Aurora Monster Models
It all started with Frankenstein in December of 1961. There had never been a horror figure model kit before, but the release of this kit changed everything for Aurora and its customers. The company went on to become the premier manufacturer of figure models, monstrous and otherwise. The first nine Aurora monster models were issued in a constant 1/8 scale and all but the Forgotten Prisoner were graced with box illustrations
painted by James Bama.
The Collection: Under the competition rules of the International Plastic Modelers Society in the United States of America (IPMS/USA), a collection is usually defined as "5 or more closely related models" of a particular subject. The idea of competing with the Aurora monsters as a collection appealed to me, primarily because the models were very well known by the turn of this century and contest judges would have seen them before - but never in a group.
So I built the first eight Aurora monsters, omitting the Forgotten Prisoner (not a Universal Pictures character) but retaining Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde; all the models were in a constant 1/8 scale. I created a display base made from a comic book storage box covered with Celluclay, a prepackaged form of paper-mache. Finished with oil-based paints, the base was very sturdy and doubled as a transport container for most of the collection.
The collection was awarded First Place in its category in the model contest of the 2001 IPMS/USA Nationals, held in Chicago, Illinois. In 2003 it received an award for "Outstanding Collection" in the Non-Polar Lights category at LightningFest, run by PL's then-parent company, Playing Mantis, in South Bend, Indiana.
This is the collection at WonderFest 2004, where it was awarded an Honorable Mention. This photo comes courtesy of Rick "Night Owl" Evans.
Now, on to the individual models, which I arranged in the order of their original release dates.
The full views of the model were shot at angles about like those that illustrated the instructions. I have attached all my models to wooden bases for stability and to protect the models from excessive handling.
Frankenstein_Close Up Right
It's difficult to see in this shot, but I painted the details of the Monster's eyes under the eyelids. Out of the box, the Monster's neck is a butt join with the top of the shirt. I added a collar made from Ave Apoxie Sculpt, so it looks like he's actually wearing the shirt.
For the most part, I built the Aurora monsters (they're mostly reissues) straight out of the box. The color schemes I followed when painting them were dictated either by the suggestions in the instructions or the box art. This Frankenstein is the 1999 issue by Polar Lights/Revell/CineArt.
Frankenstein_Close Up Front
This may not be a speaking likeness of Boris Karloff, but the model looks more like him than anyone else in the role. But if it's not to your liking, there are several aftermarket replacement heads available.
Aurora procured the rights to make models of all the monsters who appeared in the horror films of Universal Studios. Naturally, then, the next monster model released was Dracula (this one is also a 1999 reissue). The base was far more detailed than Frankenstein's - a sign of things to come.
It took quite a bit of work to remove the mold-parting lines of the parts and fill the seams of the tree assembly, but the result was worth the effort. One difficulty with this model is that the cape sections must be painted and then assembled to the completed Dracula figure. This makes the filling of the seams at the shoulders pretty tricky.
Dracula_Close Up Right
Bill Lemon, who sculpted masters from which the molds for the models were made, got pretty close to Bela Lugosi in 1/8 scale. As with - really, all of the Aurora monster models - there are resin replacement parts available that allow you to customize your model.
Dracula_Close Up Front
I added tiny slivers of styrene for fangs and drilled out the pupils of Dracula's eyes. Artists oils provided the lifelike (?) flesh colors. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 48.
The Wolf Man
The year 1962 was a good one for monster modelers. In addition to Dracula, Aurora also released The Wolf Man. With this one, another 1999 reissue, I puttied the orifices of the hollow skull and detailed the lower jawbone to make it look more realistic.
Wolf Man_Close Up
Although Bill Lemon detailed the irises of his figure nicely, he didn't include the pupils. I located mine on the primed face with a pencil, making sure the eyes lined up properly (weren't cross-eyed, for example). Then I drilled the pupils out with a tiny bit in a pin vise. After painting the irises green, a wash of black paint outlined them while filling in the pupils. Even in 1/8 scale a clear gloss coat gives the eyes an authentic "wet" look.
Although I followed the instruction's suggested color scheme I did add baking soda "snow" to the base. The idea was to add a little variety to the apparent time of year depicted by the model. Winter was appropriate because many old werewolf tales were set in that season.
Wolf Man_Close Up_Right
The deep detail of the fur is both a curse and a blessing. It's difficult to hide the seams of the heavily textured parts. But the fur and underlying musculature make The Wolf Man a fun figure to paint. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 49.
