Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Half way there

My Cheeky Boy figure is shaping up. As you can see, he has eyes, eyebrows and a mouth. But he still needs some more machinery in the back to make it all move. I suspect he'll be ready for his debut in a week or two. (Oh... and he could use some hair).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Using my head(s)

As I have said before, I sculpted four 2T heads and sent them off to Braylu Creations so owner Buzz James could make molds of them and sell the castings... which he has been doing. They seem to be reasonably popular. And of course, I'm a buyer of the head castings, too. And I've worked with all four; Uncle Earl, Elmore, Cheeky Boy and Mr. Winkle (Mr. Winkle's not yet available for sale... but I have one). I've discovered some tips that might make it easier to move your dummy-building project forward.

Here's a few tips worth noting for all the heads:
  1. Always cut off the back of the head first. The jaw won't slide in from the front. They have to be placed from inside the head.
  2. Fit the axle in the jaw early on so you can work with the jaw fit. You'll probably have to grind and/or sand the jaw, mouth opening or both. You also may need to fill with Magic-Sculpt or similar material. These are not "snap together" projects. I like to Magic-Sculpt some open slots in the head so I can slip the jaw in and out. Toward the end, I'll close the openings to secure the jaw permanently.
  3. You'll probably have to sand and fill to smooth out the castings. I personally prefer a little roughness, especially with the old guys. Flawlessly smooth dummies look like... well... dummies. (personal opinion)
  4. The interior of the heads are very smooth. I use a Dremel tool to rough up the interior of the head so Magic-Sculpt will stick better.
  5. Be sure to eventually cut off the post(s) in the back of the jaw. They're handy for handling the jaw while painting, but the posts will get in the way of other animations if you leave them on.

Here are some head-specific tips :
Uncle Earl:

  1. I cut off the roof of the jaw. I wish I'd modeled it that way in the first place. With the roof cut off, I set in a lower roof. Then I add a tongue on top of the new roof. This adds more depth when his mouth is open.
  2. I also grind away some material under the jaw's chin so his jaw will open wider. (Mark where the jaw makes contact with the neck and grind some of that away.)
  3. You may need to add some Magic-Sculpt to the underside of the jaw (the part that's inside the head) to cover any open space where the jaw meets the neck.


  1. The upper back sides of the jaw (where the roof meets the back of the jaw) may need to be cut away about a 1/4" to a 1/2" at the corners. Otherwise the jaw may bump into your eye tray bolts. Just be sure to check it before you secure the jaw.
  2. If you install an eye hook at the back of the jaw, be careful not to install it too high. Otherwise the angle in relation to the jaw axle (I use a plastic screen door axle ala Al Stevens' recommendation) may be too slight for the jaw to open. Better to mount the eyehook lower or even toward the underside.

Cheeky Boy:

  1. If you use a tube and rod eye control that sits just behind the jaw, you will need to cut away the center portion of the underside of the jaw (about 3/4"-1"wide) to accommodate the tube and rod. Otherwise, the mounted jaw will bump into the tube and rod preventing the jaw from opening. If you use a rocker style eye control, then you won't have to worry about it (unless you've got some other gizmo that sits behind the jaw).
  2. Buzz had a Cheeky Boy casting that accommodated two 1-1/2" eyeballs with no problem. The Cheeky Boy I'm working with would not allow two 1-1/2" eyeballs because the walls of the head were slightly thicker on mine. Solution: Check first and grind away some of the interior walls so the larger eyes will work. (I'm using 1-1/4" eyes on my Cheeky Boy and they will work fine, too.)

Mr. Winkle:

  1. I just started with him, so I don't have much to say yet. But I'll clue you in after I work with the old guy for awhile.

I hope these hints are helpful to you as you undertake building your own figures. Email me if you have any questions.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm No Dummy

Not a boast. (My wife has had a different opinion from time to time). But I digress.

Actually I just want to make sure you know about the Bryan Simon film "I'm No Dummy: A Documentary About Venting".

