interviews

Tomopop Interview: Furry Feline Creatives

Mar 26 // Rio McCarthy
Rio: Woo! How does it feel to be moving along in the big time? I’m so excited for all the new things coming for Furry Feline Creative! Could you take a moment to bring our readers up to date on the new endeavors you and Cheri have been working on?  FFC: Big time? What big time? We are the same people as day one. We constantly challenge ourselves to do the best we can regardless of circumstances. We are currently bringing both brands, "Purridge and Friends" and "I Heart Poop Culture", side by side for the world to see. With Purridge and Friends, we have appointed Membrain to manage the global licensing for the brand. Rio: Is it just as exciting as you hoped? You made some huge changes to your life for these things to take place, so I’m happy to see everything going so well! FFC: It is exciting, but at the same time nerve-racking. But we believe that if you have a passion for something, dream big and work towards it regardless of circumstances. We started Furry Feline Creatives at zero not knowing anyone in the industry or having the support, not even a career background. This is our humble beginning.  So seeing it grow and know that it makes a difference in the lives of others makes it worthwhile. Rio: There are so many great new things, I’m not even sure where to start! Let’s jump straight into the clothes, because why not, right? Can we gush about how amazing those dresses look? I can’t wait to get my paws on one! (Or two, and the leggings, of which I did both! Be sure to check out the gallery to see up close pictures of what I bought!) FFC: Thanks Rio!  Furry Feline Creatives is a studio and lifestyle brand and we are on the quest to make everything on anything.  We are very excited to work on these dresses as we would only make things that we ourselves would want, and things that matter most to people.  So expect to see a lot of new things and designs. Rio: Of course Cheri isn't stopping her wonderful handmade plush of love! I bought my boyfriend the Ultra Mega Ringo plush for Christmas, so now both he and I own a Furry Feline plush of our own. She recently released the Baby version plushies (which are so adorable it hurts!), but what else has she got up her sleeve for the upcoming events? FFC: Cheri is a mix media artist, we are always making things regardless of medium.  We will reveal new things as the events come close. Rio: Furry Feline is all about family, so if there were one place you could visit now that you’ll be more available to travel, where would you like to see you and your furry friends travel to? FFC: Well, we have some Furry Feline Family all over the world so there couldn't be just one place. As we always say, "No one gets left behind."  So expect to see us soon. Rio: Any other exciting things you’d like to share before I let you get back to work? FFC: Keep tuned into Furry Feline Creatives as we continue to share our work.  We tend to do exciting things because you guys deserve the best, so we will stop at nothing to do just that. A huge thanks once again to Alvin for taking the time to chat with me, and for being just plain awesome! I can't wait to catch you two next time I get to make an event and see what you have in store for us! If you happen to be attending Wondercon, be sure to stop by and say hello to them.
Interview Furry Feline photo
The Furry Feline Family just keeps growing!
Furry Feline Creatives is a couple of wonderful people with some of the biggest hearts I've ever seen. We've written about Alvin and Cheri Ong many times in the history of Tomopop, but I wanted to catch up with Alvin and see ...

Tomopop Feature: DC Collectibles Scribblenauts interview

Feb 17 // Scarecroodle
Question: DC Collectibles is certainly no stranger when it comes to adapting comic video games into toy lines. However, the Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure figures aren't what we usually expect as I can't remember DC Collectibles having really done blind-boxed items in the past. What prompted this decision as opposed to say, releasing them in small sets? Is this a trend that we may see more often going forward? DC Collectibles: Blind box collectibles are something we've been wanting to really explore since we experimented with our series of Who's Who (DC Direct) a while back. Reception at the time was not what we were hoping. We see that this style of collecting is currently trending, and we are hoping that the Scribblenauts will resonate with collectors! Question: When the figures were first being shown at conventions, I was a little taken aback by how neat they were and the amount of selection present. However, when I was checking out the panel at NYCC I learned that the figures were going to be broken into two series consisting of eleven figures apiece. Is there any reason for the smaller waves? Was it done to make certain characters easier to get a hold of? I also recall hearing that there might be gold-painted and glow-in-the-dark variants. Would those variants be across all the characters or only for select characters? DC Collectibles: We were showing a wide assortment at the con to gauge reaction for these lil guys, which was incredibly positive! The characters are now in sets of 11 due the frequency of the characters packed in each assortment, and how they would fit in the shipping container. We have a few surprises with the figures up our sleeves, so be on the lookout for more fun experiments (like Black Manta's glow in the dark eyes!) With such a massive assortment of characters (thousands), there are a ton of possibilities! Question: I'm not sure if this has been revealed since, but can you tell me what the chase variants will be? DC Collectibles: Sorry, but that's the fun of the chase, so you'll have to go find them! Question: I'm assuming that this line will go beyond two series. Will you be waiting to see how successful the early sales are or are there plans to move ahead on additional designs? DC Collectibles: We have already selected the characters for a number of waves, so we would love to have this series continue for a long time, but of course sales will be the deciding factor…as always. Question: Blind-boxed figures seem to be enjoying a particular popularity as of late. I've even seen some pop up in places as unlikely as a 7-11. I know that GameStop will be carrying these as well as some comic book stores (and prominent online retailers, of course), but can we expect to see figures show on a more mass retail level or is that just off the table? DC Collectibles: The only way to hunt down all the Scribblenauts toys from DC Collectibles is to visit the locations you have mentioned, so search them out online …or on foot! Being a collector of many blind box items myself I find "the hunt" almost as fun as the actual figures! Question: Were there any challenges when it came to designing these figures? Also, given the game style (and the blind-boxed market in general), what led to the decision that these figurines would feature articulation rather than simply be posed static (non-articulate) figurines? DC Collectibles: There were definitely challenges in translating the 2D-assets into 3D, but that's always the case with anything sculpted. In this case it was mostly figuring out how the planes of very simple, flat art could be translated into a dimensional object, and then dealing with the articulation. We really wanted these figures to be somewhat pose-able from the get-go. We also discussed a number of sizes, and settled on the height we thought we could deliver at a good price for maximum collectability. The $4.95 price is the most customer friendly price DC Collectibles has offered to date! Question: How closely did you work with the game's creators in designing these? How much say/approval did they have in the general process? DC Collectibles: We showed 5th cell every step of the way, and they were very receptive to the slight modifications we had to make to articulate the figures. Thanks for asking about our Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure figures, and good luck on finding all your favorite DC Characters in this cool new style!
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Questions will be unmasked, answers revealed
DC Collectibles' Scribblenauts Unmasked series was among the most interesting items on display at SDCC last year, partly for being a blind-boxed line. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with DC Collectibles and discuss the line (which is just hitting stores!). Full interview after the jump.

Tomopop Interview: Good Smile Company's Maritan

Dec 04 // Martin Siggers
Firstly, tell us a little about yourself. What's your background, and how did you come to be working at GSC? I've been into anime and manga for over 10 years now. In 2008, I decided to live my passion fully by moving to Japan. I lived in Tokyo for 3 years and when I came back to France, I was hired by Good Smile Company to help during events. At the time, GSC was looking for a "French Mikatan", so they offered me to take care of their different social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr...) and translate Mikatan's blog in French.  Briefly describe your responsibilities at GSC. What do you oversee? As I said previously, I'm in charge of all the communication in French as well as the preparation of the European events. I also take care of everything related to partnership and contests. The visit to MCM was the first time that GSC has been at the event in an official capacity. How did you find it? It was really amazing. Though we had previously come to Hyper Japan, where we introduced Black Rock Shooter to the UK, this was the first time we showed and sold so many different products. We were able to hear what people liked about our figures, and we got a really warm welcome from our fans. I was also very impressed by the amount of Attack On Titan cosplay. I didn't expect the series to be so big in the UK. What are some of the challenges of working with a territory as large as Europe, one which spans multiple countries, cultures and languages? Do you ever see a day when GSC will have departments for individual countries? Well, that's quite challenging. Our main concern is trying to figure out how to deal with all the different languages. We would like to bring information to everyone in their own language but the EU branch has really limited staff and we can't possibly translate each and every page of the official website. It's also very frustrating when we attend an event like we did in Spain, and we struggle to communicate with people . We love to listen to our fans and discuss figures, but the language barrier makes it difficult to do so. I was very grateful that most people there could also speak English. As for the departments for each country, I doubt this will happen in the near future, but who knows? It will depend on the evolution of the EU branch in the future I'd guess. How much contact do you have with the head offices in Japan?  We have online meetings twice a month, weekly reports and daily e-mails, so quite a lot of contact.  Without official oversight, bootlegging has been a major issue at UK conventions in the past. What sort of steps are GSC taking/going to take to address this? We're very aware of this problem, and a bootleg information page has been set up on the official website. We are also working with customs in order to get the licence rights for the Nendoroid brand in Europe, with figma to follow soon. The bootlegging issue is quite complicated to deal with and even in Japan they are sometimes helpless against it, so I believe the most efficient way to fight this problem is to educate our fans. In the end, they have the right to know if what they bought is real or not, and if it's not, that will be because they decided to go for lower prices and lower quality, and not because they were fooled by unscrupulous vendors. The fact that we attend events also allows people see the real figures and compare them with the bootlegs. What's the future for GSC in the UK and Europe-wide? Can we expect a greater presence from the company in coming years? We are planning to increase our presence in Europe, by first increasing our attendance to events and then trying to find more partner shops in each country. Finally, on a lighter note, what's your favourite figure? Anything coming out soon you're particularly excited for? My favorite one would definitely be the Miku Love is War DX, though I received lately the Belldandy with Holy Bell from Max Factory and I must say she's a real beauty! As for future figures, I'm really waiting for the scale of Mikasa that has been announced last WonFes. [Big thanks to Maritan for taking part and answering our questions! Find her on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Keep your eyes out for a review of Nendoroid Misaka in the near future!]
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The French first lady of figures
Last month was MCM Comiccon, the UK's biggest convention (88,000 visitors this time) and a huge marketplace for figures, toys and collectibles of all kinds. For the first time, Good Smile Company attended in an official capac...

Tomopop Interview: Argonaut Resins

Oct 10 // Vanessa Cubillo
How did you start Argonaut Resins and where did the name come from?   END: I got tired of doing business the way I was doing it with my parent company, GoldMane Entertainment Inc. I wanted to try something really different, so I went and set up a simple blog and online store. The goal of this new company was to get rid of the normal clunky website, make interesting and original type collectible figurines while keeping all the costs down and then be able to turn a profit on anything produced.   The company's name, Argonaut Resins, actually came from the Ray Harryhausen epic fantasy film, Jason and The Argonauts that I saw as a kid. That movie changed my life, in a way, by seeing incredible characters go on a crazy exciting journey. The adventure Jason and his crew went on was outrageous, but incredibly well done, with crazy battles, monsters and mythical figures. That whole boat journey with warriors searching for the golden fleece blew me away. So I loaded up my Argo boat with lots of fantastic artists and now we go in search of our golden fleeces, which I guess you can say is what turned into all of the interesting and exciting resin projects that have been produced over the last six years.    Can you describe the process you go through when making one of your figures?   END: I usually have illustrations with the concept in various views called rotations that give me an idea of how tall, wide and detailed the figure will be before I start any sculpting. I then make a really simple wire armature from twisted up light weight aluminum wire that I would post on a small wooden base. This frame holds the clay while I build up the sculpture's shape and form. I used to make complex wire armatures, but they always ended up sticking out of the sculpture someplace or other when it was completed. So I keep it simple now to avoid that problem.   Your current lineup of figures are the Tuttz, Sucio and Pharaoh Hound. What was the inspiration behind these designs? END: The Tuttz cat is based on a black Bombay house cat named Blacky my family had as a pet when I was a teenager. We got him at a few weeks old and he was like a instant family member right off the bat. That cat had such a great personality and was forever doing weird things around the house. We had him for a long time, and when he got sick and passed away it affected me deeply. So the Tuttz resin cat concept wound up being a black cat that was immortal and would live forever. The Pharaoh Hound showed up as a companion piece for the Tuttz cat, and the style worked well on a dog too. People think he's Anubis, the Egyptian Jackal head God, but he's not. He is based off the look of the real Pharaoh Hound dog that actually exists. The Sucio was more a test to see if that concept could translate onto another figure and still keep with the aesthetics of the original Tuttz design.   What artists would you like to collaborate with?  END: I'm working with most of them now; The Jelly Empire (Selina Briggs), Small Angry Monster (Adam Pratt), Emily Bee, Clinton Yaws, Angella Powell and Kilroy's Attic.    What has been your proudest moment so far with Argonaut Resins? END: I'd have to say the whole entire six year endeavor to be honest. All the good, bad, ups and downs tempered the process of producing indie collectibles to probably make it last as long as it has for me. There hasn't been one golden moment that stands out because so much has happened as Argonaut Resins took shape.    From your past toy releases, which have been some of your favorites? END: If I had to choose I would say all the Tuttz releases are probably my favorites. Especially when other talented artists collaborate with me to take the brand even farther than I could have imagined. That and the fact that collectors like all the different sizes that the Tuttz cat has been produced in.    How do you think you've evolved as an artist since you started out? END: I think I've become more of a designer than a artist due to the amount of actual hands on creation and mental prep on the recent concepts I've created. The ideas now float around in my head and come together right on the work itself rather than on paper with drawings. Early on in my career it was the other way around for a very long time.   Can you talk about some current projects you're working on? END: Yes, I'm working on a all new Bone Ghost Agent sculpt for artist Sam Fout. I'm also helping put together a custom Obot project in collaboration with Carbon Fibre Media as well as planning something special for this years New York Comic Con in October. The biggest project I'd really like to get off the ground would be the Tuttz illustrated story book with Robert Garrett of Xmoor Studios. The story has been fleshed out, and I even designed some of the supporting characters that will show up in the book.   How do you feel about the designer toy world now? END: I like how the designer toy world evolves every year, and how resin concepts now have a solid foothold in it. I also love seeing new artists with original pieces show up and do well on the indie circuit.   What do you see in the future for Argonaut Resins?   END: That's hard to say since I don't like being conventional in any sense of the word, and have been known to change course on a dime. I think there will be some big changes soon that may have some of the platforms show up in different mediums other than resin. I try not to over plan what's down the road since doing that tends lock the company in too tight of a course. Everything changes so fast now in this day and age, and I'd prefer solid well received long lasting concepts over multiple easy to forget ones. Playing it very loose has always been a big part in the creation and development of Argonaut Resins from day one. I like keeping a lot of doors open, so anything can happen at any given time. [Thank you to Argonaut Resins for giving this interview and providing us with photos. Check out their exquisite exclusive figures at NYCC this weekend at booth #325.]
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Argonaut Resins shares their history along with exclusive photos of their NYCC figures
Hailing from Hoboken, New Jersey, Argonaut Resins has been designing and making figures for six years. While they've created many figures in the past, they are currently known for creating the Tuttz, Pharaoh Hound and Sucio....


Tomopop Interview: John Merritt

Sep 26 // Natalie Kipper
I simply love Tentacle Kitty's design and how well it translated into a plush. How much of the toy-making process did you have a hand in? We had 100% control in the plush design. We worked with our manufacturers and their design team until we were absolutely satisfied that we got the quality and appearance perfect. We started with my drawings and after about 13 prototypes we had her right where we wanted her. What were the greatest challenges you faced when creating and selling these toys? The learning curve. It is a massive undertaking to insure that you have all of the regulations and testing done, not to mention the logistics of moving large amounts of plushes across oceans and half way across the United States. Selling them hasn't been much of an issue. Keeping them in stock is. Is Tentacle Kitty based on any particular cat or pet? Nope, Pirate Kitty is though. Our last cat we had was named Tali Vas Banana (Mass Effect pun) and she would steal anything and everything from us for her own personal needs. What comes first: the character's bio or its design? The Design. I was in a Sharies Restaurant (similar to Denny's Restaurant) waiting for my wife (then fiancé) to get out of work across the street. I wanted to make her something cute that combined my love of cats, and her love of tentacles (octopus, cuttlefish, HP Lovecraft). After showing some of our friends, they all loved her and wanted us to put her online. We did. I made more characters, a story, and pretty pictures until people wanted plushes. And here we are today! I have to ask, can we expect to see a Cotton Candy Mouse plush in the future? Tentacle Kitty must be so hungry! ^_^ You can expect them, and so much more. Next year is going to be very exciting! Is there anything else you wish to tell our readers? Always eat your vegetables, and never judge a monster by her tentacles. Thank you, John,  for the opportunity to conduct this interview! You can find John's Tentacle Kitty and friends on deviantArt, Facebook, and Twitter as well as the Tentacle Kitty online shop. Pre-orders are still available for the upcoming first edition plushes of Ninja Kitty and the Rat Tailed Unicorn. [images via Tentacle Kitty's Facebook page]
Interview: John Merritt photo
The creator of Tentacle Kitty shares some insight on his creations
Have you met Tentacle Kitty? Well, you are about to learn more the lovable plush along with her friends. You, my friend, hold the key to unlocking secrets into Tentacle Kitty's past and future, all from the mouth of her creator, John Merritt! All you have to do is hit the jump. Do it for great justice and kitty hugs!

