Sunday, November 24, 2013

"One motivated Marine, and his rifle!"

Sideshow Toys is known for making quality figures. I have a few of their Civil War commanders series, and they are well done. They are the best Civil War figures available. They also did a series they called "Bayonets and Barbed Wire", which as you can guess was based on WWI, the Great War. Though Sideshow has gotten away from the military figure aspect and instead have begun producing figures based on the movie industry, many of the Sideshow military figures are out there.

I recently purchased one such figure, and he is the basis of this post. He's a Sideshow 5th Marine Regiment WWI figure. Going into the Great War, many politicians and army brass wanted to do away with the Marine Corps and blend it in to the army proper. Marines, both those currently serving and those who had served in the past, of course strongly resisted this idea. They were of the "First to Fight" mentality, and believed the USMC was both a viable and necessary fighting force that had repeatedly proven itself in past conflicts. 

Marine Corps recruitment screening was the strictest in the US Armed Forces. In order to enlist, a recruit had to be at least 5'4", no less than 124 lbs, be able to read and write in English, be at least 18 yrs old, be of sound mind and body, have good hearing and eyesight, and have at least 20 teeth. Thus, prospective Marine candidates were some of the finest and fittest the country had to offer.

At the start of the war, the effort to preserve the Marine Corps was becoming a formidable obstacle. The forest green uniform that made Marines distinguishable at a glance from the soldiers of the Army was being done away with. It came to be that only new recruits fresh from the states wore the Marine green outfit. Much of the replacement gear was being supplied by the French and the British as well. In the wet and moldy environment of the stagnant trench warfare, uniforms and equipment wore out quickly, and oftentimes replacement gear was hard to come by. Marines were given the distinctive British "Brodie" helmet and small box respirator. The respirator, or gas mask as it was called, was the most important piece of gear issued to individual soldiers and Marines, as the threat of German gas attacks was constant, and to be without a respirator meant almost instant, and very painful death. The French "Adrian" helmet, French M-2 gas mask, canteen and boots were also being worn by US troops, and the leather Marine gaiters were quickly replaced by the British puttees.

They may not have been pretty or even uniform in appearance, but after brutal fighting that would have almost surely overwhelmed any other fighting force, the Marine legacy of being the hardest and most tenacious fighters was preserved during the fight in the Battle of Belleau Wood. Belleau Wood was a brutal, 20 day affair that saw some of the most viscous fighting of the entire war. Marines were pinned down, flanked, wandered into areas behind the German lines, and were thought to be in a fight they couldn't win. At the end, however, the Marines, though suffering massive casualties, indisputably held the entire field. They began being called "Teufel Hunden", or "Devil Dogs" by the German soldiers unfortunate enough to get in their way.

The 5th Marine Regiment, one of the participants in the fight in Belleau Wood, was a regiment that came to France in June of 1917. It was comprised of many veteran Marines, and its commander was a Medal of Honor recipient. The 5th and 6th Marine regiments were joined by the 6th Machine Gun battalion to form the 4th Marine Brigade, which became a part of the 2nd Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) Division.

Even after the fighting in Belleau Wood, there remained the push to do away with the Marine Corps, but the Marines held out and remained separate. They would fight valiantly in such notable battles as St. Mihiel, Champagne, and the Argonne Offensive.

Review of the Sideshow figure to come soon in Part 2.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"One, two, three, four...

...United States Marine Corps!"

We're going to do something a bit different today. I'm breaking with the usual way of doing things and am making the same post on both blogs, as I feel the topic is that significant.

10 November 2013 marks the 238th anniversary of the USMC, so this post goes out to all who wear or have ever worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor insignia. Founded on 10 November 1775 by Samuel Nicholas in Philadelphia, and being credited with having its first recruitment drive in the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the Marine Corps began when the Continental Congress formally authorized the formation of two battalions of naval infantry. Thus, a legend in military lore was born.

The Marines are regarded by many as the finest fighting force in the Untited States Armed Forces. Though their mission has changed, the Corps has been there in every conflict the US has ever been involved in, often leading the way and being "the first to fight!" A saying among Marines is that the single most deadly weapon in the World is a motivated Marine and his rifle.

During the World War II era, there was talk of defunding the Marines and disbanding them as a branch of military service. That all changed when five Marines and one Naval Corpsman, in a moment that they considered almost insignificant, made history on a small, ash-covered island in the Pacific.

In response to this photo, the Marine Corps was given new life.

  • The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.  [James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy; 23 February 1945 (the flag-raising on Iwo Jima had been immortalized in a photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal)]

Thus they were formed, fought, were re-born, and continue to lead the way in the fight today.

"Semper Fi!" Marines, and God bless you. May the United States Marine Corps live forever!

