Hello! I’m Kobayashi, the daredevil reporter of Manga.Tokyo and my mission is to go to as many fun otaku places as I can and share them with you, our worldwide otaku friends!
Do you like figures? I do! I like them so much that I’ve recently mounted a new shelf on the wall of my room to display them. If I continue hoarding figures, pretty soon I’ll need a new house!
That’s why, as an acknowledged figure freak, there was something I’ve always wanted to experience: a figure-making workshop. I always dreamed of creating my own figures, shape them to my taste, but even though I love collecting them, I had no knowledge of how figures were made in the first place.
As fate would have it, I learned that the Osaka School of Yoyogi Animation Academy had a figure modeling course. I decided to join their regular trial class and venture deeper into the world of figures!
Yoyogi Animation Academy is a very famous vocational college in Japan that aims to train creators who want to work in tje otaku industry: voice actors, idols, animators, illustrators, manga artists, figure modelers, etc. They have many campuses located all over Japan, not just in Tokyo and Osaka. They have normal full-time day courses, evening courses, and Saturday courses to meet students’ needs.
Let me introduce the trial class of figure modeling evening course that I experienced in this article! Are you ready to learn how to make a figure?
My Day as a Figure Maker
With my smartphone map, I walked about five minutes from the nearby station, Minamimorimachi.
It’s quite easy to get there, and I didn’t get lost on the way from the station. They have a pretty building in the heart of the town. It was 5:55 p.m. now, and just starting to get dark
I was so excited when I signed for the course at the reception desk.
This wrist band is like an identity card for a trial class participant!
The lecturer was already inside the classroom!
Mr. Yasushi Kurashima, course manager of the Figure Modeling Course
Creator Department, Osaka School of Yoyogi Animation Academy
（代々木アニメーション学院 大阪校 クリエイター科 フィギュアコース コース長 倉島康 先生）
Kurashima-sensei is a veteran lecturer and has been teaching figure modeling for twelve years at the Osaka School of Yoyogi Animation Academy. He also works as a professional modeler by the name of Anmo Naitou and also writes magazine articles. He is a renowned creator among modelers in Japan.
So what will I learn today from this amazing teacher? The class starts!
Kurashima-sensei first explained a few things about the course, the students, their course activities, and more relevant info.
◆ The difference between the full-time course and the evening course
Their full-time course has many young adult students, 22 to 23 years old. They fell in love with figures while they were university students and decided to train here after their graduation to learn the art of figure modelling.
There are also the amateurs who loved and worked on figures and/or plastic models since childhood, and decided to join this course right after high school. One of the students used to build great dinosaur figures when he was a kid, and he has already started creating great works of art in this school as well.
These photos are from work created by the student who loves dinosaurs. These are amazing, aren’t they?
On the other hand, the students at the evening course vary in both age and career. They have had some foreign students from America, China, and the Middle East as well. Most of them were in Japan for university or for language learning programs. The rest are Japanese who are already working and wanted to know more on how to create their own figures. Some of them are already amateur figure makers who want to improve their skills.
◆ Course Curriculum
The full-time course teaches the basics of various techniques of figure modeling, from human body sculpting to coloring and replication techniques. By the end of the course, the students have all the necessary skills to create a figure of their own.
These are course materials the students use to see coloring differences.
The evening course lets students create what they want from the beginning, and the teacher instructs each student individually depending on their needs.
During the evening classes you can see different kind of models being created at the same time. Some work on pretty girl character figures, while others work on plastic models of robots and military tanks. As may be expected of an active professional modeler in the figure industry, I am impressed by his abilities. He caters to all student demands and gives each of them the best instructions for their model of choice.
The classroom has all the necessary course material related to figure modelling, from numbers of reference materials to photo-shooting booths.
The academy encourages its students to participate in figure events such as Wonder Festival, one of the largest events for modelers in Japan. By attending such events, they can learn how to promote and market their own works and gather information on what sells and what doesn’t. A student once prepared 30 figures for an event, priced them 7,000 yen each. They were sold-out within 30 minutes!
Time to make some figures!
After this interesting talk, we moved on to the actual figure modeling. Today, I’m going to build the face part of a pretty girl character figure!
The face is one of the most important parts of a figure. I want to make the prettiest face ever and make everyone fall in love with it at first sight! Here we go!
① Knead the Sculpey until it gets soft and smooth for easy sculpting.
We use Sculpey for figure modeling. Sculpey is the brand name for a type of polymer clay that can be molded and put into a conventional oven to harden, as opposed to typical modeling clays, which require a much hotter oven, such as a kiln. Until it is baked, Sculpey has a consistency somewhat like Plasticine, so it’s easier for beginners because you can always undo your mess!
Sculpey is very stiff at first, so you have to knead it well to make it soft.
② Making the foundation of a face.
Next, you pick a small amount of clay, about the size of your thumb, and shape it into a small thin plate that looks like the home plate in baseball.
This little lump of clay is going to be the foundation of the face I’m making. I will be sculpting on this, adding and trimming as instructed. I don’t have to worry too much about the shape for now, so I move on to the next step.
