The Marvel Legends line of action figures is a great source of low-cost but decently detailed figures that are great for toy photography. They do have an annoying side effect though—the Build-A-Figure concept.

Marvel Legends usually come out in waves of six figures. Each figure in a wave contains an extra part—an arm, leg, torso, head of an additional figure. If you get all the figures in the wave, these extra parts combine to form a bonus figure. This is, of course, a marketing ploy to sell more figures (which sometimes works, as evidenced by the fact I paid full price for a King Cobra figure, who I have never heard of before, and doesn’t look very interesting, but I needed a part from his packaging to finish my Thanos Build-A-Figure. Don’t ask me what I needed to do to get Fat Thor. My wallet still hates me.)

The problem is that most of the time I only want one or two characters from a wave, so I am left with a bunch of random arms, legs, and most disturbingly, torsos, that litter the bottom of the trunk where I store my action figures. I keep them because: a) I paid for them, dang it! and b) I have some glimmer of hope they may become useful someday for… something.

Welcome to someday

Last Thursday I logged off work and needed a distraction to clear my head (I never could get the hang of Thursdays). I sat down in my studio and decided to make an image for Halloween, one of my favourite holidays for photography. After a bit of brainstorming I decided to make the classic “hand coming from a grave” image. It has been done a thousand times, but not by me, and it would be the exact distraction I needed.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a Thursday is to get lost in your hobbies.

I have been building dioramas lately so I knew I could make a gravestone easily enough. What I didn’t have was a hand to come out from the grave. So I started looking into my figures to see if one of them had a suitable hand.

I dug into my toy box, looking at each figure, and rejecting them one by one. This one was too sci-fi, that one had the wrong hand pose, this other one? Meh, no, just no.

Then I got to the detritus at the bottom of the box and there, shining in an (imaginary, but why would that matter?) beam of light was the exact thing I was looking for: a random monster arm with the correct “reaching out from a grave” hand pose. As you may have already guessed, it was from a Build-A-Figure I didn’t complete. I don’t even know what character the arm belonged to (though some research later confirmed that it belongs to Man-Thing).

The best part was that it didn’t belong to any figure I cared about—it was just a random arm, so I had no issues modifying it further to meet my needs. Is this what winning looks like? Sure, why not.

Making treasures from detritus

The arm had some fur fringing on it which didn’t match my vision. So the first thing I did was grab a knife and carve that sucker off.

cutting the fur off the arm that was found amongst the detritus in my toy box

It left an ugly scar, but that would be at the back of the arm, out of view of the camera, so looks mattered not. The nice thing about photography is that your subject only needs to look good from the point of view of the camera, and it doesn’t matter how ugly the view from other angles look.

I then added some paint—mainly washes—to bring out some details in the rest of the arm. I also painted the nails to brighten them up, and dry-brushed the fur a smidge to add some highlights

The arm was starting to look pretty pimp, and matched the vision I had for the shot very well.

Finishing the shot

The other major part of the scene I had in mind was the gravestone, which I created using foam and some craft paint. It is about the simplest diorama object one can make, so I knocked it out in about 20 minutes.

Then I dropped some topsoil from my garden onto a tray and set everything up in my studio’s light box.

The rest of the shot is some Photoshop magic, and some elements from my archives and the Pixel Squid library.

Hand rising from the grave - Final Image. Making the best of detritus.

Toy detritus proves useful. News at eleven.

This whole experience has underlined an important lesson: One never knows what will become useful in this hobby. It is well worth keeping around all those bits and bobs that sit at the bottom of our toy boxes. It may not seem useful at the time, but you never know when inspiration will strike and that annoying bit of detritus—be it a broken figure, an extra accessory, or the extra body part from a pushy marketing strategy—will be the exact thing you need to create the image you dream up after some random hard day at work and save your Thursday evening.


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