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Special Report: An Introduction to Customizing
by: Joris DeSmet

Swapping Heads and Limbs

If what you want to do is populating you dioramas with armies of some kind, then this may be the paragraph for you.

One of the simplest customs to do is what they call a "head swap". It consists purely of getting the head from one figure and put it onto the body of another one.

Simple? Yes, if you know how a figure looks on the inside and how to "crack" and "boil-and-pop" … Lost you, aye? Okay, let's take these things one at a time.

The Entrails of an Action Figure

Usually the inside of a Star Wars figure looks like the picture on the left. (Heheheh) … just kidding, here to the right is what it really looks like...The head and limbs are fit into the body with what is commonly called a "peg".

The pegs of the arms and legs are usually part of the arms and legs themselves. That is not always the case for the peg of the head. I admit they are seldom cases, but it's just good to know in advance which peg you’re dealing with, as they can cause you a bunch of trouble when boiling and popping.

The exception to the rules (as far as I have found) are these:

Most Chewies, including the RPG Wookiee, a few versions of Episode 1 Qui-Gon's and further in the Episode 1 series Darth Sidious, Tatooine Darth Maul, Senator Palpatine, the Senate Guard, Nute Gunray and the first young Anakin which has an unusual long neck peg that is going until the waist. In the Power of the Force 2 series then you have Bib Fortuna, Ishi Tib, Garindan, Saelt-Marae (Yakface), Zuckuss, Flashback Luke, Flashback Obi-Wan, the Commtech Jawa, the Royal Guard, all of Jabba's Skiff Guards (Klaatu, Barada, Vizam), the Tie Fighter Pilot, the white-haired Ugnaught and Emperor Palpatine.

In the Expanded Universe collection Mara Jade and the Clone Emperor suffer the same problem. In the Power of the Jedi series it is Tessek, the Preview Zam Wessel and the Senate Guard. From the Saga series you have to remember the Royal Guard. The 2006 Saga Collection the figures that have a ball-jointed neck are tricky to work with as well.

As you can also note, the front and back of the upper body or torso are equally attached to each other with a peg. In case your custom requires that the body is “cracked” or split open, then you'll need to cut through this peg.

Knowing this, you're ready to rock and ... eh ... "boil and pop", baby!

Boil and Pop

"Boiling and popping" a figure is a widely known expression for the act of cooking your figure (yes, you read that right) and tearing the softened plastic limbs out. Once you master this technique, you should be able to swap limbs and heads from one figure to another quite easily.

There are a number of things you need to keep in mind when cooking your figures.

First of all, protect yourself sufficiently! Boiling water is … well, boiling hot and thus a perfect way to customize your own skin into a little piece of macramé if you're not careful.

To protect yourself:

Don't put your face over the boiling pot of water if you like your current facial features. Boiling water produces steam. Steam is hot. Hot steam can burn your face. Doctor Evazan will become your favourite Star Wars character.
Wear heat resistant gloves. Don't wear plastic gloves! They will melt into your skin when exposed to a source of heat! After that, the only thing left for you is lining up in the queue when Lucas starts looking for actors to play aliens in his next movie.
Have towels nearby. Not only can you use them to dry up the place if you spilled water, but they're also great for extinguishing fires if you managed to be dumb enough to set the place on fire. Besides, every intergalactic hitchhiker should now by now that you should always … I repeat, always have your towel nearby.
Use a pair of iron clippers with plastic handles to keep your figure hanging in the water. Don’t use clippers that are made entirely of plastic … you are trying to melt plastic, remember?
There are probably more things you can do, but I guess that you understood by now that playing around boiling water can be dangerous. So don't be a smartass, just be smart. Don't take unnecessary risks.

So, from here, it's the basic idea that you submerge your figure in the pot when the water is boiling. Keep it completely submerged for about one full minute. One minute was a good average for all the figures I treated so far. If your figure needs more cooking, you can just continue the exercise, no harm done. If you cook it too long … well, we all know the story of Darth Melty.

Once your figure is sufficiently cooked, dry it up quickly in the towel and rip its head and limbs out with swift and quick movements.

Do not hesitate when doing this!

Either you rip the limb free as intended, or you'll tear it apart from the peg. As soon as the piece starts tearing, the damage is done anyway, so just don't hesitate.

To get the limbs back in place, but then in their new host bodies, just cut a part of the peg away, boil the limb until it gets soft again and push it in place in the new body. Because you just cut away a small part of the peg, you'll be able to fit the limb more easily into the host peg-hole. Move the limb a bit around to make sure that it's well in place and still allows for the intended articulation. Now let it cool off and there you go, the Frankenstein operation has succeeded; your mercenary sports a new head, more muscular arms or those cool chicken legs!

Now that you master the "boil-and-pop"-skill, you can try to "flash-freeze" limbs too. Basically, "flash-freezing" means that you'll heat up a bendable body part, meaning an arm or leg, bend it into a new position and cool it off instantly so that the limb remains fixed in its new position. My own experience is that it's best not to rely too heavily on this technique. I found that the plastic of Star Wars figures is very stubborn and will move back into its original position after a while. Hence, even though it is employed, the use of this technique is very debatable in my eyes.

Cracking Bodies

In some cases popping heads and limbs and fitting them into a new body just won’t work.

Either the reduced pegs just won’t fit or they will need some altering before they’ll fit in. In this case, it’ll be best to “crack” the body open. Using the “cracking” technique will allow you to swap parts of figures around a lot easier and make new combinations as you like.

You will need to pay attention to the way limbs and body parts are positioned, when doing this exercise. It is possible that one pair of arms looks close to the ones you'd need on your custom figure, but that their stance isn't compatible with the other body parts you collected. The result can be that your custom looks the way you wanted it, but that it appears to be "break-dancing".

Of course, you can then still put a Michael Jackson figure into your diorama and arrange the "break-dancing" figures around him. As such, nobody will ever be able to make any nasty remarks; Jackson IS an alien too, after all. Still, it probably would start getting suspicious if there is a Michael Jackson in all your dioramas.

When cracking a body, be aware that there's an additional peg keeping the front and back part of a torso together (take a look at the pictures shown before again), which you will need to cut or "crack". Also keep in mind that the plastic commonly used for torso or pelvis is of a different, sturdier kind than the ones for head, arms and legs.

You can split the torso by cutting through the seam-lines (the place where the front and back part connect always shows a thin seam, no matter how well the two parts fit together) with a thin X-acto knife. Or you can decide to try your luck, wedge a pair of clippers in one of the peg fittings and crack the torso open by force. I usually choose for the first option myself, cutting at least partially through the central torso peg before I'll try to crack it. The torso plastic is usually real hard and cracking it the violent way often gave me parts and pieces that I didn't really want. The torso will "decide" to crack open in the weakest places and assuming that the weakest place is by definition the seam-line does not always produce good results.

You'll need put cut torso parts back together with good glue that dries invisibly. I have been using the Loctite instant glue for that purpose with good results so far. But be careful with instant glues and try not to glue your fingers together; getting them separated again is an unexpectedly painful event.

If you manage to boil, pop and crack, you will still notice that just putting parts together will sometimes not entirely do the trick. Some parts will not be completely accurate and will still need some work.

Of course, there's a way to handle that...


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