Wednesday 27 April 2011

Figure Sculpting: Scale, Size and Proportion?

This is probably the most contentious subject in the figure sculpting industry (closely followed by the epoxy putty/polymer clay discussion)!
There are as many different arguments about size, scale and, as it has sometimes been called, the “One True Scale” as there are companies producing figures. Historically, all of the different arguments have there grounding in sound reasoning, production methods and often commercial considerations. Still, it is good to step back and take a look at SCALE (and proportion) in it’s purest form!
When it comes down to it, scale cannot be argued with! It is a mathematical certainty and even accounting for differences from person to person it is simple enough to find an average sized human form for any scale. Scale is a mathematical ratio, where the first number is the distance between two points on a drawing/model/miniature and the second number is the distance between the same two points on the full sized object.

  • For example 1:10,  1 is the distance between two points on the miniature, and 10 is the distance between the same two points on the full sized person. This would mean that the miniature would be one-tenth the height of the actual person.
  • Conversely 10:1 would make the person only one-tenth the size of the statue (calling it a miniature at this point seemed a little absurd).

The website has a very nice scalable picture of a butterfly that illustrates how scale works really well, have a look at their Scale page and play around with it!
Now as far as hobby model making goes there are many standardised scales, 1:300, 1:72, 1:48, 1:32, 1:6  etc. In the architectural model making workshop that I run our scale rules have 12 different scales on them (1:1, 1:2, 1:5, 1:10, 1:20, 1:50, 1:100, 1:200, 1:500, 1:1000, 1:1250, 1:2500) and we still need more! There are an endless number of different scales and it’s always possible that you will end up sculpting at a scale that is not one of the industry “standards”. This is fine as long as you accept that your sculpts may not fit in alongside other manufacturers figures (back to commercial considerations again).

I am not sure where I found this picture, so if anyone knows where it came from I would
like to add the proper credit and a link back to the original website.

By now you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned figure size yet. The accepted system for standardising the saleable scale for figures is to use the nominal size of the range. This can be 6mm, 15mm, 25mm, 28mm or larger. However, the very common problem of “scale creep” soon raises its ugly head. Many figure ranges from many manufacturers that are nominally given a specific size (e.g 25mm),  are over time allowed to grow by a millimetre or two (this seems to where the new standard of 28mm originally evolved from). Of course, there is also the problem of how different companies measure their figures. There are two main systems, “Foot to Eye” (FtE) and “Foot to Top of Head” (FtToH). The Foot to Eye method evolved has some people felt that it was impossible to measure many figures to the tops of their heads as wargames figures frequently wear large hats that hide the top of the head. Personally, as a sculptor, I have never like the  FtE method, and simply put, I usually sculpt figures bare-headed before I sculpt the hats on anyway, so the measurement is easily checked at that stage anyway…
So we have two fairly interchangeable systems, FtE and FtToH. This means that if you measure the same figure using both systems, the result will come out differently. A figure with the eyeline at 25mm height could just as well be called 28mm if measured to the top of the head. Similarly, a figure measured at 30mm to the top of its head, could if measured to its eyeline be designated as 28mm. Clearly, a confusing situation and one that helps no one find the correct size.
On top of that, the other problem with “size” is that it can’t accurately be used as a guide when different races, sexes and periods in history are being sculpted. For example, if sculpting a male and female as companion figures, the female would almost always be somewhat shorter than the male. Therefore a 28mm “scale” male figure would be 28mm high, whereas the 28mm female would only be approximately 25mm high.
There has also been a proven increase in height throughout history. Therefore a 16th-century British soldier would be somewhat shorter than a modern British soldier. So sculpting them as the same height is not really accurate. Ten or twelve years ago I sculpted a range of Dyak tribesmen (native to Borneo) and also some Royal Navy and Royal Marine figures, all for a colonial range produced by Scheltrum Miniatures. The range was nominally 28mm, but I sculpted the Dyak figures at 25mm, as historically they were considerably shorter than the Europeans that they were fighting. To be honest, even at 25mm, they were probably oversized.

