I’ve always believed that good, quality customising comes from the creativity borne from necessity, tempered by means.
What’s that mean? It means that you’re like me, so po’ you can’t afford the fancy shit, so you build your own out of cheap crap that you’ve already got and you compromise a bit and cut a few corners because you want it so bad but you still try your damnedest to make it look like the real thing.
I picked up one of those neon-orange Alley Vipers in a bulk lot from Sinodolls (or as I affectionately call him, “FellOffHasbroTruckGuy”) and at first I thought, “What IS this monstrosity?”
But then he grew on me. I picked up some gear during a One of This and One of That Shop through Marauder’s Gun Runners (which is usually around $10-$15 inc. shipping here to Aus) and had one of their riot-control body armour vests and shields, so I stuck ’em on the Alley Viper and he looked, well, silly. Especially next to his cousin, the Pursuit of Cobra Alley Viper, whom I picked up in a mis-labeled eBay lot, Mint-on-Card with POC Beachhead MOC and POC Cobra Commander for $15 (inc. shipping).
I had an extra helmet from the Resolute Box Set Duke (because I will probably never pose him with it on) and one that came in a loose lot of ROC figs that belonged to ROC Sandstorm (same helmet, but gold/tan) so I started seeing what I could do with it.
Experimenting with one figure’s gear is one thing, but it’s actually easier doing two at once because you’ll take an hour fucking around carving the bits off a helmet until it looks nice because you don’t know how much to shave off, then the second one takes 10 minutes because you know exactly what to do.
I had a few extra ROC Snake Eyes (who doesn’t?! That friggin’ guy is in EVERY ROC LOT that I buy. He’s like lice. Nobody likes those friggin’ lips) so I popped the visors off of two of ’em to see how they worked on the helmet.
Not bad. Not great, but not bad. There was something too goofy about the body armour though, so I started carving. I cut the flaps off the front and back, the bits that cover his junk and butt, and it looked better. Carved a V-neck in and cut off the straps (whilst gluing them down) and BAM, sorted.
I figured it was much too ambitious to try and emulate the POC Alley Viper’s helmet, but I thought I’d just see how cool I could make it. I took the soft-plastic flaps from the Marauder’s body armour and fit them against the SE visor while holding it on the helmet. And Holeeee Shiiiit, it worked great.
Cut, cut, glue, cut, glue. Then I shaped a couple of holes in the sides of the helmet and cut the facenose out so the visor could fit over the face. Sanding and sculpting got it to fit quite snug and I used my frosting-tipped heatgun to shape the plastic from a flat codpiece flap into a rounded facemask. Beautiful.
As mentioned, I cut the flaps off the body armour and opened the neck up a bit, and those vests were looking quite good. I glued it all together on the figure, meaning I could never take it off, but it was looking pretty good but still not quite right.
At this point, everything was still all black (except the one helmet) and easy enough to leave. But then I started thinking about just gluing some gear to his vest. I left the ammo on his right breast but carved if off the left and glued it under the stuff on the right. Then I took the webgear and belt off of a spare Hall of Heroes Firefly and carved the pouches and extras off of ’em in addition to the pouches from the POC Tornado Kick Gaywad Snake Eyes’ belt (of which there are many pouches). I’d already used the grenades from another custom though, so I carved ’em off the arms of an extra Snake Eyes arm (who coincidentally shares the upper legs of the Alley Vipers).
I started gluing stuff to the vest, pretty much all-black still, and seeing how it worked. Pretty good. And black is easy and I’ve got lots of it. It wasn’t terrible with the neon-orange and powder blue and they still looked pretty tough.
Then me and the offspring were wandering through the local mall that has a Games World and SIK Hobbies, one with hobby enamels for $3/pot and one with acrylics for $3.50/pot, and I saw they had a Holyfuck Blaze Orange enamel pot. So I bought it, thinking Fuck it, I’m going to go for it.
