Monday, February 29, 2016

Do-Overs: Repurposed Action Figure Sculpts

Ron writes:

Here's something that's not widely known: When creating several Star Wars action figures, the sculptors at Kenner reused the sculpts for earlier figures, in the process sculpting right over the original art for some of the most recognizable pieces in the line.

It's funny to think about, right?

As a kid, did you ever imagine that your favorite figures might conceal the remnants -- the very souls! -- of figures that had come before? Had you registered this, you probably would have felt like John Randolph in the movie Seconds when he realizes that the mysterious man who keeps bothering him is actually a long-lost friend -- in someone else's body.

One figure whose original sculpt was refashioned in such a way is the Stormtrooper.

In the late '70s, during pre-production on the Empire Strikes Back line, the original wax sculpt for the Stormtrooper was pulled out of storage and remade into the Hoth Stormtrooper, one of the first figures released in conjunction with Empire.

I know what you're thinking: "Those figures don't even look all that similar!"

Well, they look similar enough. More importantly, they have the same stature and pose. They have the same construction, too, the heads of both figures being immobile extensions of their torsos.

Wax, remember, is a malleable medium, and the folks who work in it employ a combination of carving and modelling. That is, they both cut into the hardened material and add to it through a process of melting and joining.

Therefore, although the helmet of the Hoth Stormtrooper is more rather than less voluminous than that of its regular-climate counterpart, it doesn't follow that it wasn't resculpted around the head of the earlier figure. It would have been quite easy for an experienced toy sculptor to add additional wax, and then carve it into the distinctive shape of the Hoth hijab. (The mask of the Hoth Stormtrooper is actually closer to a niqab, but let's not let mundane details get in the way of some good alliteration.)

Also remember: Outward looks aren't the only things to consider when creating an action figure sculpt. What's inside matters, too.

I know this maxim isn't equally applicable to all situations. When dating, for instance, you always want to seek out the person with the best external appearance, and disregard all of that tedious internal stuff.

But where prototypes toys are concerned, you can't afford to be so shallow. As a collector, you're doing yourself a real disservice if you fail to look beneath the skin.

A wax action figure sculpt isn't just a solid chunk of pinkish stuff; its torso encompasses a brass "buck," it has nylon or brass disks embedded at the articulation points, and its thinner portions are sometimes bolstered by a wire armature. All of this helps to keep it together, stable, and in proper alignment.

But incorporating all of that junk into the wax is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. By sculpting over a piece that already has it in place, a sculptor can save himself a lot of effort.

After all, the folks at Kenner weren't in the business of preserving future collectibles; they were trying to bring toys to market. And if a few sculpts were lost in the process, then so be it. The future passions of a few nerdlingers were not dreamt of in their philosophies.

What are some other figures that were created over pre-existing sculpts?

One is Bossk.

Any idea which figure served as the basis for Bossk?

I could name it, but I'm sure the photo speaks for itself:

That's right: Bossk is a made-over Blue Snaggletooth.

I won't enumerate all the ways in which the two figures resemble each other. It's better if you compare them side by side. Pay particular attention to the snouts, the collars, and the bends in the arms.

(Please be forewarned: If you ask me if it was the dent or no-dent version of Blue Snaggletooth that served as the basis for Bossk, I will probably never speak to you again.)

It's likely that other early figures were sculpted into new figures, just as Stormtrooper and Blue Snaggletooth were. But as there is, as far as I know, no solid documentation of this, the identities of these figures must remain speculative.

Before closing out this post, I'll indulge in one bit of speculation: I think it's feasible that the sculpt for the 1978 Han Solo was reworked into the 1980 Han Hoth.

Don't think that's possible?

Pull out loose examples of each figure, and compare them closely. Note in particular the face of the large-head version of the figure, and the way in which it resembles the face of Han Hoth.

Now turn the figures on their sides and compare the arms -- the right arms in particular. 

