3D Miniature Johnny Story

It begins....

In about 2016 or so, Lee and Grayson showed me their HO scale diorama of their Johnny West world. They had faithfully recreated Johnny and his whole world in HO scale on a massive table top in their workshop. We talked about them making a Johnny West playset in the Marx playset scale with character figures. A year later they had created a fantastic replica playset. During these times we spoke alot and I was inspired to see if the burgeoning 3D printing industry could be leveraged to make figures. Unfortunately, at that time the printers were expensive and the FDM (filament) technology just could not produce good enough resolution. So I kept my eye on the market and moved on to other things.

In 2018-2019 the SLA (liquid resin) printing technology took off! Many companies jumped on this bandwagon and the prices of resin and printers plummeted! I bought my first resin printer in 2019 and played around with printing items. My goal was to be able to 3D print Johnny West type heads and other accessories... However, technology was still behind my goal. The resins that were on the market then produced hard resin prints. This may have been OK, but my main hurdle was getting the models to print.

A quick lesson in 3D is called for now... please bear with me.
  • 3D printers can only 'Print' specific types of files.
  • Basically you need a 3D representation of the physical model in a file format called .STL
  • 3D modelling programs can produce these types of files, but the Modelling software is expensive and the learning curve is very steep... You basically have to be a digital sculptor to create good 3D models / files. (I am NOT that :-) ).

The other way to get a 3D model is to have a master scanned in 3D and saved in .STL - The problem is that the scanners that can do this level of detail are hugely expensive and not very numerous. Websites like Shapeways started to gain popularity - you could pic a model and they would print it for you and send it to you... But, alas, no Johnny West items were available.

Then the Pandemic hit!

Lots of projects in my mind slipped to the back burner and I dove head first into creating Custom and Reproduction boxes for my favorite toys. This was an artistic endevour and I was around those types of artistic folks which kept me on the 3D printing Facebook groups and I watched any new YouTube video on 3D printing... But still, the long pole in the tent was getting scans of the stuff I wanted to print!

In 2019, videos started to show a process where you could use your phone or a PlayStation to take a ton of pictures of the master and software could 'stitch' these images together to create a 3D scan! I was excited! And set off to scan my own models... Well, like everything... it's not easy and the results I got were less than stellar... see below...So, back to the 'net! I started to read about table top 3D scanners but there were major hurdles to overcome like resolution and a lot of the scanners were scratch built devices that I didn't want to 'mess' with.

As time drug on, the resin options for the resin 3D printers started to increase. You can now get flexible (rubber like) resins. But again, the first ones to market are expensive. But I'm hopeful that in a couple of more units of time, the prices will drop and variability will increase.

Meanwhile, I had done research on buying one of those new, industry built, table top scanners and actually put one in my Amazon shopping cart... But at a price of $1500.00 I couldn't get myself to hit the buy button. That was in mid 2020. Fast forward to May 2021 and on a call with Terry and Kathy, where we were discussing a very special project that required 3D Scanning I decided to pull the trigger with Amazon... Luck would have it that the price dropped 300 or so and because of Covid I had some extra cash in my toy box! Yea!

So, NOW, I'm a proud owner of a resin 3D printer and a 3D Scanner! Time to get to work! The remainder of this story will concentrate on creating a miniature Johnny West from an actual 12" figure.

But Wait! One other thing. James Wozniak contacted me prior to June to discuss his idea of getting miniature figures made of all the Johnny West figures. He contracted a sculptor and went to town! I got the first two he did (Johnny and Chief Cherokee) and will be getting the others in the series as well. I mention this to let you know that James and I were thinking along the same lines independently of each other. He was much faster and got to market quick... My idea started with those discussions with Lee and Grayson long ago but I could not do more than talk until the technology caught up... Now it has....

  • Click on images for a larger version

A Dream Is Born...

Click on the picture to read the awesome tale of the HO and Playset Scale Johnny sets made by Grayson and Lee

2019 First Head

So this image of my first master is of a Johnny West head. I mounted it on a pole and took about 100 pictures slowly walking around the pole at different heights to get the top, middle and bottom of the head. I then had to edit each image for quality and lighting and size. Then I used a piece of software to 'stitch' the images together to create this 'scan'. The head had to be painted with these red speckles to help the software to 'match' up the numerous pictures... Think of registration points.

Death of the First Dream

After hours of painstaking work and messing around with several 3D programs, this is the result of the scan...

Disappointing doesn't even come close! I thought 'how the hell would anyone ever be satisfied with a result like this!? So, I figured I must have done something wrong - surely I could get better results... NOPE! a couple of tries later and hours more work I decided this was not going to be good enough!

The New Dream

So on June 4th, 2021 at 3:30 pm I set up my new Einscan SE 3D scanner and took it for a spin!
I had plenty of masters to choose from but I picked this Jesse James head I got from Terri C.. I calibrated the scanner and set it on the minimum (fastest) settings and hit 'SCAN'. 15 minutes later the Jesse head file was done! I popped the file into my 3D printing software (you have to do some post processing work) and dropped the Johnny head next to it to see the differences...