Tomopop Interview: Loot Crate

Jul 24 // Rio McCarthy
On Friday, during Comic-Con I was honored to sit with Matt and Chris from Loot Crate to learn more about the company and what they do. They both had previous experience in the gaming industry, and when they started, they literally just started calling the people they knew to see who might be interested in helping out. They went on to attend events to spread the word, and still have yet to do much traditional promotion because they've gotten along so well already! As a business owner myself, I give these guys the absolute props on this. It's incredible to think that they already have tons of people doing unboxings on YouTube and more. Taking a look at the Loot Crate website will garner you something like this to look at. Sometimes there are themes for the crates, sometimes they're completely random - it just depends on what they've got planned for that month. They ship every month on the 20th, and if you order before 9 p.m. PST on the 19th, you will get that month's crate, otherwise you'll get the next month's crate. I asked both of the guys what their favorite items that they have shipped out so far are. Chris said that his favorite were the Hex Bugs, which I had never seen before, but after a demonstration I can say they are hilariously awesome in my book. Matt's favorite was the Dr. Who/Transformers T.A.R.D.I.S. Prime Shirt, which showed some of the wide range of their crates' items. When asked what they would want to see, they both agreed that they'd love to have Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors, while Matt would love an entire box dedicated to Admiral Ackbar. Some of their most popular items they've put in the boxes usually have to do with the retro items, such as the retro Nintendo or 80's cartoons that make their appearances. I won't lie, that Power Pack was pretty awesome! I'm a sucker for retro items, so they always make me smile. However, they are looking forward to the next generation of characters and heroes that will come with the new games being released, so that's exciting to see what might come from those new properties. If you haven't seen a property recognized that you love yet, fret not. They're always putting new and different things into the crates, and they may have a surprise come this holiday season. They spoke of wanting to do the Ultimate Fan Crates that will feature specific themes with their crates. You might see a Dr. Who themed crate, or who knows! I may actually get a My Little Pony crate if I beg hard enough around the holidays! Now you're probably wondering: what's the price? Well, I can tell you it's insanely reasonable. If you just want to pay for one month at a time it will run you US$19.37 a month. (US$13.37/m + US$6 shipping). If you'd like to pay every 3 months, you'll actually save a bit as it's US$55.11 (US$12.37/m + $6 shipping). Last, but definitely not least, is the 6 month option will cost you US$105.99 (US$11.67/m + US$6 shipping). I've gotten my subscription going, and actually my first crate was waiting for me when I got home from SDCC! Stay tuned to the site for my very first Loot Crate unboxing to come up very soon! [Thanks again to the guys at Loot Crate for meeting with me at SDCC! It was a lot of fun!]
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What's in the box?! The guys at Loot Crate will tell us!
Put together some of my favorite things; blind boxed items, geekery, and all around fun - And you have Loot Crate! At less than a year old, they're already making their mark in the gaming, geekery and collectible world. Once ...

Tomopop Interview: Holly Stanway

Jun 11 // Martin Siggers
How does it feel to have reached the third anniversary of the Cavey range? Absolutely amazing! I am constantly blown away by peoples amazing reaction to Cavey and all the lovely people I've met though it. Tell us how you got into the toy business. Was it a conscious decision or something that just happened? I am a professional model maker, mostly focusing on toy prototyping and production for mainstream clients. My studio was asked to collaborate on a piece for the Action Man 40:40 show in 2006, and it all just went from there! I had made bits and pieces for art shows before, but not customized toys like that. It opened my eyes to a whole new world! How did you go about contacting the artists for the birthday show? Was there anybody you particularly wanted a contribution from, or thought would be difficult to get? I contacted everyone personally through e-mail. I'm lucky enough to be friends with most of the artists in the show, so everyone was kind enough to say yes! The trickiest part for me was putting the artist list together; there are so many amazing customisers out there it is difficult to not get carried away. Do you think the designer toy scene in the U.K. has changed since you first launched Cavey? Does being here put you at a particular advantage or disadvantage? Very much so, the U.K. scene is much stronger than before. We held the first ToyCon UK in April this year and the quality of the work in the U.K. now is insane; there are so many artists putting out great product, and loads of up and comers. There is a real feeling of community in the U.K. toy scene, which I love. Do you still do all of the Cavey design work yourself, or do you have partners or assistants these days? I do all the design and prototyping, photography, website and social - I have a small team who help me with the bulk of the sewing. I sometimes bribe my friends with tea and cake to help me with all the packing and posting. Do you have a dream project or commission you'd love to work on? I've always wanted to work for Jim Henson making Muppets :) Usagi prototype, teased on Instagram What does the future hold for Cavey and yourself? We launched a new character by A Little Stranger earlier this year - usagi, who will be appearing in the form of a vinyl figure in the future. As for Cavey, more vinyl Cavey more plush Cavey! More cute stuff! [Many thanks to Holly for taking part and answering our questions! Find her work at A Little Stranger and Hey Cavey]
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A conversation with the Cavey creator
With the adorable Cavey range recently celebrating its third birthday, we figured it was high time to catch up with its creator Holly Stanway. Perhaps better known in the designer toy world as A Little Stranger, she's one of ...

Tomopop Interview: Renegadecow

Apr 21 // Rio McCarthy
Q. When did you become a fan of My Little Pony?  A. Around over a year and a half now, started watching towards the end of 2011. Q. Which character were you most excited to work on?  A. That would be Rarity. I'm a big, no, huge Rarity fan and I made that one for a trade with a Rarity plush by WhiteHeather. Ecstatic would be a better way to describe it. Q. Which has been your favorite so far?  A. Funny you should ask, as much as I like Rarity a lot, I find myself liking whichever pony automaton I'm currently working on the most. Haven't really figured out yet as to why.  Q. Who is next on your list?/Who do you still want to make the most?  A. Other than the ones I'll be donating for Cutie Mark Convention's charity auction (which is still a surprise as to what), I already have a lovely design of Derpy sketched out in my head. Q. What is the process you go through to create the automatons? (Is that the correct name you would like them called?)  A. Automata/automatons = tomayto/tomahto. Same banana. As for the process, it starts with a sketch in my head which is then put down roughly on paper. Once I've worked out the mechanical functions I commit them on proper, 1:1, detailed drawings which also serve as a guide. I make the box first, then all the gears and mechanisms, followed by the figures and finally the operating rods/wires. Q. How many parts does the average sculpture have?  A. I hadn't really thought of counting them before, but the current one (Pinkie Pie) has 96 with the bulk of it being pins, rods, and joints. Q. How difficult is it for you to have the pieces move properly as a whole? A. I get the most difficulty after the pieces have been painted as there's no going back should something turn out wrong. Often times the surfaces bind from the relatively rough protective lacquer coat and require polishing or a bit of lubrication. Q. How long do the pieces normally take to create? A. Ideally, I can finish them in three weeks. But more often than not it takes much longer than that by an extra couple from taking breaks. For time spent, it's between 110-160 hours on average. Q. How long have you been creating automatons in general? A. I really did just start making automatons just a little over a year ago with Rainbow Dash. I always had the fascination and intent in making them in the past, but before being a fan of MLP:FIM, I didn't really have a subject that motivated me enough to actually go through with it. Q. I've seen your screen printed Rarity shirt (and absolutely LOVE it!) What other arts/crafts do you do? A. I used to make theatrical props/costumes professionally and the occasional weapon replica (airsoft) as a hobby/business from time to time. I also do leathercraft when I'm in the mood and I used to be heavy into knitting, but I haven't really picked up my needles for a long time now. Q. Do you sell your work online? A. Only the automatons, yes, and on eBay. After making Pinkie Pie, though, I'm likely to start taking on personal commissions. Q. Do you have a website other than your deviantART? A. None really, but it's something I keep being told about and should really tackle one of these days... one of these days. Using "not being techno savvy" as an excuse only works for so long. Q. What name would you like to be known by? A. Chucky's my real nick or when I'm in a manly-man mood, Carlos (my first name). Gets cheesy easily though if you roll the Rs too much. Renegadecow works too, and is likely more known as it's the pseudonym I use on the net. Q. If there were one dream project you could do, what would it be? A. Haha! Other than the impossible automaton I've been planning to build for Lauren Faust? I do have a deep desire to make an automaton of Howl's Moving Castle especially since its the film's 10th anniversary this coming 2014. As to whether or not Hayao Miyazaki accepts fan art, I have still yet to find out. Q. And the most important question, who is best pony? ;D A. AMALTHEA IS BEST PONY! And there you have it, folks! A huge thank you to renegadecow for taking the time to answer my questions and have some fun with them. Also, that Last Unicorn reference? Priceless! Totally made my day. Be sure to check out the entire gallery of his work on his deviantART page, as well as his YouTube page for more videos, and let's hope to one day see the impossible with that Lauren Faust piece! Maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to commission him for a Rarity automaton of my own since I've drooled over the one he previously made over and over. Keep your eyes out, because I can imagine that Pinkie Pie piece he's working on will be just as incredible as the rest!
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The creator of the amazing My Little Pony automatons joins us!
Carlos, better known as renegadecow, is the creator of some of my favorite pieces of My Little Pony artwork that I have seen in recent years. These automaton creations are so incredibly creative, and so well executed, that I ...

Tomopop Interview: Kasey Tararuj

Apr 08 // Brian Szabelski
So first things first: tell us a bit about yourself, Kasey. I'm Kasey a.k.a. One-Eyed Girl! Born and residing in central New Jersey, the love of my life is my Australian Terrier named Leela, and I love dinosaurs and popsicles. In 2000, at the young age of 14, I became paralyzed due to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which has become huge motivation to create art. How did you first get into art and the custom designer toy scene? I've loved art since I was teeny tiny, but developed a great passion for it as i got older. Once I became paralyzed and realized art was a therapeutic and effective outlet, it pushed me to create more. As for custom toys, I think it was in 2006 that my good friend, knowing I was an aspiring artist, introduced me to the toy scene and custom toys. I saw the ones he had worked on and was very excited at the idea of it, so finally gave it a try myself and fell in love with it. Are there any artists that are especially influential on your designs? I'm constantly looking up new artists, following a ton of artist's sites, as well as toy sites and blogs. There are a ton of amazing artists that inspire me every day. I don't know if they're influential on my own designs, but seeing the work all these artists out there produce definitely inspire me to create as much as possible and push my ideas further. I need more hours in the day! Is there anything you particularly like (or don't like) about working with designer toys? I almost never keep to the basic shape of the original toy. I love coming up with new and different ways to use the platforms, especially to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. The platforms are a great starting point, but all the special additions are what make them unique. What I don't like about them (Munnys specifically) is cutting off ears and having to fill in those holes!! We need some ear-less Munnys to be produced. Someone get on that. Some folks probably recognize your name from winning Kidrobot's 2012 Munnyworld competition. How'd you feel when you found out you had won, and has it changed things for you at all? I was SO excited. I work really hard on my customs and I adore them probably more than anyone, so being recognized over the past few years in these contests has been amazing. Winning has gotten me some attention and commissions, but I always want more! All i want is the chance to create more little critters to put in a good home and be loved! How do you approach making custom figures? Do you start with an idea fully formed and work from there, or is it something where the idea grows as you're working on the piece? I usually know what kind of creature I'm going to make (and I have a constantly growing list of the ones I want to make!) but never really know how to do it until I actually do it. It pretty much just forms into what it needs to be. As for my little guys' specific personalities, most times I come up with the idea beforehand, but other times I take a look at the piece as I'm working on it and decide what kind of character he or she is destined to be. In a similar vein, a lot of your creations feel very animated and lively. Do you have little backstories or personalities developed for the characters you make? My little guys always have personalities! The most fun part about making them is figuring out what kind of ridiculous facial expression or persona I want to give them. I like to think that each character tells a story through its unique personality. Sometimes I make up little brief backstories to go with them, but I'd rather have the character stand for itself and share its story visually. That's why I'm an artist, not a writer! One of the things I've also noticed with a lot of your customs, Kasey, is that there's a pretty strong pattern of using Munnys, Dunnys and other vinyl figures in ways that might not seem obvious at first glance. (For example, Flamingor uses a Foomi's head for the feathered body and the body for the head) Is that something you'll determine ahead of time when coming up with a design, or is it more of a thing you determine while you're working on the custom? Yes! That's one of my favorite things to do. It's just exciting to me when it actually works out. It's something that I always determine ahead of time with the design, although there have been times working on a custom and seeing other ways to use parts in future customs. I have spent a lot of time staring at the different Munnyworld platforms just trying to come up with different ideas. I love it. Some folks might not know before reading this interview that you've been paralyzed since high school. Has that had any impact on your art, more so in themes and style choices? Yes! Well my art, mostly paintings, used to be a bit more dark and bizarre, based on the thoughts and feelings of living with a disability that I couldn't otherwise express. Once I accepted and even started to embrace the whole disability thing, I didn't need to have ALL my work based around those ideas, so I started with lighter subjects and got more playful. I just want to have fun with my customs, they make me smile and I amuse myself like crazy with them. Like I said, art is a form of therapy for me, so creating these little light-hearted characters is a nice blissful escape from reality for a while. Are there any other designer toy artists that you'd like to work with, perhaps on a collaboration? TONS. I'd name them all but the list would never end considering I find a new favorite artist every other day. A few I'd be ecstatic to collaborate with are Southerndrawl and Betso. Ohhhh, both would be so fun. Where can we expect to see your work next? Any upcoming shows or other events? Most of the shows I've been in over the years has displayed my 2D work, but I'm really trying to get my customs out there more. A few I'm looking forward to are a custom Lego art show at 1AM Gallery in San Francisco next month and "A Monster's Lullaby" at Strychnyn Gallery in Berlin which I'm really excited for in August. Is there anything else you'd like to mention to our readers? I REALLY love what I do; it gives me undeniable joy and I wouldn't feel complete without a paintbrush or a chunk of clay in my hand! Don't forget, I happily welcome commissions ... I think that everyone needs a little critter full of life and love in their home! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kasey!
Interview: Kasey Tararuj photo
Custom creations with character
One of the up and coming artists in the designer toy world, specifically with custom figures, is Kasey Tararuj. The New Jersey-based artist is developing a reputation for her cartoonish characters, and we here at Tomopop were...

Tomopop Interview: Tomasz Rozejowski

Apr 04 // Brian Szabelski
So first things first: tell us a bit about yourself, Tomasz. My name is Tomasz Rozejowski and I’m 29 years old. I was born in Poland but for the past 11 years I have been living in London, U.K. I am working within IT industry, but graphic design was always my passion, so recently, I started doing it as a freelancer. You can check out some of my work at www.trcreations.net and if you need anything creative to be done, let me know and I will see how can I help. I have always been into collecting action figures and ever since I remember I had tone of them from various cartoons, games, etc. How long have you been making custom figures? How did you start? Well, ever since I recall I was improving my toys; I remember when as I kid I was using my mum’s nail polish to repaint my figures - back then I didn’t know how and what materials to use but I was always trying. The customising journey started properly about 5 years ago with Final Fantasy Play Arts. I bought FF VIII Rinoa figure on eBay and it turned out to be a bootleg; she was out of scale with other FF VIII Play Arts but in scale with FFX so I decided to make a custom Lulu. At this point, I still didn’t know what clays/paints to use so I bought some cheap ones at the local hobby shop. The figure turned out to look pretty good but I wasn’t able to keep much articulation. At this point, I knew this is going to be fun and I started my research finding various good materials, techniques and some other great customs on the way. What made you choose the Play Arts Kai platform for your customs? I have been collecting action figures since a very young age, but when Play Arts figures came out, I was hooked. For the first time, Final Fantasy had greatly articulated, highly detailed figures of my favourite characters, so for me it was like with Pokemon – “Gotta Catch 'Em All”. I was buying all of the Play Arts figures that were out, but at some point, I got disappointed with the character range. Characters like Cloud and Sephiroth would have loads of merchandise but others wouldn’t get any love. That’s when I decided to take the matter in my own hands and I made entire Final Fantasy VIII team to complete the series. Witch each figure, I was getting better and I was able to give figures more and more articulation – I was so proud of my Play Arts as those are one of the kind pieces. You've also dome some custom action figures, namely from Batman: The Animated Series. How did those come about and are you planning any more of them in the future? Yes, I would love to make more Batman: The Animated Series figures and I already have parts for it – I just need time! I got into customising Bats figures thanks to the great Casimir from INANIMATE OBJECTS. I saw his work and I fell in love – his customs are amazing! I started with simple repaint of the figure, but then I was sculpting my own parts. My Bruce Wayne custom figure was a “Custom of the Week” at the Custom Justice website and it was the one I spent the most time on making, as I sculpted almost the entire figure. I am in contact with Casimir and I am very proud to say I will be making a few customs for him, including my improved Poison Ivy figure, to add to his amazing collection. Of the figures you've made, which are you the most proud of? Hm… that is a difficult questions as I think in a way I’m proud of most of my custom creations. If I would have to choose a few, I would say Final Fantasy IX Beatrix turned out great and Final Fantasy XII Fran. She was quite a challenge cause of all the small details on her armour and she is one of those never ending projects – always something to add or improve ;) How long does an average project take from start to finish, and can you walk us through some of your customizing process? I would say on average it takes about a month to make each figure; it doesn’t actually take that long but it is due to the spare time I have and the material I’m using. I sculpt with FIXIT Sculpt and takes about 5 hours for it to get hard; in this time, I can only work on one area of the figure so I don’t damage still wet clay on the other. I try to make all of my customs as detailed as possible and keep as much articulation as I can, but sometimes you need to make the sacrifice choosing between articulation and the look of the figure. I think the longest process for me is the planning and part searching. Once I know what character I want to make, I need to think what parts I can use to make it the best I can. Once I have all the pieces, I always start with the head/face as I think it is most important to make the character look as close to original as possible. Then I would normally start with the basics like the right height and shape of the body – I hate when the figures are out of scale with the rest in the series! Once I have this right, I would move on to sculpt all other details. Depending on what part I’m working on, it can sometimes take a couple of hours before I am completely happy with the sculpt. When the figure is finished, I would polish it, paint it and use the varnish on top to preserve the paint from rubbing off.  Do you have any "nightmare stories" about any of your projects? (That is, have you run into any big issues, etc.) Off course, I guess every customizer has those and I can give you a few examples: When I was sculpting my FF VIII Edea figure I spent quite a lot of time doing the “crown” thing at her back. When it was finally finished, I left it on the top shelf to get completely dry. Unfortunately, my flatmate decided it was a good time to clean the room and when she was dusting the shelves, she knocked out Edea on the floor and the figure broke completely. I was so angry that I didn’t work on this project for another couple of weeks, but finally I got back into it. Another example would be a Noel figure, After all the sculpting and painting was done, I applied varnish and left the figure outside to get dry. Even though he had a stand, because of the wind, it collapsed and all of the dirt and dust got stacked to the fresh varnish … I had to remove the paint and start from scratch. :-/ Tip to anyone who is new into this: Stay calm. It is not the end of the world if something goes wrong. You can always fix it.  Which characters haven't you made customs of yet, but would like to make eventually? There are quite few Final Fantasy characters I’m planning on making but due to the time or lack of the parts, I wasn’t able to start yet. I will definitely like to finish making XIII-2 Yuel and Hope to complete the cast, I’m hoping to make FF VII Cid, FF VIII Laguna, FF XII Bash and I would really like to do FF X Wakka. I have been working on Final Fantasy VIII Trading Arts Minis, so I would like to finish the entire cast in this form. What can we expect to see coming from you in the near future? At the moment, I am focusing more on TR Creations and my illustrations, but in terms of custom figures, I have some projects already started. I have been working on FF IX Steiner and FF XII Bash Play Arts figures and I have been commissioned to reproduce my Penelo. A lot of people are asking me if I could do a custom repaint of the figures after seeing my Lara Croft Play Arts figure; sometimes the sculpt of the figures is great but the paint job could use a little improvement. I have repainted many of my figures and I will be doing this for others people as well.Thanks for your time, and if anyone has any questions, do not hesitate to shoot me a message; you can also like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. Thank you very much, Tomasz! www.trcreations.net
Tomopop Interview photo
Customizer of Play Arts Kai figures, turning them into old friends from Final Fantasy and more
Tomasz Rozejowski (also known as Zelu1984 or TRCreations) isn't just any other figure customizer. His platform of choice is Play Arts Kai, and his creations from the Final Fantasy universe (and occasionally beyond) are incred...