If you want to extend this comparison to the left arms, you'll quickly notice that they, too, are very similar. Specifically, they both feature the same, very distinctive gesture, with the elbows being fairly straight, and the back of the hands turned outward, with all fingers extended.

Pretty suggestive, right? Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean anything. But it doesn't necessarily mean nothing either.

What other early sculpts do you think may have been reworked into later figures?


  1. Boom! Mind blown again. Now when you say the wax sculpts are reused do you mean all of them, or some of them? As in, no more Stormtrooper sculpts exist? I was talking to Tommy about this same issue on a recent episode of our show - to see if perhaps some of the Leia sculpts were used on Kea Moll, or any of the Droids or Ewok lines to keep costs down. The most logical comparisons would be droids, C3PO and DSD. Some of the Ewoks?

    1. It's hard to say how often it happened. The sculpts for a lot of figures appear to no longer exist. The only ones I'm aware of that are documented as having been redone are Hoth Stormtrooper and Bossk. DSD seems to be a natural rework of C-3PO, but we know that didn't happen, because the C-3PO sculpt is still around. I wouldn't bet against original Leia having been reworked into another figure. Perhaps Leia Bespin. Same goes for Luke.

  2. Replies
    1. Good guess, but the C-3PO wax sculpt still exists, so they definitely didn't redo that one. Also, Zuckuss was sculpted in acetate, not wax, meaning it was made from scratch.

  3. Hey Ron, thanks for that info. Just curious about the removable limbs C-3P0. With acetate sculpts coming into the mix with the ESB wave, do you think it's conceivable a sculpt was recast from a hardcopy? I'm just trying to wrap my head around the way the Zuckuss, and C-3P0 especially are carbon copies in detail, and whether producing a version with production pins to remove the arms and legs warranted making one from scratch.

    1. The RL C-3PO (and Droids C-3PO) weren't resculpted. They just retooled those things to change the joints. Same source sculpt. Same with all the versions of R2 (the R2 figure was patterned in wood -- I believe there's a photo on the Archive). As Ben mentions below, Zuckuss and C-3PO, while being similar in a broad sense, are actually quite different when you get right down to it. As to why they didn't reuse C-3PO for Zuckuss...who knows. I think that by the time the '80s rolled around, the folks at Kenner were probably too hip to the historical importance of these things to do that. Ben could be right that the DSD was made from a cast of C-3PO. But that's somewhat different from the topic of this post. Kenner often made casts of sculpts, then reworked them. The topic I'm addressing here concerns cases in which Kenner sculptors actually SCULPTED OVER (or may have sculpted over) an existing sculpt.

  4. Kenner sculptors had such ready access to mold making gear to create wax casts of final sculpts, you wonder why they were so keen to go down the 'do-over' path? I believe that the DSD was likely created from a cast of 3PO that was done this way, along with the likes of the A-Wing Pilot (B-Wing) and Imperial Gunner (At-St driver).

    Ron is likely bang-on with Luke Bespin being done over the top of the Original Luke Skywalker wax though (placing it firmly in the 'go figure' basket of toy creation history).

    I'd owned the Luke Bespin sculpt for quite a few years, and my strongest memory of it was that it had an identical head, the same 'puffy' looking hands Luke Original had, and other similarities with form. The head didn't look like a cast either - even at the time I got it I was pretty much resigned to it being a do-over.

    On a more positive note... that comparison pic of Bossk and Blue Snag shows how clever Kenner were at hiding similarities with paint apps/colour, I'd never even considered the two were similar, let alone near identical in many ways.

    To the previous poster, there were acetate sculpts used in each series that Kenner did - from SW right through to Droids (Zuckuss is a very different sculpt to 3PO, really stiff in comparison, though there are similarities in the superficial detailing).

    Really great read Ron :)

  5. Great food for thought Ron - I always thought the 4 LOM sculpt was an odd one once his/her coat was removed. The puffy sleeves are very reminiscent of original Leia's - do you think original Leia could be a reused sculpt for 4 LOM?

  6. Very interesting! I like the commentary on dating too.