Like most people, I really liked the new Marvel Legends Sandman build a figure. It’s probably a bit big for the true classic Sandman, but I really don’t mind. Personally, I like him as a big brute so I knew I was going to use it as the base for my custom.
My goal isn’t to remake the figure, but to improve on the general sculpt, paint, and add a boat load of cool accessories. I still want to keep the classic Sandman feel though so I’m going to be drawing inspiration from first appearance Sandman.
Check out the completed figure here and please feel free to ask questions if I missed something!
Now the tutorial!
Here’s our base parts. Everything is from the Sandman BAF (Build A Figure) with the exception of the two normal arms which are from the Absorbing Man BAF.
1: Arms first. Like I said, these are the Absorbing Man arms. I was surprised that the forearm and hand on the “metal” arm were actually cast using the skin coloured plastic, so you could potentially strip the paint and use this as a skin coloured arm. We aren’t going to do that though!
We wont be using the shoulder balls from these arms. Instead we are going to use the green shoulder balls from the BAF and make these pop on and off of those.
2: I used a hairdryer to heat up the arms to soften the plastic enough to pop them apart. It normally takes a minute or so and should easily come off. I don’t use any tools to do this and if it doesn’t come apart easily you probably just need to heat them up more.
Next, I sand or dremel down the areas I marked in red. I normally use a 200 grit sandpaper followed by a 400 then maybe 800 depending on the area.
You have to do this to prevent the joints from rubbing up against one another. If they rub together the paint will get worn away. This is called “Paint Rub” and its super important to avoid if you want your final figure to be pose-able without damaging the paint job.
It’s hands down the most dull part of custom figures but its a must do for good results.
I also do general sanding to remove any casting imperfections or mold lines from the factory. The dark paint on the steel arm really lets you see what was sanded.
3: Here are our hands after sanding. I’m going to sculpt another fist instead of using the open hand. Sandman doesn’t really hold things so we wont need it. First thing I do is cut the fingers off at the red line, I’m going to use the lower portion of the hand to sculpt on top of.
Originally I was going to use the actual fingers from the open hand and reshape them into fists but I abandoned the plan pretty quickly to just sculpt them normally.
4: Here’s our open hand after I cut the fingers off. I ended up cutting off the thumb to and re sculpted it. Really I should have just saved the open hand for some other project but that’s the way things go sometimes ha.
1: Here’s the finished fist. Sculpting like this I normally sculpt one finger, let it dry then sculpt the next finger. Sculpting in layers saves you from squishing something you just sculpted which happens to me anytime I don’t let things dry before moving on!
The sculpting material I used for this project is Aves Apoxie Sculpt. Aves is a two part air dry clay with about a two hour work period. After about 24 hours it dries hard enough to be sanded or drilled into. I use it for most of my sculpting. It’s a great product you can get off Amazon or from a good local art store.
The last thing I do is a bit of sanding just to smooth things out a bit.
2: The top of the finished hand.
The arms are reassembled then I fill in the peg holes and sculpt on the sleeve folds. I went with the long sleeve shirt ending mid arm, just like the classic Sandman.
That’s it for the normal arms!
1: Here are the base Sandman BAF arms. We are basically using these as is and the shoulders will be our main shoulders that the other set of arms will pop on and off of.
2: Again I used a hairdryer to heat up the arms to soften the plastic enough to pop them apart. Then sand or dremel down the areas I marked in red.
The other thing I trimmed down is the peg on the shoulders that hold the arms because I want to be able to pop the arms on and off. This is something you want to be very careful doing because you want to trim enough off that the arms pop on easily but not enough that makes them not be able to hold the weight of the big arms.
Go slow and it will become super obvious when you get the peg right.
3: I reassemble the arms and then fill in the peg hole.
4: Next up are the large hand accessories. I’m not going to do to much to these as I think they are already fantastic. First thing I do is sand down the joints to avoid paint rub.
Next I fill in some of the factory casting gaps and add a few different length spikes to the spike ball hand.
Like I said, I’m not doing much to these. That’s it for the hands!
1: Here’s the base chest. The belt is way way to big so I’m going to sculpt a new belt. I was seriously considering doing no belt just like the first appearance Sandman, but I think the waist swivel would have been too high so I went with just a smaller belt.
