Origin Photo Shoot

During December's monthly Patreon-exclusive LiveStream, I broadcast my parents and I holding a photo shoot to take photographs of some scale human figures. This blog post is a publicly-accessible supplement to that event.

The Premise

I have a story idea for a quilt that will illustrate a village of elves living in the antlers of an elk. I want to show that this village is inhabited, and that means showing the elves themselves. Human figures are difficult for me to visualize, especially in different poses and perspectives. I own several lifelike, 1:6 scale figure models that are completely posable, so I needed to take some photos of those figures to use as reference for the elves in my village.

Here is the 30-min concept sketch I drew in Concepts to share my idea (left) and my three 1:6 scale figures I used for reference (right).

Origin Concept Sketch and 1:6 scale Figures

The Figures

My posable people are "seamless body action figures". The company that makes them (originally named Phicen) encountered a trademark issue in 2017 and has been rebranded as TBLeague. Many stores now list both names (Phicen TBLeague) on the figures' shop listings.

These figures are made from a stainless steel skeleton armature covered in medical-grade silicon. The armatures have 28 points of articulation using a ball-joint system, which allows the figures' bodies and appendages to be moved and positioned.

If you're interested in purchasing a Phicen TBLeague figure for yourself, there are a few things you should know:

  1. TBLeague makes male and female figures in varying body shapes. This article has a comparison chart of all figures.
  2. The figures are anatomically correct. Some of the female figures have genitalia. The male figures are sometimes sold with unattached genitalia that can be optionally attached to the body using rubber cement. Be prepared to see nude figures if you start Googling.
  3. The figures' outfits are often sold separately. TBLeague does make some figures that are pre-clothed. Those outfits are not removable. Any figures that do not have a designated outfit are sold nude. Once again, be prepared to see photos of nude figures when Googling.
  4. Heads, called "head sculpts", are sold separately for nude figures. There are also other companies that make heads to fit TBLeague bodies.

Where to Buy

Phicen TBLeague figures are sold through several different online retailers. I purchased my figures through AliExpress, but here are a few links to other stores (POTENTIALLY NSFW DUE TO NUDE FIGURE IMAGES):

Setting the Stage

In preparation for the photo shoot, I knew I needed a more solidified reference for the antler village to use as a basis for capturing the correct perspectives of the figures. I used a program called FlowScape — a 3D world-creating software — to create an actual village in some antlers. This is a screenshot of the scene I created:

Origin screenshot from FlowScape

I used Dragonframe, a software designed for stop motion animators, to overlay the above screenshot on a live view from my dad's Nikon D850 camera (which was plugged directly into my computer). That allowed us to compare the perspective of the figures (as seen by the camera) to the perspective of the buildings in the village.

The screenshots below are of Dragonframe. In the first, I've zoomed in on one of the buildings in the village picture. In the second, I've reduced the opacity of the building to make the camera live view visible. In the third, the village picture is disabled so only the camera live view is visible.

Dragonframe screenshot

We repeated this process — zooming in on a building, reducing the opacity of the image, and comparing the perspectives of the buildings and figures — for every position where the figures will appear in the village.

Setting the Figures

The lower buildings in the village are at eye-level point-of-view (POV). The buildings highest in the antlers are well above that POV, making them have a dramatic perspective. The other buildings in the antlers have perspectives that fall in between the two extremes.

In order to make my figures look like they belonged in the village, the figures' perspectives had to match that of the respective buildings. That meant we needed a way to elevate the figures to different heights while keeping the camera in a fixed position. We also needed directional lighting from above and slightly behind the figures to match that on the buildings.

Mom and I collected a bunch of things — tray tables, boxes, trivets, candlesticks, plant pots, etc. — of varying heights and sizes. This photo shows some of the props we used to elevate or prop up the figures:

Photoshoot 1

You can also see the directional light up above, the camera on its tripod, and the cord connecting the camera to my MacBook on the right.

The light we used is a professional LED kit made by Neewer. We clipped it to the boom on my wall:

Photoshoot 3

The LiveStream

This photo shoot was broadcast as a LiveStream event for my Patreon, so here are a few extra videos showing my studio and broadcasting arrangement.

This photo shows the figure stage on the left and me looking at my monitor on the right. The monitor, which is connected to my Macbook on the table, shows Dragonframe, OBS (my broadcast software), and the YouTube stream and chat.

Photoshoot 2

Here's a shot of my dad and I.

Photoshoot 4

I'm using a bluetooth keyboard and trackpad to control my computer, which is the silver MacBook Pro in front of me on the table. That laptop is connected to the monitor, which is what I'm looking at in this picture. Dad's job was to run the camera (adjust its position, swap batteries, turn it back on when it timed out, etc.)

There's a black microphone on the desk next to my laptop that picked up our voices. I also used two webcams (one on top of the monitor and one clipped to the table but facing the stage) to give stream viewers multiple angles to see what we were doing.

My studio was quite messy that day, between current in-progress projects and all the stuff Mom and I dug out to use as props, but none of that was on camera for the LiveStream.

Last but not least, what studio would be complete without a puppy? This guy had turned 1 year old the previous weekend. He spent most of the shoot sleeping under the desk.

Photoshoot 5

Patrons subscribed to the Aeronaut, Mechanist, or Aero-Naval Engineer tiers can watch the recording of this LiveStream on Patreon.