This was the very first figure model I'd ever built, having received the kit as a present on Christmas of 1963. James Bama worked from publicity stills when he produced the paintings for the boxes of the first three Aurora monster model kits. The disparity between those paintings (beautiful though they were) and the actual models caused some dissatisfaction with customers. So, starting with The Mummy, Mr. Bama based his paintings on photos of the finished kits.
The Mummy, Close Up
The instructions suggested that the modeler reference the box illustration for his painting scheme. Therefore I went with a dirty white Mummy. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 49.
The Mummy, Left
The cobra was painted to match the color suggestions, not those of a genuine Egyptian snake. Since I was following the box art for the rest of the model, I painted the nameplate lettering the orange color of the cover illustration. The seam for the large block to the Mummy's right is one of the hardest to eradicate there is.
The Mummy, Close Up, Right
There are variations in the colors between the hair, the face, and the wrappings, though I admit they're not easy to see. I painted some of the dripping blood on The Mummy and other models in the collection per the box art paintings while trying to keep them from being too gory.
The Mummy's Hand, Front
This is a Monogram reissue from the Luminators series. While there had been several resin replacement heads for the Aurora Mummy, nobody had done a likeness of Tom Tyler as the first Kharis in THE MUMMY'S HAND (1940). So I decided to give it a try.
The Mummy's Hand, Left
The base is largely scratchbuilt, made of Styrofoam shapes covered with Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty or plaster of Paris. The main differences between the two materials is that they dry with different textures, and Durham's is lighter and stronger. Sections of the Aurora base were incorporated into the temple steps.
The Mummy's Hand, Close Up
After filling the inside of the head with epoxy putty, I whittled off most of the kit Mummy's face using a Dremel tool. I worked from photos of Tom Tyler in and out of the makeup to get the likeness. In the film, Kharis' eye were hand-painted out of most frames; hence I modeled empty eyelids.
The Mummy's Hand, Right
Tom Tyler held his "bad" arm in a distinctive position. I modeled the kit's right arm to achieve that look, and also added the missing fingers. The hieroglyphics were painted to resemble those seen in the film. The ancient Egyptians never painted their walls like that! The resin nameplate was made by Fritz ("The Headless Hearseman") Frising.
The Mummy's Hand, Back
I usually try to make sure that my projects are finished front to back. The back of the wall represents the naked rock into which Kharis' tomb was cut. As I had done with the Polar Lights Mummy, I dressed this area up with a copy of the movie poster.
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
This was an original 1963 Aurora issue that I purchased as a buildup. At the time, the model hadn't been reissued in years, so this was the only way I could obtain one. I had to scratchbuild a new tree and snake, as those parts were missing.
Creature Close Up
The Creature's eyes were so thickly coated with paint, I had to fudge the detail. Since the eyes in the movie masks changed between the land and underwater suits, as well as between movies, I figured my guess at what they should look like was as good as anybody's.
Creature Full Right
Color photos of Ben Chapman in the dry land version of the Creature suit seem to indicate that Aurora's color suggestions were pretty accurate. I added little blobs of Squadron Green Putty to the seams and shaped them after they were dry to replicate the scale texture.
Creature Snake Close Up
A piece of carved sprue replaced the missing tree limb, over which I wrapped a wire armature. The wire, which would become the snake's body, was covered with Sculpey polymer clay and baked in the oven to harden it; I added the head separately. That's Ben Chapman's signature on the wood base.
Creature Close Up Right
Yes, the ridge on The Creature's head is too thick and he had no teeth, but I built the model out of the box for the fun of it. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 52.
One item I did add was the addition of an interior of the lizard's mouth, made from Sculpey polymer clay. I modeled the piece inside half of the disassembled lizard and firmed the clay up in the fridge. Then I removed it from the plastic part, baked it, and cemented the hardened piece into the lizard with epoxy cement. His tongue was made from scrap styrene.
The Phantom of the Opera
This model is a hybrid: the base came from an Aurora "Frightening Lightning" issue, while the figure is a Monogram Models reissue from the 1990s. I was fairly happy with the base but wanted to tackle the figure afresh. I've reworked The Phantom more than any other model in the collection.
This shot approximates that photo of the model shown in the instructions. The cape's lining was one of my earliest airbrush jobs. I learned the secret to painting black fabric is to drybrush dark gray over the material to emphasize contours and details, and leave room lights to create the highlights.
The Phantom_Close Up
This is the third paint job done on the face. The first was the "nasty yellow" described in the book, the second was a bluish cyanotic effect, neither of which really worked. Eventually I found a color photo of the makeup worn by James Cagney in MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957) and went with the flesh color. In removing the head I broke the cord for the cape and made a new one from braided wire.
