There's a lot of reasons people make their own action figures and dolls -- the main probably being to have a figure of a character that hasn't been made yet! Or a character in an outfit that hasn't been produced. Of course, it can also be a fun hobby, or a creative outlet. Since most customisers are only producing their work for themselves, they like to share it with others through photos -- and most of the photos you'll see are on the web! If you are thinking about just making that one character you're sick of waiting for, or you just want to see what girls have been made somewhere, by someone, then read on!
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of custom figures on the web are from either Star Wars or Star Trek. The longevity and huge fan base of both make for a remarkable variety of styles and characters that people have tackled!
The Custom Figures page has a huge archive of customized Star Wars figures (male and female). Check out my favorite girls from the page: 12" Leia in Poncho and the Tonnika Sisters (I have no clue who these characters are, but they're such cute figures!)
On the Star Trek tip: there's a gazillion pages of custom Trek stuff, I swear! And the actual use of female characters in the series/movies/etc means lots of girl figures!
SpotsNCo's Custom Star Trek Figures is truly a knockout of a page. Tons of figures from every series, every movie, the comics, and more. His work is beautiful, and there's plenty of girl figures to keep you happy. The page is totally Framesville though, so I hope you've got a swanky browser fired up.
Another great page is Ian's Star Trek Memories. Not only does he have a great page explaining how he does his figs (see below), he's the only person I've heard of to tackle the Animated Series characters. Check out his fabulous M'ress the Caitian!
And of course, there's plenty of homemade super-heroines on the web...
One of the best customizing pages out there these days is Leslie Hancock's Some Assembly Required, which besides having amazing customs, has a really great method of showing you how each figure was built (and what from). A total inspiration!!
A relatively new collection is that of Joe Acevedo, who's got a really nice page featuring his AC and DC characters, including lots of gals. His page is really well laid out and includes reference art and tips for each figure.
Bill Burns' animated style customs are absolutely amazing, as are the rest of the figures on his web site, mainly dedicated to DC characters. If you haven't seen his work yet, prepare to spend some serious time in front of the monitor and go.
Mike and Nirah's Custom Figures is a great collection of custom work, a major highlight being the set of Legionnaires -- unfortunately they're the new characters, which don't do much for me personally, but I can still enjoy these figures! Roll call: Andromeda! Kinetix! Saturn Girl! Shrinking Violet! Spark! and Triad! (um, there's some guys there too...) I'm not sure if the figures are made by Mike or Nirah, but they're all nice.
Tung Nguyen has some great STAS figures including the best Lois Lane I have seen yet!! His Mercy is pretty nice too -- I only wish he'd included recipes!
From: Mike's Custom Action Figure Page : check out his cute Dazzler (later costume); Gwen Stacy (poor dead Gwen!); and ShadowCat.
Ken Goach's Hall of Heroes is an absolutely stunning display of custom work. Of special note: an animated Superman Lara, Batman: the Animated Series: Zatanna (gorgeous!), and an adorable Freefall from Gen13.
Gary Tabar's customs at Gareee's Place! have really expanded: Gary started out taking figures as produced and redecos them to match the character's actual design, ending up with sort of "deluxe" versions of the characters -- which are always much nicer than the produced version. But he's done lots of original customs too -- my favorites probably being the Ghostbusters Janine and the Calendar girl.
Dave and Scott Abbott don't have a showcase for their custom figures (yet), but here's a stunning Wonder Woman they made from a ToyBiz Phoenix figure.
Not just action figures, either...
You don't need to work with plastic action figures to customize -- you can make dolls of your favorite characters too! In all kinds of sizes -- from the small 6" size (using Princess Tenko type dolls) all the way up to 28" or more, and everything in between! (The easiest size to find and work with is of course the 11-1/2" standard doll size.) I like to sew, so I like making dolls of characters the best. Here's the Amy Racecar doll I made a while back (from the comic Stray Bullets). And other people make them too!
Here's some photos and info about Sally Monk-Hicks' 6" superheroines, featuring Wonder Woman, including tips applicable to all doll-style figure custom work.
Next stepping up to 9" (and back to the Trek thing) is Capt Kaine's Customized Trek Figures, a collection of custom Trek dolls made from the Playmates 9" series. Characters from all series are represented, and these dolls show a real level of craftsmanship -- definitely a mark to shoot for if you're interested in dolls! There's literally dozens...my favorites being the Orion Slave Girl and Number One. A new section has been added -- Gotham -- featuring 9" dolls of non-Trek characters, also all cool. Especially check out his Xena and Gabrielle.