So I started painting. Two different ways though, just to see how they rolled. On one vest I just started painting the orange directly onto the black and on the other I started with a basecoat of Other Neon Orange nail polish that my wife gave me. The nail polish was great for colour, shit for detail (gloppy as) and the orange enamel barely showed up on the black, even un-thinned.
Farts. Starting over time. Then Wifeage wanders through the room behind me and says, “You really should be starting with a white basecoat…” all casually. SHIT. Hadn’t thought of that. Not even a little bit. Dammit.
BUT… she was right. As usual.
I broke into my Special Super Duper Trip to the City Citadel Paints and put on a white basecoat over EVERYTHING on the vest. Then the helmets too. Then, just because I’m realising the commitment I’ve made here, I did another couple of coats over the next few days.
Then, just for fun, I tried the orange enamel paint VS the orange nail polish. I used a spot on their backs though, where a backpack would eventually go. Same deal, the nail polish is great on colour, but even thinned it hid too much detail. Good to know. So I put on a coat of orange.
And had to wait a day because the shit takes so long to dry.
Another coat, another day. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Every time I started thinking I would be done, I’d check back in on this review from the Ever-Awesome General’s Joes (he’s got the best pics on the interwebs) and figure I needed a pretty deep orange to pull this off. Vests, then helmets both got it, and I started doing it twice a day, morning and night.
Pretty sure they got about 5-6 coats and I started to lose definition on ’em, so I called it good. Then it got fun, because painting the blue on the pouches, the silver on the grenades and the black on the knife sheath left a couple little marks. More orange!
After all was said and done, the vest got about 6-7 coats of orange and the pouches, sheath and grenades got 2-3.
Next time will I paint the items before gluing them on?
Dunno. Could’ve been just as much hassle. Plus, I really, actually, genuinely enjoy doing this shit. It’s my meditation time, so more painting doesn’t make me cry. I’ll tell you what though, if I’m using a gloss enamel again, I’m gluing things on it later and painting first.
Why? Because the gloss was TOO glossy. Just… wasn’t right because it was so goddam shiny. “Sand it really lightly” somebody online said. So I ran the lightest sandpaper I had over it as light as I could. Looked alright. Then I had to get it into a tight spot, and it peeled the paint off the corners like a razorblade.
I repainted the shit I wrecked and sulked for a bit. I even posted on the Tank and asked if anybody had any advice. Got nothing but *crickets* in return. Wifeage to my rescue again!
How to un-gloss gloss enamel paint without hurting the paintjob.
A paste made up from Cream of Tartar and Bicarb Soda (Baking Soda) gently brushed on with a soft-head toothbrush and worked into all the corners and edges was FUCKING PERFECT. Goddam I love that woman, she’s fucking amazing.
Sure it took a bit longer than sandpaper, but it didn’t fuck all my hard work up and it rinses off under the tap. GENIUS. The AV’s were no longer shiny and glossy and the original paintjob was unscathed.
When I’d gotten really into the project and started getting all tingly that I was nearly done, I realised I’d almost forgotten the shields. BLAST.
With little to no idea how I was going to pull this one off, I grabbed the Riot Shield from Marauder’s and looked at how I could carve it and work it into that bitchin’, jaggedass Alley Viper shape. I did my Think Think Think dance and nothing happened, so I decided to start from scratch. I’d snapped the handle off a cheapass Kmart ballpump getting the kids footy going weeks before, and its corpse was a plaything for the tot in the front yard. Not anymore!
I checked its diameter and thickness and gave it a few test cuts with the Dremel to see how it burred and melted, and it was awesome. So I cut, cut, cut until I had a rough shape similar to the POC Alley Viper’s shield. There wasn’t enough plastic to do two though! So I had to make some compromises and make the shields shorter and a bit fatter. I heatgunned ’em to flatten ’em a bit, and to shape them like the other shield, then I did the finer cutting with the X-acto knife.