I have a father, and several good friends who are Marines. Even though they no longer serve, everyone knows they will always be Marines. The following photos are of figures crafted by me that were made to honor the Corps and those who are part of it.

Early-War Marine, with an '03 Springfield:

Marine in HBTs island-hopping in the Pacific, armed with a Thompson for close-range firepower:

And finally, one motivated Marine in camos, and with an M-1 Garand:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

So, what's the best way to photograph your action figures?

We see the photos on Facebook and Twitter, and all over the Internet. We all like to show off our collection and point out the detailing and effort we put into our creations. The Internet makes doing so very easy, but to really show them off the photo must be good.

What makes a good photo? 

Sure, you can take pictures of them on a shelf. I do it often purely for convenience, especially when I'm trying to show off more than one figure. It's quick and easy.

You can take photos outside, like Danger did here:

Personally, I think this is the best way. Action figures are representations of people who would be outside. The lighting is natural, and with well-done figures the colors look as they should. It helps even more when you have trees or plants that look scale, and when you can manipulate other things in the photo to add an element of scale realism.

People like Pablo Martinez Estrada and Carlos Quintana make diorama-like bases for their figures. They can be quite effective again in adding a sense of realism. The base can be as simple as you want it to be, or it can be very complex and detailed. It's up to the builder.

Here is one of Pablo's figures on a base:

Here's one of Carlos' figures, also on a base:

Vito Carlucci often takes a different approach. Vito tells me he has nearly 150 figures. Often, he posts photos of them on his Facebook page. Vito likes to put his figures in front of a photo that gives the look of a real person in his or her element.

Some examples of Vito's works are here:

A Spetznaz in the mountains:

An LA SWAT officer:

And a 160 SOAR airborne trooper:

A few suggestions that I can offer are as follows. First of all, and most important, is proper lighting. You can't show off detail unless it's lit and highlighted properly. Flashes up close can wash out detail, and a picture that is too dark hides the details. All the intricacies in the World are lost if we can't see them.

Secondly, for realism try to pose you figures naturally. Relaxed poses are often the best unless you want an action shot or are capturing a moment, because, and let's face it, people in the field are often standing around doing nothing. Smart ones take advantage of any chance to relax. Also, if your doing a shooting pose try to make a realistic point of aim. They're not shooting to kick up dust 50 feet away, and they're generally not hunting ducks. You don't have to have him in a marksmanship challenge, but try to keep it as real as possible.

While overhead shots are often necessary, especially in the case of diorama or vehicles, I think the best photos are at or just above the figure's eye level. Don't be afraid to kneel or to lay down to get a good shot. We all live life at eye level, so things shown that way tend to look more familiar and more realistic.

Finally, don't be afraid to take lots of shots! In the era of digital cameras and camera-phones, more can be better. The more pictures you take, the better your chances of capturing the moment in a great photo.

So there you have it. There's my take on action figure photography. If you are going to take photos of your figures, try out some of these techniques. And, if you don't take photos of your figures, why not? What are you waiting for? If they're your's, and your proud of them, show them off! Have fun, and try new things. You'll not be disappointed, and I guarantee that you'll enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One of the best figures out there!

This Teutonic Knight, done by Pablo Estrada Martinez is an example of kitbashing at its best. Pablo paid strict attention to detail while making his figure, using paints to make plastic look like leather and steel, and adding the elements of dirt, age, blood and battle damage. This knight looks like he's been on the march for quite some time, and has seen more than his share of battle.

It's not my work, so I won't go in to the details. I'll let Pablo tell his own story (Please excuse some of the grammar; Pablo does not speak English and told his story through Google Translator. I think he did quite well!).

" Figure the long buy and Ignite brand , but as old is seen that the quality was not very good , too many plastic parts , a head that looked very doll as well as a very weak body , so I decided to make a few changes . The change the head by a head brand of actor Sean Connery play because I found it was the perfect head for the look you could give it to the figure ( a veteran battle-hardened Teutonic ) The Body use one brand did , that recess with a dremel machine shoulders , back and chest to prove not very muscular , plus the amount of clothing that would lead him. repaint belt with acrylic paints to give leather look , as well as chain mail to look like metal and not plastic ( this is Dragon brand ) The same hull was completely repainted with acrylics and washes to give aged appearance worn. Clothing and was aged layer with pastels and pigments Mig brand to make it look dirty, sweaty and no time to change clothes ( at that time was not changed often normal ) stains or blood spatter made with acrylic paint . The shield was also dirty , I made marks as knocks on the struggle for swords and axes and also I put blood spatter . I made a stand simple to give more realism to the figure and that's all.

Pablo obviously put a lot of time and effort into this figure. Seeing the pictures and hearing the story, it is time well spent!

Monday, November 4, 2013

An awesome WWII diorama.

