Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shaving Plastic Beards, Cropping Plastic Heads

One thing that really disappointments me is the extreme lack (at least in 54mm scale) of two major groups of combattants from the early months of the Great War; French and Belgian soldiers. Now, our friends at HäT make nice French in kepis in 1/72 scale (my preferred scale for fine modeling), but not in 1/32. The only company that makes anything resembling French troops in what could be considered pre-war garb is Armies in Plastic, and they are Foreign Legionnaires. Converting these into 1914 French infantry should be easy, right?

Sadly, wrong.

While most of the figures are excellent, the problem arises with the headgear; modifying the Foreign Legion kepi involves removing the fabric from the back, which almost always runs a considerable length down the back. Once that is removed, you would have to reshape the back of the heads and shoulders. Even something as simple as replacing the head would still require removing the scarf from the back and the shoulders.

There are options, make no mistake, just not easy ones.

When removing material from soft plastic figures, it is important to remember that it is not really forgiving and even seeks revenge by leaving hairs and burrs. It is easier, however, to add material.

This is why I chose to use the older BMC American Civil War soldiers for modeling French. Possibly not the best course of action, but one which makes sense to me.

As my first test proved, simply painting the soldier in French colors made him look decent enough. However, I decided to see if the same pose could be modified even more. I took one of the duplicates and proceeded to remove the top of the ACW kepi and shape a new from Sculpey. Just that modification alone vastly improved the gunner, but before the new kepi was attached, I decided to do some more changes. One of those involved modifying the trousers to look more like they were tucked into boots. That was not as easy as I thought it would be; the plastic that the BMC troops are molded from is a rather hard polyethylene. The next task was to modify the facial hair, which turned out to be a bit easier but still difficult. My soldier would have a mustache and goatee, a Van Dyke, if you will (more than likely an older non-com who was in the reserves and reactivated in August of 1914. So much for the pension, c'est la vie).

The results were pleasing though far from what I would consider show quality. However, for what will be one of my "regulars and reservists", adequate enough.

However, I am looking at not just a few soldiers but dozens that will be modified. It is easy to foresee going through vast numbers of knife blades, however to facilitate the headgear, at least, I have made a Sculpey mold for the basic kepi.

This could have been used to turn out Sculpey (or any other medium) kepis. There are other ways to make kepis as well without resorting to dies. Another method involves rolling out a "snake" of Sculpey to a little less than the correct diameter, flattening it to match the form for the cap, cooling it down in the refrigerator and cutting small lengths to the appropriate height and then baking them until cured. These can be used in a similar method to my first modification, simply cutting off the top of the American kepi.

The best method, however, turned out to be Squadron Green Putty. Basically, enough putty was added to start the kepi, and then while it was still soft, shaped. Once it had set overnight, it was simply a matter of sanding the kepi.

This officer was done that way, and while not quite finished, certainly looks decent enough.

The trouser/boot modification will probably not be used that often, though the facial hair modification will probably need to be (French military standards being what they were). Great coats will be avoided on these soldiers as well.

So this will probably be used for many of the "R & R troops" (regulars and reservists). I have yet to consider how to approach the Belgian troops. Sacre bleu!

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