers and are less noisy but don’t get scorching hot like a real heat gun. Craft stores usually have them for around $15. Anyway, once you’ve got the vinyl heated up, cut the plug off with an Xacto knife (fig. 5) and remove any remaining surface ridges.
Once you get all the plugs cut off and joint surfaces smooth, you can start assembly. I started with the legs. A general tip for gluing together vinyl parts is to heat up one or both surfaces to be joined before gluing them together. This minimizes gaps and lets you play with the shape of the joint before the glue sets (fig. 6).
When you’re gluing together some figures, there’s an unavoidable overlap, where one piece is just bigger than the one that attaches to it (fig. 7). I guess this is caused by the manufacturing process. Later, this will be fixed by carving off the excess and puttying over it.
For the left leg I glued it straight to the pelvis. With the right leg I wanted a bit more of an angle, but this larger angle won’t allow me to glue straight to the leg. To remedy this, I had to use wire to reinforce the joint and have a substructure to glue the leg to (fig. 8). Later on this will give you a foundation for filler also.
While test fitting the leg I saw that a portion of the leg that’s molded with the pelvis piece would need to be removed since I had repositioned the leg (fig. 9). If this happens, just heat it up and carve it off a knife. Since I took off a pretty major chunk, it left a hole that will have to be filled.
Next I attached the leg with superglue. After it set up, I mixed up some 2 part plumbers epoxy putty to fill the major gaps around the leg and the hole in the crotch. I put some inside the leg joint to help strengthen it (fig. 10).
The basic structure of the lower body is finished at this point. Make sure all the joints are water tight, and then fill it with your filler of choice (fig. 11). I usually use resin or cement.
We’ll put the legs aside to dry and start working on the upper body now. One of the first things I noticed about this figure was that the neck looked a little long for the Thing and was also craned forward making him look down all the time. So I decided to reposition the neck further back, giving him a more upright appearance. In the pictures I’ve marked lines to cut, trying to follow the natural rock crevices (fig. 12 & 13). Disregard the lines with the red X’s over them; I thought about repositioning the trapezius, but decided not to later. You’ll have to cut out some of the extra material to get a good fit once the neck is swung back (fig. 14).
Once the neck surgery is completed, glue the upper and lower torso together, lining them up as well as possible to minimize puttying later.
At this point we’re going to start on the arms, particularly building new shoulders to replace the old ball and socket ones. You can glue the hands on now or later...but puttying them before attaching them will be a good bit easier than trying to do it after they’re attached. I waited to glue the hands until after finishing the shoulders.
Again as with repositioning the legs, I used wire to attach the arm to the torso to give it strength and to have a structure to build upon (fig. 15). After this I used some quick setting plumber’s epoxy putty to bulk out the shoulder in preparation of using slower setting Apoxie Sculpt to do the detailing of the shoulder.
The way I did the shoulders and pretty much all of the stonework are the same. I started by building up the Apoxie Sculpt into the rough forms that I wanted, such as the deltoids in fig. 16. As you’re doing this try to blend the edges of the putty with the rest of the figure. Once that is looking pretty good, start cutting up the large forms into smaller rocks. Try to keep them as randomly shaped and sized as possible or the area will stand out. I used a flat edged dental tool to do the vast majority of the ‘stone work’. To get crisper edges you have to wait for the Apoxie to start setting up a bit and then work it, otherwise the rocks will look rounded (fig. 17). In fig. 18 I’ve gone back after it has started to set and redefined the edges. After the Apoxie cures you can sand it to get even crisper edges, but it can remove texturing you have done