Custom Action FigureThis article is a walk-through on how to make your own action figure using existing toys and accessories. It has been adapted from a post that originally appeared on my Flickr stream in 2005. While it was originally written by a child-less guy with a lot of free time, I’ve recently found a reason to dust it off. My little girl wants Wonder Twins action figures in scale with my vintage Super Powers line. So, here we go again…

There are two three reasons to create a custom action figure:
1) You want to give a kick-ass gift to a friend
2) You’re a really big dork
3) Your kid wants a toy that doesn’t exist

To clarify, here’s what I mean by “really big dork”:
You feel the need to correct the oversights of major toy manufacturers and create toys for characters they “overlooked.” Or, you want to put yourself in an X-Wing flightsuit.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the tutorial.

Custom Action Figure TutorialStep 1: Source Material
You need pictures of your subject. Front, back, sides, whatever you can get. Make a list of the things they like, their profession, and other insights you have. Decide which of these characteristics may make good toy fodder.

Step 2: Scavenging
Next, you’ll need to find the parts for your Frankenstein-ish endeavors. Taking your source photos, head out to the nearest Toys R Us. Or, if you’re really ambitious (and have a good idea of what you want) head to eBay for the best selection.

You need three main pieces: The head, the body, and accessories.

The Head
If you’re making a dude, the best place to find normal dude heads are McFarlane Toys’ athletes. Pro ball players and stock car drivers and ripe for the customizing. No one will recognize them without their jerseys and you can manipulate them with relative ease. Let’s face it, you’re not going to find a perfect match – but look for features that are similar to your friend. Baseball cap, glasses, skin tone, hair cut. If you hit two of those, you’ve got a winner.

The Body
The body is a tough one. Too many toys have super hero bodies or too specifically designed to use as a normal person. Now’s the time to decide if you’re going with a “funny” (or deformed caricature) of your friend, or if you want to strive for some degree of realism. Ideally, you want to use the same toy manufacturer and toy line as the head. That way, the scale is proportional. McFarlane’s line of “rock star” figures is a good source for guys in jeans. Need a suit? Pick up an old X-Files Fox Mulder body.

Custom Action Figure TutorialAccessories
Accessories make the man, or the miniature plastic man. This is where you really have to dig…and head over to the little girl’s section of the toy store. Barbie and her ilk have all the cool props. From laptops and cell phones to pets and scooters, girl toys have all the realistic swag. Also, be sure to check out the dollar stores. They often have great no-name accessory packs for fashion dolls.

Step 3: Assembly Required
Once your base materials are acquired, it’s time to play doctor. Pop the heads off of your figures carefully as to save the head stem if at all possible. If the head stem and body hole line up, you’ll be able to turn your figure’s head. If they don’t line up, or if you accidentally pop the stem off, you’ll need to glue it in place. I recommend Elmer’s Ultimate Glue polyurethane available at your local hardware store. This is some serious stuff, so use precaution and read the directions! The glue will expand as it dries, so try to find a way to clamp the pieces together to ensure a snug fit.

Step 4: Paint By Numbers
Paint is where you can make or break your project. The right accents (a stubble beard, change of hair color, custom clothing) help blend the line between store bought model and real-life inspiration. I recommend Tester’s model enamels for the painting chores. Make sure to get the flat finish. I’ve had trouble with the blues not setting up properly, so mix a tint (using white or black) before using.

During this stage you can also decoupage. Decoupage is the art of decorating surfaces with paper and a sealant. Mod Podge is the absolute best product for decoupage and works well for applying logos onto T-shirts.

Take a look at your accessories. Do they need any extra attention? In addition to applying an appropriate coat of paint, you can also decoupage them up or apply textures and finishes for the proper look.

Custom Action Figure TutorialStep 5: The Finishing Touch
To finish it all off, card your action figure. First, you’ll need a card (the plastic bubble and backing that action figures are distributed inside) in good shape. If using the McFarlane toys in the clear plastic cards, use an X-Acto knife to cut out a window in the back of the card when opening the figures. Measure the paper card insert and create a new one matching those dimensions in Photoshop or another image editing program. Print it out on heavyweight paper. Remove the molded plastic insert that holds the figure in place from the card and see if your new figure fits. You may need to do some creative cutting with the X-Acto to tailor the shape. Tape your accessories to the molded plastic with clear tape, with the accessories facing forward. Slide your figure, molded plastic and paper insert back into the card bubble and apply clear tape to the back of the card to keep it closed. Voila!

My “Trent” Recipe
McFarlane’s Nascar: Tony Stewart Head (painted stubble and cap with KC Royals logo decoupage)
McFarlane Music: Jerry Garcia Body (painted shirt and pants with Sun Studios logo decoupage)
Simpsons: Grampa Simpson’s Newspaper
Dollar Store Fashion Doll Laptop (painted silver with Mac OS desktop sticker)
X-Files: Agent Mulder’s Cell Phone
Star Wars Micro Machines: Tie Interceptor

View the complete photo set for this custom at Flickr.com.