Growing up as a Star Trek fan, I probably watched more than my share of episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. While they were in their last season when I started tuning in, the Space Channel was running reruns on a daily basis, so it wasn’t hard to get my fill of Delta Quadrant adventures with Janeway, Neelix, and the holographic doctor played by JohnnyCab from the Total Recall movie.
Of course, being a young man at the time, there was a certain character who was introduced a couple seasons in with the goal of appealing to my demographic. And to be honest, I’m not sure I can say it didn’t work. While the Borg had been kicking around since the days of Picard, and had by that time established themselves as the biggest and most fascinating bad guys in the galaxy, it was with Seven of Nine that we first got insight into how a person raised by the Borg would interact when no longer part of the Collective.
So, when I saw a kickstarter offering up a bust of a cyborg from Frozen Ninja 3D, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would fail my will save and end up acquiring her.
Frozen Ninja 3D is a fairly new player in this game, using digital sculpting and 3D printing to make a master and casting resin copies based on that, which is the direction that the industry is going in. The company launched via kickstarter maybe a year ago. I’m not sure how much experience the prime sculptor has in the industry prior to launching this company though I did see him mention online somewhere that this is his first bust. Somehow, the model itself just has a certain feel to it that betrays its origins as a digitally sculpted model. It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly that is, but if it weren’t for the fact that the subject is up my alley, I might have taken a pass on it as it doesn’t quite have the same je ne sais quoi as some of the other busts in my collection.
I did make a few small modifications to the model. First, the original sculpt had a part of the hair that was really lacking any sort of detail, so in order to not have a big, smooth are where there should be strands of hair, I carved some detail into it. Next, I used half-round sections of plasticard and some glue and putty to add what are essentially glowing tubes or hoses of some sort into a couple of the wide gaps in her chest armour. Finally, I added an antenna to the cybernetic implant on the side of her head, which was just a piece of a paper clip cut down to size.
And, of course, I did a zenithal prime with some cool shadows, as I do for most of my work. In this case, I left her head separate from her torso for the start of my painting, just to make the airbrushing easier and get under the hair.
Skin and Hair
For the skin tone, I wanted to do something a little different than my usual approach. Quite predictably, I chose to use Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager as my reference source. There are plenty of pictures available of her both in her Borg drone getup and half-deborgified from the episodes where she joined the crew, and a lot of them have been taken in the fairly neutral light of the starship Voyager as opposed to the overall darkness punctuated by green lights of a Borg cube.
The important piece of knowledge that I gathered from staring at pictures of Jeri Ryan (oh, the sacrifices I make for you people…) was that the skin had to look somewhat unnatural and have some cool tones in it to emphasize the artificial nature of the cybernetic implants. A Borg drone with rosy red cheeks and pink lips would just look odd. It also wasn’t smooth and uniform, having a lot of mottling and imperfections as dermatology and makeup aren’t huge priorities in the Borg Collective. I also wanted to go for something a little on the darker side as I knew I was going to be doing a lot of gunmetal and black leathery colours on this model, plus the facial structure implied to me that she may have been a little darker-skinned before being turned into a cyborg.
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I did here. It involved a lot of airbrushing and playing around with different colours – blues, purples, greys, various skin tones, and I think I shaded it with some Payne’s Grey ink shot from below, as well as stippled on some little imperfections with a sponge. Once I got something I thought looked interesting and was happy with, I decided to leave it well enough alone and not touch it for the remainder of the project because like anything truly artistic, I wasn’t sure exactly what I did and didn’t think I could replicate the process.
As for the hair, I knew there were going to be a lot of green glowing parts on the final project, so colour theory demanded something reddish. So, I went for an orangeish strawberry blonde. As usual, I started with a wet blend to highlight the overall shape of the hair, working up from some orangey ochre tones like P3’s Bogrin Brown and Moldy Ochre, to highlight colours like Reaper’s Blond Hair. I then followed up with some quick dry brushing and washes to get some quick shadows and highlights on individual strands of hair, and followed up with some manual highlights and shading to reinforce what I had achieved with the basics.
