7 Steps for Dollifying Anyone feat. Monica Rambeau from WandaVision
Lemme tell you about how I dollify stuff in excruciating detail with the LEGO Marvel CMF series as an example. Or, more precisely, just Monica Rambeau in this video.
Marvel minifigures awaiting their dollification
I almost never work on one figure alone, for reasons that will become clear soon, so you might be able to recognize other characters alongside Monica. That's to be expected and in no way guarantees that a video about that character is coming. Also, for reasons I'll explain in a bit. And spoilers for.. everything.
I follow these seven steps with every dollification I do, and I hope more people will join me in my quest to dollify the world. Your steps for dollifying, should you choose to fulfill your customizing destiny, might be a bit different. Still, knowing how I do it can help you find your own path on the journey for more minidoll diversity. And I want to explain why so many of my dollify projects never get made.
1. Watch the movie or series
The first thing I do, often even before I get the idea of dollifying a character, is to watch the movie or the series the character is in. Therefore, this step is as long as the series, movie or series of movies are long. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) up to Endgame that would be 22 movies with a total runtime of almost 48 hours. Don't worry, I didn't do a marathon. At least not recently.
And then are all the series... I didn't watch all of them, but I did the relevant ones. We got Disney+ for a month, binged them all and canceled the subscription. We would be constantly subscribed if only Disney would have the decency to pay their authors. But they don't, so... #disneymustpay
No Disney+ for me for at least several more months
The point of this step is to get to know the character and see if I even like them. Because if I don't, it's best to stop the dollification here and move on to something else. Obviously, I like the whole MCU enough that I want to dollify it, so we can move on to the second step.
2. Watch and read more about the character
This is the only optional step and mostly just serves as an excuse for me to watch video essays on the subject. When I really like a piece of media, like the miniseries WandaVision, I want to know more. I need to know more.
My favorite source is YouTube, but wiki pages and the internet in general are great for this too. Because this step is optional it can take me 0 minutes to finish, or I can go deep into the video essay rabbit hole and spend an infinity there. On average though, I try not to do this for more than a few hours.
Occasionally, this step will reveal some flaws to me that I did not pick up on while watching and the movie will be ruined for me. And so will the dollification. This did not happen with WandaVision, hence I proceeded to step number three.
3. Get reference images of the character
This one is so important to do and most days I find myself wanting to skip it because of how frustrating it can be. Sure, it's easy enough to google Scarlet Witch and click on pictures, but can you accurately paint the whole minidoll from most of these pictures? No, you can't. You don't even know her shoe color. You need high resolution full body pictures for that. And they are often hard to find. The trick I use in those cases is to look for pictures of official merch (costumes, cardboard cutouts, toys) and sometimes even fanart. For superheroes in particular, I love action figures.
My Marvel saved references pics folder
Another great use for the action figures is to see how the character looks from behind. Because you do not want to google that.
For princessy and other "girly" themes, dolls are an excellent source of apparel information.
I also like to find several close ups of the face. Luckily, they are fairly common and easily findable.
Finding all of the relevant references can take me up to an hour for each character, especially when I have to get back to searching while already painting, to figure out what that thing on the inner right arm is.
4. Cost-benefit analysis of the dollification
Using all of the pictures I gathered in the previous step, I try to find minidoll parts that are most like the character. The biggest emphasis here is on the overall shape and skin, "hand" and "legs" color. Everything else can be painted over. Not that there is much else left.
Minidoll areas you want to color match before painting
Of course, you could just paint over everything, but then the paint will chip when the doll's arms move, or it sits down. The same thing happens if you paint the hands and then you make the doll hold onto something. I try to avoid the paint chipping by not painting those parts. That's why I need the original LEGO piece to color match the character in these specific areas.
Theoretically, I could paint the skin. And I have done that, however it's tricky to pull off right. Especially because of the face. I find this works better for un-minidoll-like faces like the one from Jack Skellington.
I painted only the Evil Witch's skin (preserving the original eyes), whereas Jack got the complete make over
There are several possible conclusions for this step. The best one is that I have everything I need, and I can move on to customizing. The slightly worse, but still good conclusion is that I could dollify the character only in an alternate outfit. I need to do this most often because the character has gloves in a color LEGO has not yet produced minidoll hands in. And the conclusion I hate the most is that the character cannot be dollified.
Within the Marvel CMF series there are examples for all of these cases. Sylvie is just good to go. For Monica I had to make the executive decision that the Medium Nougat skin tone, while not perfect, would have to be good enough. Scarlet Witch, Captain Carter and Captain America wear dark red, brown and red gloves. LEGO didn't make any of those colors yet, so my Scarlet Witch, Captain Carter and Captain America don't wear gloves. And I think with them, I can get away with it. In contrast, I don't see how I could create a Spider Man without his gloves. They seem to me an integral part of his costume.