None of these “size” problems occur if you use a true scale calculation (i.e. 1:72 or 1:35), as all the measurements are “scaled” from the true measurement. For example, a 6-foot tall man at 1:72 scale should be around 25.4mm high, and a 5-foot 6-inch woman would be 23.28mm high. Please excuse the crossing of imperial to metric in that example, it was the simplest way to go…
If you have problems getting your head around scale calculations, there are several online calculators that seem to work rather well. This one is from the Wings and Wheels Modeller website and works very nicely:-
Wings and Wheels Scale Calculator
As it stands, the whole miniatures industry is probably too far own the road to settle on one standardised system of figure measurement. So, unfortunately, it means that the figure sculptor has to check and be certain of the exact scale or size that a company wants before starting to sculpt for them.
Once the sculptor knows the exact details of the sculpt he then starts to prepare to sculpt the figure and this usually starts with either a wire armature or a cast “dolly”. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Pre-cast dollies usually have the proportions reasonably scaled out and it is simply a matter a bit of twisting and such to get the limbs in the right place and then get on with the sculpting. The wire armature method, however, takes a little more effort and also the sculptor has to be more accurate at this stage to get the proportions correct.
Whichever way the sculptor goes, they should always spend time checking the proportion of their sculpts. It is very easy to get tied up in the fine detail only to find once one has finished a figure, that one arm is far too short, or the feet are way oversized. It can be heart-breaking to have to go back and destroy some really nice detail work just to correct an error made early in the sculpting process.
There are various simple checks that sculptors can make to check the proportions of their sculpt. Standing it side by side with an existing miniature (hopefully a particularly good one) is probably as good as any. It also allows the sculptor to fit his sculpt in with an existing range of figures. Another good check is to use artists anatomy reference books. Any figure sculptor who is serious about their sculpting should have at least one or two anatomy books lying around.
Now, it can clearly be difficult to compare a 28mm figure against an illustration in a book, or on a computer screen, so as an alternative, several figure companies have produced their own scale guides. Unfortunately, the ones I know of seem to have completely disappeared from the web. Before the disappeared, I got hold of their figure scale guides and have used them on numerous occasions. I am making them available here on the understanding that they were originally made freely available and also if the owners of the copyrights request it I will, of course, remove them!

In particular, I found the Prophet Miniatures sheet very useful although when printed in black and white it becomes a little trickier to see the detail. Once printed at the correct size and laminated, it became an essential tool in my kit.
As these resources have disappeared from the web I felt it would be useful to produce my own sheet. Taking the aspects that liked from the sheets above and combining that with a few anatomy books and a few suggestions from other sculptors I designed my sheet. Then, utilising the laser cutter that I have been using for my recent model making work, I produced my Figure Scale Template. I have tried to include, more or less every popular size and scale from 6mm up to 90mm, including Foot to Eye and Foot to Top of Head variants.

Produced on 1.4mm plastic laminate sheet, it is wipe clean, strong, resilient and flexible.
I then went on think about another sheet that I had always wanted but never seen. That was a Horse Scale Template. I have not sculpted many horses, but they always seem difficult to get just right, and also there are so  many different types of horses to. So I designed a sheet that had the standard sizes/scales on it and also featured three different horse sizes in each scale, a Steppe Pony, and Standard Horse and a very Large Warhorse. Basically giving all the extremes possible (excluding Shetland ponies and the like).

I have recently sold a few of these templates to professional sculptors and I am currently preparing to make them generally available. If you are interested in one I can be contacted via my website at Please email me and when I am able to supply the templates I will send you a Paypal Money request (I am only accepting Paypal payments).

Anyone interesting in reading more about Scale, Size and proportion can’t go far wrong by reading Tom Meier’s blog over at Thunderbolt Mountain Miniatures.
This series of three posts state the facts far more eloquently than I have:-
1. Some History
2. Size, Scale and Proportion
3. Why
There are plenty of other interesting posts on Tom’s blog, it is well worth following if you are are interested in figure sculpting.


  1. A very concise and well written article on scale and proportions

  2. Great blog post and very helpful, thanks.

  3. What happened to your website? I would love to have the scale templates

  4. Hi, thread resurrection but I was wondering if your sculpture template was still available for sale? Thanks

    1. I am afraid that I am not producing any at the moment.

  5. Sorry about the post resurrection but I was wondering if your scale template was still available for sale?


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