The chemist down here had glass nailfiles on clearance too ($3) and those badboys are awesome at smoothing round corners or sharpening edges. To make some lines and designs on it, I used one of the longer blades on my kickass soldering iron ($34 at Bunnings) to melt/carve lines across and make a bit of a design on the plastic. Sanding and smoothing it was the easy part, gluing the handle on the other side nearly drove me mad. I drank alot while doing that bit.
I glued the handle to its two “posts” but without using pushpins metal or paperclip shims or anything to “pin” it to the other bit of plastic, I had to rely on melting it on (so it takes the shape too) and then trying to glue it afterward. Something about the plastic meant that it just wouldn’t fucking hold, and every time I tried to put it in the dude’s hand, it snapped the handle off. Heating both sides, holding very still, and lots and lots of the “good” glue (the super glue only my wife gets, as I tend to buy the $2 8-packs from Reject Dot) finally got it, but I’m still nervous.
Since I didn’t want to fuck around with eleventy bajillion coats, and I didn’t have to worry too much about loss of detail, I used the Super Duper Orange Nail Polish and it worked a treat.
Knives, Guns, Backpacks and Batons
The knives were the extras that come with ROC City Strike Snake Eyes and ROC City Strike Duke that don’t have sheaths or go anywhere on ’em. I cut ’em down a bit and carved the sheath off the AV’s arm and glued it to his vest. Still not sure what to put on his arm, but I’ll figure it out someday.
The guns were easy, Marauder’s again. $1 I think. They’re not perfect, but they’re pretty close.
The backpacks were easy too, except I wasn’t sure if I was going to get this lucky. I had thought that I’d fashion two backpacks out of the only pair I’ve got, two ROC Zartan head-carriers ones, and then I was going through my G.I. No crap that comes with the True Heroes buggies, helicopters and tanks and shit. Clearly Chap Mei, or whomever, robbed the shit out of some ideas from Hasbro, because there’s a True Heroes helicopter pack with two backpacks in it, and one of them is nearly an exact copy of the Alley Viper backpack except in grey. Rock like a Rolling Stone and Robert’s yer Mother’s Brother.
The batons were harder, because the only figures I’ve got that have one are Renegades Troopers, Renegades Law & Order, ROC Law & Order and the POC Alley Viper. Unwilling to part with any of those, let alone two, I made ’em from the rubber-handles off those spring-loaded monstrosities that come with ROC figures and a pair of the nunchucks that came from POC Tornado-Kick Snake Eyes (from a lot of five I got for $10 two years ago). Didn’t want to fuck around this time, so I snipped a paperclip piece of shim, heated it, and shoved it into the handle bit, then into the baton. Heatgunned it, sanded it, and viola!
Painting the Cobra sigils on the shield and helmet was a real lesson. At first I tried carving a stamp out of one of my kids’ erasers. It looked good, it was small but rigid, but I couldn’t get it to stamp without smearing. It just needed more precision than my stupid hands could do. Other than hiring the booking sergeant from the copshop, I had to think of something else. A stencil would be too hard to carve, I figured, or at least to make rigid enough to hold still while I painted around it.
Wifeage with her wisdom again. She took a regular paintbrush, cut the brush bit off the handle and glued on a 2cm section of the thickest fishing line we had in the garage. Looks like dentist’s evilry, but it’s awesome. I honestly didn’t think it’d work, but I was able to get some real detail in there. Sure you dab and reload and dab and reload, but still. I’m ready to try some eyes!
The lesson came in how fkn different I could make them regardless of the fact that I was looking right at the other one I’d just painted. Just the perils of being an artiste I guess, but when you look at ’em for any length of time you start to think, “That one is quite different from the others there champ.”
I only discovered Cobra Stickers about a week ago, but now I know. And knowing is half the painting. I’ve already made a nice order.
All up, I’m extremely happy. Without having the $30 to get one of the fairly-rare Alley Vipers off eBay, nor the willingness to spend that much on an army-builder out of sheer principle, I got to learn a lot about how to do this shit, and I got two great-looking, fully-posable figures too.
Hell, I might just go for a third, just to see if I can.