CUSTOMIZERS INC: ‘Action Figure Anatomy 101’ Tutorial with Rob Panick!


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Saturday, May 30, 2015

by Rob Panick

 THE BREAKDOWN: One of the most important steps in making a custom action figure is prep. If you don’t set down a good foundation to work from, you won’t have a good finished product.  That holds true with anything.  Properly preparing your figure will help your paint adhere to your figure and properly cure, as well as stopping “paint rub”.

The first thing you will need to do is disassemble your figure.  The way you will take your figure apart can vary greatly from removing screws to heating up the figure and popping it apart.  I personally work with modern 1:18 scale figures, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this article.  Today we’re going to be disassembling, or “popping” a GI Joe “Rise of Cobra” Snake Eyes figure. Most 1:12 scale figures will usually disassemble in a very similar, if not the same, manner.

The tools you will need to take your figure apart are:

  • Hair Dryer

  • Precision Screwdrivers

  • Needle Nose Pliers

  • Hobby Knife

  • Small Bag or Container

  • Dental Irrigation Syringe w/Water Based Lubricant (Optional)

First if you have a dental syringe (the kind with a curved plastic “needle”) with water based lubricant, inject a couple of drops into each socket of the plastic peg joints. These will typically be the head, lower arms, hands and feet. This will lubricate the socket and allow the joint to slip out a lot more easily.  Be sure to use water based lubricant so it will easily wash off when you’re done.

To pop apart my figure I’ll be using a blow dryer to heat it up. Now I have to give you a word of caution: Be very careful with heat and plastic!  As we all know, plastic will melt.  I would hate to see any of you ruin your action figure!

I use a home-made rig to hold my dryer that was made using a wire clothes hanger bent into a frame and pegged into holes drilled into a 6” square piece of ¾” thick board.  Holding the dryer in your hand works just as well, but remember… not too close!  Try to stay at least 3 inches or so away from your figure so you don’t melt it.  If you’re holding your dryer you will also be able to direct heat to the part of the figure you’re working on.

We’ll start with the head, which is usually the easiest piece to remove as it just pops off. Next we’ll remove the hands and lower arms.  Heat up the arm you want to start with.  Once the arm is soft enough, pull the hand from the lower arm. Then using your needle nose pliers, gently grab the hard plastic elbow joint and pull it free of the upper arm. Place your loose hand and lower arm in your parts container, then repeat with the other arm.

Next, heat up the legs of your figure.  Once they are soft enough, as before gently pull them from their sockets. Be sure to grab the foot by the hard plastic ankle joint.  Then use a precision screwdriver to push out the pin in the lower half of the knee joint and pull off the lower leg.  Using your #1 Phillips screwdriver, unscrew the upper legs and place the screws in your container. Use a flat precision screwdriver to then pry apart the upper leg halves.

Now that every part that will pop out has been removed we’re going to slice open the torso. Caution: Always cut away from your body parts.  Hobby knives are extremely sharp and can very easily cut you.  Use a cutting mat or cardboard to protect your work surface any time you’re using a hobby knife.

Find where the seam under the figures arm ends in the hole for the shoulder joint peg. With your figure placed on your cutting mat, place the tip of your knife in the hole under the arm and carefully slice downward along the seam, then repeat for the other side.  Insert a flat blade precision screwdriver in each side where your seams have been cut and slowly pry apart the torso halves. The lower part of the torso will fall free.  You can now reach further inside of the torso to pry it the rest of the way apart. Here is a helpful step-by-step video:

Now your figure is broken down into the “fodder” that you can use to create your custom figures. In our next installment of Custom Figure Anatomy 101, we’ll explore test fitting parts, as well as some of the steps you can take to keep the paint from rubbing off of your figure.  Stay tuned and until then, may the Force be with you!

See for yourself how easy it is! Check out my How To Disassemble Modern G.I. Joes video. Be sure to subscribe while you’re there to see my other instructional videos and subscribe to Go Figure News YouTube channel for news and reviews from all around the world of action figures!

  • Rob Panick is an action figure customizer and the owner of Galactic Plastics and Custom Shop Decals. He is the father of three beautiful children and engaged to be married to his wonderful fianceé on Star Wars Day. He is a lover of all things Star Wars and an avid GA Bulldogs fan! Find him on Facebook and on Twitter @GP_decals


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