This guy's cute but too shallow and really not seen in any Phantom motion picture. If I were ever to build this model again I think I'd try to put Christine in there instead.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This was the first model in the collection to which I added a lot of detail. It's the Polar Lights reissue with the notorious "Bellringer" nameplate. I replaced that part with one from Posthumous Productions. All the extra details I added to the base had to be blotted out when Polar Lights photographed the model for their 2010 reissue.
Here's a tip: you can glue the head to the body and fill the seam before adding the neck ring. Next the Hunchback and the neck ring/rope piece can be painted. During final assembly the ring can be snipped at the back and is flexible enough to be spread around the Hunchback's neck and slipped into place. You won't damage the paint or need glue to hold the ring.
I hate hollow areas on what are supposed to be solid features, so I blanked off the underside of the wheel with sheet styrene and textured it with putty. I also added bolt heads to the retaining ring, made by lopping off pieces of square styrene stock. I also added lock and hinge details, made from styrene bits, to the wrist manacles. There are small putty rocks and other debris scattered around the base.
Hunchback Full Rear
Builders can save themselves a lot of trouble by using small screw eyes, wire rings, and braided wire or string to replace the Hunchback's plastic fetters. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 50.
Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde
This was an Aurora "Frightening Lightning" issue that somehow survived the years, as evidenced by the unpainted background of the nameplate. I upgraded the model to competition standards, breaking some of the smaller lab items in the process. I moved the figure to the right side of the base to accommodate the lettering of the collection display box; I think the move shows Hyde to better advantage.
Although the box art for this kit depicted Frederic March as the Paramount Pictures Hyde, the model looks more like Boris Karloff as the monster in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (1953). That was a Universal picture, which made the model eligible for inclusion in the collection.
The head had a few shortcomings I wanted to address. First I pressed the ears of a Frankenstein head into modeling clay, then filled the molds with 5-minute epoxy and glued the copies to Hyde's head. An interior for the mouth was made from Sculpey polymer clay and extra styrene teeth added. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 50.
Jekyll/Hyde Close Up Left
There are several nice resin replacement heads available now that weren't around when I built the kit. The modeler has quite a choice there. The latest reissue comes with transparent laboratory glassware. With the Aurora kit, on the opaque plastic I had to create the appearance of clear glass with paint.
The success of the first eight monsters spurred Universal to continue the line.
These other monsters weren't included in the "Aurora Presents the Universal Monsters" collection because they either weren't in 1/8 scale or they appeared in movies produced by companies other than Universal. Nevertheless, they're all classics!
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Bride of Frankenstein
In answer to their customers' call for more elaborate bases, Aurora came up with this one for The Bride of Frankenstein. But in order to fit so many parts into its standard boxes, the company reduced the figure to 1/11 scale. This is the 1997 reissue by Polar Lights.
The Bride_Close Up_Left
A dramatic shot of the Bride, showing how I put the big scar in front of her ear on the wrong side. An article that details the lighting of this model appeared in the IPMS JOURNAL, Volume 18 number 3, titled "The Bride Electrified". It also appeared in FINESCALE MODELER magazine's 2011 edition of GREAT SCALE MODELING.
Underside of the Table
The underside of the table was detailed to look more like the prop in the film BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). I replaced the plastic chains with jewelry items and the hanging bandages of the kit with pieces cut from an aluminum can.
The Bride_Close Up
The master sculpture for the Bride was executed by Ray Meyers. Although he captured Elsa Lanchester's features very nicely, considering the model is about 1/11 scale, he rendered her irises as shallow, concave features. This made them very difficult to paint.
The good news was, Polar Lights reissued the kit with transparent laboratory glassware (the original Aurora issue's parts were opaque). The bad news was, the locators within the parts had to be removed and the resulting "scars" sanded down. Endlessly, it seemed. Judicious painting camouflaged the seams between the clear parts.
The Bride_Instructions Angle
I moved the severed hand to the back of the base so I could add a Posthumous Productions nameplate. A small LED light set, made to illuminate T-shirts, provided the flashing lights for my scratchbuilt tower and the kit "voltage control box". The tower was based on a prop that appeared in the Boris Karloff Frankenstein films.
I received this model in 1965 for my tenth birthday. Back then my Dad helped me build it. Somehow it survived for the ensuing 35 years until I reworked it for competition and added a base. Thanks for "Big Franky", Dad!
In this picture you can see the nameplate. Its lettering was based on the "FR" inscribed on the piece of rock at the end of Franky's chain. The idea for the nameplate's broken form was an inspiration of my Dad's. This model appeared in the "Kits That Time Forgot" feature of MODELER'S RESOURCE magazine, number 45.
