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Conan the Conqueror Part 5: The Culmination

 

Welcome to the final installment of the Conan the Conqueror sculpting blog, chronicling the making of this sculpture of Conan on horseback from the stunning painting by Frank Frazetta. The main sculpting that remains is the horse, although there are many details in the accouterments, weapons and gear (as well as the sculpture’s base) to do.

The first thing to finish was the horse. The pose is difficult as the horse is in furious motion as he jumps over and into the waiting foes. As mentioned earlier, reference is important in any good sculpture, and for this piece it seemed logical that rodeo photos of bucking broncos would be helpful. Other photos of horses jumping, running and rearing up were helpful to get full anatomical reference from all angles. This reference was used along with pictures of Frank’s own approach to horses, with a strong emphasis on the beautiful Kubla Khan pen and ink works.

The horse is thus strong and powerful, with muscles fully flexed as he hurtles forward.As I worked up the anatomy, I changed things here and there, reworking and adjusting various areas.It helps at times to get away from the piece, to renew one’s perspective and to keep the eye fresh. To do this, I’d break from the horse and work on other details, like the saddle pommel, the axe at his back, the shield, etc.

Frank had decided that thetail looked best flowing back from the body, so I worked it up with long flowing tooling movements to give the impression of speed.

Here are the photos more or less at this point. However, the figure has already been approved and molded.The Conan figure you see here and in the final photos is a resin casting used as a stand-in for sculpting and approval:

After completion, I worked in the studs around the front and rear of the horse and refined some areas, retouching here and there. I then sculpted in the misty shape that would allow the whole figure to sit suspended above the base. (The base will be a decorative raised oval base, painted with a faux marble surface.)

Next, I baked the sculpture to harden it. Except for the back right hoof, the other hooves were difficult to work in this pose. So after baking, I removed the lower legs, sanded the hooves and worked in the horseshoes, adding some clinging mud to the bottoms of the hooves.I also sanded the back of the saddle, which I interpreted as being made of wood, and sculpted in some detail that was reminiscent of the decorative elements on the front of the saddle.It also seemed that the axe you see behind Conan would have been attached to the wooden saddle with a simple loop for ease of removal in battle.

I had left the smaller studs at Conan’s waist prior to discussing with the factory where we’d want to cut the figure for production.The massive belt or girdle allows the separation of the figure at the waist.Thus, the arms would not have to be removed, but can be cast as integral parts of the upper figure in a single mold section.This is crucial as I did not want the factory trying to reattach and match up the two sections of the muscular arms and veins.

The last photos show the figure fully sculpted with almost all elements in place, although I left out the sword (simply because I removed it to make an adjustment to the figure and did not reattach it for the photo…).

I hope you found this blog interesting and useful in understanding the sculpting process.I enjoyed sculpting the piece, and it was a singular honor to work with Frank again. My warmest thanks to Frank for his guidance and generous help on this project.

Please stay tuned as we’ll be posting photos of the completely painted figure shortly. Thanks for reading!

CSM

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2008 in Conan the Conqueror

 

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Conan the Conqueror Part 4: Finishing the Figure

Finishing out a figure is very time consuming and certainly not the most interesting part of the process, but it is extremely important, and there’s nothing like seeing one’s work finally coming to completion.

The process, though, can try one’s patience. It can be a little like hammering nails, in that it is just smoothing out with thousands upon thousands of repetitive movements. Normally when I finish out a figure, I make it as smooth as possible, but I decided to leave a bit of texture, a bit more looseness on this piece to convey the impression of raw power and strength that the painting shows so well. This piece will be produced as both a painted edition and a bronze edition and I felt the effect in bronze would be more successful with some texture. At the same time, the painted pieces would need a certain level of finishing to work well, since very loose sculptures can have a sloppy or unfinished look when fully painted.

Generally, I try to stick to a schedule of finishing an area, then moving on.

This doesn’t always work, as I may see something that needs attention on another area. But I do try to finish a part – say a leg, for example – as that will show me how the overall figure is looking. I smooth with cross striations using loop tools and rounded wood tools with a gradually lighter and lighter touch as the figure reaches the level of smoothness I want for the figure.