This year's line of Famous Covers figures from Toy Biz has inspired a whole new crop of customizers to start dollmaking -- there's tons of great stuff!! I like the FC line and all the customs that have been appearing based on it. (I've even got my own box of FC projects to finish if I ever get another day off!) Unfortunately, the lack of options when it comes to girl figures (Storm is too narrow-faced for most characters, Black Widow is impossible to find and how many girls can you make look like Dark Phoenix?) has kept the number of girl customs down so far...but they are out there and I'm sure by this time next year there will be tons more!!
My favorites are the ones my friend Nick does -- he claims that he can barely sew...please!! These things are gorgeous!! The Batgirl is especially stunning... Check them out at: Nick's Homepage. Recipes included -- as well as a downloadable FC custume pattern! He's also got a wonderful range of 12" customs, mainly based on TV and comic series. Great stuff!! too!
A good starting point for FC is, as always, the RTM Famous Covers archive, which covers information on the official line as well as links to several custom pages (under "links and resources"). The Famous Covers Customizing Facility, is another decent launch pad, including tons of pics and a message board for FC customizers.
In the 12" size, here's a neat Ivanova figure (from Babylon 5). (It's uncredited, but appears on the Kathy's Doll Projects page (see below).
Of course, there's lots of Star Wars 12" customs. The amazing Star Wars Collectors Archives shows off some beautiful stuff in all sizes (check out this Slave Girl Leia)-- but especially cool are these custom 12" dolls: Hoth and Slave Leia; and the Ceremonial Outfit Leia.
And now for something really amazing -- a 28" tall Dana Scully (X-Files) doll! It's from Kathy's Doll Projects page, which has lots of great info and tips on how she makes her dolls, including a nice step-by-step photo of a doll's face repainting.
They don't even need to be real!
Because I haven't got much time to customize lately, I've been amusing myself with virtual custom figs! Anyone can do this with the right equipment -- all you need is a scanner and PhotoShop (or some similar graphic program) and you can paint, sculpt, head-swap and more in about a zillionth of the time, and with no mess! You could even try out figures that you actually plan to make and see how good your choice of a base figure is. Or of course, you could just leave them virtual and look at them! Here's the first virtual figure I ever did -- my Black Canary ("made" from a ToyBiz Mystique). My more recent Livewire (from Superman Adventures, "made" from a BTAS Harley). And finally, my "retro" Batgirl, (from BTAS, "made" from Wind Blitz Batgirl).
Getting the customizing bug yourself? Here's some resources I think are really helpful:
From the famous RTM page -- The Custom Corner collects various articles, recipes, and collections of figures. Great for an introductory lesson, plus links to tons of galleries of custom work. If you only visit one customizing, page, make it this one.
The CustoMego section of the Mego Museum is incredibly helpful, with examples, patterns, and how-to-articles. If you're interested in working in the 8" format, this is the resource for you.
Gremlins in the Garage is actually a modelling resource page, but considering how much sculpting and painting goes on when customizing, I think it's definitely a place to visit before you start.
And Ian McLean, who's responsible for that cute M'Ress, has a wonderful page also with detailed Recipes for customising Playmates Star Trek action figures -- Ian's a bit of a Dr. Frankenstein though! He does things to figures I would have never imagined!
Kathy's Doll Projects page has lots of helpful ideas and shows how she's done a lot of her work in customising dolls -- notable for being the only page I could find where dolls are being made into characters (as opposed to just custom versions of barbie or whatever).
The links at the Comic Resources page is the best starting point if you're looking for reference on any comic character, past or present. If you're looking for, say, Medusa outfit #3, here's where to start looking.
A couple final tips from me: Experiment away on some clearanced figures before you start hacking away at the figures you really want to make -- try different kinds of paint, putty, and so on. Figure out what you are comfortable working with, and what gives you the best results. Everyone does things differently, so don't feel like you have to follow anyone's instructions to the letter. I personally hate using Testor's enamel, but some people love it. I prefer acrylic based paints. I also swear by Zap-a-Gap glue for making anything stick to anything, and prefer Milliput for sculpting, since it doesn't have to go in the oven (although I did my first experiment with Das Pronto this month and loved it -- no bad smell, easy to work with, no oven...I think it's going to be my medium of choice). On dolls -- remember, dolls are vinyl, repainting them is just like painting a model kit. (Also remember that vinyl dolls can't go in the oven, so an air-drying substance like Model Magic is best for alterations on them.) For base dolls, look for character dolls and knock-offs, they often have a lot more character to their face then the basic Barbie and friends lineup. And finally -- just like in cooking, preparation is everything. Make sure you've got everything you need, and everything's all together before you start. There's nothing more frustrating than realizing you forgot some important ingredient halfway through -- and nothing more likely to make you not finish your project for months, too!