Hands without gloves are better than no dollify at all
In the past, I often had to order missing minidoll parts. Nowadays, I generally don't need to do this. I've developed a habit of buying a lot of any minidoll part I know to be useful whenever I find them for cheap.
I'll occasionally make smaller changes to a character's outfit because I feel it suits her more or it requires less painting or both. Monica's legs are a good representation of this. Her shoes should be black, but that looked boring to me, so I got her grey shoes instead.
And because I do stuff for the internet, I'm still not done with this step. I need to figure out how much work it's going to finish the doll and how popular the character is. If it's a lot of work for somebody only I know about, I can't justify putting in the effort. If it's only a bit customizing for a very beloved character, I'm absolutely doing it. Sadly, most projects fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and it can be hard to determine if it's worth it. In those cases, I let my heart decide, meaning I do what I find most interesting.
This step is a fairly short one, taking me around half an hour per minidoll. But that's true only for me now. When I didn't have this big of a minidoll stash, I had to plow through the online catalogues to find if a suitable minidoll existed. And then order it. That all took a while.
You can browse all of the minidolls by theme on Brickset
Most dollify attempts die here. They never reach the final three steps and I never make a video about them. The most notable dollify project that didn't make it past this point are the My Little Pony Equestria Girls with their original skin colors. Though, I am still keeping an eye out on all the unusual skin colors LEGO does sometimes produce.
The customization is probably the first if not the only step that came to your mind when you saw the title of this article. Well, it isn't.
In order to avoid damaging parts I need for the dollify, I have dedicated pieces that I don't mind ruining. I take apart the to-be-dollified doll and connect the torso to dispensable pants, the legs to a dispensable torso, the hair to LEGO bricks and I put the head on a stick. In the joyous occasion that a part doesn't need any customizing I can skip the attaching part. Monica's pants fall into this category.
Taken apart Monica, ready for painting
If the pieces need cutting, filing, sculpting or (almost) any other non-painty modification, I do that now. Simpler projects don't require this, while the more complex ones do. By definition. Monica was fortunately on the easier side. She only required painting.
First comes the base coat. For Monica that was white. When done, I apply a finish onto it and let it dry for at least 12 hours. This allows me to more easily rectify some of the mistakes I'll inevitably make while painting on the details. I repeat this until the figure is done. In the end, Monica's torso has in total 5 layers of finish in the front where the SWORD logo is, and only 1 layer in the back where her shirt's only white.
Layers of Monica's SWORD logo (WIP): white, sand blue, white
In my experience, the torso is the most important part of the dollification. What doesn't mean other parts aren't important, just that this is what you want to focus on. Monica's torso is fairly simple, as torsos go, and I felt the character deserved more of my attention, so I made two faces for her. Did I really have to change the original face at all? No. It was fine. I suggest you use it as is for a quick paintless dollify. I did it because I could.
I didn't need to paint this face and yet I have
It's hard to say how much time exactly it takes me to paint one minidoll because I almost never paint only one at a time. Do I count the time spent waiting for the paint and finish to dry? Surely not. How about the mixing of paints? And what if I use that paint mix on several dolls? The point I'm trying to make is that while it takes me 4 to 12 hours to paint a minidoll, I can't paint a whole minidoll in one day. But I can paint 3 minidolls in 3 days.
The minidoll alone is fine. But if you want it to look amazing, and I do, it need accessories. Almost anything can serve as an accessory. A crown, a cape, a weapon, a shield, a flower. Made out of original LEGO parts, alternative materials or both! I like reusing the minifigure accessories wherever I can. It's easy and convenient, especially if I'm dollifying a CMF figure. They always come with accessories.
Accessories - some work better than others for minidolls
Monica's figure comes with a red helicopter that I like and don't feel the need to change. Scarlet Witch has a cape as a minifigure, but I want the minidoll to have an overskirt, so I'll make her one using paper and my own pattern.
7. Put it all together and celebrate
The most fun step of them all! Put the minidoll together and marvel at its glory! I'm pointing this out as a step on its own to emphasize it. I get so caught up in the video producing aspect of a dollify project that I forget to celebrate what I've created. Even if it's not exactly as I had planned, and I can see that one line that's kinda crocked. Not even LEGO's prints turn out amazing every time. So, I praise myself for the good work and get on with creating the video.
If you can create an environment for yourself where you can paint the dolls in peace, I highly suggest you do that. This rushing to complete a mini is almost sucking the joy out of the process for me. Almost.
Monica Rambeau as an official LEGO minifigure and as a custom minidoll with the serious expression and powerfull eyes
I think Monica looks great as a minidoll. The hair is just amazing. I only wish LEGO would add the darker skin tone to the minidoll line up. Then the doll would be perfect.