Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catwoman - in 9 easy lives, uh, I mean steps!!!
Well, it's been a few years now since I've built a vinyl kit. Whew, how time does fly. This particular kit is a gem, the Horizon Catwoman, which of course is the Michelle Pfieffer version from the 2nd Tim Burton Batman film, Batman Returns. Opinions are mixed on this film, but not on this kit, it's a stunning likeness of Michelle and it is sculpted into a pose that is just spot on from the film. I built this kit for myself several years ago and frankly, I'm dyin' to have another crack at it so let's get goin'!

1.) Washin', Blowin', Cuttin', Trimin', and Fittin'.......
One key difference in vinyl kits is that you have to do some initial prep work even before you prime and putty. The first step is to take all the parts and wash them with warm water and a mild detergent, this makes sure that all the mold release compound is cleaned off the kit prior to painting. If you don't do this you run the risk of your primer and paint not adhering to the kit. And that would suck, now wouldn't it? Once these parts dry of then you have to heat up and cut way the flashing from the kit components. "How the heck do I do that, Cal?" you may rightfully ask, and doggonit, I'm gonna' tell you. First, I carefully inspect all the parts to make sure I've got everything together, then one by one, I zap 'em with my trusty Vidal Sassoon 1500 Watt blow dryer. Once the part is soft and pliable, I quickly cut away the excess flashing with an X-Acto knife. Be careful with this part, kids. More than once I've cut into a good portion of my own flesh! As trim each part, I do a quick initial fitting to make sure that the parts are all going to seat well when I'm ready to assemble and glue. Just keep doin' this until all the parts are ready for pre-assembly and priming. Another neat lil' trick I use just prior to committing to the unforgiving adhesion of the ol' superglue is scoring, or marking the aligning parts. Basically it's like this: I lightly heat up the parts to be glued, before using any glue, I fit the pieces together and work them into the proper alignment. Once satisfied that everything lines up just right, I mark a line with a black marker across the seam of both parts. This way, when I get to gluin', I know that my pieces will be where I want them. 'Cause believe me, with vinyl, as opposed to styrene, superglue sticks FAST!! It's amazing how fast the glue takes hold. I had forgotten about that with vinyl kits, and had to do a couple of do-overs on my first few tries. Thankfully nail polish remover, if used soon enough, does remove the glue. So, keep this in mind, kids. Once I've gone through all the major parts, pre-fit them and marked them for alignment, it's time to glue. Once again, a light bead of superglue will suffice, and I always follow up with Insta-Set, just to really get a good solid bond. Now that the major portions are in place, I look over the whole kit and make note of the not so good seams. This kit is obviously a recast, and not a particularly good one, so there are alot of imperfections in the joint alignment. Not the end of the world, but it will take me a bit of extra work with the X-Acto knife to clean up some of the mess. But, perfection is what we're after here, so no use gripin' about the work.

2.) Primin', Puttying, Scrapin' and Sandin'.........
First, let me apologize for my unexplained absence. Shoot, it's been nearly a month since I did step one and this is the first chance I've really had to get back at this kit. So, sorry 'bout that kids, now let's get back to work. I noticed right away in the earlier step that this particular mold was not totally aligned, often the case with recast kits, so I knew there'd be a fair amount of seam repair, especially where the leftleg piece joins the body. But first I prime the whole kit with Plasti-Cote Sandable Primer, I'm using a white primer this time instead of my usual gray. Priming a kit will bring out details, flaws, misaligned parts, and all manner of other details that we'll need to address later during the process. At this point, I'm mainly concentrating on what seams will require the most putty and sanding. Well, since I'm not going to be attaching the arms until later (if I put 'em on now, it'll be real difficult to paint her face) that leaves the just the boots attached to the legs, and the left leg attached to the body That leg seam is gonna' need some work. This time around I'm using MMD Fast Drying Green Putty, by Squadron. It's far superior to the Testor's Contour Putty that I've used on lots of other kits mostly because it drys fast, sands smooth as glass, and is relatively easy to apply to the kit. I hit up the area around the leg with a liberal amount of the putty, not just to hide the seam, but to level the area between the butt and the thigh. Can't have those unsightly pantie lines now, can we? After it sets for a day (or in this case, a couple of weeks!), it's time to break out the scrapin' and sandin' tools. I use a
combination of Loew-Cornell Sculpting Tools, 3M Sanding Sponges, Squadron Finishing Sticks, and good ol' fashioned sandpaper. I start by scraping the excess putty off with one of the sculpting tools, and finish by using increasingly fine grades of sanding sponges, sticks, and sandpaper. Before you know it, that seam, or seams, is lookin' pretty darn good. Once satisfied that I've smoothed 'er over, I hit the whole kit with another layer of primer and prepare to dive into the actual painting of the kit!! Oh, joy!!

