Monday, September 24, 2012

Cowabunga, Dudes! I Painted My Action Figure!

I'm not much of an action figure girl, but the moment I saw the designs for the new Ninja Turtle figures, I was head-over-heels:

In fact, they were my very first pin on my Toy Wish List over on Pinterest. I used to watch the show every day after school, and I remember going to see the first movie with my mother. (We both still have a penchant for cheesy kids' movies.)

Then I stumbled across these mind-blowing re-paints of the figures by John Harmon of Mint Condition Custom, and I fell in love so hard it hurt:

LOOK AT THAT DETAILING. Now go look at the original figure. It's like going from a stereoscope to hi-def!

So on Friday when I spotted an end cap of TMNT toys at Target, I decided it was finally time to unleash my inner hero in a half shell. I grabbed Donatello first for The Great Painting Experiment:

As Harmon points out, these figures have tons of fabulous detail that you just can't see very well with the factory paint job. The idea is to add enough shading so all that detail really pops.

I've never tried painting an action figure before, so I was both surprised & pleased by how well regular acrylic paint sticks - no primer needed. In fact, it sticks SO well I had a hard time getting it off the areas where I got a bit sloppy. Then John, the wise and all-knowing former painter, told me to use alcohol. A-HA! That worked like a charm.

Here's my first tentative try at aging Donatello's foot wrappings:

Mine's on the left. See the difference? As I gained more confidence, I went back and darkened this up a lot more.

Here he is roughly half-finished:

His shell and legs are aged - arms and head are still as-is from the package.

And finally, here are my finished beauty shots, along with pics of the figure straight from the package for comparison:

I've learned some things that I'll do differently for the next three, but even so...what do you think? Did I get anywhere near Hamon's greatness?

Personally, I'm really happy with this for my first try, and I'm pretty much hooked on painting toys now. I've since done a slightly larger project which I just finished last night (look for those pics in another day or two) and I can't wait to go buy the next three Turtles!

If you want to try painting some action figures yourself, here's the general technique:

- Paint on a darker version of whatever color you're covering on the figure
- Wipe it off.

You'd think a two-step process like that wouldn't take me a solid three or four hours, but it did - and I'm not even done with his weapons yet. There are a lot of small areas, and you really need to work in tiny sections since the paint dries so quickly. Have tons of q-tips and paper towels on hand, and use a tiny brush dipped in alcohol for touch-ups.

For the belt I applied several layers of a black-brown, rubbing it off with a Q-tip in-between, and then I used a light tan on the tiny X stitches and a brighter liquid gold leaf on the front ring.

The part I messed up is that I used brown to cover D's skin instead of a darker green. It still works, but for the rest of the Turtles I plan to use shades of green, so they won't look quite so grungy.

The weapons that come with the figure are made from a different plastic that paint won't stick to at all, so I'm having to prime those first. You can expect another photo shoot once I've finished them all, and the difference should be really dramatic, since they're just a solid reddish-brown right now.

Well, even if you never plan to paint your action figures, I hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent my Friday night! :) Stay tuned for something I think more of you will find squee-worthy.


  1. Love! Love, love, love! The TMNT Super NES game was my favorite. Now if only they had Bebop and Rocksteady too!j

  2. TMNT was one of my all-time favorite cartoons as a kid! I used to draw them all the time for friends who would ask (that was back when I wanted to be an animator).

    I LOVE your painted version of the action figure! And Donatello was my fav of the four. =)

  3. Looking good, can't wait to see your Michelangelo! Plastic is SO much easier to paint on then say vinyl. Sorry, I've been trying to repaint Monster High dolls and getting things to stick to their faces is a pain in the ass while their bodies take anything I put on them.

  4. Aw, that sounds fun! Donatello is my fave :)

  5. Oooh, nice! You can definitely tell how much detail is in the figures with your re-paint. I've never painted action figures, but for a while I was into painting buildings for model train layouts. A lot of the "pre-painted" kits were very basic-looking and looked much better after some detailing and "weathering." :D

    I learned there are 2 basic methods for bringing out details.
    1. Dry-brushing. This is for bringing out details ON TOP (like shingles on a roof, or the plates on a turtle shell). Dip your brush in the paint and then wipe most of it off. Then apply the brush where you want it. Depending on how dry your brush is and how dramatic you want the color to be, it could take several coats.
    2. Flooding. This is for bringing out detail UNDERNEATH (like the grooves between the plates on the shell). Dip the brush in paint and then dip it in a cup of water. The darker the color, the more you may need to dilute it. Then carefully apply the brush to the area you want to paint. Thinning it helps the paint to spread out more evenly.

    Hope this helps! Or, you know, just keep doing what you did this time, cause it came out really well.

  6. Wow! He looks fantastic! Can't wait to see the rest.


  7. Your mods look great! :D Was it terrifying?

    I have a box full of loose women (*snicker* unboxed female action figures) that I am planning to mod into my own bunch of Femizons. Never done it before, so it should be quite the adventure.

  8. That is amazing. Makes me wish I had my brother's original TMNT so I can paint them!

    Great job!!