I began with the chest area (the face being finished already) as the strength of the painting flows from the face and chest and moves outward from those focal energy points. I then finished out the shoulders and arms.

I added the helmet to check the overall look and compare it to the painting.

It was important to finish the arms and shoulders first, as the sides of the helmet would make finishing the shoulders difficult. The addition of the helmet also tells you if the face works well and still conveys the look in the painting, but I held off adding any helmet detail at this point.

After the face, arms and helmet, I spent some time sculpting the necklace.

This is an important, eye catching element of the painting. I sculpted the parts separately, hardened them through baking and added them to the figure to check the look. I decided that I’d make the hair flow out the back of Conan’s helmet as it does in the Conan of Cimmeria painting in which Conan is battling the Frost Giants and in Frank’s other paintings of Conan as well.

I then added the fur around the top of his thighs and the top of his massive belt/girdle. Next I worked in the finished leggings (straps over fur) which are rather loose in the painting. This is another case where it worked best to tighten them up, rather than go loose, as the paint can be applied more correctly and more easily at the factory.

I then photographed the piece and removed the necklace sections, since baked Super Sculpey will peel back from unbaked S Sculpey and the elements will distort. You can reverse that by laying the distorted pieces upside down on unbaked Super Sculpey and the material will bend back to its previous shape.

I added one of the finished hands (which I mentioned were sculpted separately), but the other hand I left off until more of the figure was completed.

I finished out the legs close to full completion, but, as usual, I always know that even a fully finished area may require adjustment and resculpting.

Again, Frank might see something he wanted changed and I might realize a part that needed tweaking here and there. This can add to sculpting time, but the sculpture must be as correct as possible. It’s always a case where you’re tempted to tell yourself it’s good enough, but then you’ll wish you’d adjusted it every time you see the sculpture for, well, forever.

This is the point at which I showed Frank the piece.

[BLOG CONTINUES BELOW PHOTOS]

Frank was fine with the arms, chest and legs, (and even the hair flowing from the helmet) but suggested a couple of key changes to the face: giving the eyes a bit more of an alarmed look, moving the head back and bringing in the chin a bit.

Back at the studio, I first tackled the adjustments Frank wanted, cutting off the head and mounting it on a board. This made the changes in the eyes and jaw more convenient, as I could turn the head on its side or even hold it upside down if necessary. The wisdom of the adjustments became apparent from the beginning, as it was clear that the face was more closely matching the look of the painting. I then reattached the head and corrected the neck and hair, which had been damaged in the modification process.

I then finished out the legs, added the helmet detail with a dental tool with a tiny ball end, and generally checked the figure over, making very minor modifications and retouching as necessary.

I also added the second hand, worked in the forearm muscles again and finished them, then added the forearm band, giving it some stitching detail.

The large studs for the belt were sculpted separately on a steel cylinder so that they could be hardened and added to the figure, closely matching the curve of his torso. The smaller studs will be added later, pending a technical decision regarding where the figure will be cut (separated) in the production and casting process at the factory.

Finishing out a male figure often means adding the veins as the final touch.

Veins are difficult and require a lot of patience. They usually need some retouching later and I sculpt them in stages as they are frustrating to say the least. They’re not my favorite part of the process, but they definitely pull the piece together and they signal that the long process is finally coming to an end.

I think that covers most of what you see here, at least on the figure. There was still the horse and gear to complete, of course, and that, too, would take some time. So here’s the finished Conan the Conqueror figure. You’ll see the sword and shield in a future installment. Frank approved the figure thus far and I hope it meets with your expectations.

CSM

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2008 in Conan the Conqueror

 

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Conan the Conqueror Part 3:

Welcome to the third installment of the Conan the Conqueror Blog. The main points of discussion in meeting with Frank (Frazetta) were to see how I sculpted the overall mass of the figure and the masses (size and musculature) of the horse and if they met with Frank’s vision in the painting.