Tomopop Original: Battle Beasts 2.0

Jan 18 // Scarecroodle
What's in a name? The major selling point for the new Battle Beasts line might largely derive from its famous namesake. Many of us have fond memories of the original toy line from our childhoods and many who haven't are at least aware of the franchise. However, the name might generate some amount of confusion in regards to how this line connects to the original.  For the record, Diamond Select Toys' Battle Beasts line is 100% not connected to the original line in any way, shape, or form despite taking on its name. In fact, the line itself was apparently in development even prior to the name acquisition. "We go after new licenses all the time," said Zach Oat, "and we hold a dozen or so at any given time. But, like any toy company, we have our own ideas for toy lines, based around our own concepts. In the course of doing concept work for an animal-themed toy line, we looked up 'Battle Beasts' to see who currently held the trademark; it was a great line, and everybody knows the name 'Battle Beasts,' even if they can't tell you much else about it. To our surprise, nobody had it -- the trademark had been allowed to lapse by the previous holder. We thought the name still had a lot of value left in it, and it dovetailed nicely with the products we were thinking about, so we registered it." The only thing that Diamond Select Toys actually acquired was the trademark for the name itself, which left things like the original designs completely off the table. The company would then implement their own ideas, concepts, and designs under the Battle Beasts label. Like the original line, Diamond Select Toys' vision is very aptly named in that it features animals designed for combat. Okay, but why are they Minimates? "No matter how a great a name or how great a concept you have," Zach explained, "launching a new toy line is not a sure thing. Yes, the comic book from IDW is a great read, but a comic book is no Saturday morning cartoon, and we are not one of the larger toy companies, with a pile of ad dollars to throw at a product launch. We felt we needed a hook, something to give kids and collectors an entry point into the line, so we decided to start with Minimates." Diamond Select Toys is no stranger to launching new properties through its Minimates brand, as the company has already produced original Minimate series like Calico Jack's Pirate Raiders and MAX: Mobile Action Xtreme. From DST's standpoint, it makes a lot of sense considering that Minimates are among the company's most successful product offerings. "We make Minimates for a dozen separate lines," said Zach Oat, "which means there's a dedicated fan base, they're also a known quantity at retail. So we could show them to a store buyer and they would know what we're talking about." Should the Battle Beast Minimates prove successful, there's a possibility that we may eventually see non-Minimate Battle Beasts. Zach expressed a need to "build Battle Beasts as a brand first, by producing more content and getting character-based, low-priced, introductory merchandise out in front of customers," before exploring these other avenues. That's not to say that there isn't a certain amount of flexibility within the Minimates brand itself. While many might think of Minimates, the first thing that so often pops into the mind is the "simple" LEGO-esque blank body design where the character differences lie in the paintwork. However, there have been many precedents for more sculpted designs or sculpted parts as seen in the Halo, Ghostbusters, and even Marvel Minimates lines. MODOK (of their Marvel vs Capcom 3 line) would be one example of this sort of complexity although I'm sure most people were more surprised by Amaterasu who appeared in the same line. Exceptions like Amaterasu aside, Minimates are "all compatible, customizable and interchangeable." This carries over into the Battle Beasts line since collectors have the option of mixing & matching parts from their various Battle Beasts. The ability to combine Battle Beasts adds a facet to the line's collectability (besides being an incentive to possibly buy multiple copies of some figures) and at least partly replaces the fun factor lost by not having rubsigns. Judging from the examples I've seen so far, it seems like parts from any Battle Beast should be compatible with any other Battle Beast. Part of this is likely owed to having a normal Minimate torso underneath their chests. Crafting a mythology While many of us have fond memories of the original Battle Beasts, those memories are a little fuzzy beyond the general toys themselves. As Zach points out, it's a name that everybody knows yet few people really remember details. "It's why we waited so long to launch Battle Beasts," said Zach, "seeding interest over a long period of time as we developed the brand more fully and worked on a media tie-in that would bring more eyes to the property. The IDW comic book has given the Battle Beasts even more exposure, and we're hoping that translates into interest from collectors and comic fans. We knew we wanted some kind of media tie-in, because we wanted Battle Beasts to be more than just a cool-looking toy line. We wanted it to be a brand that would exist beyond the toys, with characters people would feel a connection to, and a world that they would want to visit." Apparently the story's most basic concept isn't terribly different from the original Battle Beasts, insomuch as it involves alien animal hybrids who fight each other. Diamond Select and IDW Publishing take the story a little bit further than that: "In a not-too-distant solar system, there is a society of large, intelligent, anthropomorphic animals known only as the Beasts. While technologically advanced, possessing space travel capabilities and having settled on multiple planets, the Beasts are largely bloodthirsty, living for combat and loosely led by a group of warlords. Three Beasts - Vorin the ram, Merk the falcon and Gruntos the walrus - have sworn to find a path to peace, so that their people can grow as a civilization, and the bloodshed can stop. This doesn't sit well with the Warlords, who have put bounties out on the trio, putting them in the cross-hairs of any Beast looking to make some money. When a pair of unknown artifacts are discovered on Earth, the artifacts are sent to the Department of Defense for analysis. Bliss Reynolds, a linguist with the DoD, translates the accompanying writing, and inadvertently activates them, sending out a call that is mystically heard by all of the Beasts. The artifacts are two of the 'Dread Weapons,' highly powerful objects that give the bearer great power, a tempting prize for any Beast. But they are alternately known as the Praxis of Hope, and Vorin, Merk and Gruntos seek them out so that they may bring peace to their people. With thousands of Beasts descending on Earth, San Francisco becomes a war zone, with our three heroes facing an unbeatable army, and teaming up with Bliss and her brother Tate to find the artifacts and keep them from those who would use them for evil." Vorin, Merk, and Gruntos are among the figures available in the wave one selection across all retailers (albeit one paint deco for Toys "R" Us, another for everybody else). The human characters, Bliss and Tate, are exclusive to comic stores and specialty retailers. All the other characters that we've seen so far appear to be enemies. Zach stated that IDW Publishing was chosen to help create the comic because of their experience adapting other licenses. "They were also willing to help us take our concepts of how the Battle Beasts world works and turn them into a fully fleshed-out storyline. We have full story and script approval, but Bobby Curnow took our outline and turned it into a gripping saga, while Valerio Schiti took our designs and gave them a footing in the world he was creating. Bobby also created the naming conventions, which we have carried over into the toy line." When asked whether DST would be open to naming characters via fan polls, Zach replied that "our reluctance to do [fan polls] has been about getting a large enough cross-section of the fan base in order to generate an accurate representation of their wishes. We recently had a lot of fan interest in our Marvel Minimates 10th Anniversary fan poll, which was the first time we've ever done something like that, so I wouldn't rule out some type of poll related to Battle Beasts in the future." Evolution of the Battle Beast Fans may recall first seeing an unnamed crocodile Battle Beast which has since dropped off the map. I asked Zach whether we might eventually see a re-release of this old convention exclusive on a broader scale. He responded that there weren't any plans, as the line had changed greatly since then. "All of our concept work after the crocodile was less blocky and more organic," said Zach. "Once we partnered with IDW, and they found a great artist in Schiti, the look of the characters solidified, and the armor was given more of a basis in earth clothing. It was an aesthetic we liked, and we thought the new look would give our line its own identity, one that generic armor would not." The crocodile seemed a lot closer to the traditional Battle Beasts design so, on some levels, I suppose this represents a clearer break from the original franchise. Beyond that, the trend towards a "real world basis" (in terms of armor, mind you) certainly has its perks, such as a reptilian samurai. What can we expect going forward? "There are a lot of Beasts in the comic -- I'm not even sure how many, we don't have a master list --" said Zach, "and making all of them might take a decade or more, but [it] would certainly be cool [to make everybody]. We've begun development on Series 2, and have a tentative line-up in place, but certain details hinge on how well the first series does at specialty and at Toys "R" Us. We'd love to put out a few waves a year, but we'll see how Series 1 performs and adjust accordingly." "We haven't created the kid-friendly Saturday morning Battle Beasts cartoon yet, but hopefully that's next." In the mean-time, you can keep up to date by checking the Battle Beasts Facebook page. [ Special thanks to Zach Oat of DST for taking the time to talk to us ]
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Same great Battle Beasts name, all-new Battle Beasts flavor
In the late 1980s, Takara released a popular line of 2-inch anthropomorphic animals called Beastformers which, following localization by Hasbro, would later become better known in the West as Battle Beasts. The toy line was a...

Tomopop Interview: Drew Oliver

Nov 16 // Natalie Kipper
How did you come to create this toy line? Were you always interested in toys? In science? I've always been interested in small things and in hidden worlds. I liked to read Stuart Little and James and the Giant Peach as a child, and I think the microbes are an extreme extension of those sorts of worlds. But I've also always liked making things, and not simply imagining them or writing about them. So creating the microbes real has been a fun and rewarding project from the beginning. Why microbes? Besides my personal attraction to small things, it's difficult to find new areas where the imagination can play. I think of microbes as occupying the exact opposite end of the spectrum as space travel, which is huge and far away. There are lots of stories told about space, but not so many about the microscopic world. Of course, while Dr. Johnson may have remarked that "there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea," I do think that there is a lot of space in the microscopic world for the imagation to play. GIANTmicrobes toys appeal to both children and adult collectors. Do you find yourself designing with one or the other in mind? I always try to direct my designs toward the audience that I think will appreciate them. But my sense of children is that they respond to many of the same things that adults do. For example, on the Stem Cell design, although it is directed at adults (and doctors and scientists particularly), the oversized eyes create a sense of infancy which is universally appealing. Are there any of the 2012 holiday releases that you are particularly excited about? Why? We try not to add complexity for complexity's sake, but I always particularly like when we are able to add new design features in order to capture a new concept. For example, the Cancer doll that we are releasing can be "cured" by turning it inside out. I like the way that design function represents reality. I noticed that GIANTmicrobes(r) has begun to release toys of animals, like the minnow and the upcoming lab mouse, as well as microbes. Is this a trend that we will see continue in the future? It is an extension of the original idea, which was representing very small things. While minnows and mice are much larger than amoebas of course, they are nevertheless archetypal small creatures: when you think of a small fish, you think of a minnow; when you think of a small creature, you think of a mouse. (Of course, because they are associated with labs and medical work, mice are doubly tied to the existing line.) It's unlikely that we'd use the GIANTmicrobes(r) line to create "regular" animals, but I do sometimes muse that, in the grand scheme of the world, we ourselves are all microscopic. But since that's hardly our concept of ourselves, it would be rather more ironic than what we've done to date. Your vinyl figures seem to be more anthropomorphized than the plushes. What was the reasoning behind that? As the GIANTmicrobes(r) world continues to develop, we are adding more and more personality to our creatures. This pulls them farther away from reality, but the Originals are still there for everyone who is interested in purer art. However, more anthropomorphization allows more room for imagination and gives them space and freedom to grow. How do you decide which microbes to make next? The GIANTmicrobes(r) collection has a number of different categories -- from the true "germs," to the civilization of microbes found in the body, to the freedom-loving microbes who mind their own business (like the Amoebas), to the larger Dust Mites, and insects, and now Minnows and Mice. We try to develop new designs that keep the world balanced. We also try to find creatures that will keep the emotional balance: some scary, some kind, some interesting and unusual. Are there any of your toys that you are particularly proud of? Why? I like the ones that push the concept-boundaries of GIANTmicrobes(r) the farthest. That includes both the very original designs (Common Cold, Flu, Sore Throat, and Stomach Ache) since they introduced the concept, but also the Brain (which started us on the body) the Amoeba, the Beer & Bread (which inaugurated the food microbes), the Martian Life, and of course the Minnows and Mice. Is there a message that you would like to make to our readers? If there is a message to GIANTmicrobes(r) beyond the simple fun of it, it's that even very small things have significance -- whether for good or ill -- and often much more than we appreciate.  And that does include us. [Thank you, Drew Oliver, for participating in this interview!]
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We have a chat with the founder of GIANTmicrobes
Here at Tomopop, we recently talked up GIANTmicrobes' exciting new holiday line-up. As a fan of the brand, I didn't think it could get any better than simply sharing my love of their work, but I was joyfully proven wrong...

Tomopop Interview: Jim Hillin

Sep 17 // Natalie Kipper
How did you get started with making the Zombie Bunny plushes? Well, it was a long road that finally pointed at having to get the guys made.  First, I am a visual effects artist in Los Angeles. Yes, the guys with the smoke and mirrors. I've worked on a bunch of things your readers have probably watched: Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Interview with the Vampire, True Lies, Disney's Dinosaur, Spider-Man 2, Ghost Rider, I Am Legend, Speed Racer, 2012 and Priest. I am also screenplay writer, and have been doing that for almost as long. In around 2005, I got really frustrated with not being able to get any of my projects going (I'd had two optioned, but nothing made), and after reading Jennie Breeden's "Devil's Panties" comic and laughing my butt off, I suddenly realized I could do one, too. I figured I would keep my comic simple and create its humor from the sleep-deprived world that I lived in and make it about people who create Visual Effects. After the second year, one of the characters started seeing Zombie Bunnies in her nightmares, but realized the nightmares were really fun little adventures she had with the dream critters. The Bunnies storyline began to take over and before long about one out of three comics had bunnies in them. I had started attending Comic-Con as an exhibitor during my first year as a comic artist. Yes, lucky, I know, but by the fourth year, we had zombie bunnie books and t-shirts and they sold like hot cakes.  Oooo, the public was telling me something. We LIKE these guys. So, my business partner (and spouse) started thinking, we should make plushes to bring to Comic-Con!That is how it started. Where are you located? I am in Los Angeles, but originally from Texas. I was born and raised in Corpus Christi, and went to school at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Came to California to be a studio musician originally. How long have you been in the business of toy-making? Just over one year. Before that, books, buttons and t-shirts. What makes Zombie Bunnies special? Well, I think they have just the right balance of dark and light. They're really cute little fluffy, soft guys, but their characters are inherently mischievous; they're just comically bad at it. What can we expect in the future from you? Now that we have made it through two Comic-Con cycles and our success is growing, we're thinking of bringing out some props and costumes for the bunnies next Comic-Con. My partner (spouse) is a costume designer, and she has some ideas. Where can we purchase one of your Zombie Bunnies? The answer until this week was you had to find me somewhere, like at Comic-Con, but now, for the first time, we have an online store we just opened today! It's still in Beta (bugs to work out), but everything works. You can actually buy a Zombie Bunnie and have it shipped to you. Yeh! You can find it at: http://www.freewebstore.org/zombie-bunnies. With any luck, I will have a shorter URL soon. Is there any message you wish to leave with our readers? Two things: 1.) I would love to hear what they think about our bunnies, and of course, any suggestions about what we should be thinking about in our future. 2.) Don't look under the bed or in the back of your closet late at night. It's dark in there. Thank you, Jim, for the opportunity to do this interview! You can buy a Zombie Bunny for yourself from Jim's store here. 
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Meet the King of the Zombie Bunnies
I was first introduced to the wonderful world of Jim Hillin's Zombie Bunnies at this year's WonderCon. That fluffy face with those dead eyes (the bunny's, not Jim's) really told that me that there was something special about ...

