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Military Miniatures - Anatomy and Drapery

( Originally Published Mid 1950's )



One of the most discouraging discoveries for the amateur figure maker is to realize that, after hours of uniform research, modeling, casting and careful painting, the finished figure doesn't look right. Not only in making original figures, but often in converting commercial figures to various action poses, the hobbyist is disappointed with the final product of his efforts. No doubt the principal reason for his miniatures not coming up to expectations is that, in his fervor to reproduce uniform accuracy, he overlooked the fact that the human body is built on a framework of bone that is hinged to move only in particular directions and areas. When this frame is set in motion and positions change, each component part falls into a distinct pattern; when the miniature figure maker overlooks these characteristics, his final model is going to leave something to be desired.

You are indeed a very fortunate person because every day you are surrounded by thousands of operating examples of anatomy and drapery. Keep your eyes open, in your home, on the streets, or anywhere there are people, and you will gain a great deal of knowledge that will help you to improve the positions and drapery of your little masterpieces. You own and have at your constant beck and call an operating full size model to study, your own body. If you can not convince a friend or member of your household to assume particular positions while you copy them in your miniature, strike the pose yourself before a mirror, and study the positions of your arms, legs, and balance when striking a particular action pose.

To be sure, over the years there have been rules set down by artists and sculptors for the proportions of the human body. Naturally they vary, but the movement of bones in a normal person is always in the same pattern. In the more or less accepted proportions listed here, you will find a lot of information that will improve your original figures. However, don't forget the human element people are different. They are tall, short, thin and fat, and it will be your aptitude in combining these human qualities with the ideal proportions set forth that will determine just how natural and lifelike your miniatures will look. All too often the miniature maker makes a fetish out of his devout adherence to a definite height scale for all his creations. This unwavering dedication to height scale creates armies of one size men, which would no doubt be an ideal situation in real life; but as you have already discovered, real life soldiers are not all the same size, either in height or width. When a height for a type of figure is set, such as the popular 2 1/8 inch-high size, this means the normal six-foot man standing erect without headgear is 21/8 inches tall. You are well aware that real armies are made up of men shorter than six feet and men taller than six feet, as well as men exactly six feet tall. Your ability to make adjustments in commercial figures, and in modeling your own original figures to a variety of heights and proportions, will have a great deal to do with obtaining the natural lifelike quality you are seeking in your collection. Needless to say, it would be impossible to tell or teach you all there is to know about anatomy and drapery even in a volume much larger than this whole book; you will find many books on the subjects in your local library and book stores.

They will not only improve your figure making, but you will also find the subject extremely interesting and educational.

When you decide the proportions for the human body, the head is used as a unit of measurement. For example, what is called the ideal figure by most artists is a figure eight heads tall. From the top of the head to the chin is one head, from the chin down to the nipples of the breast is another head in length, from the nipples to the navel is another head and from the navel to the crotch is another head, making four head lengths or the middle of the figure. From the crotch to about midway of the thigh is a head length, from that point to the bottom of the knee is another head and the final two head lengths are taken up with the distance from right under the knee to the bottom of the foot. The elbows come just about in line with the navel when the arms are relaxed at the side, and the wrists fall just below the crotch or middle of the figure. The distance across the chest and upper arms, about in line with the nipples, is approximately 2 head lengths, and at the waist about one head length. What beautiful specimens the men of the human race would be if they did measure up to these proportions, which they usually do not; however, following this set of measurements will make an attractive and well balanced figure. A very simple method of arriving at the sizes without going into fractions and figuring is to cut a strip of paper about 1/4 inch wide and as long as the figure you are going to make. Fold the paper once in half, then repeat, folding in half two more times. When you unfold the length of paper, you will have an accurate scale divided in exactly eight parts, or the eight head lengths of your proposed figure.

Unfortunately the male figure in most cases is a little dumpier than the so called ideal proportions given above. For the purist, here are measurements nearer to the actual male figure. The first three head lengths fall about the same the chin, the nipples and the navel; but the fourth head length falls slightly below the crotch and the knees are five and a half head lengths from the top of the head. The lower legs from the knee to the bottom of the foot are two head lengths long, making the total height of the figure 7 head lengths instead of 8, which is the ideal proportion. When these proportions are used, the figure is about two heads wide at the shoulders instead of the 2 head lengths given in the ideal proportions. However, always keep in mind that it is the differences in proportions that make people different, and it is impossible to formulate elaborate rules for the measurement and comparison of the human body. One thing to keep in mind is that the difference in the heights of various people is chiefly due to the length of the trunk, and the legs between the knee and ankle. To be sure, there are many more scales and rules of measurements, even up to the heroic figures nine heads tall, but with the aid of the ideal proportions and the near normal proportions, combined with your own observations, you will be able to develop a feeling for the proper proportions to suit the task at hand.

No doubt at times you have examined a beautifully detailed figure that the maker has spent hours on creating, and even though every button and weapon and detail was in its proper place, the soldier looked wrong, even crippled, but you couldn't lay your finger on what was the matter and why. Here is most probably why: the figure maker forgot to take into account how far and in what manner the bone and muscle structure of the human body would actually allow the body to bend. It is not unusual to see miniatures assume positions that only a well trained circus performer could manage, and in some cases even a contortionist would be put to shame, because it would be humanly impossible to strike the particular pose. As I mentioned in the opening of this chapter, the human body is hinged to move in a set pattern. While you read the next paragraph, move the various parts of your body as indicated and you will gain a better understanding than all the words and pictures in the world could convey.