2: This is my first time doing any work with this type of hip joints and I hate them. The way they work is super annoying with the one leg inside the center of the other. In the future I think I would completely replace these joints but for now I’m going to use what I have.
First, I heat them up till they are soft and pop them out. These were a bit of a pain to get out and a gigantic pain to get back in. Doing it makes it much, much easier to sand the inside of the leg socket, which is super important.
3: Again I dremeled or sand the red lines. I also removed some plastic from the inside of the neck area so the neck peg can move forward and back more to make the head more pose-able.
4: Here’s the prepped chest. I also clip in the shoulders from the BAF. Once these are in they are basically impossible to take out without damaging the clips in the torso. You really need them in place to make sure they don’t rub on the torso.
1: Next is sculpting the belt. The buckle is a cast of the Marvel Legends Thundra belt. This is the first layer.
2: I sculpt the belt loops, add a bit of bulk to the bottom of the buckle, and sculpt the fly area.
3: Here’s the back. I added pockets and continued the fly seam.
4: The last thing I do is add a collar and the torso is all done.
Base legs for our two sets of legs. One is going to be normal legs and the other set will be sand transition legs.
I’m going to cover the normal legs first!
I use a hairdryer to heat up the legs, dissemble them then sand or dremel down the areas marked in red.
Nothing too fancy here. I resemble the legs after sanding then fill in the peg holes with the Aves clay.
That’s it for the normal legs. Now its time for our sand legs!
1: Same prep as the other set of legs. We wont need the shoes or shins as we will completely replace the bottom of the legs.
2: Here’s what we are replacing the legs with. These are actually casts I made of the stock Sandman BAF arms. The general idea with using them is I wanted all the sand parts to look as close to one another as possible, and these would help a lot with that goal. Also, I had hoped that the leg joints would fit into the joints of the cast pieces well enough that I wouldn’t have to do to much work to them.
Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out so easily.
3: I ended up having to add a bunch of clay into the leg joints so that the leg would click into place when you move it, just like a stock figure does. It’s not something you have to do but in my opinion little things like that really add up for a better custom action figure.
I also made sure the peg holes on the cast legs matched up with the peg holes on the knee joint. That was also a bit of a pain to do.
4: Here’s our leg together. I put a piece of metal coat hanger through the peg and filled in the peg holes again with Aves clay.
Next we are going to sculpt on a sand effect to the upper legs then build the sand feet.
For all the sand effects on this figure I’m using a two different kinds of scale model ballast. This is just tiny little gravel bits and you can get it at art stores or hobby stores.
The colour for this doesn’t really matter just the size. I probably should have gotten even finer ballast but it’s personal preference.
Next you are going to want to take a trip to the grocery store to pick up some ground beef like this. Extra lean beef is the best so that it holds shape, avoid any pork mixed ground beef.
Ok, no, not really. This is actually our two ballast gravels mixed together with PVA glue. Basically I’m going to use these chunks to build all the sand parts.
Nothing too tricky about mixing the ballast and glue. Get a small container, add the ballast and glue and mix it. If the mixture is too wet and not holding form add more ballast, if you have lots of loose ballast add more glue.
Once the mix looks good I spread it out on wax paper to dry overnight. One thing I suggest is to break up pieces that are round as I found that the round pieces didn’t look good or work well to build with.
I’m going to be using this stuff for the legs, base and some random spots on sand areas.
Here’s the sand transition sculpt, you can see I added in little bits of our ballast mix to try and tie all the sand parts together. You can also see the filled peg holes.
1: Originally I was going to have an ankle pivot with a Revoltech joint, but the amount of articulation I was going to be able to get wasn’t worth having a weird gap between the leg and foot.
The ball in the center was going to be the revoltech joint mount but its really just filler now.
To form the foot I stuck together the ballast chunks with hot glue. The cool thing about this is the hot glue actually softens the pva glue a bit so you can mold the chunks a bit to fit the shape you want.
At this stage I wasn’t super picky about how it looked as this part will be mostly covered.
2: Adding even more ballast to the foot.
3: To attach the foot to the leg I just put a bunch of hot glue into the socket and pushed the ballast foot into the socket.
4: Here’s the foot attached. Now we are going to blend the two ares better and get our leg looking right.
Here are the finished legs.
I basically just picked chunks of ballast that I liked the shape of then hot glued them onto the leg. Again, because of the heat I could mold them to fit perfectly.