Big Frankie_Close Up Left
I repainted the figure to match the memorable comic book ad from 1965. The hair was textured with Liquitex Acrylic Blended Fibers Effects Gel Medium. The lenses from googly doll eyes were trimmed to fit over Frankie's eyes as corneas. As with most models, I painted the flesh with artists’ oils.
Big Frankie Base_Back
The walls and floor were made of Styrofoam pieces. The walls were textured with Celluclay and the floor with Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty. Oil-based paints made the constructions very durable. The whole piece was mounted on a 16" wooden tabletop I purchased at a home improvement store.
King Kong on His Base
Like many of its kits, Aurora's King Kong was unmistakably based on the 1933 movie monster, but the model left room for improvement. The kit I used was the Polar Lights reissue from 2000.
King Kong_Close Up
The kit-supplied face had an expression that made King Kong look like he'd just stepped on a tack. Referring to movie stills, I resculpted the face with Aves Apoxie Sculpt. Liquitex Acrylic Blended Fibers gel medium added hair texture to Kong's head and body.
Ann Darrow_Close Up
I used more Aves Apoxie Sculpt to give Ann Darrow the proper flowing hair-do. I also removed her shoes, as she was barefoot at the time she met Kong in the film. The face looks better in person than it does magnified here.
Kong Front View
In addition to altering the figures, I added to the base. The trees are Woodland Scenics items. It was necessary to cobble larger trees from smaller ones to achieve the proper height. Comparing the Ann Darrow figure to Fay Wray's actual height, I estimate the scale of the model at 1/25. The 10-inch model ape represents an approximately 21 foot tall monster - shorter than the 50 feet cited in the film's PR, but formidable nonetheless!
Kong Left Side
The kit trees were used, even thought they were way too small. The Ann Darrow (played by Fay Wray in the movie) figure is taller than the trees, which gave no sense of Kong's size at all.
Kong Right Side
The model's base seemed way too shallow for such a big ape, so I attached it to a chunk of Styrofoam that I textured with spackling paste. Under paint, this construction blended nicely with the plastic base.
Kong from the Back
Of course, the back of the model was detailed as well as the front - almost. The ghosts of some seams are evident on Kong's back. Some actual vegetable groundwork was added to make the base look more natural.
Kong and Ann
It's not evident, but I raised Kong's exposed pectorals and made his teeth more accurate. I tried to get Ann's hands to rest more naturally on Kong's paw, but wasn't entirely successful. Her dress came out okay, though.
King Kong from a Low Angle
In the 1933 classic, Kong was surrounded by enormous trees; mine are a bit too short, but still give a better impression of the monster's size. I added an aftermarket resin set of foliage parts that were lost when Aurora reissued the kit in its "Frightening Lightning" edition. This set included an improved nameplate.
When Moebius revived the old Aurora "Monster Scenes" line, many grown-up modelers - who were in danger of being "damaged" somehow when the kits were first released in the early 1970s, rejoiced. To inaugurate the revived kits, Moebius, in conjunction with AMAZING FIGURE MODELER magazine, held an online contest. "Sister Deadly" was my entry; it was awarded Second Place in the Conversions category.
Sister Deadly Close Up
I decided to do some gender-bending with Dr. Deadly. I filled in his scars, added an iris to his blind eye, gave him fuller lips, and a bouffant hairdo, all with Aves Apoxie Sculpt. A bit of jewelry chain hid the seam of the neck to the body.
Sister Deadly Full Right
Aves was also used to create Sister Deadly's female form. The extra limbs from a Monster Scenes "Victim" kit provided the girly arms and legs.
Sister Deadly Full Left
More Aves was used to sculpt the rolled-up sleeves and baggy socks, which helped join the Victim's arms and legs with Dr. Deadly's gloves, shoulders, and shoes.
Sister Deadly Nameplate
Having come up with a humorous tagline for the figure, I made the nameplate in PhotoShop. The flaps from a couple Monster Scenes box provided the letters; I printed the nameplate, then sandwiched it under a cast resin frame, a piece of clear acetate, and a sheet styrene backing plate. The kit base was expanded with a piece of Styrofoam covered with Durham's Rock-Hard Water Putty.
Sister Deadly Flask
A piece of clear tube was heated on one end, then pushed onto a flat surface to make the flared bottom. Epoxy putty eyes were covered with epoxy cement in the flask. The "eyeball extractor" in Sister's left hand was made from sheet styrene.