Doll Break: Interview with Celine of Citron Rouge

Aug 27 // Brigitte Coovert
How did you start collecting dolls? It was in 2004, I was already very interested in Japanese art toys, figurines, and Japanese/Korean pixel art. I knew of and really appreciated Volks and the four sisters, Alchemic Labo and the Unoa, and Dollstown and the Seola. While visiting some Japanese/Korean websites I discovered Pullip dolls from Jun Planning and I was more seduced by vinyl dolls than resin (probably because they were closer to toys and figurines). I found them very pretty and with no precise idea in mind I got both a Raphia and a Latte, one for keeping "stock" and another one for trying some little changes like face-up, wig, etc. La fée morte (Dead Fairy) Did you start customizing your dolls straight away or was it something that happened gradually over time? When I bought these two Pullips I had no precise idea of what to do with them. I haphazardly took some photos and made some clothes, but I wasn't absolutely convinced. It didn't fit me, it wasn't me. It was only two years later (or something like that) with my first Blythe when I really wanted to add a seriously artistic mood to my dolls and was more convinced. At the beginning it was exclusively photography. I'm crazy about 60s and Mod culture and I found in Blythe the perfect medium for doing something in that mode. Step by step, and out of curiosity, I finally tried almost all kinds of dolls, vinyl as well resin, and if the vinyl offered me the possibilities to express my passion for the retro eras, the resin was also perfect to express my others passions: horror and erotic arts, mythologies, BME, and natural differences. Now I'm working and having a lot of fun with these two different styles. Laudanum, Sirène-fleur toxique (Laudanum, toxic flower-Siren) What was the most challenging part of customizing that you had to learn? Nothing seemed to me to be really complicated or difficult. You have just to think about the best way to obtain the final result you're looking for and slowly and seriously work on it. Learning and acquiring the proper equipment answers many of the questions. Even if vinyl or resin dolls are possibly expensive in price, they will stay very beautiful objects, and I don't have any regret about completely transforming them; it's my way to give them life. Black Widow Do you find that your work is easily misunderstood by the people who view it? To me my dolls are not so strange or offbeat. I just express who I am and by what I'm artistically or personally interested in (or both). Some themes or obsessions follow me for a very long time, sometimes since my childhood. My work is in complete continuity with general Asian and inter-Asian erotic culture, so maybe for a non-Asiatic person there is something curious about it, and I can understand that perfectly. By the way, even if my dolls are different, I've always received only positive feedback, compliments, and support. There's been absolutely no incomprehension of my work or obligation to justify myself. Anyway, this is something I never did and have always refused to do. I create my dolls in that way just for me, I don't need people's approval, and there are enough different styles of dolls so everyone can find happiness. Les Précieuses ridicules en vacances (The Precious Ridiculous Holiday) I believe that good art can be challenging or even upsetting to the viewer. With creations that suffer from childhood deformities or make mention of rape, what are you hoping that the audience will take away from it? To be completely honest, not finding my dolls especially offbeat, I've never asked myself what people would feel in front of my work. I began the heavy mods out of pure selfishness, for my personal pleasure, and to express themes that I especially love, but my work has never had the pretension to convey any message of tolerance or anything in that way. I just do what I like and what inspires me, people join in or not. Besides I hate decrypting each element of my work, either the heavy mods or photography. Everyone is free to see/read what she or he wants to, but I do not impose anything. Sometimes it's very interesting and curious to see with one common image that interpretations can vary widely. Idolize, papesse (Idolize, Pope) You said that your work is in tune with Asian erotic culture and that you don't expect people outside of Asia to understand it, but you are French, correct? I would have assumed your work was more in line with the French feminist culture and functioned as critique, especially with your re-interpretations of mythology. This is, in part, in line with Asian erotic culture, but not exclusively; my inspirations are various and international. I never chose the Asian erotic culture specifically, it's just the culture which speaks to me and seduces me, more than the European one, for example. There is a melting pot of what feeds me artistically, since my childhood and teenage years, in very different categories, and this provides themes, which at first have no common threads anyway, mixed and re-combined. I happily mix Greek or Scandinavian mythology, or traditional religious representations, with Asian erotic iconographies. However, my work is probably the opposite of contemporary general feminism. My female figures are often enslaved and dominated, morally as well as physically, but only by choice, not by constraint, there is never rape connotation. I often call them "willing victims." They find some form of pleasure and personal accomplishment in it. Again, my work does not denounce anything, there is no social speech of society. What I explore visually stops at what might be called carnal and emotional experiences, all transposed on substitutes of human beings, allowing interpretations far beyond human limits. Madone des péchés (Madonna Sins) Mythology and religion are major themes in your work, what is it that attracts you to these two genres? When I was a child, I read a lot of tales, legends, and mythologies and, as an adult, I gained a spirituality that is very pronounced and very personal. It doesn’t coincide with any existing religion, to my knowledge, but Catholicism is the one that they taught me, so naturally I tend toward this one when I want to exploit some aspects of religion. What I always liked in mythology and religion (which in a sense is also a form of mythology, with its stories and its creatures) is that there are still several reading levels that promote the development of imagination. Everyone is free to have their own interpretation and vision of the thing. And mythologies and religions have always dealt with the complexity of the human being, soul and body, sins, good and evil, with a certain mystique about something that is obsolete and ultimately non-existent. The human being is what he is, in all circumstances, for better or worse. This is what makes his spiritual and emotional wealth and his interest. You take commissions for you work, but are there any plans to open a Citron Rouge shop in the future? I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in prints of you work. Some people asked me about this in the past, but I didn’t find my work sophisticated enough to be for sale. Now I'm more pleased and satisfied with it and I'm thinking about the opening of a prints shop. By the way, I just recently opened a postcards shop with my friend Amaktine, about our collaborations in a totally grotesque artistic universe. You can find them at Les Petites Filles Modèles (above). Also I regularly sell some OOAK (one-of-a-kind pieces) that are fully customized. Thank you to everyone for reading this interview with Céline, who graciously gave us her time and allowed us to use her images. Keep up with her work on her blog, Pretty Decay (NSFW), and her Facebook page, Reddish Fetish. I hope you all enjoyed reading the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it! It will be business as usual for next Doll Break, so remember to send those tips and ideas to brig@tomopop.com or leave them in the comments.
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Céline, also known as Citron Rouge, is not your average doll customizer. The darkness of her aesthetic is matched only by her talent with not just customizing, but photography as well. With a solid body of work on ba...

Tomopop Interview: Ryan Roberts

Mar 17 // Brian Szabelski
Tell us a bit about yourself, Ryan. I'm an enigma ... ha. I'm a soon to be a 35-year-old kid who's found himself socially a bit awkward, and making up for it a bit by expressing myself through humor and images. I'm a sucker for conspiracy theories and all that stuff and it's finally starting to take a more serious tone in my work. But I've got lots of wacky pop stuff I'm working on, too. I need to get out more. What brought you into photographing toys? And what types of toys do you like to shoot in particular? I was in love with photography before the toys came along. I would shoot all kinds of different series. Eventually, I mistakenly took an extreme close-up macro photo of one of my Star Wars figures and the results were pretty shocking. I loved toys as a kid, like stay in my room all day and play toys, all weekend, in the sand, in the rocks, with my neighbors, on and on. And embarrassingly that went on a little bit longer than the rest of my friends. But by my mid- to late twenties I had put the toys on the shelf for nostalgia more than to bust out and have wars with. So bringing my love of photography and toys together was the paradigm harmonic. Well, I like shooting some of the old vintage toys on a nostalgic level but the new art toys are really colorful and come from such more personal, artistic places of their creators so they're a lot easier to work with. Some of the new toys these days are begging for a backstory where as we all know who Cobra Commander was and what his MO was. The key is twisting those old figures' MOs on their heads and coming out with something new I guess, or something fresh. It took me coming up with a punchline to get into a deeper realm where I could explore some new boundaries and put my over-active imagination to work. What kind of equipment do you usually work with? I use a camera and some lights and use Photoshop to get my images to come to life. I guess I'm still insecure as I don't like giving away my gear by brands and specs and whatnot. I'm sort of proud to have taught myself a lot and to have found my niche so I feel like keeping my game kinda hush. Maybe that will change down the road. How long does it take you to set everything up for your photos (backdrop, lighting, etc.)? Man, it can vary from an hour or so to forever in some photos. Sometimes I have to ad-lib and swap out figures and stuff until the story seems complete. Sometimes, it all comes down to one magical prop or something that sets the whole piece off. I love when that happens and lately it's been happening a lot. The toy gods must be happy or something. Are there any photographers that have been an inspiration to you? How so? I look at almost every other photographer's work out these days, and I feel jealous and wish I knew what they knew. In time I'll pick up more tricks and stuff. And there's this guy, Brian McCarty, that people keep telling me to check out, never heard of him. Ha, just kidding. McCarty's work is of course super tight and he'll always be a mountain top and my predecessor or whatever but I think our work is different enough to co-exist I guess. For the record, I didn't see his work and then go, "Oh, I should do that." Like I said, I need to get out a bit more and I didn't see his stuff until some friend of mine showed me his Monkey Assassin a good while after the fact. However, once seeing his work, I was able to figure out how high the bar had been set. He's a really smart cat. I guess I'm still an outsider doing my thing trying to make my stuff better and better until it's worthy of the artists whose toys I shoot. You've also dabbled a bit recently in video. Tell us a bit about what brought you into doing video and what you think video adds to your artwork. Ya know, if they had Mac laptops this fast when I was in college I would have gone into video, no doubt. It's so fun and rewarding. I'm also a DJ so once I started mixing music to video, I about freaked out. I can see why editors can stay up all night cutting video and where the energy and enthusiasm comes from. Once I upgraded to a camera with HD video on it, I knew I had to shoot videos of my toys. The first one was the Two Counts Kill Nine video. I laid down a tight Autechre track and started cutting all the weird footage I took into a story. I instantly thought they'd be rad on Adult Swim and thus the fake logo I added to the end of them, Adult Wims. I sent them to a friend's friend's wife at Adult Swim and haven't heard back. I would freak out if they played them. I know we're not supposed to be star-struck and all that "Stop Smiling" shit but I'm such a excited little kid when it comes to dealing with big stuff like that. Maybe that'll change, too. Have there been any shoots you've wanted to do, but when it's come down to it, things just didn't work out as you'd hoped? Ha yeah, I have a handful of photos in my collection of unreleased work that make me cringe. Sometimes, they're so vibrant in my head and the angles are all there and I sit there for hours trying to make something even remotely bearable to no avail. I've had to reshoot a couple of them because I knew they would look good if I could figure them out. And sometimes the final result is way better than I was even going for. I keep try to shoot a photo with an actual Popeyes Chicken sign in the background to no avail. So I went to Home Depot and bought some wood to create my own scaled down version of the sign. What really sucks is when I've been working on a shoot for about five or six hours and the whole set collapses and I have to start over. Or I wrap on the shoot and take the set down to realize I should have moved something or forgot to include a prop or a figure. My garage studio can get crazy with tons of toys and props all over the place so sometimes I nearly mess shit up. That said even though I love to drink, I don't drink a much or at all when I shoot these days because it can dull my sharpened focus and determination to nail a piece. I had this Acid Sweeties shot where I was going to shoot about twenty some of those figures and Schlitz after Schlitz it kept getting more and more retarded. I was like, "Does this camera not know what to do?" I drank until it turned into something useable in my outtakes or whatever when I make a coffee table book down the road but nothing I want to show off. It had the potential to be so symmetric as I was aiming to play off lots of repetition and geometric placements and angles. I told myself that even if I was sober I wouldn't have figured it out. We'll never know. What are your plans for 2012? Man, I've been making lots of good connections and have lots of things I hope come true but if it all blows up and the zombies eat my face, it was a fun ride and I hope I made some people smile or think. I'm actually a bit of a "doomsday prepper" so that's a fun and scary habit to have. We just had a billion tornadoes hit the Midwest and South today so it ought to be a fun storm season down here in Nashville this year as the galactic alignment causes more and more disturbances in the ether and whatnot. What do you like to do when you're not shooting photos? I like watching TV and movies a lot. I wish I played more video games but there's almost no time for that these days. I like to make mixes so I'm always hopping around through different genres making eclectic mixes. I do lots of editing to the tracks so they can end up pretty unique. I been making these mixes I call "Cloud" mixes that are pretty tight. I make about one a year. Last year I made number 7. My friends ask for those like they're from another diminution or something. I don't know, I need to get out more ... did I say that already? Thank you, Ryan, for the opportunity to do this interview! You can follow Ryan on Twitter and Facebook.
Ryan Roberts photo

While a lot of our interviews on Tomopop focus on artists, there are plenty of other folks in the toy world that don't do their work in resin and vinyl. In fact, some ply their craft from behind a camera lens. One of those ph...

Tomopop Interview: Pepe Hiller

Feb 06 // Brian Szabelski
Tell us a bit about yourself, Pepe. What's your background? I'm a 30-year-old designer, artist and architectural model builder with 12 years of experience in model building and prototyping. Based out of Zurich, Switzerland, I've received my Bachelor of Design degree in Industrial Design/Scenographical Design from Zurich University of the Arts. I started to create my own toys a few years ago out of resin, and since then, I'm fully dedicated to the toy world! My recent work is mainly focused on limited series of self-produced wood designer toys. Woodsprites by Pepe What brought you into working with wood for your creations? I‘m a guy who loves to try out new materials, tools and techniques. I usually work with a lot of different plasics at my day job and not that much with solid wood. So wood brings a great diversion to me and to my own design process. I totally fell in love with wood soon after I started to do my first wood toys. It‘s such a beautiful material and the diversity of all the characteristics, colors and grains is so wonderful work with! How long does the process usually take from start to finish when creating your wooden creatures? Usually, I'm very fast at doing a first prototype of an idea I have in my sketchbook and want to work on. But then it can take weeks to find the perfect shape and refine all the details to the finished version. When I'm satisfied with the design, I usually do a first small limited handmade series of 5 to 20 pieces for shows, stores or for releases directly trough my online shop. Besides the needed time for designing and producing pieces, there are always other tasks like shooting pictures, writing background stories, thinkering about packaging and promoting my toys that consumes a lot of time, too. What inspires you most in regards to your style and designs? I‘m a person who loves to play on all design playgrounds myself, so I try to keep my eyes open for outstanding art every day. The list of the artists who‘s work I admire goes from the Art Noveau artist Alfons Mucha to the conceptual architect Lebbeus Woods or to the contemporary sculptor Ron Mueck. There are also a lot of designers from the art toy scene whose work I do follow closely and try to get an idea where we're heading with our niche art. One of the most inspiring experiences for me is to meet other artists or collectors of the very friendly "toy family." It's so nice get to know new people, share interests and support each other with new projects and ideas. Keeper of the Sotek custom Qee In addition to working with wood, you also do customs of vinyl figures as well as original resin pieces. Which medium do you usually find you enjoy working in the best? Which one is the easiest to work with? I would say for now it's definitively the woodwork that I enjoy the most. A lot of toy designers and toy collectors give me positive feedback about my wood toys and they all want to see more wood characters from me! :) I'm also always on the look out for materials that I can combine with wood. I recently just dabbled my toes into digital modeling and rapid prototyping. It's amazing that I'm able to digitally sculpt a figure, and hours later, I hold the design as a 3D print in my hands for further production. I just love to jump from digital high-tech methods to the true handcrafted work all the time and see what's best for my needs on each project. You've already collaborated with Cris Rose on his Arborobots series. Are there plans to work with other artists? Do you have any artists that you really want to work with? I really enjoy working with other artists and designers from all around the world! I already can tell you the collaboration with Cris Rose wasn't a one off thing; there will be a lot more Arborobots this year and the family will grow! It's great to push things further with other creatives that have the same urge to create awesome designs and new toys. I already have tons of projects and collabs in line for the this year, but honestly, I don't have art idols I'm running after ... I do like the work of a few great artists very much, but when it comes to collaborations, everybody out there could be a great partner to design an amazing figure with. In addition to your style, there's also an underlying idea of eco-friendliness, not only in your characters' stories but their materials as well. How much of an importance do you place on that in your pieces? It‘s a good feeling when I can use renevable and eco-friendly materials like wood for the most of my creatures, but on the other hand, I don‘t want to limit myself too much with this. I also like to work with resin or vinyl once in a while. So I'm not the eco-activist kind of guy, but I try not to waste too many resources and to be happy with what I've got. Arborobots by Pepe and Cris Rose What are you working on for the future right now? Anything you can share with us? Besides a few comissions and shows in sight, I'm already working on a bunch of collaboration wood projects with very talented artists from the UK and U.S. Like I mentioned, there will be new series of wood crafted "Arborobots" with Cris Rose from London and a little collab with Lunabee from the UK as well. I'm also trying to push the very small art toy scene here in Switzerland a little and hopefully can make it more accessible for a wider audience and new local collectors. And, of, course there will be hordes of new Pepe Hiller wood toy designs crafted by myself. When you're not in the studio, what do you like to do for fun? Designing toys really is my fun part! To be able working on my own stuff at my workshop is far most the greatest joy! Besides that, I try to stay informed about the latest buzz in the art toy and design scene and once in a while, I go out for a ride over the Swiss Alps with my bike. Thank you, Pepe, for the opportunity to do this interview! You can follow Pepe on Facebook here.
Pepe Hiller photo

While most of the time on Tomopop, we deal with the world of plastics or resins or coldcast pieces, Pepe Hiller's wooden creatures from his Swiss studio are just as eye-catching and creative as anything else you might se...

