Army Builder

By | Wednesday, October 19, 2022 Leave a Comment
Back in the 1970s, Star Wars became basically the first mega-hit franchise. It certainly wasn't the first story to license aspects out for toys and comics and t-shirts and such, but the movie's extreme box office sucess, coupled with said toys and comics and t-shirts and such also being wildly successful caught many people's attention. There was one aspect that, even as a kid, I found interesting. Namely, that the line of action figures for the movie consisted of mostly heroes and very few villains. The original lineup included seven heroes (Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Obi-Wan), two aliens/side characters (Jawa, Tusken Raider), and three villains (Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, and Death Squad Commander). However, what I also realized as a kid was that even though the heroes out-numbered the villains by about two-to-one, that ratio was actually pretty flexible because both the Stormtrooper and Death Squad Commander were 'generic' figures; there were many of them shown in the film, so you could justifiably have more than one action figure of each.

Not that I, nor any other kid I knew, had more than two Stormtroopers. (Because it was the '70s. No one I knew had money to buy more than that.)

Which meant that the heroes always overwhelmed the bad guys just in sheer numbers. The adventures they went on in my basement or my backyard or wherever were radically different than the upstart/underdog rebels that you see in the movies.

Fast forward to the early 2000s and my action figure world centered more around comic book characters, mostly those from Marvel. But I found myself having a similar issue. One of my favorite adversaries for the Fantastic Four from the comics were the Skrulls and, while they had a few standout characters like the Empire, they were largely just a group of nameless soldiers and background fighters, much like the Stormtroopers. And we saw the same issue play out in action figure form. There was a Super-Skrull figure, which I picked up, and Diamond produced a box set of three 'generic' Skrulls, one of which I also picked up. But here again, limited funds meant that I couldn't get more than one set. And several years later, when Hasbro made formal "army builder" Skrull figures, they were again overly pricey. Today, you can find them easily enough on reseller sites like ebay today, but all of the Skrull figures I mentioned, even loose, cost about twice what I would be willing to pay.

Back in April, I talked about how I had made a Fantasticar toy for Marvel Legends action figures. I hadn't bought a 3D printer to make toys; it was to be mostly for functional projects that would be inefficiently completed in any other way. So it only occurred to me, roughly a year after purchasing the machine, that I could make my own army of Skrull figures. I didn't think I had the capability to make something as detailed and/or articulated as the Marvel Legends figures, but they would be sufficient as background/lesser characters.

I purchased the digital files for a generic muscular action figure and began modifying it accordingly. I increased it's size from 4" to 6" and replaced the human face with one from a Skrull model. I also added cut joints on the forearms, the calves, and waist both to add a little more articulation as well as provide an easy way to print individual parts already in the correct colors, so I could avoid having to paint the figures. The most challenging addition was the starburst detail about the neck and chest; again, it was something I wanted to do in the sculpt itself so I didn't have to try painting these. What I ended up with is what you see at the right. You can definitely tell it's a lower quality than something from Hasbro, but a decently articulated action figure custom designed and made over a weekend? That ain't terrible.

Plus -- and here's what I really wanted to get to with this project to begin with -- I can replicate that pretty easily. After the parts were designed, I found it took about a day to make a single figure. And I could cut that down a bit if I was working on multiple figures at the same time. I went from having one figure to having nine in a week. I added a tenth a couple days later just to use up some spare parts I'd already printed up. Ten figures, plus the four Skrulls I had previously, and I've got a face-off that looks like this...
Again, there's definitely a difference in quality, but I spent less than $20 for a platoon of Skrulls compared to the several hundred (minimum) if I had tried purchasing official ones, and I haven't even bothered to put a drop of paint on them. I think that huge savings is worth a slightly inferior product that ultimately will mostly sit in the background of a shelf anyway. Heck, my 3D printer was cheap enough that including the price of that means I still come out ahead! Not to mention if I wanted to make another ten or twenty Skrulls at any time, I could easily do that. I can build the army as large as I want for less than a dollar's worth of plastic filament.

If I had more room to display action figures, I could do the same for any large collection of figures. SHIELD, Hydra, Kree, HIVE, the Foot Clan... Just swapping out the heads and printing them in different colors would take care of 90% of the differences. So I throw this out there as an idea for any comic fans who cross over into action figure territory, maybe getting a 3D printer to fill out the back ranks of your armies might be an interesting way to go!
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