WOW! What a difference!


Went to Wheeling and did some other things before launching a new 3D project on 20 July, 2021

The Johnny West

The Johnny West project entails the following steps: Prepare the Master, Scan the Master, Process it in the Printer Software, Print it on the Printer, Post Printing Processes, Painting.

Preparing the Master

My 3D scanner is set up to scan about 7 inch high objects. You can do more but you need a couple of other cheap items to do it (I was too impatient to wait). So to scan a full 12 in figure you have to be able to move it around, lay it down, turn it over, etc. to scan all parts. Therefor the master has to be pretty solid (think statue) because if an arm moves or something shifts then the scanner won't be able to stitch the separate scans together to create a whole.

To solve this I took a busted Johnny that someone had painted white and hot glued his accessories onto the parts and then hot glued the figure into the pose. I picked the pose from the BOTW Johnny Box. I'm sure the photographers at Marx did some similiar stuff to get the accessories to lay just right.



I laid Johnny on the turntable of the scanner and hit Scan...Around it goes but the scan didn't pick up all the details. Sigh...The pistol and spurs didn't show at all and face had some blank spots... It turns out that the scanner doesn't 'like' black items nor realy shiny parts. So what to do?? I really didn't want to paint everything to a uniform grey (the color the scanner loves) as these were good vintage accessories.... But there is a spray you can use that is made just for this. It covers like spray paint but it washes off. In fact, its like powder coating the master with white dust that comes right off if you touch it. So here you see the affects of me handling the master during the scan process. Think of white fingerprint powder! It gets everywhere! But it worked great!

It took me about 2 hours to scan Johnny in all his glory! I'm sure I'll be able to do future scans faster but I had a lot of building the airplane in flight momements as I was doing this.

Post Scan Processing

The scanner did great! The software stitches all the images together and allows you to delete unwanted artifacts and to create a 'water-tight' model. The printer needs a water-tight model to print.

One thing I realized is that Johnny wouldn't stand on his own. I need to add a base (thought of another idea later) so I jumped into another free 3D manipulation program and added a very basic base that the figure stood on. Then it was time to get it into the Printer.

Remember, these 3D printers (both filament and resin) use a file that has been processed by what is called a SLICER program. Basically, a Slicer program slices up the image into tiny horizontal layers that the printer then prints one at a time on top / bottom of each other until the full print is done. On FDM prints you can often see these individual layers in the finished print. Another thing the Slicer program does is to allow you to orient the print so it has the best chance of printing. When you turn the print to get all the super thin areas pointed up you need to add 'SUPPORTS' to the model so that it prints. If each bit of the model is not connected to another bit of the model from top to bottom then you will get a failure or pieces will be missing. These supports allow you to connect all those island areas. Here are pictures from the SLICER showing you the model with the base and then how it's turned and supported before going to the printer.
The other thing the SLICER does is allow you to scale your model. My printer can only print things about 6 inches tall... The newer, bigger machines can to much larger. But since I was only trying to print a miniature, I'm happy. I scaled this Johnny down to about 3.5 inches tall.


The next set of pictures shows what comes out of the printer once it is done. In this case I printed in a Black resin. When it comes out the print is covered in the uncured resin from the printer (that has to be washed off before curing). The resin is about the consistency of olive oil. It looks wet and sticky because IT IS! Latex gloves are your friend in this messy stage!



Support Removal and Clean up

The next set of pictures shows what he looks like after you remove all the little supports. Before a 3D print is CURED, these supports break off easily. But you still have to be very careful around delicate areas. Look close and you will see the pistol barrel, spur stars and tassel knots are all there...for now ;-(
You may be thinking, this looks pretty 'soft' on details... Remember there is still a layer of uncured resin coating everything... Wait until you see it all cleaned up!

Ready for a Bath!

All cleaned up!

Here's the 'final' print stage. You wash the model in IPA or Fingernail polish remover, scrubbing gently with a soft tooth brush and then a water rinse. Then you put it outside in the sun or in a UV curing chamber like I have. 10 minutes later your model is fully cured, ready to be handled.

The Details! Here are some close up shots of the figure. These images are large. I wanted you to see the details that this process can produce. One of the chap tassel knot holes is empty and the printer left it hollow! The spurs are there, except I broke on star off when cleaning... DIDN'T I TELL YOU TO BE CAREFUL!!!!!!!.. Even the tiny tassel tails are there! Wow


What's Next?

Well, I have to print another one. This time I'm going to print in a grey solid resin. Then I'm going to paint him like the original Johnny. Caramel body, brown and dark brown accessories. Then I'm going to make a little BOTW presentation box... and Then? Who knows!

Stay Tuned for the Paint up additions!

If you have any comments, please see the post I'm going to make on our Johnny West Facebook Group: (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1453773658225182)