Tomopop Interview: Daniel Zana and MCA

Jan 10 // Brian Szabelski
Give us a little bit of back-story about each of your backgrounds. How did you get into the scene? MCA: Well, I have always been a fan of trading, still am, and once I got a web site up, I made sure I had a "Trades" pages, on this page I listed many things I was/am into. One item listed was Toy2R, I had just seen a few record themed Qees online (these were early early Qees) — not sure what they were, but thought they were cool & added em up in my list. Anyways ... Raymond Choy (owner of Toy2R) was searching the interweb one day and came upon my site and dug the characters I had going ... so he emailed and explained what he was up to and asked if I'd wanna try my hand at designing some Qees ... That's how it all started. Daniel Zana: I had enjoyed the work of LA artists like Luke Chueh, Tara McPherson, Thomas Han, and Joe Ledbetter after seeing their stuff at Cannibal Flower art shows in downtown LA. I also remember picking up issues of Juxtapoz and visiting Giant Robot in LA, where they had tons of great art and Japanese toys. I later came across the Kidrobot store in LA which really introduced me to vinyl toys and more artists in the scene. I picked up a Dunny and from that point on, I was hooked. MCA, I've seen your style described as simple, yet whimsical and instantly recognizable. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Who were your influences and how did it come to be? MCA: I am a fan of simple characters, characters that don't need a lot to capture the spirit of them — that's what I try an do. So, I try my best to keep it basic and rough and make sure they seem alive after I am done drawing them. My first influence was my grandfather that I always drew with when I was a kid. He really got me going and I haven't stopped since. As a kid I used to draw from Mad magazine (Sergio Aragones!) and  from comics like Dennis the Menace, Heathcliffe and stuff like that. I was always into more cartoony stuff than super hero stuff. So I guess like a lot of folks who start off just copying stuff, I got sick of that & just tried making up my own guys...For MCA: What do you find the most invigorating or captivating about working with vinyl toys? Is there anything in particular that keeps making them fun for you? MCA: I think making your first original sculpt toy is pretty awesome, just to see it sitting there all 3D, def wild. So yea, when I got the 1st sample test pieces of my Evil Ape, that was the best. I have always been a big toy fan, trying to find odd guys at yard sales or flea markets — weird monster and monkeys and other unknown treaures as well as Toys 'R' Us style toys — going thru the clearnce rack & trying to find cool stuff ... So being able to now make toys is wild and yea as long as folks ask, I'll be down to work on new toy designs. So tell me a bit about how The Vinyl Frontier came to be, Daniel. What was the inital spark? Daniel: I wanted to start a new long form doc project; something that I could do my self in a DIY kind of way and work on something that would keep my interest for a while. I had never tried making a documentary and the world of vinyl toys was new to me, so I figured, why not explore that world and show my findings to the viewer, whether they are rabid collectors or just picking up their first Dunny. Daniel, when you were shooting, how did the actual process go? Were the artists willing to talk to you openly? Were there any artists you wanted to interview that you didn't get to? Daniel: The process was certainly a learning experience for me and over the course of four years, I learned so much about the vinyl toy community as well as what it takes to make a film. Most of the artists I spoke to were incredibly friendly and open to chatting about their work and what inspires them. There were definitely a few amazing artists who I would have loved to talk to, but because of time constraints and limited resources I could only get to many while I was at Comic Con in San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York. With a roster of about 35 artists, I think the film gives a pretty comprehensive look at the vinyl toy scene. Did you run into any issues while shooting? Daniel: I came to a point after shooting the film where I didn’t know where to finish. It's hard because just when I think I have it all, I get introduced to so many new amazing artists whose work I wanted to show. But in the end, it was more important to me that people see what I had been filming for the last few years than have it be some ongoing film that never saw the light of day. How did the two of you decide to come together and work on a vinyl toy? MCA: Well, Daniel asked if I was interested and I thought the new Baby Sharky by Keith Poon was a cool design ... so I gave it a shot and out came Vito!  Daniel: After chronicling the fantastic vinyl toy world, I definitely felt like creating a piece with an artist featured in the film. Since through the film, we follow Keith and Nemo as they make their 8-inch Sharky, I had developed a great relationship with Keith. He had mentioned that he had a new Baby version of the Sharky that was due to come out and I figure that shape would look great with the artwork of MCA, which is sort of playful and menacing all at the same time. And after a few short months of development and refinement, Sharky "Vito" Finzetti was born.One of the major changes since the end of the film (and the documentary hints at it throughout) is the rise of the self-produced toy in the vinyl world, along with the use of other media like resin and bronze alongside vinyl. MCA: Yea, some great stuff coming out of all that — Le Merde is a madman. I wanna try my hand at sculpting. Daniel: I’d say more power to the people! With the recession affecting just about everything these days, companies have been less likely to produce something with a newcomer. I also think that when people like Le Merde, Sucklord, Arbito, and Sergey Safonov start putting out their own creations it inspires the entire scene and show that you don’t need to be a huge artist to have a toy exist. For both MCA and Daniel: How do you think the toy scene will change in the next 5-10 years?  MCA: I think the scene will continue, but maybe the releases will slow down or maybe complete opposite with artist just all doing it themselves and producing all kinds of wild stuff! Have you seen what Luke is doing with Grody Shogun? Sick stuff. Daniel: I think that collectors will be a bit more discerning about what they’ll be collecting toywise. There are so many toys coming out all the time and after a certain point, collectors can only buy so many pieces. I also think that we’ll be seeing a lot more resin work out there and plenty more artists who will work with plush, wood, metal, etc. For MCA, what projects are you working on next, outside of Fleabaine with Plastic City Toys?  MCA: As far as new toys, Fleabaines has been delayed — but hopefully we'll see him in the near future! I have a few new things in the works with Toy2R and maybe a figure w/Super 7 (based on MAJK characters I designed w/JK5). And for Daniel, would you ever consider doing a sequel to The Vinyl Frontier with some of the newer artists that have risen in the last couple of years? Daniel: I have definitely thought about taking another look at the vinyl toy movement and the pieces they produce. Whether you call it art or toys, it’s always evolving and taking the form of new mediums and new artists are constantly coming up with new wacky characters.   Right now I’m working with the Army of Snipers Crew (Angry Woebots, JRYU, and Ritzy Periwinkle) to document their work with the Little Lotus Project. Along with 7 other artists from around the world, they’ll be traveling to Mae Sot, a city on the Thai/Burma border and doing art workshops with refugee children and raising money through a traveling art show in New York, LA, and New Zealand. Thank you, Daniel and MCA, for the interview!
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For those of you that haven't seen it, The Vinyl Frontier is a documentary that takes a look inside the vinyl toy world. Directed by Daniel Zana, the movie officially released in 2011 and came out on DVD in 2011. Recently, in...

Tomopop Interview: Rotofugi's Kirby Kerr

Sep 21 // Brian Szabelski
So to begin with: how'd you get into collecting? What was that first piece that sparked everything? I've been a collector pretty much my whole life. Toys, yes, but before that it was cameras, and after Whitney and I met and married, we were really into snow domes and lunch boxes for awhile. Right near the end of 2003, Wired magazine had an article about what everyone was calling "urban vinyl" at the time, and I knew almost instantly it was something I wanted to see more of. The first vinyl we had in our collection were Baby Qees that I bought for Whitney as a Valentine's present in February 2004. I've read this story in another interview, but since I know many of our readers have not, tell us how Rotofugi came to be. Ha, I hope I tell it the same way! Basically, Whitney and I met and married in Chicago in 1998 (we were Internet dating pioneers!). In 2002, we moved to Little Rock, Ark., to be closer to family and while we were still in Little Rock we got a taste of vinyl through the aforementioned Wired article. In early 2004, we decided to move back to Chicago, and started looking for a store that sold the stuff we were now getting into (designer vinyl). We looked around a bit, and found a few comic shops selling some vinyl (shout out to Quimby's and Chicago Comics) but it wasn't enough to fill our desires. Right around the same time we were in the market for a new condo (since we had just moved back to Chicago from Little Rock) but found the housing market had gone nuts in Chicago in the two years we had been gone. Basically, we have Rotofugi because the housing market in Chicago was too expensive and since we couldn't really afford to buy something, we used the money we were going to use to put a down payment on a condo to open a store instead. We spent every penny we had in savings and opened Rotofugi in July 2004, only a few months after we moved back to Chicago. True story! [Chicago artist Travis Lampe's Tear Drips] How does the vinyl artist scene in Chicago, and I guess the Midwest in general, differ from the scene on either coast? I know, for starters, that a lot of the artists here are illustrators and painters or started out that way, rather than with that urban/graffiti background you might find in California or New York. We're so firmly rooted in the great Midwest that I certainly can't speak with any authority about how it's different here, since I only have second-hand observations about what it's like on the coasts. That said, I think your observation is a good one, at least for the projects we've done with Squibbles Ink. On a personal level, I'm just not that into graff culture, though I do like a lot of graff stuff. Both Whitney and I grew up in small towns, so I didn't see much graff until I was in my 20s. My real passion in terms of art comes from my background as an art director and working in advertising, so the artists I look up to are largely commercial illustrators. The other great thing about the mMdwest, I think, is the real "can-do" attitude that a lot of the artists here take. We're used to being looked over since we're in "fly-over" territory, so the artists here work super hard for recognition and to build their skills. You guys don't just have the toys from bigger companies, either. Do you ever or have you ever run into problems with getting a vinyl toy, kaiju piece, etc. that you're keen on selling at Rotofugi? Oh sure, we can't always get the stuff we'd like to sell. There are language barriers for one. But more than that, we've seen the culture develop over the last few years to the point where an individual artist, if they are good enough, can produce a figure and sell it themselves with no middle man like us. I can't say I blame them, though I do think some of them could benefit with the increased exposure that stores like ours offer. But who's to say they aren't perfectly happy just doing what they're doing. This has become particularly true with neo-kaiju makers who are doing it more for the love of doing it than anything else. In the end, we're both fans of toys and business people, so I'm constantly looking for new stuff, fresh ideas and trying to keep my finger on how things are changing. I spend a lot of time lurking on toy message boards, reading art magazines and websites, and generally keeping touch with what's going on, but there's always room for improvement! Last year, when we stopped by for the TADO show, you guys had just moved into your Lincoln Avenue digs. A year later, how are things going? Any unexpected changes with the bigger storefront in Lincoln Park? It's been fantastic. I have to admit I wasn't sure we could pull off a storefront that was nearly three times the size of our pervious location, but it's worked out great. We've got more room to display stuff and not have everything cramped up. Plus, our store and gallery spaces are much better integrated now; before we moved you had to leave the store, go outside, and then go back inside the building next door to view the gallery ... now it's just right there, which gives the gallery a lot more of a presence. I think the thing that surprised me the most after the move was the number of younger kids getting into designer toys now. Before we were an kind of out of the way location, which meant we were selling primarily to people that found us online or through word of mouth and then searched us out and made a trip to the store. These days, we're in a much higher traffic area and in a neighborhood with a lot more kids. It's been really cool to see 10- and 12-year-old kids geek out about toys that aren't based on something they've seen before. On top of toys, you guys also have the built-in gallery space. When it comes to scheduling events, how does that process usually work for Rotofugi? Do you find yourselves with more ideas or proposals for exhibits than you have spaces on the calendar for? For the most part we are a curated, invitation-only gallery. We have a curator, David van Alphen, who had his own gallery in Chicago before joining us. Dave's got a great eye for modern pop and illustration art, so most of our exhibits come from us inviting artists to show with us. We do take submissions, too, and once in a while and exhibit will come out of a submission, but the overwhelming majority of exhibits start with us reaching out to an artist who we admire. Are there any artists you have wanted to work with, be it for an event or a toy, that you haven't been able to yet? Tons ... too many to name really. OK, if I had to name names ... let's see ... I'd love to work with Chris Ware and make a whole series of toys based on his characters and style. He's already made some great toys in collaboration with Quimby's and Presspop, a great little record label/toy company out of Japan, but I'd like to have a whole world of Chris Ware toys. Chris, if you read this, give us a call! I know the world has been waiting forever for this ... but what's the status on the ol' Roto-A-Matic? We've had a hell of a time getting the mold for the Roto-a-Matic made right. We finished rehabbing the machine a little over a year ago, but the new mold we're making just keeps giving us trouble. It's pretty basic technology on one level, but on another level it's fairly complex because it's a two-part aluminum water-cooled mold. Finding people that know how to do that, and do it right, has turned into a bit of a quest. I've given up predicting when it'll be done, but we should have a new mold to test in the next month or so. Hopefully it'll work right! In the past, Rotofugi (in collaboration with Squibbles Ink) have worked with the likes of Shawnimals, 64Colors, Chris Ryniak, Travis Lampe and others. Are there other new collaborations on the horizon, and any chance I might be able to get a sneak peek at one of those out of you at the moment? ;) I know you said "and others" but you forgot to mention Jeremy Tinder, who's an amazing artist and cartoonist in Chicago we're working with on a line of toys now ... we debuted unpainted figures at SDCC earlier this year and are working on the painted releases now. I'm really excited for those. And we've also worked with Josh Agle (Shag) in the past ... and will be doing more in the future with him as well. On the broader question at hand ... I learned fairly early on that giving sneak peeks of unannounced projects is just a bad idea. What if something goes wrong and you never release it? You look like, at best, an idiot and at worst, a douchebag if you can't deliver on what you promise. That's what happened to "The Family," a series of toys/busts that we've been working on with Chicago artist Brian Morris for the last, what, 4 or 5 years? We haven't completely shelved that project, but I can honestly say I don't know if we'll ever release anything. So ... sorry, no sneak peeks. Along those same lines, where do you want to take Rotofugi in the future? Is there anything you're not doing right now that you want to be doing? I think the future of Rotofugi is slow growth, learning how to do things better and making sure we're serving our customers and the artists we work with in the best possible way. To be 100 percent honest, I think we've grown to be about the size we'd like to stay at. We work hard, but there's still room for fun, and we still have a lot of hands-on interaction with fans and customers. I think if we lost that I'd be sad. When you're not hard at work in the shop, how do you kill your free time? That may be the hardest question, because we work pretty much all the time. Whitney and I really enjoy eating out and going to movies when we can, though that usually translates to grabbing a burrito on the way home from the store at midnight and then picking a movie from Netflix streaming to watch, lol. Thanks for sitting down to chat with us, Kirby! And be sure to stop by both Rotofugi's website and their physical location (2780 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood) if you can!
Rotofugi's Kirby Kerr photo

The world of designer vinyl is more than just the artists who create the toys. It's about the companies that produce them and the stores that sell them as well, each of which has a distinct personality formed by its owners. S...

Tomopop Interview: Nreazon

Sep 15 // Brian Szabelski
First off, tell us a bit about yourself, your art and how you got into the vinyl scene. I used to work in a recording studio with a lot of musicians and artists. There was creativity all around me so I decided to look for a creative medium. I started working on creating characters and making prints of them, but then moved to toys because I had several duplicate toys that I pulled from various blind boxes. I got a great response online and had people requesting for me to do customs. I started submitting my work to Galleries soon after. A lot of your art features cute stuff with a twist to it. Sometimes, that means explosions and sometimes it means a ninja getting a sword impaled through it by another ninja. How'd your art style come about and what inspires it? I'm a fan of contradictory concepts. Huggable grenades, murderous cupcakes, furry popsicles, poisonous ice cream; things of that nature. I'm not exactly sure why I find this concept intriguing, but it might have something to do with disbelief in moral absolutes. I think I draw most of my inspiration from colorful foods, nature, and macabre stories. I will often find a color palette and become sort of obsessed with it. This drives me to create things. I think I should also note you're also a self-taught artist. How difficult (or easy, perhaps) was the self-teaching process? Any tips for others who might want to self-teach themselves? It can be frustrating starting out and trying to find your own style, but I think its something that every artist goes through. I have in my mind what I want the characters to look like and the colors I would like them to be. Sometimes it looks exactly how I want it and sometimes I end up scrapping a piece all together. You can find an artist’s work you admire and try to use the same paints and brushes, but what works for one artist doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. I think that’s something that makes art interesting for me. I believe that I'm still learning and I strive to improve myself daily. When you create characters and designs for your customs, what's your process like? Is everything planned meticulously, is it more free-form that evolves as the piece does, or is it somewhere in the middle? For a long time there was no process at all, just go at it and see what happens. These days though I think it out a lot more. I start out with a sketch and will run it through the computer playing around with color palettes. Then its time for sculpting, refining, and painting. Lately, I have been trying to concentrate piece by piece instead of improvising a whole figure at once. If you had the opportunity to work with any other artist out there on a collaborative custom vinyl figure, who would it be, what figure would it be on and why? I would love to work with 64Colors. I think we have similar interests in our themes and styles. I feel that I could definitely learn a lot from them. A close second would be Junko Mizuno, because she’s a genius when it comes to "creepily cute" artwork.Lately, I have been really wanting to do a Crappy Cat custom. A cute and colorful Crappy Cat! Besides vinyl figures and graphic design, are there any other artistic endeavors you're involved in? I am currently working on limited runs of clothing and other merchandise that feature my characters. They will be sold online, at conventions, and select stores. I am also working on some collaborative diorama pieces. Are there any other shows or events we can expect to see your work in soon? The next event I will be doing is Oni-Con in Galveston, Texas from Oct. 28 to 30. I will be featuring my merchandise and a few small customs. There’s talks of me hosting a panel on toy customization as well. Awesome news! Thank you very much for sitting down to chat with us!
Nreazon photo

Nreazon (a.k.a. Vanessa Velazquez) is a name that vinyl fans are probably familiar with. Her works have shown up in a number of events, the latest of those being tonight's Vinyl Thoughts show in her native Dallas, Texas. Usua...

Tomopop Interview: Jason Chalker

Sep 14 // Brian Szabelski
First off, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the vinyl scene. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. I really enjoy making art in a lot of different styles and mediums. Since I got my MFA from SCAD in 1994 I have been a t-shirt artist, an animator for children’s interactive software, a graphic designer, a Flash animator/programmer, a painter, an animator on Warner Independent’s A Scanner Darkly, an interaction designer at Motorola and a freelance illustrator. I guess I first started getting sucked into the vinyl scene back in 2002 or 2003. I immediately loved them. They were so creative and different from anything I’d seen before. I did my first customs for a show in Austin in 2006. I probably hit the (current) peak of my collecting when I lived in Chicago. I was a frequent customer at Rotofugi and A-Okay (which unfortunately went out of business). Tell us a bit about your pieces, the Tron Teddy Troops and the Labbit T.I.E. What originally inspired these two, specifically that Labbit T.I.E.? Well, the Teddy Troops was pretty straightforward. I knew it was going to be a raffle piece and it was only a day or two from the art drop off, so I went with something I new and loved since I was a kid… Tron. The Labbit T.I.E. was kind of random. I was staring at the Labbit trying to figure out what I wanted to do with it when it hit me that the head shape would make a great cockpit. I then remembered the Darth Vader’s T.I.E. Fighter kit I built as a kid and it clicked. I scored an unopened '78 MPC model kit on eBay for pretty cheap and luckily it was about the size I remembered and it worked well with the Labbit. How long did it take you to put together the Labbit T.I.E. custom? Gosh, I didn’t really track my hours, but I would guess it was a solid 18+ hours of work. Were there ever any issues you ran into when you were working on the Labbit T.I.E. custom? It seems like a deceptively simple custom from the outside looking in, but my guess is it probably wasn't. It was fairly straightforward, but it wasn’t simple. :) The only major issue I ran into was right at the end. When I was attaching the last solar panel (wing) I realized the body was very slightly twisted and therefore it wouldn’t sit flat. I had to go in and shave off the hard corners from the body and the receiving part of the wing to get it to sit right.  I've also noticed a lot of your art and illustrations have a bit of a retro vibe to it, and not just with the characters you use in them. Any particular reason behind those choices? There are quite a few reasons behind them. Part of it is just that I LOVE pulp art. I especially like the ridiculous situations depicted on the covers of the men’s adventure magazines of the '40s and '50s. "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", "The Stripper Spy Who Sank 100 U Boats", "The Deadly Blonde Wench of Waikiki"… you get the idea, and yes, those are all real headlines. I loved Jonny Quest when I was growing up. Being a young kid in the '70s I was definitely influenced by Wacky Packages and all those great trading cards. A lot of the artists doing trading cards in the late '60s and '70s were the same ones doing the pulp covers in '40s, '50’s and '60s. I was also (obviously) very inspired and awed by Star Wars when it came out. Star Wars and Indiana Jones both borrowed heavily from the old pulp books and magazines.What artists are your heroes/heroines? Whose styles have helped contribute to your style, even if it's just a little bit of inspiration? Hmmmm… that could be a very long list. The short list would be The Brothers Hildebrandt, Mort Kunstler, Gil Elvgren, Norm Saunders, Robert McGinnis, Ralph McQuarrie, Jack Davis and Frank Frazetta. As far as more contemporary artists go, I would have to say Bill Presing, Coop, Ashley Wood, Kozik, Mike Mignola, Mark Schultz and Francesco Francavilla. As far as vinyl goes, I like Kozik, Huck Gee, The Beast Brothers, Amanda Visell, 64Colors, etc.I would say the artists that have been the biggest stylistic influence would be Gil Elvgren, Jack Davis and Norm Saunders. As well as being a custom toy artist, are you a big collector of toys and collectibles? If so, what do you collect and why? Yes. My collecting has slowed down dramatically since I went back to freelance work. It can be an expensive habit. I really love Ashley Wood’s ThreeA toys. The craftsmanship is top-notch and most of them are huge and incredibly well articulated. I think they’re worth every penny. I also really like most of Kidrobot's Dunnys, Munnys and Labbits. Medicom does some great stuff also. Are there any other shows or events we can expect to see your work in soon? Why yes, there is! I will have five customs in the Vinyl Thoughts Art Show in Dallas on Sept. 15. Also, I will have two paintings in the "I Want My Music Video Art Show" at the Meltdown gallery in Hollywood next month. It should be a great show. I’m doing paintings based on the videos for Van Halen’s "Hot for Teacher" and Duran Duran’s "Girls on Film." Thank you very much for sitting down to chat with us, Jason!
Jason Chalker photo

While the upcoming Vinyl Thoughts show will feature art from many, many artists, it's safe to say the one that's caught the most attention has been Jason Chalker's Labbit T.I.E. Advanced. I did, in fact, say "Holy ****" upon ...

