Monster Sculpting Techniques - Alien & Predator with Simon Lee

Character concept designer, Simon Lee, sculpts Alien & Predator to teach compositional sculpting & monster maquette sculpture techniques.

Jun 22, 2012

When you hear the term, “action figure” chances are your mind will go immediately to a toy that you played with as a kid (or as an adult, I admit it.)  But that term is also the perfect way to describe the forms in this week’s lesson, Sculpture Techniques: How to Sculpt Dynamic Characters.  Yes, one figure is an Alien, and one is a Predator, so these figures are most definitely going to be in action, but the difference here is that when they’re completed, they don’t move.  The trick then is, how do you convey these two in battle, and the movement involved, within a frozen moment of time?  This is the central question answered in Simon Lee’s lesson.

Simon Lee is a character concept artist that showcases his vast amount of skill and knowledge for you in this week’s lesson.  He definitely has numerous pointers and lessons for each step of the process, from a sculpting angle as well as a composition angle.  But to me, amongst all the gems that he delivered, there was one very significant bit of wisdom he provided that stuck out.  He mentioned this time and time again throughout the lesson, and I think that it can be an extremely important, yet sometimes difficult to explain, aspect of art.  This bit of wisdom is that sometimes you don’t actually need to have a complete and final idea of what your creation is going to be when you start.  Sometimes it’s best to let each step of the process actually inspire and guide you into the next one.  This may be a difficult concept to understand, especially for control freaks, but by the end of the lesson, watching Simon put it all into action, you’ll completely grasp the idea.  It’s fascinating to watch his inspiration evolve.

When sculpting, most of the time it starts very similar.  Choosing the right tools, heating and working with the clay, and constructing the correct armatures are all important introduction points that Simon hits.

Right after, when he begins to put the clay onto the armatures, even here at the start, Simon reveals how he’s letting the process itself inspire him without a concrete plan in action.  As he places individual pieces of clay on, he does so by focusing on the bones of the human anatomy.  Because both the Alien and Predator are, in fact, a human man in a suit, he starts right there.  He places the clay on like silhouettes of bones, and in continuing with this thought of not having a concrete plan and letting inspiration grow out of the work, it’s not even until most of the clay is already on the figure that he even decides if the one he’s doing is going to be the Alien or the Predator!  To me, it actually surprised me because I thought for sure there would be more of a plan, but as it progressed, I found myself loving his process of letting the work act as its own inspiration.  This, to me, was inspiration in itself.

Once he does finally create the basic forms of the Alien and the Predator, it’s interesting to hear how he progresses by explaining how he places the clay on in a layering fashion.  First, as previously mentioned, he mentally starts with the bones, then layers on muscle, then later the skin, armor and clothing.  From a pure sculpting point of view it’s very interesting to see these different techniques and watch him pull them all off.  But beyond just the sculpting, what’s really interesting about this week’s lesson is the creation of the composition itself.

Creating a composition is determining the relationship between the two characters as a way of storytelling.  This is where both a knowledge of anatomy as well as a creative mind combine to make this frozen scene come alive.  Tricks to make the characters dynamic can come in specific ways, such as using the dreadlocks on the Predator or the tail on the Alien to convey motion. 

But it can also be something as simple as a stance, a look, an angle of body movement, or even a tilted plane.  These are all tricks that Simon will take you through as you watch the lesson.  And his usual trick of letting each step of the process act as an inspiration for the next is on full display each time.  It’s a pretty amazing, and if you let it, freeing, way of thinking about your own art.

Once completed, you’ll be amazed by how much action and movement figures can truly convey even in a frozen moment in time.  As you watch this Alien vs. Predator battle evolve from beginning to end, the only question left will be the same one that’s been plaguing minds for years… who will win?

-Jeff Dixon