By Adam McFarland
Like many other collectors of McFarlane Sports Picks, I wish that I could have a seat at the table when they decide what players are made, what poses they have, and what uniforms they are in. This is where custom figures come in. Maybe I can't have a say in McFarlane's decisions, but I can create a custom figure of anyone I want!
Simply stated, custom figures involve taking an existing figure apart, making modifications to it, painting it, and putting it back together. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. Over the next few months I will chronicle my adventure of creating a custom Pat Tillman figure.
I am by no means an expert in doing custom figures. I have done a few over the past year and none have come out well enough for me to brag about. How did I get the idea to make a custom? Back in the day I saw a few Starting Lineup custom figures and one day I got curious as to whether anyone has done it with McFarlane's. I did a search and found Jomo's Customs. Here you can find tons of examples as well as step-by-step instructions on how to make a custom! Some of the most impressive customs that I have seen done are on SportsCustoms.com.
I will not go into extreme detail as to the materials that I use to make the custom- that information can be found on Jomo's site and for the most part I use exactly what he recommends.
I decided that I wanted to honor Pat Tillman by making a custom of him. I started by looking on McFarlane's web site at all of the current figures. It is easier to find a recent figure that resembles the person because it will be cheaper and easier to find. Unfortunately, I decided that I wanted the Brian Urlacher from Series 2 because Urlacher most resembled Tillman. Needless to say this would have been pretty expensive to buy. I found that it was actually cheaper to buy the two pack of Urlacher and Brett Favre that is more recent and thus less expensive.
Now that I had the figure picked out, I needed to find as many pictures of Pat as possible to determine what details I would need to add and what decals I would need to make. I found some great photos in the Sports Illustrated issue that came out the week after Pat died. I decided to make my figure have long hair, be a clean figure (no dirt, grass stains, etc), and have Pat in the Arizona Cardinals home uniform.
The next step was to create the decal. I started by attempting to use photos of a jersey and edit them to the proper dimensions using Adobe Photoshop. This didn't come out so well...the white numbers had a blue tint to them and the red was too dark. After some more searching I found a template of Cardinals numbers on Jomo's site. This saves a ton of time! It has every logo, letter and number that the Cardinals could have on their uniforms. From this I was able to create my decal. The decals are printed onto decal paper. This can be done easily at home with any average ink-jet printer. Decal paper costs about $1 per sheet so I always print my decals in black and white on normal printer paper first. Once it looks good, I print it on the decal paper.My decal is in two parts, the first part is the original attempt and the second part is what I added. Since decal paper is not cheap, I set the second ones up so that they fit on the same sheet.
From here on out I will be using a lot of pictures. To look at a larger picture, just click on the image and a new window will open with the full size image in it.
Now is where the fun started! I opened up the package and inspected the figure. The first thing I notice is the tape on Urlacher's ankles. Nooooooooooo! Pat never wore tape (from what I know) and this was going to be a pain in the butt to fix. I considered taking feet and shoes from another figure but I decided that it would be too difficult to find a foot that fit properly. I chose to sand off the tape (see the picture) and essentially "build" a shoe on top of what was left.
After sanding down the tape I masked off anything that I did not want to repaint. On this figure it wasn't much. The "Riddell" on the helmet, the chin strap, the peg that inserts into the stand, the head, and the gloves were the only things that would remain intact.
Next I primed the figure using a gray primer.
Then I started working on the gloves. The Urlacher gloves closely resemble the gloves that Pat wore so I did not want to change much about them. The only thing that I wanted to do was to remove the grass stains from the inside of the hands to keep the figure clean. This was pretty simple to do with some gray paint.
The last thing that is currently done is the head. I always prefer to not do anything to the face because the detail is so great and I do not want to mess it up. In this case, however, it resembled Brian Urlacher way too much and there's no way it would pass as Pat Tillman. I thought I might be able to get away with just scraping off the eye black with an exacto knife. That didn't work so well. I ended up scraping all of the paint off so now I had to paint flesh color where the eye black was. Well, the flesh paint that I had didn't exactly match the flesh paint that McFarlane uses. This forced me to paint the entire face. Normally I see this as risky because one accidental drop of paint in the eye or on the lips and it can take forever to make it look right. It is difficult to mask those parts off (I don't even bother) because you have to get extremely close to the eyes and lips with your brush and I cannot cut a piece of masking tape that small! Thankfully,it actually came out pretty well.
I also noticed that Pat has noticeably thicker eyebrows than Brian Urlacher. I carefully painted on a thicker, darker eyebrow.
Now came the part of adding the hair. There are probably a bunch of ways to do this. My preferred method is to use clay that air dries and then paint it. I added a little water to the clay for easier sculpting and did the shaping with an exacto knife. It took a few tries but I think the hair looks pretty natural.