Tomopop Interview: Cody Phillips

Sep 14 // Brian Szabelski
First off, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the vinyl scene. How long have you been making customs for? I am 35-year-old Texas native that is married with 4 kiddos and hold a regular gig as Art Director at Ignite Partnership. I got into designer vinyl about 4 years ago as a collector, but actually took a stab at it in the early part of 2009. How would you describe your customization style? Do you prefer using the vinyl figure like a canvas, sculpting your own bits and pieces onto the figure, using odds and ends from around the studio in your pieces, etc.? Ohh yeah! Nothing is taboo when I am making a figure. I have a box of random toy pieces and materials that can become potential accessories. I usually do a lot of sculpting because I like to add my own features to the figure and really give it dimension and character. I am not that good of a painter so sculpting a eye or nose, etc., comes easier to me. Of the customs you've worked on in the past, which one is the one that, if asked, you would point to as the one defining custom by Cody Phillips? I would have to say "King of the Can" I did for Red Bull's art of the can event. I wanted to introduce using vinyl toys as an actual art pieces so I used the Kidrobot Mega Munny for my canvas and used chrome auto paint to deck it out. People were like "what is that made of?" "Is that a baby shape?" LOL. It got some good response and was the main icon for all their advertising for the event, so it got me some good recognition. Along that line of questioning, what defines Cody Phillips' style? What are your inspirations, etc.? I am really inspired by a lot of different things. Friends, family, art, music, etc. But what comes out the most in my art is just stuff that I find to be "funny". Random things that I think of that I just need to get out of my head and onto a toy or canvas so I can just sit back and laugh at it. I love it when people share my sense of humor and are driven to my work by the way it makes em feel. Are there any of your customs that, if given another chance, you'd go about doing a different way in hindsight? Sure. I am constantly learning new capabilities of vinyl and clay. Every figure is different when you bake sculpt on them, so there is a real learning curve once you start to push the boundaries of your design. Then you get into paint and clear coat in Texas humidity, then you're really screwed. So my approach has changed the last few years on what I use, how I use it, and when to use it. Some of my earlier pieces just looked horrible in the way I sculpted or painted so yeah, I would go back and refine those with the knowledge I have today. You've recently released (in collaboration with Monsterbot Studio) ISCREAM, your first character to be cast in vinyl. What was the experience like in seeing ISCREAM come to life, and how do you feel now that it's an actual piece that people can purchase? I am really excited to be working with Scott on the project. We both think alike when it comes to crazy characters, so when I came up with the idea for a series called "Sweet Revenge" (a battle between healthy food and junk food characters) I knew Scott would have some great ideas to run with. It came out great and I can't wait to see some of the customs people make of it. How's the scene doing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area? Has it changed since Kidrobot Dallas closed its doors and/or since Atama opened theirs? The art scene is really flourishing in general, but the vinyl scene is just making a footprint in Dallas. ATAMA has done a great job about keeping legs on the awareness of artists and the availability of collector vinyl pieces since the close of the Kidrobot Dallas location, but that in my opinion that is just part of it. Getting more local artists to try their hand at customizing these blank figures and letting the forums and toy collector boards see that there are some outstanding pieces coming out of Dallas will really blow up the vinyl scene and put us on the map. Are there any other shows or events we can expect to see your work in soon? I have been really wrapped up with the Vinyl Thoughts show on Sept. 15, but later this year, I will be in the Art Love Magic UNDERGROUND show as an artist and co-host and I will be showing a custom vinyl toy clock at the Dallas Nomads clock show in November. Thanks again, Brian! And thank you very much for sitting down to chat with us, Cody!
Cody Phillips photo

Tomorrow evening is the night that Vinyl Thoughts takes place in Dallas, Texas. The one-night-only event is going to bring artists from all over the region together to show off some sweet custom vinyl work. Cody Phillips is o...

Tomopop Interview: robotandspark

Sep 03 // Brian Szabelski
So, I guess to start things off, give me a little backstory on robotandspark. How did things start, and how did you guys end up in the Middle East? Rob: My wife and I were living and working in London but decided we needed a little sunshine in our lives, the UK being quite wet and dull for most of the year! At the time, there was a lot of talk about Dubai, so we thought we would give it a try. We moved to the Middle East about 5 years ago with some ideas and aspirations of starting a creative design studio by ourselves, having been pretty uninspired working for other people. And huzzah! robotandspark was born. The thing that always interests me is how collecting and the toy scene manifests itself in different corners of the globe. I'm utterly fascinated by it, to be precise, and how it changes from place to place sometimes. What's the scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi like? What kinds of people do you find are collecting in your corner of the world and what do they tend to collect? Rob: To be honest, the scene is nowhere near as developed as it is in the U.S., Europe or Asia. There were a couple of stores a few years back that sold toys, but all have shut down — with only Virgin now stocking a very limited range of Kidrobot stuff. But what you do find is that the collectors and fans are pretty hardcore —and they have to be, being in such a removed environment. Most collections aren’t vast in size, but contain some really nice, rare pieces. The range of collectors tastes in Dubai is pretty extreme too — there are two other toy freaks at robotandspark; Jad is a huge Coarse fan, whereas Rollan loves obscure bootleg stuff from Asia — there is a giant knock-off Astro Boy in the studio. I guess to go along with that train of thought, how is collecting or the vinyl scene seen in Dubai? Is it just another hobby amongst the many different ones you might find there or is there a special kind of perception given to it? Rob: I think there are a lot of people here who wouldn’t understand the fascination with collecting — I think they find it hard to differentiate between the figures you can buy in Toys 'R' Us, and figures that are seen as collectible art. But hopefully that will change — the art scene in general out here was fairly limited up until a few years ago — but now we are seeing a new generation of artists/gallery owners/students etc. that are pushing boundaries, and more local brands that are willing to take risks with their products and exposure. A friend of ours (Mo Abedin aka Foo Dog) recently curated his own designer toy (MEGA) custom show and managed to get international brands like Puma, Mini, Virgin and Bloomingdales all involved — which shows how far the scene has come in such a short time. You guys also curated the UAE’s first custom toy exhibition at thejamjar gallery in Dubai in February 2009. What was that experience like? Rob: Tough, time consuming, expensive, really hard work but ultimately super enjoyable and very rewarding. It took a long time to get a gallery on board, such was the nature of the project. People just couldn’t get their heads around the idea that there was this little blank robot toy that people would be customizing. It was a relief when thejamjar got involved, as it was something we had wanted to do for such a long time. Once we started to hand out the figures it was just like a domino effect — so many people wanted to get involved — media, artists, performers, sponsors. The exhibition was a huge success — the artwork was fantastic, the turnout magnificent ... And I would like to think we helped create a little piece of art history in the UAE. Tell us a bit about Robot VC3. What was your inspiration for him? How did he come about? Rob: When I was a bit younger, I used to doodle a little cartoon strip about a robot and a penguin who were best friends. They used to go on these crazy adventures and end up doing random things like meet Tom Selleck or go to expensive restaurants and order beans on toast. I was always obsessed with robots and over the years kept developing the robot character bit by bit until I was really happy with the shape. He then became a bit of a mascot for the studio, so we decided to get him modeled in 3D ... Quite a few people liked the shape so decided to create a little army of VC3’s!Were you guys involved in the vinyl scene before you came up with VC3? If so, as artists? Collectors? Curious outside observers looking in with interest? Rob: I was always interested in toys, collecting and art. From Star Wars, Transformers and Thundercats to Muscle Men, Garbage Pail Kids cards and Micro Machines — I had always been a completionist even from a young age. So I guess it was in my genes! I can’t remember a particular time when I could classify myself as involved in the vinyl scene," but probably when I first went to college and was introduced to more Asian/urban artists by the cool kids in class. From there, it sparked an interest that has just grown and grown. How has the experience with launching VC3 been? Have you had to deal with any unexpected issues? Was there anything you would have done differently? Rob: To be honest the whole experience has been really tough. Finding a good manufacturer that could be trusted was harder than expected, and the cost has just been piling up and up. I would say the whole project from start to finish has set us back US$25,000. It’s a huge chunk of change. It was never about the money though — it was something we had always wanted to do. But if we could go back in time, we would definitely do things differently — research a little more into the production side of things, check out the credentials of manufacturers before handing over cash to random factories in China, and probably try and get more presence at the big shows and conventions to drum up interest before the release. Looks like you guys are getting ready for a new little project, Irezumi Girls. Can you tell us a little bit about them? Rob: Two of the biggest issues we realized when creating the VC3s were that 600 is a pretty big edition size for a toy designed by an unknown artist. And that there wasn’t enough background story for people to connect with. For our second figure(s), we decided that we wanted a very limited edition release and that there had to be more character depth. So we created a set of four super-dangerously sexy superhero vixens, called The Irezumi Girls. Set to a futuristic neo-apocalyptic backdrop of mile-high skyscrapers and neon lights, where the streets of war-ravaged London are patrolled by gangs of hooligans, criminals and thugs — the Irezumi Girls are effectively the good guys. The word "irezumi" roughly translates as "the Japanese art of inking" and each girl comes with her own signature tattoo design created by leading designers, studios or artists from around the world. We have collaborated with Argentinean studio DGPH, New York based tattoo artist Patrick Conlon, Finnish artist Katrin Olina and Brittish illustrator Tom Addison who have all created amazing designs for the girls. As for the figures themselves, we want to create something really exceptional; large hand-painted resin art pieces, super limited edition, beautifully crafted, packaged and presented. As a producer of collectible figures, we are really looking at creating slightly more mature pieces in the future and I think the Irezumi Girls will set the tone. We really love what the guys at Fools Paradise are doing right now. But the most important thing is to create longevity for the characters; we want to build an environment for the Irezumi Girls that enables us to elaborate on the story and introduce other individuals within the series over a long-term period.Are there any other vinyl toy-related projects you guys are dreaming up at the moment? Rob: Yes, plenty! One of the Irezumi Girls rival gangs are a bunch of brightly coloured robot mechas fused with famous cartoon characters ... think Gundam x Yosemite Sam! These are currently still sketches at the minute, though ... I think there is enough going on with the production of the Irezumi Girls to keep us busy for a little while at least. When you're not busy working on projects, what does the robotandspark crew do for fun? Rob: When we are not in the studio, we like to do the regular things — catch a movie, go get some food (there are some really great restaurants in Dubai!) — plus we get invited to quite a few social events through work where there is lots of free beer! Me personally, I like to spend time with my family though — chilling out, relaxing, going to the beach ... spending so long in front of a computer screen or sketchpad, sometimes it’s nice to switch the brain off :) Thank you very much, Rob and the robotandspark crew, for sitting down to chat with us!
 photo

One of the things I really happen to love about designer vinyl is that it truly has become worldwide. There are artists — both those making customs and those designing and making production pieces — on every conti...

Tomopop Interview: Cris Rose

Aug 23 // Brian Szabelski
  [Cris Rose circa 2007] Tell us a bit about your background. How did Cris Rose get to be where he is today? Cris took things apart at a young age, but it was much later he worked out how to put things together again. From an interest in working on cars as a teen, a degree in Product Design BSc was undertaken enthusiastically. Between leaving University and now, a variety of roles were undertaken, custom vinyl being a hobby. Now resin is my full time job and photography is my hobby. As many of our readers may know, you produce your own resin robot figures along with customs and other works of art. What kind of advantages and disadvantages are there to producing your own resin figures? One of the main advantages, is that i don't need to work around other people's concepts to achieve my results. I also don't need to work on anyone elses timescales, the control is liberating. Disadvantages? Resin smells and is messy. Oh, and pouring 100 robots can sure get dull. Where did the original idea for your robots come from? Were there any outside inspirations or influences that helped contribute to their design? My original robot, Runcible, was loosely based upon my late Grandfather, a repairman of radios, TVs, even early RADAR equipment during the war. I try not to be directly influenced by things others are doing and often can a concept because it's too similar to other things, but generally it's a mix of "What jobs would i make robots to do..." and "How would that look if the 1940s had today's technology...". I try my best to reflect the average person in my robots. They're not heros, they have no great vengeance or divine destiny, they're the cogs in the wheel of society that make it all work, just like you and me. As they are designed entirely around the concept of their role, I guess that means you and I are one of the main influences. How long does the process usually take? From concept to final design tends to be quite fast. A new robot will come from thoughts about different jobs and roles that people currently do and how a robot could be specialized for that task. As i think primarily in 3D, a quick sketch model on a CAD program can swiftly develop into fully dimensioned designs. From idea to final design, it can be as little as a day or as long 3 or 4 days, depending on size, detailing or issues designing for manufacture. I've noticed that a lot of your creations have camera lens-like features. Do they, perchance, reflect an interest in photography? And are any other interests or elements of your life worked into your creations? Photography has been a keen interest of mine for over a decade. It's only recently that I've been able to spend as much time on it as i would like, but I've always had a camera on me in the past. I have quite a large camera collection these days, mainly film ones, the jewels being those that I have been given and my Leicas. One of the reasons I've always carried a camera, is that I have a real problem with long term experiential memories, or more specifically, the retrieval of them. I'm fine with facts and figures, but past about 9 months back, I can't remember much of what I've done or where I've been. If I have photos to remind me, I can remember a lot more, meaning that in a way my camera is an extension of my memory. Therefore, I work cameras into my robots that work in a similar fashion to the ones I carry myself; as a way of capturing the moment and storing it. Some of my more resent releases have seen the chaps carrying little film cameras of their own to compliment the digital ones in their heads, mainly due to me shooting more film myself. There's something about the physicality of an instant or negative that's produced when shooting film, it makes the image seem more ... real ... than a digital one. Some people might not know this, but your earlier customs weren't based on robots. Can you tell us a bit about those older customs and how you ended up moving from those on to your current style? When I first started painting customs, it was entirely for my own pleasure, something to get me away from the computer when i was working. I was doing a lot of nature inspired, quite abstract work and getting a lot of enjoyment from it. The change occurred when a custom I did for a show was damaged in the post. It was a MAD*L and the edges were all bashed to crap, flaking the paint off. I decided to have a go at repairing it by working this into the design, rusting all the damaged areas, as if it was painted on a metal toy that had seen some love over the years. I was really taken by the contrast between colour and nature and technological decay and started thinking about the journey and experience it inferred. [Editor's note: In a chance coincidence, this was Cris' custom for the MAD*L Citizens show at Lift Detroit, the first custom show I attended! Here's how it looked pre-getting banged up.] It was after this that I started designing robots that were painted brightly and cheerfully, but that had worked for years and picked up dents and scratches and other things that showed what they'd been through. The moss and vines on my bots to this day are extensions of the nature themes i began with and built on as i'm very much a back to nature kinda guy. In recent weeks and months, we've seen you expand from just the standard 3" to 4" resin robots and into other areas with Arborobots with Pepe, the Mirrobots and Bits 'n Bytes. Are there any other future projects you're working on that expand your creations into different media? Maybe a Sprogs video game, perhaps? ;) I'm keen to express my concepts in as many forms, materials and medias as possible, as long as the concept works. I have some designs in ceramic and metal already, that I haven't finalized or released yet. I design a lot of bots that never see the light of day for one reason or another. I've been approached a few times about doing an iPhone game using Sprogs, so you never know — I'm just waiting for a solid concept to be pitched and a strong business proposition. But I'm all for it. I really want someone to animate my bots, even if just for a few short stories. You've mentioned this to me in previous conversations, but you're working on a book. Can you tell us a bit more about it? Entropy started off as a catalogue of everything I'd done, all my customs, but as I've been pushing really hard to make 2011 about original sculpts, I've refocused it on my resin work. It's now all about the resin robots I've made over the last few years, the stories behind them, some "glamour shots" of them and a little behind the scenes / WIP stuff. The main thing is just finding the time to work on it and keeping it updated with new releases. Oh and knowing when to stop. I could easily make it 300 pages, tho it would be pretty damn expensive by that point! I would like it to some with an exclusive bot tho if I can. When he's not in his lab working on toys, what does Cris Rose do for fun? He grabs his Leica M6, loads up a roll of Tri-X and cycles around London, photographing the streets. But mostly, he's in his lab, working on robots. Thank you very much for the opporunity to sit down and chat, Cris!
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Longtime readers, and maybe even folks who've only started browsing recently, should be familiar with the works of Cris Rose. The London-based artist has long been a favorite of the staff and a friend of yours truly, charming...