I added the arms and roughed in the muscular mass fairly quickly, although there was some additive and reductive fine tuning. Specifically, I added material to build up the masses, then carved them with wood and horn tools to shape them into the general shapes I wanted and that I felt matched the size and mass of those in the painting. After meeting with Frank, I would finish out the muscular detail. I had roughed in some muscular mass on the horse (as mentioned earlier) and felt he was ready to go. Here’s how it looked at this stage:

We had a good visit and Frank thought the masses worked well overall. He adjusted the head placement, moving it back a bit. He felt the masses of the legs, torso and arms worked well, but wanted the mass of the legs to seem heavier and more affected by gravity, so we agreed I’d flatten them slightly and add a bit of material to the inside of the thighs.


Frank agreed that using the Kubla Khan pen and ink works was a good reference point for this horse. Since only a small part of one back leg is shown, we talked about the legs a bit to find the best leg position for the sculpture. We also considered raising the horse’s tail because it had a nice dramatic look, even though it doesn’t show in the painting. Frank felt that it was important to consider simple changes to the painting if they worked better for the sculpture as seen from other angles. At this stage, we left the horse tail to a future discussion.


Thus far, the figure had a good start. Next, I talked to Frank about the face of the figure as that would obviously be a key element. The face on Conan the Conqueror is somewhat more loosely painted than the face on the Conan the Adventurer painting I had sculpted some years earlier. There is clearly some scarring on the face of this figure and we decided that adding the scarring to match the earlier painting was fine. There is also some scarring that appears in the painting to the other (right) side of his face and we agreed I’d sculpt that in, as Conan by this time had clearly added some battle scars.


Now it was time to get back to the studio. I sculpt the head of a figure separately, usually. I may sculpt the head first, or midway in the process or at the end, after the figure is fully sculpted. It really depends on what works best in the approval process and the overall sculpting. In this case, it was time to sculpt the head and add it to the figure to get as much accomplished in the next meeting with Frank as possible. I used the painting, of course, but to get the contours more correct I reversed the painting in Photoshop and printed it out. I rough out the head and then incise the lines where the brow line and eyes will be, then the bottom of the nose and finally the mouth. I build up the mouth area and sink in deep hollows where the eyes will be. I then cut the face back and away from the eyes and cheeks and then build the cheeks back a bit, if necessary. The nose is added and then all areas are shaped.

After the head was finished, I added it to the body and began to fine tune the arms and torso, putting in more fine detail muscles and shaping them to suit the figure as Frank painted it. I shaped the serratus muscles, the rib cage and the abdominals with cross smoothing to give them a finished skin effect with thick wire loops and a couple of rounded wood tools I keep highly polished for that specific use.

You can also see more tuning of the back muscles and forearm muscles. I find the back to be the most difficult part of the male figure to sculpt. My observation is that other sculptors also have problems with it. I’ve also laid in more extensively the flexors and extensors of the forearms, a very complicated and interesting set of muscles and difficult to sculpt. I basically lay in long strips of material and work them together with some surface and depth variation between them for a strong, but natural look.

After the muscular detail was more or less where I wanted it, I cut in the leather strap across his chest to check the look and see if the feel of the painting was coming across properly.

Like any sculptor, I also change and adjust areas throughout the process. A part may look correct one day, but may seem to need adjustment the next. The key is to be sure that the second day’s eye is more correct than the previous day’s eye. As you can see in the photo, I wasn’t satisfied with the shape of the lower leg and calf muscle, so I removed the strapping and made the necessary adjustments. I also fine-tuned the thighs to get the right amount of definition to convey the rugged power of the figure in the painting.

I usually sculpt the hands separately, so you can see how I cut off one of the hands with the intention to reattach it later, after fully sculpting it.

As you can see in the photo, we were still experimenting with the look of the horse’s tail in the sculpture. At this point, it is flipping upwards, although in the painting it doesn’t show. The important consideration to Frank was that the look chosen was the one that worked best for the sculpture.

Next, we’ll attack the finishing of the anatomy, the addition of helmet and other details. Stay tuned!

CSM

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2008 in Conan the Conqueror

 

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Conan the Conqueror Part 2: Building Mass

This second installment of the Conan the Conqueror blog is very late(!), so let’s get to it:

Last time we discussed the scale decisions and some background.

Next: How to attach the horse to the base? The horse is jumping and making it appear believable, but securely attached to the base, is technically an important part of the project. Frank and I discussed the misty, hazy quality of the area under the horse and felt that some swirling mist attached to the horse’s underside would fit the purpose and would work visually, so that’s what it will have.