Flash forward, oh, let's see, about...........................................6 YEARS!!!! That's right seekers, that's how friggin' long it's been since I sat down at this darn bench and worked on a kit! This poor fella who hired me to build his Catwoman kit had no idea what a journey it would be! Life, health, family, job, you name it, it all jumped on me in a big way and put me totally off my game with regard to my hobbies. But to hell with that now, it's all behind me, and we're forging ahead into the past on our way to the future!! Hold on kids, it's gonna be a heck of a ride.

3.) Maskin', Base Coatin', and Preppin'.............................
Because it's been so long I needed to go back and check my own blog about the first time I built this kit. Sure glad I documented all my doins, or else I'd be in a heck of a mess. So, in order to get started on the base coat I need to mask off the face and eye areas. This way I'll be painting the flesh tones over the easier to cover white primer instead of the gloss black that I'm using to base coat the kit.This time around I'm using Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid to do the deed. You can pick this stuff up at Michael's, or Hobby Lobby (my new favorite hobby shop) or most art supply stores. Best to apply this stuff with a damp brush, to keep the latex from sticking to the bristles. At least that seems to work for me. Next we'll break out the Krylon High Gloss Black and give a nice even base coat to our beauty. I usually do these base coats in layers for an even application. Changing direction in the spray pattern makes for even coverage, and doing multiple coats gives a deep, smooth, look. DON'T GET TOO CLOSE to your kit when spray painting for obvious reasons: DRIPPAGE! Duh, nothing says rookie like big ol' drips of spray paint running down your model. So be patient, steady hand, and be about 6 to 8 inches away from your kit when spraying!

4.) Fleshing out the Face
I've got 2 or 3 dusting's of Krylon Gloss Black on the ol' girl and now I have to carefully peel away the latex that was protecting the eye and face holes in the mask. Gotta be careful so that the latex doesn't peel away some of the black mask area that I want to leave in place. You know, think of it like when you've taped off the baseboards when you're painting a room and when you go to remove the tape, some of the wall color that you DON'T want to come off, peels off with the tape. So, this is a smaller version of the same possible problem. To help avoid that I use one of my Loel Cornell sculpting points to trace around the outside perimeter of the latex covering, carefully peeling back the latex in small areas as I go. And, after many a "oops" moment, I'm done! Now, latex isn't perfect and as carefully as I applied it there are still some touch ups that need to be done, so I get my finest point brush and some Testor's Acryl Gloss Black and clean up some of the rough lines that the latex peel left behind. If I'm not that confident in my steady hand work on some parts, I use a Staples Opti Flo Black Gel Pen to finish up the details! Then we get to mixin' up the ol' Caucasian skin color formula that I've used for many a kit. Various amounts of Liquitex Burnt Sienna, Liquitex Raw Sienna and Delta Ceramcoat White. Now, it's like chemistry, you gotta' play with the blend to find the right tone depending on what your kit calls for.
This one, Catwoman, calls for a pale, Caucasian skin tone, so more white is needed in the blend. I use a fairly narrow, flat edge detail brush to apply the flesh color to the spaces, and believe me, it ain't easy. I remember this from the first time I did a build up on this Horizon Catwoman kit, her damn right shoulder is right in the way of here face, so you really have to adopt some weird angle approaches with your paint brush! Man, I turned this kit every way but loose to get 'er done! But, as with much of my work, I seriously see the need to go back and do a clean up of the lines. So, back to the Testor's Acryl Gloss Black for a few passes at cleaning up the lines, edges, fills, and gaps in the job. Final result, pretty good for the base work on the face and now on to the other details!

5.) Stitches, Laces, Straps, and Ties! Oh, my!
Nightmarish memories of the incredible amount of stitches there are on this ladies leather wear. Sheesh, it nearly blinded me the last time I did it. Not only are the stitch details very faint (due to the less than stellar molding of the particular kit) but the high gloss black base coat reflects the damn light right back into your eyes and makes it nearly impossible to find the damn things! No matter, that's why I'm a pro, challenges excite me. Plus, I've learned a few tricks over the years that will make this job, well, still tedious as hell, but doable in short order. I have chosen to use Painters Ultra Fine Paint Pens to do my dirty work here. They make doing the detail at least a little steadier since it's much easier to control a pen tip then a brush tip. And, these are paint filled, not just ink, or marker. I also got a Sharpie brand Oil Based Paint Pen just to compare the two types. The Sharpie is not an Ultra Fine tip, so it may come in handy for other assignments, just not the darn lil' stitches. To build up my nerve, I start by doing the limited stitching on the arm pieces. That way I can test my mad skills, practice my technique, and not botch up the main body of the kit. If I totally pooch the arms, I can always paint 'em over with start again. But, although it's a little hard to see in these pic's, I think I've got my groove on here and I'm movin' on to the main event!