The last thing I did was cover all of the ballast chunks I hot glued on with more PVA glue, then sprinkle on the very fine ballast. This was great for evening things out and filling in any gaps I didn’t like.
I’m going to do the same thing for the big base next.
I’m going to use a super dense and hard styrofoam for the center of the base. I wish I knew what this stuff was called but you can get sheets and blocks of it from your local art or craft stores.
I’m also going to use a wooden base I got from Michael’s to give my base a pedestal to sit on.
First thing I did was carve the rough shape then I planned out my spirals with a magic marker. To cut the foam I used my hobby saw, exacto knife and a random kitchen knife.
Next I refined the shape using the exacto knife. I was really happy with the foam for this, it was hard enough to carve but could be softened just by pressing the edges.
I also carved out a hole at the top for the figure to sit in. More pictures of that later on.
Once I had my shape done I covered the whole thing, excluding the hole at the top, with PVA glue and sprinkled a mixture of loose ballast on it.
I think I did this two times but its personal preference. Some people might want to even stop here if you want a more smooth look to your sand.
Layer one of hot gluing ballast chunks onto the base. I picked big chunks for this first layer. You can see how I had all the chunks laid out looking for ones I thought looked good haha.
I might be a bit mental for being so picky about gravel chunks.
More chunks! I’m trying to blend them the best I can so I put smaller chunks around larger chunks then even smaller chunks around the small chunks.
This was a bit messy with hot glue but I just waited for it to dry and cut any loose strands off.
The last thing I did was generously cover everything with PVA glue again and sprinkle my fine ballast all over the base. This helps blend it even more.
I did this two or three times but again, the final look is up to you.
The last thing I did was cover the area I had carved out of the top with Aves clay and made a very smooth little area for the figure to sit it. I basically just pushed the leg pegs from the torso into the wet clay to get the holes.
It’s really important that this area is smooth so there is less chance of it scraping the finish on our complete figure.
That’s it for the base! I was very happy with how this turned out and it was a ton of fun to make.
One last piece to prep and then we are on to painting.
Not much to do with the heads. All I did was clean up some mold lines from the factory and they are good to go.
Here are all of the prepped pieces. It might be too many accessories haha. Hopefully I didn’t waste a bunch of time making heads and accessories I won’t use. I almost always have a favourite set that seem to live on each of my figures, leaving the rest to collect dust haha.
Everything is taken apart and washed with some slightly soapy water. You do this to get rid of any oils on the plastics or bits of whatever that have collected. The bits of whatever was especially poignant this project because after using the ballast I was finding it in every nook and cranny.
This will give our primer a good foundation to stick to.
Next, I prime the whole figure using my airbrush. I use Badgers Stynylrez primers for all of my priming. I used the zenithal method to help with shading.
For people not familiar with zenithal priming:
Prime the entire model black. Then from the top spray in a 90 degree cone using grey then from the top again spray in a 45 degree cone using white.
It adds a ton of natural shading very easily. Priming is super, super important so the paint sticks. I highly suggest you check out my tutorial on priming and Zenithal priming here for a more in depth look.
Here is everything after our base coat was applied with the airbrush. For paints I mostly use Vallejo paints, but really any of the popular miniature paints will work well. There is no secret miniature paint that makes things look good.
I’m trying to do more gradients and highlights at this stage with my airbrush. It’s something I would like to get much better at so you can see a bit of that especially on the base, legs, and torso.
Now let’s look a little closer at the painting of each part.
1: Here are the base arms right from the airbrush.
2: First I do a general clean up of the base coat with a brush. Next I accentuate the dark areas with a dark green paint. For past projects I used a dark wash for this step, but I noticed most “pro” painters wet blend paints so I’m trying to learn that. It’s more work but the blends are way way nicer, even for someone like me who isn’t the best painter.
Then I do a highlight blend for the raised areas.
3: Next I add the stripes. I went with the thinner stripes similar to the first appearance Sandman.
If you look closely you can also see that the green areas have a gloss varnish on them now. I did this so I could clean up the edges of the stripes easily, or even completely rub off a stripe that I messed up or didn’t like.
The gloss varnish layer acts almost as a save point for painting and you can use windex to remove paint on top of the gloss varnish. Of course you have to be careful not to overdo the windex, but it’s a very helpful painting trick.