True Metallic Metals
With the skin tones done, it was time to move on to something else. Readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of the extra pop you get from using True Metallic Metal (TMM) techniques, but that they are also quite difficult because most metal paints kind of suck. So, I basecoated it all in Vallejo Metal Color’s Gunmetal Grey and got to work.
With a clean basecoat down, what I had to do to get the TMM effects was to use inks to darken the shadows and use VMC Silver to catch the highlights. I eventually hit on a good way to do this; start by applying the inks from dark to light, then throw down a little silver in your highlight area. By drawing the silver into the inks and then blending the whole thing together a little, you can get a decent quick blend. With the inks being less shiny than the metals, you get a cool effect where there is more sparkle in the highlights than there is in the shadows, as there should be.
As for the colours, I chose to sneak a little bit of purple into my metallics – not enough to read as some sort of funky purple metal, but just enough to add a hint of a different colour to them (which, of course, is also not enough to actually appear in any of my photos because I’m bad at photography). I chose purple for two reasons. First, I felt it would contrast nicely with the orange hair and green glowing bits, creating a nice triadic colour scheme. Second, I had plenty of purple artist ink on hand as that is a shade colour I use quite frequently.
So, the typical highlight went from Black to Payne’s Grey (a nice desaturated blue-black) to Dioxazine Purple inks, into VMC silver. That was all blended together, then I would go back in and reinforce the highlights. As for where I placed the highlights… well, that was a challenge with all the flat plates on her armour. It was done using Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) principles, and placing NMM highlights can be an article in itself, so if you are interested, find someone who is better than me and look up her tutorial.
Finally, for some of the edge highlighting, I switched to Scale75 as their consistency is a little more natural for certain techniques, and their Speed Metal is whiter than anything in the VMC range so it makes a nice highest highlight.
There were some parts of her armour that looked less metallic than others – areas like her stomach and some areas on her upper chest, around her collar. These I chose to do as some sort of futuristic non-metallic synthetic leather-like material. Whatever you might call it, I started from Nightshade Purple in the deepest shadows to have a subtle tie-in with the metals, then worked up to Reaper MSP Coal Black and P3 Coal Black, mixing in some P3 Menoth White Highlight into the highest highlight. It may seem strange to use the same colour from two different brands, but these actually have a different tone. While the hue is similar, P3’s take on Coal Black is a little lighter and more saturated than Reaper’s version so it is good as a higher highlight over a base of Reaper’s version.
In most of these areas, I applied this with the brush, blending my highlights and adding edge highlights. However, there were a couple areas where I wanted to get some different texture so I decided to do a little basic stencil work, using a piece of aluminum mesh to make a diamond pattern that I could airbrush over.
Finally, I added some glow effects around some of the lights and switches on her suit, making sure to make the source of the light the brightest area and glazing some green glow effects around where the surface might catch the light.
This was an interesting project. Not being one to play the more out there fantasy races when I do wargaming, I haven’t really done much in the way of unnatural skin tones. So that made for an interesting challenge. While it worked out on this project, it is still a little beyond my comfort zone as as soon as I got something that I liked, I immediately hit the eject button and decided that I wouldn’t risk screwing it up.
As for the TMM, this project did end up demanding a lot from me, and I’m still not sure I’m at the point where I’m getting perfectly smooth blends with metallic paints. They are just always tricky to work with, and perhaps I should have gone for NMM on this project instead. Working on the TMM really tested my endurance as it took a lot of pushing to get past the phase where your model looks like crap and you hate it, and in that phase I was getting frustrated with trying to blend metal paints.
But, whether it is one of my best works or not, I made it over the hill and down the other side. And that’s really what matters at the end of the day.
Bonus Content: Cup Noodle Gunpla!
So, I had somehow managed to acquire a couple tiny, special edition Gundam models that were produced for the 40th anniversary of Cup Noodle, a Japanese company making ready to make cups of noodles. So, here is Char’s Zaku and a Gelgoog in all their tiny glory.