Okay, a brief but necessary pause in the bench work due to my other life as a rock and roll star! Three shows in three weeks had me totally diggin' in to study a bunch of songs, figure out vocal parts, show up for multiple rehearsals, and blah, blah, blah! But I actually did manage to get a few things accomplished here on the bench, including an unanticipated repair of a BROKEN Batman ear. Follow along in your hymnals, Seekers, 'cause here we go!

I'm tellin' ya, this Gal's got a butt load of stitching on her Cat suit, and it's damn hard to see when here shiny, black costume keeps reflecting the light right back in my aging orbs! But no matter, I trek on and use my handy, dandy, White Painters Ultra Fine Paint Pen do the laces on the back of her bodice, and some more stitches on the legs of the costume. Any, shall we say, outside the line work will be touched up with either my Black Painters Ultra Fine Paint Pen or with some detailed an careful brush work and my Testors Gloss Black. Also at this point I realize I never went back and used the Testors Dullcote on the facial features of the kit, a really important first step prior to doing the finish work!! Now, I didn't really want to take the time to mask off the the mask area with the Winsor & Newton Art Masing Fluid than use the spray dullcote, so I decide to gamble. Yep, me and Kenny Rogers, baby. I've had this bottle of Testor's Dullcote Lacquer settin' on my bench for God knows how long and I've never used it 'cause I was afraid that brushing it on would remove the paint, or mess up the work I'd already done. Don't know why I thought this, but I did, but I man up and decide to do it and much to my works flawless!! So there's a new learning moment for me, and by extension, YOU! Right about now an accident occurs while I'm doing some routine house cleaning in my man cave: I KNOCK OVER MY GEORGE CLOONEY BATMAN KIT AND BUST OFF ONE OF HIS EARS AND BREAK OFF HIS CAPE!!!!! SHITE!! Now I have to detour into the world of repair, and this of course in some sick way is a good thing because I can share the process with you, dear builder. Now, in the world of kit repair having a good modeling putty is a must. I have two or three types on my bench at all times, each has a specific purpose. Some are good for filling in thin seams in kits, like where body parts join together, or arms, or legs, and that sort of thing. But, when you need to completely rebuild a missing part, or build up from a part that's been broken off, you need a heavier duty putty that will be moldable and sandable. So I break out the MMD Fast Drying Green Putty, by Squadron. I take out a fairly small amount and apply it to the broken off ear of my Batman kit, form it as best I can with my fingers into a point, than wait 24 hours for it to dry and become solid. Than begins the careful sanding of the new build up. Once or twice while doing this I get a tad too aggressive and  bust the damn thing off again! So, back to the first phase once more. Now that I've got it built up and sanding, using Sanding and Finishing Sticks By Falcon, I apply the lightest cote of Testor's Contour Putty to fill in the small divots, and finish the point on the broken ear. Than wait, than sand, and then there you have it, a ready to paint replacement for the broken part. This is also the same technique I used to reapply the cape that broke off, putty the seems and sand using 3M Sanding Sponges in varying grades, starting with course and working my way down to fine to get a real smooth finish. Hopefully, when I get this thing painted back up, no

And as you can see, the tedious, yet strangely rewarding, chore of detailing the stitchwork in this kit continues. Slow and steady wins the day here, alot of back and forth touch up between the the white paint pen and the black gel pen. But the final work is well worth the effort!! You know, as much as I keep trying to get out of the damn section of the build up, the more I forget about how many other little details there are in the kit! The boots, for cryin' out loud, they have laces, and buttons, and ties, and there are about 100 on each leg! Great googly, moogly. You cannot imagine the ponderous amount of back and forth, and paint and touch up, and brush and pen work that is involved in doing these seemingly invisible, yet strangely important, details of the costume. Just for some contrast, I've decided to paint the shoe laces brown. Now, it's hardly detectable on a gloss black background, but leaving the laces black is just plain lazy! So, I mix up a subtle brown tone with a dab of Liquitex Hooker's Green and Liquitex Burgandy. Then with the thinnest brush I can find, I painstakingly accentuate the lacing on the boots. Of course, I mess up a bunch because the mold details are not as pronounced as they should be (recast hell!) but I forge on knowing that I can clean up any splotches or mistakes with my handy dandy Opti Flo Gel pen. Next, it's the dotting of the boot buttons. For this I use Tamiya Color X-12 Gold Leaf paint and a Micro Brush, perfect for doing dots. Again, there are lots of buttons on the boots and they are hard to paint, so I do my best dotting knowing that I will have to go back and clean things up with the ol' gel pen. 6o minutes later or so, I'm pretty satisfied with what I've accomplished and more than ready to put this phase of the detail work to bed.

6.) Eyes, Eyeliner, Eye Shadow and Make Up