Monday, October 3, 2016

The Technical & the Creative

Dale had asked me to do a post or two that focused more on the technical and creative side of making wooden miniatures, rather than just eye candy pictures all the time.  I think this is a good point.  So, I thought I would do a post highlighting a technical challenge that took creativity to solve.  I have two things to write about, one instance where I am pretty sure I solved the challenge, and another that is still in process, and that I have not come up with a solution yet that I am really sold on.

1.  Challenge with a solution

One of my favorite D&D monsters of all time is the Mind Flayer.  See below if you are not familiar with these terrifying and highly intelligent monsters.

And then what these baddies do to you if you can't stop them.
Of course, at some point I needed to try and make a figure of one of these fellows.  How could I not at least try!?

The picture below is the "naked" (unpainted) version of the figure so far.  Nothing too earth shattering in terms of it being that much different than my usual figures until you get to the most important part of the miniature, that being the face tentacles, with a second challenge about trying to do a cowl on the cloak like is in the first picture above.  I used the standard upside down milk bottle shape for the body, standard tile spacer arms cut to the shape I want (outstretched three-fingered hand, etc.), and a round bead for the head.  In the first version of this attempt I used the same rounded cap for the head as I used for the Human Wizard (male) figure (the one in orange) that I've posted several pictures of.  But the head was just not right.  It was too big.  I decided I liked the bead better.  I even toyed with using the split egg shape, which actually would probably be better for this figure, but it's just too big.  I may do one the same size as the lich I did using a split egg for the mind flayer's head and see if I actually like it better after all.  But I digress, the challenge, again, for this figure was the face tentacles and, to a lesser degree, the cowl.
I've already painted the base just so it won't be distracting.  The cowl turned out to be the easiest solution so I'll tackle it first.  I knew I wanted to use a tile spacer if I could.  Wooden half circle shapes like that when you try and cut them by hand never turn out good.  But with the really large tile spacers, if you take one of the points and cut it off the spacer, you essentially have the half rounded shape with straight sides.  Then just cut around the edges making a thin version of this half rounded shape.  Do that twice, stacking one on top of the other, and you have a pretty serviceable cowl.  Now, I could have gone crazy with the cowl and made it all ornamental, but I want the person looking at the figure not to look at the cowl, but to STARE at the face tentacles.  So I didn't want the cowl to be so over the top to be distracting. 

It is a little tough to see in the picture, but I again used tile spacers to make the tentacles.  But how I did it was to make two "V" shapes, one wide, and one narrow, and then glue the narrow on on top of the wide ones having them meet at the base of the "V."  Then once that dried I glued it to the face of the miniature.  This was not too tough because since the bead is round and it is sitting on the flat "bottom" of the milk bottle shape, there is room to squeeze at least a little of the double V tile spacer tentacles into the gap between the round bead and the bottom of the mild bottle shape.

Because the figure is unpainted, I hope it makes it easier to see all the things that went into the construction, and how simply it all fits together.  Not simple to think of, took me a while actually, but once I hit on the tile spacer tentacles and liked how they looked, I was happy with the shape of the miniature.  Now, time will tell if my paint job does this construction job justice!

2.  Challenge with no solution yet, but some ideas

One of my favorite non-humanoid shaped D&D monsters is the Otyugh.  Stocky body, three legs, three tentacles, two tipped with a maw with teeth and one with eyes, and a big mouth full of lots of teeth on the body proper where the "head" would be.  Here is one of my favorite images for one of these terrors.
What is nice about this particular monster is I already own a D&D prepainted miniature of one that I really like (not so much the paint job, but the shape of the mini I really like).  So I planned to use the D&D miniature as a model for mine.  This sounds silly, but honestly already having a miniature done to scale with the basic parts already there to see and copy is a real asset when making one of these wooden figures.  I'm usually working from a drawing or photo, and that's a lot harder than having a 3D to-scale miniature in my hand while trying to make a Craftee version of the figure.

But, try as I might, I literally have been trying to come up with a way to do a Craftee version of one of these guys for at least 4 months, I met with failure after failure.  I sometimes could get the legs right, and then the body was wrong.  Other times I could get the head like I wanted it (open maw and all) and it ended up being too weak structurally because I was trying to glue half eggs to half eggs rounded side touching (not enough contact area to make it strong enough for anything other than a display piece, which is not what I'm going for).  Eventually, though, I've finally gotten the legs and the body done in a way that I like.  I found a giant ladybug precut 3D piece available on line at a place that just sells wooden craft pieces and just decided to lay it on the table next to the actual D&D mini.  Then it just started to take shape, and here is where I am right now:
You can't really see the back leg of my miniature but it's there.  Now, we are to the challenge that I haven't solved yet ... the blasted arms.  Here are the ideas I'm floating around.

a)  Axle caps ending in a split egg.  This actually should look pretty cool.  The axle caps when you glue them together allow you because you are gluing the flat side to the rounded side to alter the angle of the arm pretty effectively.  Pros = easy to do, no new pieces to cut.  Cons = I'm more than a little worried about it being too brittle.  That's probably 3-4 axle caps and at least for two of them a split egg glued on the end.  I don't think that will "travel well" and I am fairly certain that the arms will break off either through play or just being transported around.  But this solution would look good and it might be worth a shot.

b)  Necklace beads ending in a split egg with a piece of very thick wire stringing everything together.  This is I think a very good solution.  It would even allow me to move the tentacled arms around a bit if I wanted to.  Pros = less likely to break, will have a good look to it too.  Cons = I really hate drilling into pieces and trying to glue wire into them.  I've done it before and it's a pain.  Although this figure is quite large and would be a perfect candidate for this type of construction.  Also, I have to be very careful with my wire choice, these arms will likely bend all the time (through transportation and play) so the wire has to be very tough.  I do not want an arm to break off.

So, bottom line, I haven't decided what to do yet.  But perhaps me "thinking out loud" about the process that I used/am using to put these two monster figures together is helpful ... or at the very least entertaining.

-- Matt


  1. Great stuff! I look forward to seeing how you solve the tentacle issue. I can see my usual go-to (Modeling Magic) would be too brittle for anything but the most delicate of handling, so I would have to mold and cast parts from an original. I know that is probably not purist enough. Second thought would be simple dowels for the straight bits and beads for the curves, connecting them with pins. You could go from thicker to thinner to simulate the tentacles. Hmmm.

  2. Really neato stuff. I've been enjoying the recent posts very much.

  3. Yeah, I am not ready to give up on the craft pieces yet. I think I may just give option 1 a go and see what it looks like. The body that I have done so far was not hard to put together so if it ends up failing it will not be too hard to reproduce the body and try option 2.

  4. Thanks JD. Good to hear you have been enjoying the latest posts.

  5. Of course, there is always buying dried squid tentacles and "Mod Podging" them to preserve them! :D




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