  9. didn't they live in the sewer? Surely grungy is just fine ;-)

  10. I've repainted a couple of MLP:FIM because it just aggravated SO much when they came in a different color scheme not only from the show but the dang package. My middle son & I did together kinda as a bonding project, we did have fun.

  11. He looks awesome!! I love the contrast between the leather belt and his shell-awesome!

    All of him looks awesome, that's just my favorite part.

    I may just have to try this!!

    Keep up the awesome!

  12. "...what do you think? Did I get anywhere near Hamon's greatness?"

    Honestly, I don't see what the fuss is about; given the level of artisanship displayed in your "Lady Vadore" project (I'm a new lurker to your site), I would assume applying paint details to an action figure would present as much challenge to you as...well...converting oxygen to carbon dioxide.

    I suppose Hamon's custom is great, but if I were to see a photo ('shopped to who knows what degree) of your customized Don in a street scene diorama, I'd think it was great too. As the two photos are now, I think your customized Don is just as good looking as the one over which you marveled, and I would not be surprised (I'm hopeful, actually) to see you doing something beyond paint apps with an action figure in the future.

  13. Woah! He looks (and I'm sorry for this but no other word will do) amazeballs!! That takes me back to all those squinting hours painting lead miniatures as a teenager. I found my D&D box the other day, actually. Man, I had lots of free time back then if the detailing is anything to go by! Twenty years later? Not so much but think I might manage one of these guys...

  14. Looks much better! Aww... makes me miss the old school TMNT. Espeically the Hostess Ninja Turtle Pies that were covered in green frosting and had "ooze" in the form of vanilla pudding inside. Mmmm...

  15. I agree that you should try a green for the skin on the next one. With this brown, it certainly looks like he lives in a sewer, but you can do better. :)

  16. Hi Jen,

    I love what you did and wouldn't change a thing. I think your Don looks better than the other guys'. The Turtles lived in the sewers, it makes sense that they wouldn't be clean. Yours looks much more like the guys did in the very first movie. It also almost lends them a steamy look that goes with your home. In fact...hmmmm...what about doing a whole set of TMNT figures as steampunk versions? That'd be kinda cool.

    Have fun!

  17. I LOVE THAT SO MUCH and now I simply have to do one of my own. TMNT was my FAVE growing up, and I recently re-watched one of the movies with a friend. Great job!

  18. That is just Awesome Sauce right there!

  19. Wow Donatello looks GREAT after your paint job! How long do you wait between painting and wiping?

  20. cool! you made him look like he actually lives in the sewer.

  21. cowabunga, indeed! what a tremendous work of art you came up with. you did great!

    i adore the turtles and now i think i have a project on my so not crafty hands. i'm all about pumped and yet i have zero supplies. why do i think these heroes in a half shell are about to cost me eight times what they would have if i skipped your post today?


  22. @ Kimi - I didn't wait any time at all, really; just paint & wipe. If the area is super small you might wait a second or two, but mostly the acrylic dries so quickly I was reaching for the alcohol to get more of it off.

  23. Love it! I like the way your repaint looks compared to the original paint job. Years ago, I repainted a Marvel Invisible Woman figure into the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman figure. Toy Biz didn't make that original SW figure and I wanted one. :)

  24. Check YOU out! See, THAT is the kind of detail I was going for on the re-painted Sarek and B'Etor figures I used for the caketopper at my Star Trek wedding! But I was already SO busy sewing all the outfits, I asked an old gaming buddy of mine to do it for me, since he used to paint those teeeeny li'l lead figures for D&D. He was a bit rusty at it, by his own admission, and he was rushed for time (TWO days before my wedding! YOW!) so he couldn't detail it as much as we'd have liked, but the effect was still great; I added a bit of my actual veil to her head to make her a "bride".

    I pretty much only collect action figures of female characters (like STORM!), since they're rarer and more collectable; regular toy companies don't put out femme figs at the rate that the indy figures-only companies do, because they think only boys collect them, and therefore have no use for girl figures, because girls are YUCK CITY. And yeah, I just like them better in general (the exception being of course that I collect ANYTHING Klingon! ;)

    Cheers, thanks a lot,


  25. Same idea, but for costuming:

  26. Hey Jen!

    For your first attempt at painting, I have to say its pretty good. I agree with your comment about using a darker green instead of the brown to do the weathering on the body, that will really help. ALso I htink your shell is maybe a little too light in terms of the actual shell itself - although again its something that you can certainly look at in your next try!

    What I also think will really really help is thinning your paint with water, to about the consistency of milk and applying several layers over time of this wash. You'll achieve a much more subtle effect with this, less "muddy" and smoother too - also it won't be as hard to remove excess paint!

    If I can recommend the Games Workshop Citadel paints - these guys paint some WORLD CLASS tiny fighting men miniatures (which are awesome in their own way - theres even a particularly "steamy" set in the Warhammer universe! ) and I have always found their paint to be really nice to work with - plus they do several kinds of "washes" and "inks" too, for the more in depth detailing.

    I'd also suggest googling a few tutorials on painting miniatures, you will get some really awesome tips from there :)

    Keep it up - I can't wait to see your next TMNT!


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