The Encounter: Bigfoot and Tonto

KIT #: ?
PRICE: Roughtly $25 each from auctions
REVIEWER: Scott Lyle


“The Encounter”

A Diorama Featuring Johnson Resin’s “Bigfoot” and Aurora’s “Tonto”

            Growing up in the 1970s, it seemed like America went through a brief love affair with “unexplained phenomenon.”  While disco ruled the nightclubs, UFOs were supposedly hovering over New York, the Bermuda Triangle was still an unsolved mystery, and a certain lake in Scotland was home to a very famous monster.  Leonard Nimoy had his weekly show “In Search Of” that featured slightly creepy 70s synthesizer music and bad recreations of people supposedly being scared witless by whatever that week’s mysterious phenomenon was.  As a child I took it all in and was alternately fascinated or terrified by each new unknown creature or occult force.  My favorite however, by far and to this day, was none other than Bigfoot.  For a kid under the age of ten like me the idea of a giant hairy creature roaming around the forests of the Pacific Northwest was impossible to resist.  The neighborhood kids and I ate up everything Bigfoot; the cheesy Hollywood B-movies, The Six Million Dollar Man and his battle with bionic Bigfoot, even the Fantasy Island episode where some unlucky character had a face-to-face with the mythical giant.  We had Bigfoot books, Bigfoot action figures, even the Bigfoot board game (which later became a great college drinking game by the way).  We hunted for Bigfoot footprints in the woods near our houses, and in order to enter our fledgling neighborhood bicycle gang – the “Dukes of Hazzard” gang, of course - one had to complete a harrowing bike ride down the slopes of none other than, Bigfoot Canyon.  A steep section of rooty, rocky woods near our houses, the Canyon caused more than one skinned knee and busted reflector.  But then again, anything named after Bigfoot should be hard to conquer!


            Today Bigfoot is a still an undeniable piece of our pop culture.  He hawks pizzas and beef jerky and lives on in new, equally cheesy horror movies.  About five years ago I happened to find a resin model of Bigfoot on eBay.  A limited run kit produced by a sculptor named Jeff Johnson, I had to have it.  It’s a beautiful casting, set in the famous pose of the blurry 60s Patterson film clip that we’ve all seen too many times.  I decided that to do a nice Bigfoot model justice, he had to be set in a diorama, walking through the woods.  To complete the scene however I needed some drama.  It would be nice if he were spooking a hiker, or something along those lines.  Looking through websites of Aurora’s old figure kits, I came across their Tonto kit from their line of superheroes, and the wheels started turning.  The Bigfoot books I read as a kid often mentioned accounts of Native Americans who had encounters with the “Sasquatch” long before he became a movie star.  Bigfoot was regarded as another forest creature to be respected and to steer clear of, or so the story went.  By sheer luck, Aurora’s Tonto was molded in a startled pose with a surprised expression on his face that seems to say, “What the H is that!!!”  He was a perfect match for my idea.  After procuring a cheap Tonto kit from eBay, it was time to get to work building my dream Bigfoot diorama.


Building and Painting Bigfoot

            Construction of the resin Bigfoot model was very easy.  There are two parts – the body and his right arm!  Once a little bit of Squadron Green putty “fur” was sculpted over the joint, I primed him with Tamiya Light Gray Primer sprayed right out of the can.  I then airbrushed on a layer of Testors Acrylic Raw Umber for his base coat, and then drybrushed him in successively lighter shades of brown.  I tried to highlight the various muscle groups of his body to make him look more dynamic.  The well-sculpted fur of the model is really suited for some nice dry-brushing effects.  To make his eyes look a little creepy I painted them Tamiya Yellow-Green before adding black pupils.  Some Testors Gloss on his eyes and lips completed the model.

Building and Painting Tonto

            Construction of the Native American figure was also quite straightforward.  The arms, legs, torso, and head are molded in halves and needed to be glued together first.  The usual gaps were filled with superglue and/or Squadron Green Putty and then sanded smooth.  The various limbs were then joined to the body, and the resulting gaps were filled as before.  The Aurora kit gave Tonto a pair of guns in holsters, one per hip.  I decided that my diorama’s character should be unarmed, so I used a Dremel rotary tool to gently grind away the molded-on holsters.  Once that was accomplished and everything was smoothed out he was primed with Tamiya Spray Primer.  I then preshaded the folds and recesses of his clothing with Testors Raw Umber, and then gave him a base coat of Testors US Army/Marines Gulf Armor Sand.  He was next given a wash of medium brown oil paint, which helped define the various folds and wrinkles of his clothes.  Next, I drybrushed his clothes with a lighter version of the basecoat.  His belt was painted Vallejo Saddle Brown, and then it was time to tackle the flesh tones.