4: Last I blend some red paint into the recessed areas over our skin to add shading and a good natural skin tone.
1: Here are the base painted hands.
2: I then blend red into the recessed areas the same as the arms.
3: Last, I took these back to the airbrush and did a highlight with a lighter skin tone. You could do this sort of highlight with a dry brushing.
1: I forgot to take a close up picture of the base arms, but here’s what they looked like. I’m going to be doing this exact method for all of my sand parts including the base.
2: The goal with these is to mix in different shades and tones to get an interesting sand effect. First I hit them with a heavy dark brown wash.
3: Next I do a very, very heavy dry brushing of the sand areas.
4: Then I go in with a light dry brush of yellow and red to give a bit of colour and variation. The last layer is a light dry brush of white just on the very tips of the raised areas.
Getting all the sand pieces to match can be a bit of a pain. I basically just had them all in front of me when I finished most of the painting and tweaked the dry brushing on each so they matched.
The sand painting kept changing. If you look closely you can see it morph a bit but it’s always using the same technique.
1: Green portions of the arms are next. I painted the dark areas and highlights the same as before.
2: Next the stripes. Oh the stripes…
You can also see the colour of the sand change here. I lightened it and added more colour.
Sand hands next. Again, I’m going to use the same method. Here is the base colour.
Heavy dark brown wash.
Finally, the light dry brush of yellow and red to give a bit of colour and variation then white for the tips.
That’s it for all the arms!
1: Here is the chest base coat.
2: Cleaned up base coat and I hand painted some of the detail areas like the belt.
I broke the classic Sandman design of a black belt and brown shoes, my Sandman is a more refined Sandman and knows that the belt ALWAYS has to match the shoes. Stop wearing belts that don’t match your shoes Marvel Villains! This has been your Action Figure Toronto fashion tip of the project. Thank you.
3: Last I blend in dark green into the recesses and do a green highlight just like before.
Then I hit the belt with a dark brown wash followed up with a dry brushing to bring out the seams of the jeans and belt loops.
1: Stripes. Oh lord stripes. Never. Painting. This. Many. Stripes. Again. It took me like two days to paint all the stripes and I seriously wanted to jump off a bridge by the end. I am super happy with how they turned out though, thanks mostly to my glossy varnish and windex undo button.
That’s it for the chest!
2: Here’s the back view. Dat ass.
1: I was super happy with how the leg base colour looked from the airbrush. I really want to do more gradients and blends exactly like this in the future. These were almost good to go right away and required very little extra work.
2: Subtle but I accentuated the dark areas.
3: Then I did some highlights on the raised area.
1: Base colour boots.
2: Added a heavy black wash.
3: I painted the metal loops and highlighted the laces, each panel of the shoe and the toe area.
The finished legs and boots together at last. Slick.
Now onto the sand legs!
1: Same as before! Base colour legs.
2: Dark Wash
3: Dry brush treatment.
The finished transition sand legs. I think the colour of these changed a bit like the other sand parts.
I also did the same highlight work on the top of the pants. I made them match the other set of lets the best I could.
1: Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Base colour.
2: Dark brown wash
3: Dry brush treatment.
Our finished base. For some reason I had a really hard time taking a photo of this that made it look like it does in real life. Not really sure why. Even the final photos don’t really show the subtle colour differences, but it’s a super cool piece and I’m very happy with it.
Home stretch! All that’s left is the head!
1: The base colour
2: I blend red into the recessed areas and the hair line.
3: I then highlight the raised areas with a lighter skin tone. Imagine a flashlight pointing down from the top of the head, that’s what I highlight.
I also rough painted in some of the face details just because it was throwing me off. I think in the future I will also paint the hair first because it makes such a huge difference.
4: Then I add a maroon/purple wash to the mouth focusing on the lips and gums. Paint the tongue and the eyes. This is the method I use for painting eyes and it works really well.
Next is the sand effect the same way as we’ve been doing it. Finally I add a gloss varnish to the eyes and mouth.
Tada! So that’s how you make Sandman!
This was a very fun figure to make and I’m very happy with how he turned out. Another member of the Sinister Six down and ONE TO GO!
Thanks for checking out Action Figure Toronto and reading my tutorial, let me know what you think and if you have any questions feel free to ask. I don’t keep secrets!