Starting with this post, and continuing with various posts over the next several weeks, I'm going to be featuring the work of others in the kitbashing and 1/6 diorama hobby. There is some awesome work out there. We see the pictures on Facebook and other places, but very rarely do we get the story behind the figures or of what inspired the dio. 

They're not my works, so it's not my story to tell. I'm going to let those who have done them describe them in their own words, so here we go.

The photos above are of a dio by Rob Field. Here's Rob's story on how and what he did:

"My first 1/6 scale Diorama


I did this diorama recently. I have been collecting 1/6 scale figures for a while, mainly 21st Century with a couple of Dragon figures thrown in there when I could get them cheaply enough. About 5 or so years ago, I won an eBay auction  where I got 50 figures of various head sculpts and body types (although all were 21st Century). Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, those figures came with no clothing, supplies or accessories, which led me into the world of kitbashing.

Several years later, I have about 6 figures or so left to bash and have enjoyed the heck out of kitbashing these guys. All my kitbashes are WWII related and they are pretty evenly split between GI and German, with an uneven smattering of paratroops and infantry on the US side and Afrika Corps and regular Heer on the other.

I came up with the idea of the wounded Lt when my youngest daughter, who was two at the time, broke the arm off one of the figures. My first thought was that I was just going to have a guy for parts, but as I collected more stuff to bash with, an idea formed in my head.

re-enact WWII (that is my main hobby, kitbashing on a 1/1 scale if you will) and I always notice that there is a dearth of medic impressions. Just like in 1/6 kit bashing, rarely do you see dios done of the medical arm of things. So I started to look for medical items, beat up clothing and equipment and of course, the jeep.

That led me again to ebay, where I saw the medical jeep from SOTW mis-listed and cheap. I snapped it up with the outrageously low “buy it now” of $25. It included two stretchers and another figure so it was a steal.

From there I took my busted figure and dressed him in a ratty shirt that I cut the arm off of and tattered the short end. I wrapped his arm in a real gauze bandage and dressed it up with fake Halloween blood. I dipped the end of the arm into the blood, with the shirt on to get the effect I wanted, a battle field casualty that the medics need to get to the field hospital ASAP!
From there it was a straightforward bash. Two troopers with M-43 gear and a medic helmet later and it was off to the back yard!

I have a ring of small pine trees around my patio that are perfect 1/6 scale. With the uniforms on the medics and the fact they were pine trees, I set the scenario as October/November of 1944, somewhere in Western Europe. From there it was just a matter of snapping pictures!

I hope you like the results!


Robert Field"

Awesome! I love it! They don't get much better. I hope you all enjoy it, and I hope to be able to share more like this.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So, what makes a good display figure?

In order to be good, does it have to be a Navy SEAL or other Special Forces operator, bogged down with almost every imaginable piece of gear? Or a highly-detailed SWAT figure or sniper complete to the last detail? What about simple figures? Can less sometimes be more? 

I ask this question as a serious question, and not as flame-bait. Everyone has their own opinions. My opinion is basically that it depends on the type of figure being done. 

When I do figures, I try to go for historical accuracy. For instance, I have 2 WWII 82nd Airborne troopers and one 101st Airborne trooper as they would have been geared and uniformed for the Normandy invasion, and one 17th Airborne trooper for later in the war. They all have appropriate equipment for their time. The 82nd troopers are displayed dug in a machine gun nest behind sand bags, so they have no mussette bags and very little gear. Since they're static, they would have dropped a lot of it. The 101st trooper is pre-jump ready, so he is equipped with everything, including the infamous leg bag. If it is something a paratrooper would have been issued or acquired, he has it. 

The 17th trooper has some different, late-war gear. He's wearing double-buckle boots instead of jump boots, and he has an M1943 jacket and para trousers. All have paratrooper aid kits, and here's where a slight rant begins.

It bugs me to see beautiful Normandy paratroopers with aid kits tied onto their helmet netting. It just wasn't done then, in either division. They put nets and scrim on their helmets to break up the silhouette, and they wouldn't have ruined that by tying aid kits onto their helmets. By the time of Operation Market Garden, though, they were tying the aid kits onto helmet netting. The 17th did it as well, so my 17th trooper has his aid kit on his helmet. He also has his trench knife in the later-issued M-8 scabbard instead of the earlier leather scabbard.

End of rant,...almost. It bugs me to no end when reenactors do it, too!, it's the end of rant.

So seriously, what makes a good figure? I have the one in the picture above who is a combat correspondent and photographer. He's got khaki cargo pants, civilian-style boots, a black t-shirt, and a civilian vest for a uniform. For equipment, he's got a military-issue belt, ammo pouch to store misc gear in, and a military canteen. He also has a camera and a laptop bag. He's very lightly equipped, but is done appropriately for who he's supposed to be. Is he a better or a worse figure than say my paratrooper, who in reality would be loaded down with 150 lbs of gear, weapons, and equipment?