Tomopop Interview: Crywolf

Jun 01 // Rio McCarthy
Tomopop: How did your company, Crywolf, come together? Crywolf: We always laugh at how simple the story is, but we both sat down one day in late 2005 and said "let's design and print t-shirts and start an online store" and later that day we were registering our business online. Rose had freshly graduated with her art degree, and I was in the middle of getting mine, but we knew that with our skill sets combined (printmaking, drawing, self-learned web design, etc) that the idea seemed really viable and so we just did it. By January 2006 our first online store, p0isson, was up and running. P0isson began as a hobby since we were both still in school and working part-time jobs, but by September 2008, we were ready to make what we were doing a full-time endeavor and we re-branded ourselves as Crywolf and have been working hard ever since. Tomopop: I love that you are very DIY orientated. What inspired you to go that direction? Crywolf: We both always had a DIY mindset as far back as we can remember. I think most artistic types are just intuitively resourceful with a knack to create and always thinking, "Oh! Hey! I can just make/do this myself!" We met in high school and bonded over our interest in art/music/fashion. That was really the beginning of teaching ourselves how to sew, make websites, etc. DIY is an obvious rebellion against consumer culture and appealed to us then (as angsty teenagers) as it does to us now. So naturally, after University we both were much more excited about the thought of creating a company and working for ourselves really appealed to the both of us. Whether you have a DIY mindset or not, starting your own business kind of forces you to have one because you really have to become resourceful in order to keep your head above the water a lot of the time. That said, we intentionally want to have being DIY oriented as something we promote about Crywolf, because for the most part people can find merit and appreciation in that. The more you can do yourself, the harder it is but in the end it's way more rewarding (and generally saves you a bunch of money). Tomopop: How did you go about creating your very first DIY toy, Bü? Crywolf: The initial idea came when we had a brainstorm session that resulted with an epiphany. The epiphany was that we would abandon our prospect of opening a brick and mortar store (which we had wanted to do at the time) and focus more on developing the Crywolf brand. Part of that was planning on expanding our product line and one of the products we really wanted to make and felt really good about was coming out with our own vinyl toy. As soon as we had the time to focus on it, we went about it in the way that we do with most of our creative processes. We collaborated on drawings and had many brainstorm sessions about what eventually would become Bü. We had sculpted and had samples made of a few completely different shapes before we got it right.  Tomopop: Was it difficult for a small company to create a toy of their own? Crywolf: It was actually not as difficult as anticipated, although we both had no idea where to even start. There is very little information out there and as far as we know, local manufacturers for this type of production don't exist or aren't easily accessible for a small company such as ourselves. We had to be really resourceful, roll with the punches and figure out how to deal with everything as it came up. In retrospect, a lot could have gone wrong, but that's a risk you accept when a small company takes on a big venture.  Tomopop: What are you hoping to see come from of your toy? Crywolf: Having an artist series of mini Bü's manufactured would be a complete dream. Tomopop: Any there any designer vinyl artists you would like to see customize the Bu platform? Crywolf: We would be over the moon, through the roof, head exploding happy if any of these artists customized a Bu: Jeff Soto, Tara McPherson, TokiDoki, FriendsWithYou, Dalek, Joe Ledbetter, Jeremy Fish, Mike Giant, Michelle Romo. Tomopop: Is there a specific custom of Bü you'd love to see made more than anything? Crywolf: In all honesty, every single Bü custom that we have gotten back from our artists (dubbed our "Bü Crü) for our "What is Bü?" launch party/art showcase have blown our minds. I wish we could have them all made. Unfortunately we can't say much about them yet but once the photos are up, you will understand!  Tomopop: What are your future plans for Bü once it is released? Crywolf: The vinyl toy scene in Toronto is relatively small, so we would love to get Bü out to places where the scene is strong. We hope to get Bü on the shelves of stores in Toronto and after that expand to the USA and internationally. We would love to visit San Fransisco and LA with Bü in tow and just check out the scene down there because we hear that's the place to be. We hope to get other artists to do customs and maybe do another art showcase. If all goes well you may even be introducted to a new friend of Bü! Tomopop: What is the one thing you'd like our readers to know about Bü? Crywolf: Bü is the thoughts in your mind when you can't sleep, the secret pet you've always wanted to keep. Bü is a thing that goes BUMP in the night, the 20/20 vision in hindsight.  Bü is the creature underneath your bed, the voice of reason in your head. Bü will be hitting the shelves of our online store in June, and soon the shelves of cool stores across the map. So what's your Bü?
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I recently brought you news of Crywolf's What is Bü? event in Toronto on June 11th, but this time we've got a little more of an insight into the company that's bringing you this interesting new platform! I absolutel...

Tomopop Exclusive: Interview with Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson

Feb 28 // Andres Cerrato
  Special thank you to Ernie Hudson for the interview! I cannot say enough of how kind and friendly he was with all of his fans this weekend.
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I can't remember a time where a figure has divided a fanbase this much. First revealed at NYTF, Shunya Yamashita's take on the Ghostbusters franchise did just that. We touched upon it in This Week In Tomo, but we're by no mea...

Tomopop Interview: David Stowe of Vannen Watches

Feb 02 // Colette Bennett
Tomopop: When did you found Vannen Watches and what inspired you to found it?David: VannenWatches.com went live August 31, 2009. I was inspired to start the company because I love wristwatches, and could never find anything out the that appealed to me or my taste in timepieces. The other reason was that I wanted to build a pro-artist company that we as fans, collectors and artists can all feel ownership in. There's not too many companies like that out there with a communal vibe to them, so with Vannen I set out to bring us all together and really support the scene and our favorite artists. Tomopop: Are you a collector of designer vinyl, a fan of the artists you enrolled in the project, or a little of both?David: I do collect a little designer vinyl. I recently purchased a Yellow Kaws JPP and Hordak from the MOTU Classics line. I keep eyeing those Ashley Wood 3A robots too. The attention to detail on those things are insane. As for the artists I work with - yes, I am definitely a fan as well as a collector. I own some vinyl, prints and originals pieces from most of them.Tomopop: What made you decide to launch the line with a smaller watch? Was it originally aimed more at women than men?David: The standard size line came out first because it's an all purpose, mid-size model that could accommodate a wider audience ... both men and women. The beauty of the standard line is that it's not too big and it's not too small. Personally, I loved putting the standard line out first because I wanted people to see that you don't need a watch the size of a Hummer to make an impression.Tomopop: What made you decide to launch Vannen XL?David: I knew from the get go that a XL line was inevitable, but truthfully it was never a major priority because I felt like I was catering more to a trend rather than a person. But that all changed when I saw a photo of a collector wearing a watch that didn't fit him proportionally. When I saw that photo I decided to fast track Vannen XL. That  was the moment where I realized I had to put my selfishness aside and accommodate people with bigger wrists, not a trend. And now we have a watch that truly fits everyone - Vannen XL.Tomopop: What has been the best selling watch in the collection so far?David: In terms of units made vs units sold; Brian Morris has sold the best. We made 500 of those things and they are almost gone. It blows my mind to think that almost 500 people are out there wearing Brian Morris watches. And of course the Huck Gee and Alex Pardee artist watches both sold out in in less than 72 hours - which was awesome - but their runs were much smaller. Either way, I'm proud of everyone on the roster no matter if they sold 50 watches or 500.Tomopop: Are you able to discuss any of the artists that will be a part of the Vannen line in the future?David: We've got lots of great artists lined up like GodMachine, Greg (Craola) Simkins, Junko Mizuno, McBess and Mike Mitchell. And there's so many more that I can't mention yet. We've got some fan favorites and some surprises in store.Tomopop: Do you get requests for certain artists? What is the most requested artist?David: The occasional request, but in most cases it's artists I'm already talking to.Tomopop: Can you envision Vannen ever doing more than just watches?David: I've got one thing moving forward that's not watches, but still keeping with what we do. But as far as getting into more accessory based stuff like belts, wallets, shirts, hats, etc; No, I don't see that happening. For the time being, I just want to focus on making artist watches.Tomopop: What do you have in store for us in the future?David: This month we've got two XL watches coming out ... back to back in the same week no less: Huck Gee's "Lifetime" and Luke Chueh's "Bloody Valentine". I'm really excited about both, but Luke's watch especially because people probably think they know what it's going to look like, but it's like nothing you'd ever imagine. It's a concept piece and a incredible design.Luke's watch hits Sunday, February 13, and it's a shared exclusive between Munky King and VannenWatches. It's limited to 150 pieces and comes with signed and numbered packaging. We've also have a huge surprise planned for that watch, so follow us on Twitter or friend us Facebook so you don't miss out on the announcement.And if you live in the Los Angeles area, Munky King will be hosting a Luke Chueh signing that same day from 2-4 p.m. And if you can't make it to the signing - Luke's watch will be on sale first thing Sunday morning on the Vannen website. I'm revealing the price to Tomopop first: it'll retail for $88.Tomopop: Woo! We appreciate that!David: Wait, there's more! The new Huck Gee "Lifetime" watch looks great, and if you liked his "Killing Time" watch then you'll love this one. It's a shared exclusive with our good friends at Vinyl on Vinyl in the Philippines commemorating their one year anniversary. "Lifetime" is limited to 150 pieces, retails for $85 and comes with signed and number packaging. As far as I know, it should be going on sale February 8 only at VinylOnVinylGallery, VannenWatches and at HuckGee.Aside from those two incredibly sexy watches, we've got some great San Diego Comic Con exclusives coming up that'll blow you away.   Tomopop: That's so exciting David, thank you! We look forward to see what is coming next!
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We've kept tabs on the Vannen Designer Watch series since it launched, reviewed models such as Buff Monster, Halloween Exclusive and Huck Gee "Killing Time" from the XL Series, and basically...

Tomopop Interview: Tentacle Armada's Tier

Dec 29 // Colette Bennett
Tomopop: When did you start Tentacle Armada and what inspired you to start it?TA: I started the site back in February of 2009, so it's one of the newer figure sites around.  Up to that point, I'd been collecting anime figures for a few years and I was a big fan of figure review sites like Happysoda and RIUVA.  I had been interested in figure photography for a long time, but I never had the skills or the self-discipline to try it out myself.  Nor did I have the money to buy a decent camera; the only camera I had was an ancient point-and-shoot that I never learned to use.  After I started working, one of the first things I bought was a cheap DSLR.  I started up Tentacle Armada soon after that.  Back then, I didn't know an f-stop from a bus stop.  It's pretty amazing for me to look back and see how far I've come since those first days.If anyone is curious, the name of my site comes from a World of Warcraft guild that I was a member of, and it also reflects my love for a certain particular, peculiar anime genre.Tomopop: What was the first toy you ever photographed?TA: It might have been one of Yamato's 1/48 scale VF-1 Valkyrie toys, but the earliest toy photo I have saved is a picture of a Starcraft hydralisk giving a hug to Rei and Asuka.  I wonder where I put it; maybe I can do something with it with some of my Figmas.Tomopop: Do you believe an enthusiast needs high end photography equipment to produce great results, or can it be done on a shoestring budget?TA: There's a quote by Arnold Newman that goes, "Photography is 1% talent and 99% moving furniture."  Note that there's nothing in there about gear.  People get too hung up on equipment and forget that it's what's in front of the camera that gets recorded.  A camera isn't like beer - it can't improve the way that the world looks.That said, there's nothing wrong with buying an expensive camera, even if you're just starting out.  Generally what happens with a lot of aspiring photographers is they buy the cheapest DSLR that's available and a year later, they want a more expensive camera.  If you think you're going to stick with this hobby, it makes sense to buy a better camera at the start rather than upgrade down the line.  Just keep in mind that improving the gear doesn't improve the photographer; it's what you do with the gear that leads to improvement.Tomopop: What do you shoot with? Do you recommend those products to aspiring photographers?TA: I use an Canon EOS 7D.  It's overkill for figure photography but it does have a couple of unique features - such as the burst rate and flash commander function - that have come in handy.  I typically use a 35mm f/1.4 and a 100mm macro lens; I don't have a lot of space to shoot pictures so I much prefer fast lenses to slower zooms.  For lighting, I use a bunch of flashes.  That seems to be a rarity in the figure photography hobby as I haven't heard of many people who use flashguns for this sort of stuff.  Having used them for a while, though, I'd never want to go back to using desk lamps.I'd definitely recommend the 7D to anybody and everybody.  It is God's camera, the Kwisatz Haderach of shutterbuggery.  Of course, I say this having only ever used a 7D and an entry-level Rebel.Tomopop: What do you recommend for DSLR users by way of cameras, lenses, basic tips, etc?TA: If you have a DSLR, you're good to go.  If you have any camera, you're probably good to go too, though I really recommend getting a DSLR if you can; point-and-shoots are perfectly acceptable but they are a bit more limiting since, well, you're meant to point and shoot with them.  If you shoot indoors, I recommend using a fast lens.  Fortunately, most manufacturers offer an inexpensive 50mm lens that may be all that you ever need.  A macro lens is a superior choice if you can afford it; Canon's 100mm macro lens is dead sexy.I follow a lot of figure websites and while I don't often see a deficiency of gear, I do often see a deficiency of light.  If you want to take a good picture, you need adequate light.  It's even better if you can control and shape the light but for starters, getting adequate light is good enough.  Get a desk lamp, tape a paper towel or something to the front to diffuse the light a bit, and experiment with positioning and distance.  Build or buy a standalone diffuser if you want better results.  Think about what sort of feel you want your photo to have; are you looking for an evenly-lit picture that shows all aspects of the figure, or are you trying to evoke a mood?  Add more lights if you need them; back when I used desk lamps, I often used two, and sometimes I used up to five if I really wanted to blow the background out.Shoot in RAW format; install the RAW conversion software that came with your camera and shoot in RAW.  I shot in JPEG up until the middle of 2010 and I really wish I had shot in RAW from the start.  The ability to adjust white balance in software is extremely powerful, and it's much easier to do it there than to fiddle with curves and the color balance sliders in Photoshop.  Buy and use a tripod if you don't have one already.  If you're shooting indoors with lamps, you really, really need one.  I sort of assume most people know this already but it took me a couple of years to figure out why my pictures with my old PowerShot A40 were so blurry, and it's because I wasn't using a tripod.Oh, and if you happen to follow my advice about the paper towel while using incandescent bulbs, I take absolutely no responsibility if you start a fire that burns your house down.Tomopop: We'll watch out for that! What inspires you when it comes to how you set up a shoot?TA: There are usually several things.  Sometimes the figure dictates what I do.  For example, Alter's bounty hunter Yoko had a rocky orange base, so I went with a rocky, orange backdrop.  Their first Mio Akiyama figure looks like she's performing on stage, so I put some colored lights in the background.  Other times, I'll look at the figure and go by feel.  Kotobukiya's Dizzy has a big smile and an energetic pose, so I went with a bright background to match her liveliness.  In contrast, Max Factory's Tamaki Kousaka has a placid, tranquil expression so I wanted something a bit more somber with softer lighting.Sometimes I'm more interested in trying out a particular photographic technique.  For example, I recently read some articles on doing water drop photography, and I thought that I could incorporate that technique when I shot Kotobukiya's Kurisu Makise.  And sometimes I'll just think of something weird to try out.  For example, one night I was lying in bed and I wondered what would happen if I taped a couple of LED lights to a fan and waved it around in front of the camera.  I wound up doing it during a figure shoot and it worked okay.  However, there are a lot of times that I get myself into trouble when an idea that seemed so brilliant and practical the day before falls flat on its face and I have to come up with a plan B on the fly.Tomopop: What are your favorite figures you've ever shot, and why?TA: My favorite shoots would probably be Alter's bounty hunter Yoko and their Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls Senhime, and MegaHouse's Sora Kasugano.  For Yoko, I built a diorama despite not knowing how to build a diorama.  I don't have much artistic skill; I never progressed beyond drawing stick figures in my youth and I never studied any form of art in school, having been an engineering major.  I had to learn how to build and paint that backdrop as I went along.  I wasn't sure how well the pictures would turn out but I was very happy with them in the end.A lot of the backdrops I build don't look all that real, but I was happy that the sliding Japanese doors that I used for Senhime turned out okay.  I was also really happy that the kitty litter I used looked good, too; that's something I've had difficulty with, finding something that looks like gravel that is sized for scale figures.When I photographed Sora, I was in a big creative funk and struggled to come up with new ideas.  Up to that point, I was almost exclusively using black or white backgrounds, which gets boring after a while.  I put some dinner mats behind Sora to break up the background and it worked out a lot better than I expected.  In fact, I don't think I could duplicate that shot today if I tried; I remember the lighting setup but a lot of the result was just sheer luck.Tomopop: What was the most challenging shoot you've ever done, and why?TA: I can think of a couple that qualify.  One was Kurisu Makise, because I was trying to get a splash of water positioned exactly where I wanted it, and I learned that it was a lot harder to do than it looked.  I took around 1,500 shots while dripping water in front of her, and wound up using only one picture from that set.  I had to take a couple hundred more conventional pictures to fill out the rest of the review.The other was Grands's Ikaros, which was the first and only outdoor shoot I've ever done.  I didn't have a lot of experience - or any experience, really - taking photographs outdoors but I wanted to give it a try, so I took her to a nearby riverside park.  The first problem I encountered was trying to find the river; it didn't look too hard to find when I was sitting at my computer staring at Google Maps, but when I got to the parking lot I had no clue which direction I was supposed to hike in.  When I finally got there, I encountered more problems.  Some of them were prosaic, like deciding where I was going to put the figure since the shoreline was sloped down into the water or waiting for a couple of guys in a fishing boat to drift away, and other problems were technical, like trying to meter and focus on the figure despite looking westward straight into the setting sun.  I'm glad it's gotten cold now so I'm not tempted to go back out there to give it another try.Tomopop: Do you have a favorite figure? If so, why?TA: Without a doubt, my favorite figure is Volks's 1/4 scale Uesugi Kenshin.  I fell in love with it the moment I saw it on Heisei Democracy a few years back and I never thought I'd own it, but I picked it up from Yahoo Japan Auctions about a year ago.  Kenshin is one of my favorite characters in Sengoku Rance and Volks did a beautiful, marvelous job with her sculpt.  She's huge, which I love, as I much prefer larger figures to smaller ones.  She's also nearly naked, which counts for a lot in my esteem.Tomopop: If you could shoot any figure that you haven't shot yet, no matter how rare, which would it be and what would you like to do for the shoot?TA: How about a figure so rare it doesn't exist?  Anyone who reads my site knows how often I rage that nobody's made a figure of Queen's Blade's Irma, even though just about every other character from that franchise has gotten a figure.  If such a figure existed, I'd like to photograph her in a diorama built like Times Square, with confetti raining down and a bunch of floats hovering overhead.  Or I might just take the easy way out and come up with something involving condensed milk.  I'd have to think about it.Tomopop: Thanks so much for your time, Tier!
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To continue our series on interviews with some of our favorite figure photographers (see Happy Soda and Kodomut), this time I approached Tier of Tentacle Armada, who has taken some lovely shots of some of ...