A base of this kind will also work well for the bronze edition and will give strength and support, while allowing the horse to retain the feel of furiously hurtling through the air. At least that’s the idea. The folks at Conan Properties agreed and so we were off to the horseraces.

First, I laid in the sculpting material and blocked in the horse. (“Blocking in” is quickly adding a lot of material to get the basic shape.) I added some detail in the musculature with the idea of meeting with Frank to determine if I was making the horse the right size and with the right build for the statue. The horse’s angle doesn’t show much of its body, so I referred to Frank’s other paintings and pen and inks, especially the beautiful Kubla Khan works.

Next, I added the figure of Conan, but only roughed in for torso, upper arm and thigh size. The forearms would be blocked in later as they can get in the way. Arms can be roughed for blocking in purposes, but can then be removed to work the sides of the figure. In this case, I wanted to set the size of the figure in relation to the horse and have the basics in place for the meeting with Frank. Normally, I would sculpt all the figure and then add any clothing, belts, etc, but in this case the “girdle” (a wide belt used for attaching weapons and accoutrements as well as affording some protection) was so large and matched the natural cylinder of his torso so well that it made sculpting the abdominal area superfluous.

This part of the sculpting process is done fairly quickly. For me, it’s best to lay the material in quickly and see how it looks. The adjusting and refining process will take days and days, but this part is more spontaneous and intuitive. Very quick. Most of the material is applied and manipulated by hand although I also use a broad, but fairly small wood sculpting spatula that is like a butter knife in shape.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW PHOTOS!

In the next photos you’ll see the lower legs have been added. I added the straps to the legs as well in order to talk about clothing details with Frank. The idea on a project like this is to anticipate how far to take the piece to get the most out of the visit with Frank to save his time and to give me the most information to go on to get the piece correct to expectations. It’s also important to anticipate the mold making process and how the factory in China will best be able to produce and paint each retail statue. These would include sculpting with an eye toward lessening undercuts, assessing the danger of elements that can break in production and shipping, and how the figure will be cast and assembled both by our mold maker in the US and by the factory in China.

You’ll see in the back and the legs that I’m beginning to hone in on the look. There is more detail in the back and I’m beginning to refine it. The legs have detail in the thighs and the muscular shapes are fairly well established. At any time, however, a piece may require changes and modifications which can mean changing something that seemed correct when first sculpted. This is part of the process for me. A piece can be close to correct, but just off the mark and this isn’t evident until it is close to complete and is revisited later. I usually work and rework a male figure’s back because it is such a difficult and complicated area. It helped that Frank painted Conan’s back in the Conan the Usurper painting, and I had that as reference for building the muscle mass and the look as best I could. Plus, I’d be able to discuss the piece with Frank as well.

At the point seen here, I’ve used a variety of tools such as large and small loops for smoothing and joining the muscle anatomy and knife-like tools for shaping musculature and for adding and taking away material.

I use a file of photo reference in my work and have built up an extensive reference library over the years. I advise sculptors that ask about it to work using photos of athletic people(bodybuilders, fighters, boxers, figure models, etc.) and adjusting them according to the needs of the figure.

Studying anatomy and the human form to gain a basic understanding of bones, muscles and the tendons and ligaments that join them is also very important.

Hiring and working from photos of a model is a very good idea and for this piece I shot photos of a model to use on problem areas. There is nothing more helpful on difficult areas like the elbows, the back, the wrists and the deltoid/ chest and deltoid/upper arm tie-ins than having photos of a person in exactly that pose.

In the next installment we’ll see the piece as it looked in the first discussion with Frank. I promise the wait won’t be long and we’ll try to stay to the two week schedule from now on!

Clay
 
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Posted by on July 15, 2008 in Conan the Conqueror

 

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Conan the Conqueror Part 1: Introduction

Welcome to the first installment of the Conan the Conqueror blog, which will chronicle the sculpting stages of the Conan the Conqueror Statue, a 3-D representation of the magnificent painting by the incomparable Frank Frazetta. I had worked with Mr. Frazetta (Frank) on two previous occasions and both were terrific experiences for me as a fan of Frank’s work and as an artist. There’s no question that I benefited and improved as a sculptor by the experiences, and not surprisingly, that has been true of this association. Frank’s input and modifications have been invaluable and I hope that the result will be a representation that fans and collectors will find do the piece justice.