③ Making the mouth
Now I’m starting to do some actual sculpting. First, I pick a bit of clay, about the size of my thumbnail, and shape it into a triangle. It looks like like a small onigiri.
Then I add this onigiri onto the home plate foundation I have already made. This onigiri part is going to be morphed into cheeks, a mouth and a chin.
The onigiri on the plate is unstable, so you have to use this tool called spatula to adjust it and stabilize it.
There are many guides out there that teach you how to use a spatula, but believe me when I say that it’s a whole different experience to see a professional use the tool in front of your eyes. This is an experience that can’t be replicated by an article or a book.
④ Making a nose
Now I’m going to make the nose. The most important thing in the nose of a pretty girl in my opinion is the balance. I focused on making the most perfect nose for my figure.
You take another bit of clay, about the size of your pinky fingernail, and shape it into a triangular pyramid. You place this pyramid onto the onigiri mounted face foundation, and level it out with the spatula.
While comparing the sample figure with what I was working on, I tried to keep the same balance by smoothing the clay.
The teacher offered his advice: The onigiri and the pyramid I added on the home plate were supposed to become a nose and a mouth once I finished leveling them out nicely. You have to make sure to adjust them well and avoid having them look like independent parts, or it could make the face look unnatural when you look at it from the side. It wouldn’t look very cute.
The nose line must be properly connected to the upper lip to make the face look cuter and keep that anime style. You can tell by his drawing that he is right.
Then, what was I supposed to do with it now? He told me to continue improving the shape to make the triangular pyramid into a quadrangular one, like the one in the picture above.
I now have to level it out, while praying to God that her face will become as cure as I have imagined it would be.
⑤ Making eyes
My figure modeling trial is coming to a critical stage. I have to make the eyes.
People say that you can tell a lot about a person just looking in his eyes, and that’s also true for figures. The eyes of a figure are very important as they dictate its emotions and character. It was the tensest moment of the day, and I was trying not to shake too much as I was holding the spatula.
First, I curbed a rough outline of the eyes with the spatula in the space between the nose and the forehead.
Then I started shaping the eyelids and the eyeballs.
The teacher gave me another advice at this stage: I shouldn’t try to shape the eyeballs into orbs, but instead I should make them a part of the spherical surface, like an old CRT monitor, to make them look natural. Also, carving the border of the eyelids and the eyes too edgy would ruin the spherical impression of the eyeballs and could make the eyes look unnatural.
With his advice, I paid extra caution to the shaping of the eyes.
It was my first time making a figure, I was quite confused and I didn’t even know how to properly use a spatula. The sensation of using my own hands though made me feel proud of actually making my own figure!
⑥ Making a mouth
This was the last stage of my figure modeling course. I made a mouth on the onigiri part that I mounted on the foundation in part ③.
First, I curbed an outline of the mouth with the spatula on the onigiri part.
Then, I scraped a bit of clay from the chin part to show the thickness of the lower lip, and adjusted the mouth angle.
Like I was advised in part ④, I had the face line from the side view in mind and added or removed some clay from the lower lip, while keeping the upper lip as is. I was told that adding clay on the upper lip would make the figure end up having a trout pout look on her face.
Now that the mouth was almost done, I needed to put the finishing touch. I pushed the spatula into the corner of the mouth, and then smoothed it out around the edge to make the mouth look more realistic!
⑦ Voila! Completed!
This was the whole process of making a face for a figure. Now, let’s compare the sample model done by the teacher with the one I made!
The one on the right is the teacher’s work, the one on the left is mine. Mine looks a bit rugged here and there compared to the teacher’s, but I’m relieved to see that it is still passes for a human face.
The instructor of another department in the school tried to make a face the other day and his creations turned up like these in the photo below.
Sensei said that the eyes failed to have a spherical surface and the mouth became a trout pout.
He praised me for my work and marked it with 80 out of 100!! I felt like I was rewarded for the time I spent appreciating figures! He also gave me some feedback: Next time I should try to make the size of the nose a bit smaller, and I could try removing some clay since I added too much. It would look nicer and more detailed that way.
Now all I have to do is to bake the face at 130 degrees Celsius in the oven for ten minutes and the Sculpey will be hardened!
It’s baked! Well done!
This was an invaluable experience. I learned so much about figures and figure modeling. Time flew by like an arrow and the trial was over before I knew it.
It’s a totally different experience to learn something by hands-on experience. Books and the net don’t always give you detailed instructions, and even if they do, it’s not the same as having someone guide you through the process. It was such a blessing to be able to see the real skills of a professional artist right in front of your eyes.
If you are in Japan and you want to learn a few things about figure modelling, this is the place to visit. I want to thank everyone in the school for this amazing experience.
I would love to try out a few different courses! Do you have something particular in mind you want to learn about? Let me know in the comments! ～^^
Yoyogi Animation Academy has various events as well as trial classes. Their official website has a comprehensive schedule that is updated frequently. Please check it out if you’re interested!
▼Yoyogi Animation Academy official portal site
Don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese. The site has a Google translation button for multiple languages at the bottom!