SciFi Saturday – Forging Fighters Foes

Previously I showed how I made custom UPF fighter miniatures for the Star Frontiers: Space Hawks game (to fill in one of the types for which no official miniatures were ever made). Of course, it wouldn't be fair to do that without also making some for their enemies, the evil worm-like Sathar. So here's how that went, including a cautionary tale of something that didn't work out:

First of all, as a guide for both sets of fighters, I've been using this extremely nice close-up illustration by Jim Holloway (from the Campaign Book p. 54; as well as details from the counter sheets that come with the game). This would be from the year right before the Paranoia RPG was first published, and Holloway became forever associated with sci-fi dystopia comedy art (at least in my mind). The Sathar ship type is in the lower part of the picture.

Here's my best replication of that ship, in green stuff sculpting clay. This took me about an hour of work and actually came out better than expected. (There's a first attempt, not shown here, that was stretched out too much for the desired scale.) I'm about to start the process of half-packing it into play-doh and pouring rubber compound on top.

A day later, once the rubber has cured, I unpack it and clean up all the play-doh. Now it will go back in the box for the second part of the rubber compound.

A day after that, I have my two-part mold ready to go and I'm casting the first copy. This is coming out very nicely, I think.

Similar to the UPF fighters, I'm making a squad of 3 fighters cast together. So here's the 3 copies of the first fighter. They are very small. (This was surely the lower limit of my personal ability to detail the figures.)

At this point I've super-glued the 3 individual figures together into a joint squadron (which surprisingly difficult to do, because of the tiny contact points: a lot of filing and figures slipping off each other). They've been half-packed in play-doh, release agent sprayed on, and the rubber compound is mixed and about to be poured on top.

One day later I get to clean up that half of the mold. Note the rather unusual arrangement; since one fighter is sitting "higher" than the others, it's kind of sitting in a trench of the mold that I have to dig out. The empty space between them is being taken up by a narrow flap of rubber that I'm hoping hangs to the rest of the mold. Also, I was a bit indecisive about placing the pour-hole (I think the most critical part of mold creation), and the sprue is actually aimed right at that empty space. I'm trying to clean that connection up with a dental tool before then second part of the mold gets mode.

Next day: I've got both parts of the mold complete and I'm in the kitchen about to pour metal into it. Also, I have the mold for the necessary base platform going at the same time.

Here's the first cast. Unfortunately the empty space between the fighter figures has entirely filled up with solid metal. This is due to a confluence of the issues with the narrow flap of rubber not sitting in the right place, and the pour-hole spilling directly into that space on its connection. I consider a couple things at this point -- living with the miniature as-is (super ugly), or drilling out the center of each cast I make with a pin-vice (labor-intensive and winds up not looking good an the one attempt). Ultimately, I wind up tossing this particular mold as a failure and have to start the whole process over again.

After another weekend of work & rubber curing, here's the new mold (abbreviating the repeated construction steps for this). Note that, on my partner Isabelle's suggestion (she's actually the MFA sculptor in the house) I've got it aligned in a different direction. Instead of the empty space running vertically down the upright mold as before (and hoping for a little rubber flap to hang in there right), the ships and the empty space now sit horizontally in the mold (so the gap is recreated more solidly, half on each side of the mold). Also I've actually planned out the pour-hole connection, running into the fuselage of the fighter on the far left of the mold. This had the side-effect of metal not wanting to run all the way across the figure and fill up the right-hand side (it has to take two right-angles on different axes to get there). So I cut in another connection to the right side, and after a few test casts I got it to work at least half the time, thereby completing the couple of casts that I wanted out of it.

So you've been warned: planning out the arrangement two-part mold, and as always the pour-hole connection is extremely important -- especially if there's any negative space in the figure, which makes it extra-tricky. (In fact, I'm not sure how my prior UPF fighters actually came out like they did; I guess maybe I just got super lucky with that one.) Of course, after this I took my figures and assembled and painted them as usual. I'll skip showing that for now, possibly they'll pop up on a future Saturday.


  1. Nice. I have tried casting tin figures on and off over the past decade or so with varying (mostly not much) success. Looks like you have a good process down.

    Superglue is not the best glue for preparing your squadron master. I would have used 5-minute epoxy. Superglue makes a very brittle joint and does not go through much of a sticky workable phase. Resin goes through a sticky phase where it flows slowly and will help hold the parts together. I would have filed flat spots, applied epoxy and then clamped somehow, probably with alligator clips, and it would be easy and quick.

    1. Good idea, I'll keep that in mind for next time, thanks!