I mentioned in the Kull of Atlantis blog that Mr. Fredrik Malmberg, President of Paradox Entertainment (which owns Conan Properties) and I had met to discuss a continuation of the series of sculptures based on Frank’s paintings of Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian, painted for Lancer Books in the late 1960s. As noted, I had worked with Frank on a sculpture of his stunning painting of Conan executed for the cover of Conan the Adventurer (Lancer Books, New York, 1966) and had a fantastic experience. Working with Frank Frazetta again was not a hard decision to make and it was an honor to have the opportunity.

The painting, also called the Berserker, was completed in 1967 for the cover of Lancer Books’ Conan the Conqueror and is known by either name. You can see from the painting that this is clearly an outstanding example of the skill and vision of a master of the medium and the Grand Master of the genre. This would be a 3-dimensional challenge more difficult than any I had undertaken before, and I would have a legion of collectors and fans of Frank’s work to answer to if I failed.

There would be many important decisions to make in choosing exactly what to sculpt and why. This piece would be produced in cold cast porcelain, a resin mixed with porcelain powder. Decisions would have to be reached concerning the size of the piece, how many figures to include, how to attach the horse to the base, mold making considerations, factory production, etc. All of these decisions would determine the success of the project and had to be carefully considered.


First of all, we (Frank, the folks at Conan Properties and I) had to decide how big to make this piece. What would the scale be? I felt that it was an opportunity to sculpt something that would be a centerpiece for, and the pride of, any collection. That’s the aim of any piece, really, and it brings out one’s best efforts, in my opinion.

Consequently, I felt it was necessary to have Conan the same scale as he is in the Conan the Barbarian I had sculpted some years before. One, as explained above, I wanted the piece to have impact and two, Frank and I agreed with Conan Properties (CP) that this piece begins and ends with Conan on that amazing horse. Everything else is secondary. That’s obvious, but it’s important in determining that for a sculpture of this painting, Conan on the horse is all you need to make this piece as effective as it can be. And as the first decision made about this piece, I felt that it must be in a scale that is visually impressive to do the painting any justice at all.

All other decisions flow from that one. Thus, if Conan is about 12 inches tall, then the horse is very large; about 18 inches from nose to tail. A larger scale means a higher cost to produce, thus a higher retail price and a larger collectors box, higher shipping charges, etc. Adding the demon warriors would add hundreds of dollars to the retail price (literally) and would add to the fragility of the piece. The size, already huge, would require a reduction in scale that we were not willing to make because a three foot (or larger!) collectors box was simply not practical. Or, I would have to sculpt Conan the size of an eight inch action figure on a toy horse. Not bloody likely!


We all agreed that the surrounding figures are important to the painting, but not so important to the sculpture. We wanted this piece to be as accessible to as many collectors as possible at a price that would be as affordable as we could reasonably make it, and in a scale that would give the most “bang for the buck.”

THE ARMATURE

So we’ll begin with the armature photos. There are only two shown here, but it’s the first big step and is crucial to the process, just as our skeletons are so important in our own structure.

I built the armature from metal pipe as the main support and used aluminum foil as a filler wrapped with aluminum armature wire. The piece will be sculpted in Super Sculpey, a synthetic clay. The figures will be roughed in, both man and horse, then Conan will be sculpted first, followed by the sculpting of the horse.


As you see in the photos, the armature of Conan is not part of the horse armature. Conan will have a simple armature which will be supported by the horse. This allows Conan to be completed and removed, and then a casting of the figure can be fitted to and removed from the horse as the horse is sculpted. The horse armature shows all four legs attached to the wood platform below.


We’ll update you on the statue’s sculpting process every two weeks. We’re a bit late starting the blog and we’ll try to debut new installments every other Sunday. I hope you’ll stay with us as we develop this complicated sculpture, and I promise next time we’ll actually show some sculpting material on the armature!

Until next time-
CSM
 
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Posted by on May 5, 2008 in Conan the Conqueror

 

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