Animals also have patterns of movement. For example the neck swings from side to side and up and down from the line where the neck joins the body. The hip and ribs work much like those in the human body, swinging up and down with movement. You will observe how the hips angle when the horse is standing at rest. The leg structure can be broken down into a series of balls and blocks to help in making them bend in the right places.

Different breeds have different shaped heads, features and bodies; the study of a variety of book and magazine pictures will help a great deal in modeling your horses.

The head will move up and down, to the right and to the left, but notice that when moving to the right or left it stops about the time it gets to your shoulder line; and if you want to look to the back, you must swing your shoulder and upper part of your body to the back. The upper part of your body or chest is very much like a box with your arms hooked on in a ball joint, and when you swing your shoulder back on the right side, for instance, the left side of the box moves forward and when the left shoulder is swung back the right one goes forward. Since the arms are put on in a manner which allows several directions of movement, you can swing them straight out to the side, you can swing them out in the back, and you can swing them up over your head. However, when it comes to the elbow, the movement is more restricted and is almost confined to strictly a hinge, where the lower arm can be bent up to the shoulder from the inside of the arm only. The wrist and hand, like the shoulder has a great deal of flexibility, and does not present too much of a problem in being misplaced by the miniature maker. Each time the arm is moved in such a manner that it affects the position of the shoulder, it also affects the position of the chest box. The one end swings forward as the other goes back when the shoulder is raised; in stretching the arm overhead, one side of the box swings up as the other end swings down. This naturally places the left shoulder lower than the right when reaching above the head with the right arm or vice versa. Another portion of the framework very much like the chest box is the area around the hips; this box also moves more or less on an axis since, just like the chest box, when one end moves one way the other swings in the opposite direction. The box at the hips may remain straight forward when the chest box is swung to the right or left; however, when the chest box is tilted up or down the hip box also goes into action but in an opposite fashion. For example, if the right shoulder is swung up and the left goes down, the left hip comes up and the right hip goes down. The torso or trunk of the body may bend forward and to either side but it won't bend backward, although it will arch back to a certain degree. The legs joined to the ends of the hip box will swing forward, backward and to the side; however, when you come to the knee joint, the movement is restricted like the elbow, it bends only to the back. Keep these few simple movements in mind when you are modeling or converting figures into action positions, and you won't end up with an army of de-formed soldiers.

This officer of the Jersey Blues in the American Revolution is an example of a figure which has been dressed with thin pieces of metal such as that provided by old tooth-paste tubes. The body was cast from lead; then clothing, such as waistcoat, coat, cape straps and other articles, including the hat and bow on the hair, also made from thin metal, were put on the figure. The figure was made by Tom Bauer.

Drapery, which is no more than cloth used as a covering for the nude form, like anatomy and action can best be studied by watching the people you come in contact with every day, and in making a study of the strains and folds that show up in your own clothing when you strike various poses in front of your mirror. When the figure is standing straight with arms relaxed at the sides, the upper clothing is supported by the shoulders, chest and upper back. The lower clothing is supported by the hips and buttocks. If the garments are well cut and well fitted, (but who ever heard of well fitted G.I. issue?) there will be no folds in the garments except where they may be crushed by belts. However, any movement of the body, no matter how slight, will cause folds in the garments. Each fold is governed by the position of the figure, and the proper placement of these folds on your miniature will most certainly increase the realism you are seeking.

Pull and crush are the two important factors in causing the folds or wrinkles in clothing, beside such things as belts and slings. In the case of the clothing around the belt or slings, the folds will depend on just how tight the belts are drawn and the folds will radiate from the belt very much like those in a bag with a string tied around it. The depth and number of folds depends on how closely the garment fits the body and how tightly the belt is drawn. Folds caused by pull will radiate from such points as the elbows, shoulders, knees, crotch, arm pits and supporting surfaces of the figure, while crush folds will usually be formed under the elbows and knees and around the waist when these portions of the figure are bent. If you will take a large square of cloth and hold it up by one corner, you will note it falls in a series of more or less straight folds, which start at your hand and widen out at the lower part of the cloth. Take the same piece of cloth and hold it up by two corners and the folds will radiate in sweeping arcs from your hands. The two types of folds formed in the cloth when holding it by one corner and then by two are the basic folds you will find in clothing which will be caused by the points of pull straight folds when the clothing is being pulled at one point, and arched when pulled from more than one point.

The tightness of the folds of course depends on how much strain is being exerted on the cloth. Extreme pull from several points at one time will naturally pull the arcs into almost fans of straight folds. Roll the piece of cloth loosely around a cardboard tube or round stick, and then push the cloth together from both ends; the bunching of the cloth forms crush folds. You will find these folds being formed in the clothing of any bent figure, or where movement of the figure causes the clothing to bunch. Keep in mind that clothing is very much like a series of cylinders of cloth, five in all; one cylinder for the trunk or torso, two for the legs and two for the arms; so the crush pat-terns on the clothing of your figure will follow those formed when you pushed the piece of cloth together on the stick or tube.

Study the patterns of folds formed in your own clothing as you flex your arms and legs before a mirror; note the folds formed at such points as the bent elbow and knee, where both pull and crush are combined. The extra effort you expend in carefully working the proper folds into the clothing of your miniature will more than repay you in the satisfaction of a job well done. True, many figure makers depend on paint to create these folds, but you are creating figures in the full round; therefore it is only natural that folds should be in full relief. If you are converting or finishing commercial castings that do not have the folds cast in them, take the time to file or carve them on the figure before painting. You will be glad you did when you place the finished piece on display.



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