Sculpting Insect Legs

Step 13 - Ready to add to model

Some of my recent projects have required some sinister looking insect legs… a lot of insect legs.  After a bit of trial and error I figured out a way to produce these pretty quickly.  This is a quick and dirty tutorial on how to apply that method, but it could be applied to a more details and refined model of an insect leg as well.

Tools & Materials

The basic principle of this technique is to twist and wrap some green stuff putty around an armature made of some kind of metal wire.  Generally I like to use paper clips as they are nice and strong while being dead-cheap and easy to acquire.  The tools I use for this are pretty basic, the only particular one is the ball-tip sculpting tool shown above which I used to add a bit of detail to the chitinous leg surface.

Step 1 - Apply putty

Wrapping putty around the armature takes a bit of practice and is a bit difficult if the putty’s mix is too fresh.  Let it sit for about 20 min or so and it will be a bit easier to apply.

Step 2 - Begin the twist

As you twist the putty and press onto the armature, you want to pull it down the armature’s axis.  Add a bit of lubrication to your finger tips if your putty is too sticky.  This process takes a little practice, but after doing it a couple of times, it becomes 2nd nature.

Step 3 - Pull down armature while twisting

As you get near the end of the armature, you can pull the putty past the end, and pinch it off with your fingers.  The important thing is to get the volume of the putty dispersed properly…

Step 4 - Taper at far end

The goal is to make sure that the putty layer isn’t too thick (unless you want bulkier insect legs – that’s cool, do your thing) and that the volume of the putty is pretty consistent around the armature.  In this example it was important to make the ends tapered and thinner than the end closer to the body of the model.

Step 5 - Begin to roll putty

Once you like the volume and where the putty is on the armature, you can use your finger and a smooth surface to roll out the putty into a smoother surface.

Step 6 - Roll out and smooth putty

Running your fingers over the putty surface will smooth it out a lot and make it kind of shiny.  This is when you know you will have a very smooth, even surface which will be easy to manipulate.

Step 7 - Create joints

Using pretty much any sculpting tool with a hard edge, create a divot about halfway down the length of the limb to create the first joint.  You can do this where ever you like, but I found it was the most appealing a little less than half the length.

Step 8 - Add additional joints

When adding a second joint I went a bit over half way making the final segment significantly shorter than the other two.  This part is all about personal preference or the design requirements of your model.  When making the joints, be sure to make them significantly wide.  This will make them easier to bend without damaging the putty wrapped around the armature.

Step 9 - Add chitenous details

Now it is time to start adding some details.  For this tutorial I was pretty spartan with the details, looking for a smooth, simple design. Mainly I wanted some divots near the joins to create the look of stylized insect shell, while also achieving the widening that occurs near where two leg segments meet.

Step 10 - Press in details

Several of these divots in a row create the impression I was going for. Any detailing at this point is fine. You want to strike a balance between a smooth shell feeling, and organic shapes and features.  If these legs were to go onto a model of a crab or other shellfish than more bumps and pits may be more appropriate.  Go crazy, this is the fun part!

Step 11- Add details to each joint

Now that all of the detailing is done, here comes the hard part.  Waiting.  You need to let this thing fully set before you do anything else.  You could toss it under a putty oven if you wanted to speed the chemical process of the epoxy setting up a bit.  Be careful doing this because you could lose some detail thanks to the very thin surface of putty, or make the putty a little brittle if it is warmed too long.  That would mess up the next part…

Step 12 - Bend into position

Bend the leg into a desired pose. You may want to wait to do this after you attach it to the rest of your model, but that is situational. To bend these, the important thing is to make sure that the bend happens at the join.  There are a couple ways to accomplish this, and if your putty is on the thicker side, or if your armature is easily bent, the putty’s resistance may do the trick. One technique is to place your thumbnail into the join, and use that to bend the rest of the limb around.  You can use a pair of pliers to bend the limb, in fact this may be your only choice for the segments which are shorter and near the end of the armature. I recommend being careful with this as you don’t want to mess up your putty work with the pliers.  Be gentle and use some duct tape layers on the pliers jaws as padding to prevent marring the surface of your sculpt.

Step 13 - Ready to add to model

I’ve found this technique pretty easy and very quick.  I tend to slam out a bunch of these at once if I know I will need a lot of them for something.  Once they are done you can add more detail with them with additional putty, and sand the ends of the limbs down to make them a bit more pointy.

Have fun trying this out, and as always reach out to me via the comments or my new handle on Twitter, @horrorshowminis.

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