I try not to scratch-build tabletop figures if it’s avoidable. There are more than enough miniatures of monsters, demons, cyborgs, and knights online that I should never be required to model a creature from the ground up. Mostly because I’m bad at it.
This became a dilemma when I found that the only official Xenomorph miniature in the scale I wanted costs 15 to 20 bucks a bug. My aim was to scare the dusty shits out of my players with a whole hoard, not a singular overpriced chitinous dickhead. I was left with little option but to roll up my sleeves, crack a bottle of Black Velvet, and pretend I have the faintest clue about sculpting.
And before we go on, just a warning. These are not award-winning miniatures. They are sloppy, quick, insect-like monsters that will get used once at the gameboard before they are banished to a desk drawer. If you want to see incredible (and costly) Xenomorphs, just Google up some Xenomorph Dioramas, and bathe yourself in shame.
Step 1) Drink (Only if you’re 21. Or really, really thirsty)
Ok, you don’t have to do this step, but it’s part of my creative process, dammit…
Step 2) Wire Skeletons
Most professional sculptors use greenstuff modeling putty, apx. 10 to 20 bucks a pack, or a firm grey modeling clay like super-sculpey. The clay is layered over twists of copper wire, which is set into a cork base. Usually the copper is applied in sparing amounts, adding only enough wire to hold the shape of the figure, but I like to overdo the skeletons a bit so I can visualize what the figure’s pose will be. This also helps me gauge size, since I’m aiming for 28mm scale.
I also use thin-gauge steel instead of copper, because it’s cheap as dirt (Pictured: 1$) and I don’t plan on baking these models in the oven.
Step 3) Bases
It’s here that I form the base directly on the figure’s feet. I use a 3/4 inch steel washer for weight and to give it a smooth, flat bottom, and press Harvey’s Epoxy Putty over the washer. An exacto blade is used to carve rough, rocky terrain, and a spare chopstick to create indentations and irregularities. I prefer Harvey’s putty because of its hardness and short curing time (apx. 20 mins) but any hard-set putty will do.
Once the bases have cured and the figures are stable enough to manipulate on the stands, we’re ready to move on.
Step 4) Filler
Because we’re doing these Xenos on the cheap, I use any excess plumber’s putty to fill bulk parts of the models. This will give it some stability and save on Greenstuff later, which is considerably more expensive.
Above I’ve added rough body-mass with the plumber’s putty, as well as mass to the phallic heads the Xenomorphs are famous for. The tails I carved from greenstuff, which is mixed from blue and yellow tubes in equal parts until it turns green. It has a long curing time, about 6 hours, and can be cut and manipulated as easily as wet chewing gum. I use wax carvers for indentations and shapes, but almost any steel tool will work. You can also use clay-shapers which will stick less to the putty. The general rule for carving with greenstuff is to keep your tools meticulously clean with warm water and rags.
To get the shape of the tail I rolled out a long tendril of greenstuff and adhered it to the wire. I scored segments in the tail, then cut smaller flat squares, like stegosaurus plates, and attached them while the model was still tacky. Rinse and repeat.
Step 5) Snakes
The most trouble I had with this build was determining what sort of limbs to carve. In the end I went with intertwining snakes, which I rolled out from the greenstuff putty. By layering three or four tiny snakes together and gently twisting them I was able to emulate muscle, as seen on the middle dog-alien figure above. Were I to do this project again, I would employ the same technique for every figure.
Be sure to allow the material to dry and cure fully, which means leaving it overnight. Fill and sand as necessary.
Steps 6, 7, 8) Spray, Brush, Spray
Start with a black primer spray-paint to save time, since most of the Xeno’s body is going to be matte and dark. I also do a very light dry-brushing of midnight blue acrylic paint on the shoulders, thighs, and heads.
Lastly, working from the middle of the body outward I used a satin clear-coat to give them a wet, slightly slick look. I held the can closer than the recommended distance for a thicker layer, and focused on the head and outer limbs, blocking the middle with tape. This way the bodies retain some of their powdery texture. This makes the ribbed trunk and chest reflect less, making the figure’s center mass dark-black under full light. The results:
Quick and dirty Xenomorphs. With a little more time spent on sanding the edges, more paint layers, some acid-green glow paint, and a few bleached chicken bones or copper tubes glued to base of the stands, and you might have something worth bringing to the game table.
Steel wire $1. Washers $1.20. Quarter-stick of greenstuff $5. Tube of plumber’s putty $4. Can of black primer $3.50. Can of satin clearcoat $4. Total Pricetag: $18.70
Look on players’ faces when Xenomorphs hit the table during a Pathfinder game: Priceless.