Comment if you want. Tell me your opinions. I welcome them all. Am I right? Can a figure be simple but still be good, or does he or she have to be loaded down with myriad amounts of gear and equipment?

Monday, October 28, 2013

The 17th Airborne...

...was a lesser-known US airborne division during WWII. Most everyone has heard of the 82nd and the 101st, and their actions in Normandy, Holland and Belgium, but not a lot of people know anything about the 17th. This is what inspired me to do this figure.

While he's changed a lot since I originally did him, the concept is still the same. I got his uniform in a lot I bought cheaply at a flea market last year, and it has taken me a year to finally get him the way he is now. He looks good, so this is probably how he will stay.

I picked up the figure also at a flea market. I had the helmet and the boots. I originally bought a garand cartridge belt and gave him an M-1. I had another GI Joe with a BAR, so I decided to switch. He had no mussette bag or suspenders, and limited accessories until recently.

But you can't have an under-equipped trooper jumping across the Rhine, so I finished him. I bought a few things, and took a few things from other figures I had changed, and made my 17th trooper ready to fight. I think he looks pretty good.

As an added note, the original 17th Airborne began forming in 1942, but was not officially activated until mid-1943. As such, it did not ship out to England until well after the Normandy Invasion was planned. It remained stateside to compete training.

Arriving in England after the invasion of France, the 17th was not chosen to participate in Operation Market Garden, as Allied high command didn't feel it would be completely combat ready. The division did see significant action during the German Ardennes Offensive, aka "the Battle of the Bulge". The 17th competed its only combat jump in March of 1945, dropping across the Rhine River and into Germany, along with the British 6th Airborne Division, as part of "Operation Varsity". Once the invasion of Germany had begun, the demise of the Third Reich was almost certain. The 17th remained active during the occupation of Germany, and arrived home to little fanfare or renown. It was officially deactivated in September of 1945.

See, when you play with toys, you can learn new and interesting things!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A new look for a Max Steele

So I'm in a thrift store and I buy a Max Steele figure for 50 cents. He has no clothing or accessories. His molded hair will make it so that no hat or helmet will fit. The painted streaks on his face also will limit his use.

What to do?

I never give up, and going through my kit box I find a Vietnam era tiger stripe uniform. It comes together. I have jungle boots, and M16-A1 rifle, a grenade launcher and a bunch of other goodies. 

I can do a Vietnam War LRRP. The LRRPs, or Long-Range-Reconaissance-Patrol infiltrated deep into enemy territory and spied on enemy units, troop strength and movements. Their mission would be compromised if they were detected, so they moved basically unobserved. Their objective was to avoid enemy contact. They moved in groups of 4 or 6, packed heavy firepower, and carried everything they needed for several days in the field.

How would Max work as a LRRP? With painted face he'd be ok. With hair spiked up, I could use a drive-on rag for a headband. I have the uniform, weapons and equipment so let's do it.

It worked better than expected. Max turned out great. He's loaded for bear with rifle, ammo pouches, aid kit, knives, machete, two canteens, hand grenades, smoke grenade, rope, rucksack, claymore mine, and M-79 grenade launcher.

Thus, a kitbashed figure is born. What do you think? I think he looks pretty good.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


This blog will be primarily about 1/6 kitbashed action figures, though I may from time-to-time post figures and projects of other scales. I may also post and review complete figures and kits.

I'll be focusing on my own figures and projects, but if anyone who reads this blog has any figures they'd like to feature or write about, let me know. We'll do it.

I've started playing with G.I. Joes in the early 1970's when I was young. I wish I had some of my collection from back then. I also spent many hours playing with Johnny West and the original "Best of the West" collection and with 8 inch Star Trek, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man figures.

About 15 years ago, I bought a few Civil War "Soldiers of the World" figures. Only later did I realize how poorly made they really were. I also got a few G.I. Joes. When 21st Century Toys came out with the Ultimate Soldier, I was again hooked, and I dabbled a bit with 1/6 scale. I didn't do a whole lot for a few years.

Only recently, when I saw some of the offerings of Dragon, Hot Toys, DiD, and Sideshow did I get heavily into it again. In the past few years, I've collected 31 figures, plus over 30 others that I purchased, bashed cheaply and sold. Over 1/2 of the 31 in my personal collection are true kitbashes. I am constantly changing them and modifying them. I have new ideas all the time to make them better and more unique.

1/6 dioramas are large, complex, and somewhat expensive, so my diorama work will be limited. That said, I do have ideas for a few small ones, and one work in progress. They'll be featured in a later post.

Starting soon, I'll be featuring my figures. I'll give a history of each, and what inspired me to do them the way I did.

I hope you enjoy!