To quote the recent press release, "Director Bryan Simon explores this fascinating world, tracing its history from the early tie-ins with media giants like Ed Sullivan and the staggering popularity of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, to its more recent resurgences with talents like Jeff Dunham and shows like America’s Got Talent...
...combining over 120 hours of footage including clips from live shows, interviews with noted ventriloquists (and their puppet characters), decades of historical context and a visit to the industry’s very own Vent Haven Museum, “I’M NO DUMMY” captures the allure of the unique craft and explains why the art maintains relevance in today’s popular culture."

The DVD of the film will be released April 6th. Get your copy for $19.97 at retailers nationwide. I'm anxious to see it. How 'bout you?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Elmore's cousin

Yes, Elmore has a cousin named Willard. He's on the paternal side of the family tree (Get it? Tree!). Willard shares some of Elmore's qualities. He tends to ask every girl he meets to marry him. He likes to count out-state-license plates when he's in the car. (It wouldn't be so annoying, except he counts 'em out loud). He likes ice cream, bugs and riddles. I'm sure he'd make a fine little friend for somebody. That's why he's up for bid on Ebay.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The grunt work

Today is a "manufacturing" day. I set up an assembly line of vent figure parts and mechanics to prepare and assemble. So I'm drilling holes in wood eyeballs, painting them with a coat of primer, and drilling holes in eye trays and painting them black. I'm also cutting slots in PVC control posts to accommodate the eye control rod. I'll also drill the cord and lever holes. This isn't the most fun part of making figures, but after making 6-10 sets of items, the rest of figure building becomes much more fun.

Now back to the grind.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Braylu Creations is well-named. Owner/designer Buzz James has come up with another useful and creative gizmo for the control post.

I typically would use a small wood bead glued to the end of my brass rod to move the self-centering eyes left and right. Push the bead, the eyes move right, pull the bead, the eyes move left. The Braylu gizmo is a much more elegant and easy-to-operate solution. It contours to the round post as it's moved left or right. It's easy to push or pull with any finger. It's a very clever addition to the set of control post triggers.

Look for it soon on the Braylu Creations website. (I bet he comes up with a better name than "gizmo").

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Variation on a theme

Between work and dummy makin', I've neglected my posts. But I have a break while paint and Magic-Sculpt dries. So I thought I'd give you a peek at my newest "Elmore". This time he's a redhead with freckles.

I'm making good progress on a special order "Stanley", one of the conversion figures I still offer. And I'm making parallel progress on my first Cheeky Boy. They're both sporting several coats of flesh-tone paint. Both have eye socket outlines and red-pink lip color. Got to do a second coat on both eyeliner and lips. I've also started painting the jaws.

I've received my first shipment of "Mr. Winkle" castings. I've started my first figure by temporarily mounting the jaw and doing some fill work around the mouth opening.

I'll post photos of Cheeky and Mr. Winkle as soon as they're decent.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I'm back 2

Well, I thought I was back. Then I was run over by an 18-wheeler-of-a-virus that flattened me. After 122 grand mal coughing fits, a gallon of codeine cough syrup and an antibiotic with too many syllables to name... I feel better.

So now I've fired up the dummy factory. While I was on vacation, Buzz James of Braylu Creations sent a shipment of Cheeky Boy castings. First I did some exterior sanding, a little filling here and there, and roughed up the interior of the head. I installed the brass tube and brass rod axle in the jaw. Then I took two hunks of Magic-Sculpt and applied them to the spots where the jaw axles will be mounted in the head. Once the Magic-Sculpt was secured, I inserted the jaw and axle into the Magic Sculpt, which made a nice groove. After making sure the jaw opened and closed well and was well-positioned left and right, I gently removed the jaw and axle. Then I cleared away any residual Magic-Sculpt that might block re-installation.

After The Magic-Sculpt dried, I could then re-insert and remove the jaw and axle at will. After the jaw is painted and the other mechanics are prepared, I'll re-insert the jaw and axle and close the top gaps in the grooves to secure the jaw permanently.