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Jessica's Planet of the Apes: Zira

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Zira in the Making

Sideshow's 12" Zira, with & without box, full body & closeup

It seems that amazing things just tend to happen in the wonderful home workshop of Jessica Rotich.  Case in point: the amazing transformation of this 1:6 scale Zira action figure released by Sideshow Collectibles in 2004.

But let's get one thing out of the way before we get started, shall we?  Sideshow Zira is a really wonderful, though now "retired" (as in: "sold out") action ape gal.

In fact, I like to always try to keep in perspective that the Sideshow version of Zira, and companion figures from the set, were a genuine godsend to Planet of the Apes fans and high end action figure enthusiasts alike when first released.

With that in mind, let's go over a brief history of the Zira character as she has appeared as an action figure over the years, leading up to her most recent addition to the extensive and ever expanding Sideshow lineup.

The legendary MEGO corporation was actually the first company to produce a wide array of toys based on the Apes films and TV series.  Their 7 1/2" Zira was a relatively endearing, though not particularly accurate version of the famous lady ape seen in the first three classic Ape stories.  That's not counting a plastic model kit of a posed Zira that was released by Aurora a few years prior to the MEGO Apes line however.

MEGO Zira and the box art for Aurora Models' Zira at right

Then, literally DECADES went by without hide nor simian hair of Zira in anything but the aftermarket market. Until that is, Medicom released a set of "Ultra Detailed" figures based on the films and TV series of the Apes saga.  At around the same time, Hasbro introduced a similarly sized set of Apes figures, but even though the articulation overall was better than what Medicom had to offer, the Hasbro toys weren't especially well sculpted or manufactured overall.

Hasbro even followed up with a 12" Zira from their Signature Series in the late 1990s, when a worldwide resurgence in Ape Mania was beginning to take hold.  Yet... somehow, despite the clever and perhaps even ingenious design of the figures (that even featured rooted hair) sixth scale Hasbro Zira still didn't quite meet the high level of quality and authenticity that long anticipating "ape-o-nauts" had, for decades upon decades, been longing for in a line of truly "ultra detailed" Planet of the Apes action figures.

Then... as if descending upon god-like rays of gleaming sunshine from out of the heavens above, came Sideshow Zira!

Sideshow Collectibles' 12" Zira with POTA display stand

Part of a limited run of licensed character figurines conspicuously based on the original series of POTA films, Zira was only one of a magnificent new lineup of Sideshow gems that, in most cases, were exquisitely crafted trendsetters that quite handily blasted any and all previous Apes toys way, way off the radar.

Like Zira here, each model in the series was highly detailed, with screen accurate real cloth costuming and character specific accessories.

Heck, these classy new products even included a handy Planet of the Apes figure display stand!  How then, could any diehard Apes fan ask for even an
eensy weensy smidge more?

Naturally though, some sticklers were still not quite satisfied with all that action figure goodness! Which is actually okay, one might argue, because Sideshow Zira, in the right set of damn dirty stinking ape paws, apparently makes fantastic fodder for fine customization work.  And, wouldn't you know it, that's just exactly where Jessica Rotich comes in to this particular ape-tastic adventure yarn.

Being the typical creative and industrious sort, Jessica wasn't content to just leave her Sideshow Zira to collect dust on the shelf.  Oh no.  While staring at the shrunken down image of her favorite character from POTA, she noticed a few details about the headsculpt that she would have done differently had she been able to.  Then, before she knew it, she found herself hauling out... a big knife!

Well, not exactly, but that's often how Jessica begins the process of either enhancing an existing Planet of the Apes sculpt or, in many cases, building up an ape face onto a human action figure head.  Which is really quite a clever process, when you think about it.

Jessica's Sideshow Zira, just before going under the knife

When she adds layers of Super Sculpey (or a similar Polymer based clay) or Apoxie (one of her favorite sculpting compounds) to a pre-manufactured headsculpt, she doesn't have to worry too much about working on the eyes of a given character.

In fact, if the factory painted eyes are the right color, she is free to move on to the next step: sculpting her masterpiece.

Before getting too far ahead in the sculpting process however, Jessica must make sure to tackle the biggest problem of all; the mounting of the head.

Reattaching a pre-existing head or finding a way to properly attach a made from scratch one is perhaps the most important factor of all in producing a home made action toy.

However... when the head beneath your brand new sculpt is pre-designed to fit on a standard 1:6 scale body... then folks, you've pretty much got it made!

Well... not exactly.  As seen illustrated below, some modifications to neck posts and the like may be necessary, but this highly creative solution is just another way that action figure customizers like Jessica almost single-handedly manage to cook up their very own, one of kind pieces of pop culture art.

It just goes to show that, with a little ingenuity and a lot of talent and perseverance, it is infinitely possible to combine pre-made parts and commercially available craft and hobby materials to create (or re-create, as it were) the action toy of your dreams.  As always, amazing work, Jessica!

The Process

Now let's have a look at the cleverly conceived process that Jessica goes through and the materials she uses to transform run of the mill toys into the action figure creations of her talented fancy.  We'll let sixth scale Sideshow Caesar here be our guide.  At left below, is the original, unaltered Sideshow head close up.  On the right, is the all new king of the rebellious and rioting apes from the 1972 motion picture epic, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, newly enhanced by Ms. Rotich.

"The King is dead. Long live the king!"

Step 1 - Hack off any unnecessary parts - as with the egg-headed crown of Sideshow Caesar

Step 2 - Make any necessary modifications to the body the finished sculpt will be reapplied to

Step 3 - Apply Super Sculpey or Apoxie to desired areas

Step 4 - Sculpt, refine and blend

Keep working on the fine details...

Nice application of more movie accurate hair, Jessica!

Step 5 - Jessica adds some corrections

A little paint and... that's more like it!

Viola! And there you have it!

The finished, more screen accurate Zira head sculpt

"Rainy Days and Apey Mondays" by Jessica Rotich

Selected photos by Jessica Rotich
GIF images and other creative content by Will Hoover
Escape from the Planet of the Apes soundtrack music "Family" by Jerry Goldsmith
Planet of the Apes is a registered trademark of 20th Century Fox

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