            Painting faces are not my specialty, so I decided to keep it simple.  I used Testors Warm Flesh tone as a base coat and applied it with a brush.  Next I washed all of the flesh areas with a wash made of Testors Flesh Shadow and thinner.  I used a little bit of Testors Light Flesh tone to highlight his nose, brow, and chin.  I then put a couple of dabs of pink on his cheeks and lower lip, and blended them in with a #10/0 brush and thinner.  Next I painted his eyes with a custom off-white shade; basically Testors White with some Sand mixed in.  I used Raw Umber for his pupils and eyebrows.  Finally I painted his hair Polly S Grimy Black and lightly drybrushed it with some Testors Panzer Gray.  Some Testors Gloss was applied to his eyes, and the feather was glued to his head.  The man was now ready for his encounter with the unknown!

Building and Painting the Base

As diorama builders know, making the base and terrain can be a project in and of itself, and this one was no exception.  The main feature of the base is a row of pine trees that separate Bigfoot from the Native American.  This was done to create a little mystery – I thought it was creepier to have Bigfoot sort of skulking behind the trees than out in the open in plain view.  Issue 86 of Tamiya Model Magazine contains an article that describes how to simply make good looking model pine trees, and I followed that as closely as I could.  Basically you take wooden dowels about 3/8” in diameter and cut them to the length you want (in my case about 12”).  Using a utility knife I whittled the dowels down a bit on one end; tapering them so they would look like a real tree.  I intentionally kept the whittling rough to simulate the rough bark of a real tree.  The dowels were then painted dark brown to look like real tree trunks.  Next I drilled random holes into the trunks with a very small drill bit – these would hold the branches of the trees.  For branches I used some small dried plants from a craft store that were then cut to different sizes and glued with white glue into the various holes.  I tried to glue longer ones into the lower holes and bend them downwards.  I worked my way up the tree in this fashion, sort of like putting together an artificial Christmas tree.  Once the “branches” were in place I sprayed them with aerosol glue, making sure they were good and sticky.  I then sprinkled static grass all over them, the idea being that the static grass would stick to the branches and simulate pine needles.  I was happy with their appearance, and I’ll definitely be making more pine trees like this for my future dioramas.  They’d look great in a WW2 Ardennes/Battle of the Bulge winter scene.

Once the trees were done I turned to the groundwork.  For a base I used a 2” thick Woodland Scenics Styrofoam base, and cut the various shapes and contours into it using hand saws and their hot wire cutter.  I then smeared a mixture of water and white glue over the whole thing and sprinkled on my groundwork, a mixture of a couple of different grades of model railroad ballast and sand.  Kitty litter provided nice scale-sized rocks, and actual pieces of gravel simulated the larger boulders, one of which was needed for the Native American to be posed on.  Static grass was used to simulate not only grass, but also dead pine needles lying under the pine trees.  Other small twigs from the yard were scattered about to provide more forest floor debris.  One effect that I had to create was of course, a Bigfoot footprint!  I spread a little joint compound onto the base and the mashed the Bigfoot model’s plastic-wrapped foot into it.  Once dry, I added some sand to it for texture.  No Bigfoot diorama would be complete without a footprint!

With the ground work dry it was time to paint it.  I airbrushed a layer of Tamiya Flat Earth over all of the earthy areas, and then sprayed different, lighter brown and beige shades around to provide shading and variation.  The rocks were painted in a couple different shades of gray by hand.  A wash of heavily thinned Raw Umber oil paint was brushed over the dirt areas and rocks, and then each was dry-brushed with light brown and light gray respectively.  The grass was sprayed with some medium green and yellow-green shades, and then drybrushed with yellow.  Next the pine needles under the trees were airbrushed a homemade orange color.  To tone everything down and blend the different colors together I lightly sprayed some Tamiya Buff onto the rocks and grassy areas.  Finally I brush-painted the edges of the base with some Black craft paint.  This framed the scene nicely, and now it was ready for some action.


            With everything now painted, my next step was to glue the trees to the base.  I drilled 3/8” holes in the base, filled them half way with white glue, and seated them in the holes.  Next I drilled a small hole in one of the feet of Bigfoot and Tonto respectively, and then a matching hole in the base where those feet would go.  Inserting a screw up from the bottom, I was able to carefully attach the figures securely to the base.  It was a nerve-wracking procedure – I could just imagine seeing one of Tonto’s leg seams split open as I was turning the screwdriver!  Before tightening the figures down, I coated the bottoms of their feet with white glue.  With the screws tightened up, my figures were looking good.  Bigfoot was in full stride in the woods, and Tonto was looking like he just remembered he forgot to file his taxes, and the IRS had just pulled into his driveway.



My Bigfoot diorama is a nice tribute to a part of my childhood and growing up in the 1970s.  Sandwiched between my dinosaur phase and my Star Wars phase, I’ll always have a fondness for the big guy, be he peaceful and docile, as portrayed to children, or scary and violent, as portrayed to adults.  I’ve always thought that if Aurora had been around long enough, they would have come out with a great Bigfoot model of their own.  Who knows, maybe some more resin shops will come out with some more Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) down the road!  Now where’s that beef jerky?

Scott Lyle

November 2008


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