Friday, July 24, 2009

Vinyl Impressions Part III

When I presented Jim Six with his custom action figure, one person who was around to witness it was my friend Kate Becker. It was Kate, in fact, who gave me the inspiration for doing the Jim Six figure in the first place when she talked about finding someone online who made custom action figures of people based on photographs. As Jim went into convulsions over his new figure, I could see a glint of envy in Kate's eyes. At that moment, I thought that if I made a figure for anyone else, it should be for Kate. Only thing was, I didn't have any ideas on how to do it.

As I related in my last post, I quickly went on to make a custom action figure for a young boy who was part of an Adopt-A-Family Christmas program. Then I kinda stopped making custom figures for awhile. I still hadn't forgotten about Kate, however, and I flogged my brain to figure out what the theme could be. I knew that she had been a life-long fan of the Baltimore Orioles, so that could be the starting point. Okay, how do I do that?

The answer came to me when I thought back to one of my early customs: a Johnny Unitas figure. The uniform for the legendary Baltimore Colt was found on eBay. Back in the 60s, there was an action figure named Johnny Hero, a rather ordinary 1/6th scale figure who wore a red track suit and matching sneakers. However, the toy line provided uniforms for the figure based on every professional baseball and football team around at the time. After buying the basic figure, you could dress him up as a member of your favorite football or baseball team. Johnny Hero was never as popular as G.I. Joe, but he did hang around for a couple of years during the mid-60s. Anyway, many of these football and baseball costumes were available on eBay, so I regularly scoped out the Johnny Hero uniforms until I found a Colts uniform at the right price. When it came time to make Kate's figure, I knew I should be able to find an Orioles uniform and quickly did.

With the Orioles uniform in hand, I next had to find a female figure to put it on. Female custom figures are difficult to put together simply because there are just not that many female figures out there to choose from. Sure, there are plenty of Barbie dolls, but their bodies are not realistic and there headsculpts are exaggerated. At the other end of the scale, you have figures like the Cy Girls who are basically male fantasy figures best used for super hero customs. I needed a middle ground. Fortunately, Old Joe Infirmary carries a female figure line called Fem'Basix which features average sized figures with different hair and eye colors. I choose a figure which best matched Kate's features and, thankfully, the Orioles uniform fit the figure reasonably well.

Given the Orioles theme of the project, accessories were not a problem. The Johnny Hero costume already came with a batter's helmet, bat, baseball, and glove. The only trouble was, there was no bird emblem on the cap and the batter's helmet featured the emblem of a different team (must've been a mix-up at the factory in Hong Kong). I decided to do a little research on the Orioles costume and it turned out that this particular uniform was only worn during the 1964 season (the year Johnny Hero was introduced). In addition, the bird emblem on the cap and helmet was distinct to that uniform. I believe the following year, they introduced the cartoon bird which became so familiar to baseball fans for a couple decades. Anyway, after finding a decent graphic of the bird emblem, I shrunk it down to proper size in Photoshop and printed it out on sitcker paper. Once cut out and applied to the cap and helmet, the uniform was official.

Next came the box. This is always a daunting task, especially for my graphic designer wife Kathy who ends up creating the box graphics for me. My technique for mocking up an action figure box is to take an existing box and cover over it with new graphics printed on regular paper, but applied with decoupage glue so that it has a glossy finish. To make our lives as simple as possible, I tried to find an action figure box that was basically rectangular with clean, straight lines. While Kathy and I were outlet shopping on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I came across a basic military action figure marked down for close-out. Not only did the figure look appealing for a different custom project, the box he came in was a simple rectangle with a rectangular cellophane window on the front. As a bonus, the backing board on which the figure was mounted featured a simple painting of grass and blue skies. Perfect for the baseball theme without the need for any alterations. Once we got it home, Kathy and I set to work.

I have to give Kathy most of the credit for the box design. Although I came up with the back story for the action figure (a fantasy about Kate being the Orioles first bat girl during the 1964 season), Kathy designed everything else. From the All-American colors and font styles to the crisp image of Memorial Stadium on the front, the box screamed baseball americana. After all the cutting and pasting, it looked great.

I presented the gift to Kate one evening after Kathy and Kate had spent the day out together. She was thrilled with the finished product, which gave me no small sense of pride and happiness. I was so glad to be able to pull off one last custom figure based on a person I knew.

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