Tomopop Interview: Kodomut's Mark Soh

Nov 01 // Brian Szabelski
Tomopop: When did you start Kodomut.com and what inspired you to start it?Mark: I actually started out as a personal blog back in 2004 on the blogger platform just blogging random stuff in my life, mostly the usual teenage angst and rants. Later on I picked up an interest in anime and had some posts about it.This life + anime-centric posting on blog continued all the way until early 2009 when I stumbled across quite a couple of Japanese culture, figure and anime blogs. I got exposed to figures which was quite the turning point. I order some figures and before that I had an interest in photography; and later on I moved to a personalised domain name and the rest was history. Tomopop: What was the first toy you ever photographed?Mark: According to my Flickr account, that (Orchid Seed's Soniko) was the very first figure that I owned, which arrived in April 2009. She is quite the voluptuous figure and I had great fun just aimlessly pressing my shutter button.Tomopop: Do you believe a person needs high-end photography equipment to produce beautiful results, or can it be done on a shoestring budget?Mark: That depends on what one wants to achieve. A good set of equipment enables one to do some certainly impressive photos, but most of the time it isn’t how technically good a picture is that makes people go “woah” but the composition and the ‘feeling’ it gives out. Photography is an art form that comes from the heart afterall, not a science of lighting. Tomopop: What do you shoot with? Do you recommend those products to aspiring figure photographers?Mark: I started out with a second hand Nikon D40 and the standard kit lens and it's more than enough to get really decent shots. After using it for more than a year I upgraded to a D90 and took up a 50mm prime lens which I still use today for almost all my shots.I always recommend this route of DSLR purchase and upgrade to many people simply because a second hand D40 is really cheap now plus it's so easy and simple to use. Personally I don't see the need to pay a little more for some new spunky functions with the new generation of entry level DSLRs. The D40 is all you need if you are just starting out not knowing anything about photography.Tomopop: What do you recommend for DSLR users by way of lenses, camera settings, basic tips, etc?Mark: I think a 50mm prime is a really good all rounded lens, if you don't mind the inability to zoom and instead have to physically move to get closer or further, which doesn't really matter when you are indoors. It’s also dirt cheap for all brands of cameras. I got mine second hand for SGD 150. However a good zoom lens would be very helpful if you want to take outdoor figure shots because you don't have the luxury of having too much mobility at times. I'm not really an expert in the handling of a camera, all the science and technical jargon that some folks discuss just makes me confused. You know a good picture when you see on. But that being said I guess the most important thing is to avoid low light and focus on the subject properly. I've seen lots of pictures that are blurry and looks like a pizza flung onto the wall. Table lamps are a good choice. I've got lots of them from IKEA, helps in taking figures.If you venture to outdoor photography, you'd realize that the natural light from the sun in the outdoors is really nice and you don't have to worry too much. The tricky part is during dawn or dusk when the sun rays can really create nice shadows and effects which can make really spectacular pictures. I like the sunset hours, but the sun sets too fast all the time.Tomopop: What inspires you when it comes to how you set up a shoot? Mark: The awesomeness of a figure has a huge correlation with inspiration. I mean, if you had something nice, you'd naturally want to make it look good. Tomopop: How long does it take you to create a custom backdrop for a shoot?Mark: The longest time spent creating a custom backdrop was 3 nights, which was the Good Smile Company's Cannan X Alphard. It had the idea for it since I saw the Figmas but I don't think there was an Alphard Figma. So anyway that had lots of custom features and small details which took up quite some time. But that's about it, the rest of my shoots were set up pretty quick, less than 10 minutes to arrange everything. The trick is that I collect lots of junk and that makes sourcing for the stuff much easier. Tomopop: What are your favorite figures you've ever shot, and why?Mark: In no particular order, Narika from Alter, Drossel from the Figma line and Saber Lily, from the Nendoroid series. Narika is an excellent figure, and who doesn't enjoy shooting a great figure that looks good in every angle. Drossel is the most dynamic figure that I've ever handled and that posing her and taking pictures of her is akin to taking a real human. Nendoroid Saber Lily just looks good on the body of other Nendoroids and it makes for some really great synergies. Tomopop: What was the most challenging shoot you've ever done, and why?Mark: To me the challenge in every shoot is getting the inspiration or the idea spark and not so much of the push of the shutter button. But one of the most challenging and tiring shot was the ION Drossel shot. Was difficult because the timing of the water fountain was erratic and sometimes the jets of water would hit Drossel into the ground. Got really wet trying to get the shot! Tomopop: Do you have a favorite Nendoroid?Mark: This is a tough one but I think the title has to go to the lovely Saber Lily Nendoroid. The possibilities is endless with her when you factor in body swapping. She's one of the few Nendoroids in my opinion that can portray cuteness and/or sexiness which is pretty rare as more of the Nendoroids live in sugary cuteness wonderland.Other favorite Nendoroids are Marisa, Theia, Rin and Kagamiku. I use them very often because the 4 of them cover a range of expressions that can be used for storytelling purposes.Tomopop: If you could see any Nendoroid created that doesn't exist, which one would you want?Mark: I don't watch a lot of anime so my list of known characters is quite limited, plus sometimes a character Nendorised won't look as good as you'd expect it to be, which is why my purchases of Nendoroids and figures is based on the sculpt and not the character. But nonetheless I'm quite a fan of the Monster Hunter franchise and would kill to see a Nendoroid of a hunter in KIRIN armor.Tomopop: Thanks so much for your time, Mark!
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Tomopop is a fan of many of the amazing toy photographers out there, and Singapore's Kodomut (a.k.a. Mark Soh) is one of the best. Often featured in What Toys Are Up To, Kodomut's photos are full of life and em...

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Erick Scarecrow and Colette Bennett... two star-crossed lovers or both just certifiably insane? You decide! Colette talks with Erick about what is coming out at NY Comic Con and beyond with so much awesomeness that the booth nearly explodes with an abundance of vinyl awesome sauce! Don't believe me? I bet you don't, you never do. Hit the jump so you can watch the video and I can prove you wrong!

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Last week you saw my interview with Damon Lau of Round 5 MMA toys talking about the next batches of stylized UFC vinyl figures their company plans on releasing through the rest of this year. Now, here is the other end of the ...

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Yesterday, I showed you the interview I did with Damon Lau, owner of Round 5 MMA toys, at the UFC Fan Expo in Boston. Damon discussed the next upcoming vinyl UFC figures on the way out for 2010. Today, take a look at one of t...

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This weekend, the UFC Fan Expo hit Boston, and I was there to document all the madness! Beyond the fighters, my main interest was the toys! Round 5 MMA was represented at the show, along with their exclusive three-pack set wi...

Exclusive Tomopop Interview: Norio Fujikawa

Jul 17 // Colette Bennett
Tomopop: Tell us about yourself: where you're based, what you do and how long you've been doing it.Norio: I am currently based in San Francisco. I’m a product designer by trade and have been doing it professionally for a while (longer than I’d care to admit). When I’m not working at my 9 to 5, I try to find the time to create, sketch, paint, or model the characters you have seen. Tomopop: Tell us the inspiration behind designs like Rocket Boy and Rocket Girl.Norio: I am a second generation Japanese American. I grew up reading classic manga and watching a lot of anime, sci-fi, and fantasy films. So, as you can imagine, the amazing visions and designs of those artists have greatly influenced my work. I am also a father of, surprise, a girl and a boy. I know every parent says it, but they have impacted my life and inspire me in so many ways.Tomopop: We hear you are starting up your own toy company, Yotoy! Tell us about your plans with this new venture. Can we expect to be able to purchase your creations soon? Any chance we'll see any of your preexisting designs?Norio: We just want to make great toys and cool stuff.  Yotoy is a small group of talented creative friends, Noah, Woo, Karen, and me. We have decided to get together and collaborate on artistic adventures. Yotoy is the creative outlet for our backgrounds in design, animation, music, and art.Yotoy will have figures and more available by the end of the year. We’ll be introducing the first of the PRTC(R)  (Protecter Robot)  series at ComiCon later this month. They are based on the robots I have already designed and posted online. We’re also working on a few other projects that we will be debuting later this year as well. Check our website Yotoy.com for updates. Tomopop: What artists are you inspired by and why?Norio: As I mentioned earlier, I grew up reading and watching a lot of manga and anime. I remember reading books over and over such as 8-Man, Cyborg 009, Ginga Tetsudo 999, Captain Harlock, Black Jack, Doraemon, Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball, Shonen Jump. I remember sitting down for the first time to watch Yamato or Gundam or reruns of Mazinger, Kamen Rider, or Ultraman (7 was always my favorite). I watched a lot television, so old sci-fi shows like Thunderbirds or Space 1999 have left an impression. Of course film has a done a lot to inspire me. I have to run out and see any and all films with effects in it, live action or animation. Tomopop: Are you a toy/figure collector yourself? If so, who are your favorite toy designers?Norio: I do collect toys but have more fun creating.  I like the clean simple design of the Kubrick toys.  I am not the big collector in the Yotoy crew, but the Yotoy office is full up with 3A, Kaws, Eric So, Kubrick, Coarse, and others. Tomopop: Will we see you at this year's San Diego Comic Con?Norio: We don't have our own booth but will have a section carved out for us at the MINDstyle booth. Hope we see you there!Tomopop: You will! Thanks for your time!
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Norio Fujikawa is the kind of toy creator whose designs make me literally ill with desire. I NEED to own them! The moment we first spotted his work in the form of his Rocket Girl concept, I was one hundred percent hooked. Not...

Tomopop Interview: Damon Lau of Round 5 MMA talks toys

May 28 // Matthew Kaplowitz
Tomopop: So Damon, tell us briefly what got the company started?Damon:  Round 5 for me just happened on a whim. Through my previous career, I had the opportunity to become friends with many MMA fighters, and one of them was one of my closest and personal friends, Randy Couture (former UFC champion). This was back in the summer or spring of 2007. Randy had just flown out to Toronto and we were talking about how the sport had blown up in the past two years and discussing business ideas. We thought that every single fan could only show they were a fan of a fighter if they had a hat or shirt, so we were tossing around ideas and one that come up was if someone would do collectible figures. We both paused on it and said it was a good idea, and literally, that's how the idea was born!I took that conversation to heart and we soon became the first company to do MMA figures. Tomopop: What was your favorite toy growing up? Damon: This sounds totally weird, but I had this odd obsession with this figure. I used to watch He-Man and Transformers alot, and I was really big into the DinoBots. But I remember from He-Man, there was this green moss guy, I can't remember his name. I was really obsessed with that figure! I also had those huge really non-flexible pro wrestling figures, the really huge ones that had no articulation and were 10 inches big! They were just those big heavy figures! I had tons of those things.  Tomopop: That He-Man figure was Mossman, they just put him out again recently!Damon: He was one of my favorites! I did not know they put him out again, I am going to have go out and buy that! That's awesome!  Tomopop:  What was the one toy you always wanted as a kid but never had?Damon: The one toy that I always wanted but never had, but actually got it three years ago, was a Gremlins Mogwai figure. I always wanted one since I was a massive Gremlins fan, and one time I walked through a store and found the Neca version. I bought it on the spot and I have it sitting in my collectors case in my living room!Tomopop: Are there any other figures you collect right now? Damon: You know, I am a pretty avid collector of a lot of designer toys, like the Kid Robot stuff or anything that has an artistic elementto it. I see a lot of rare collector toys in Asia so I started collecting a lot of those things. One of my close friends, his name is Pat B., he works for Dreamwave and used to do Transformer comic books. He always points me in the right direction for buying stuff.Tomopop: How involved are you in the actual production of the figures?  Damon: I am very involved! The company has grown so much in the past few years! We have around 15-20 people in our Toronto office and we have a new office in Hong Kong too. When it comes to picking the fighters for the assortments and sculpting direction, I am very much involved in the production.  Tomopop: So Damon, tell us about wave 3 of the UFC collector series.Damon:  Wave 2 just started hitting the market not too long ago, and Wave 3 is hitting soon. Wave 3 is a pretty great series. It has Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Diego Sanchez, Rich Franklin and Nogueira and one thing that we are doing for the very first time is were doing a Pride version of Wanderlei Silva so that is really cool!Tomopop: What you are working on for the future?Damon: We are looking to move up into a larger scale. It will be a higher price point but it will have a whole new level of detail. The way we do our line is to adjust to collectors at different levels. Our focus has always been towards hardcore collctors, so when you start with a six-inch collector line its something that is small for a table-top or desk and things like that. The next line that is coming out is a larger scale so every new thing you see will be a step up in scale. Tomopop: Can you give us any hints for who we will see in Wave 4 of the UFC collectors line?Damon: All I can say is that series 4 is probably the best of the entire line and there will be seven figures as well as multiple chase figures, and it will be out just in time for Christmas! Tomopop: Do you have any advice for collectors or fans who want to start their own toy business?Damon:  I would say that getting into this business, if your purpose is just a business aspiration, I do not think that is the right way to go. I think alot of times, in business and in life, anything you really want to go forward with you have to be passionate. If finances are more important, than it is something you are not passionate about. So if you want to go out and start a toy company, my biggest advice is where ever you do start, there are so many things you will learn and you need to keep an open attitude. But no matter what you are doing, it has to be something that, whether you make money or not, has to be something you really, really love and are passionate about. That is the right attitude to have and if it was meant to be, you will turn into a big toy company and if not, you end up doing something you really love and are passionate about! For more info on Round 5 MMA product, head to their website, Round 5 MMA!   
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MMA is a booming sport, and whether you are a fan or not, you can not deny it has begun slowly creeping its way into mainstream society. Round 5 MMA is a reasonably new company but has thrived in its niche market, grabbing...

Tomopop Interview: Shocker Toys

May 14 // Anthony DePasquale
Tomopop: So, let's get the obvious question out of the way: What are your Comic-Con exclusives going to be? Shocker Toys: If we told you that, that means you guys would get the first to know, right?  While I can't tell you exactly who will be released at Comic-Con, I can tell you what the characters are from. We will have one character from the Tick so instead of getting a different version of the same character like last year with black and white Dick Tracy. We will also have another character from Dick Tracy and we'll have the Blue Beetle there.Tomopop: We were actually curious about that, we know that Dan Garret came from Charlton Comics when DC bought them. Is that how you are able to do Blue Beetle?Shocker Toys: Dan Garret, being as old as he is, is public domain and so it kinda fell through a loophole. We've already had  DC tell us they were fine with the version we are doing, just don't do anything else. Tomopop: How do you manage the licensing for multiple different companies?  Shocker Toys: Basically, we go through the creators themselves. If you know Legendary Comic Book Heroes, they did it by company. We pick from creators only. It's hard to talk to artists. Like with our Dethklok license, we couldn't talk with Brendon Small, we had to go through the company. I didn't like to do that. I like to talk to the creators.Tomopop:  Go Hastings was your first major retailer. Why is that? Shocker Toys: We've had such a problem with Diamond and the comic book shops buying from Diamond, but we tackled New York because we were close to New York and everyone knew us. So, with our local shops we were able to sell our stuff. There are places that sell out stuff once they found out Diamond is not selling our stuff.Tomopop: Why is ToysRUs taking so long to get your stuff in?Shocker Toys: I think the whole problem was getting our stuff in stock and there's a ton of paperwork to fill out but the order's in and it should ship out next week. We will have a list up on the site of what stores are carrying them. So, that Indie Spotlight 1 can sell out instantly and we can get wave 2 in.Tomopop: You have the license for Hack/Slash -- what are you going to do with it? Shocker Toys: We are going to make figures of Cassie and Vlad. They will be in most likely Wave 4 of Indie Spotlight.  Tomopop: Who does the pricing on the figures: you? Or the toy store?Shocker Toys:  We set the manufacturer's retail price, but you can see them priced anywhere from $9 to $25. Big Bad Toy store carried the original Shockinis back in the day. He was the only one from Indie Spotlight at first. We got a big air shipment, which we sent first to the preorder customers and the rest to Big Bad Toy Store.  Tomopop: These mallows look cool (they were on his desk)!Shocker Toys:  These are the new mallows -- no one has seen them yet. The new models come with the gun, the little sword and two small accessories to make the arms longer. Also, you can take off the feet pieces to make them short. You can also attach the gun on to the arm.   Tomopop: With the anime licenses, are they just for the  Mallows, or is there going to be an anime spotlight?Shocker Toys: Yes, we are doing six inch figures.  We are working with another company to do Mallows. We are working with Funimation, and Toei approached us to do some stuff too. We would be the first (outside of Japan) to make 6 inch figures. It's going to be more like the Indie Spotlight line.Tomopop: What other lines are you going to be doing?Shocker Toys:  We have Indie Spotlight, Golden Age series 1 which will come out this year (and that might be a store exclusive). We are also going to be doing monster spotlight, like werewolves. We are going to have four new bodies for figures: skinny, medium, large, and extra large bodies (like the Maxx). We also talked to Dale Keown with the Pitt and he said he liked our stuff, so we could see another Pitt. I am not against doing stuff other companies have done -- like, we are going to do the "classic" madman.  Tomopop: This is going to be one of those weird questions: do you give the creators a free toy?Shocker Toys: Of course , they have to get free samples. We try to work as closely as we can with creators.  Tomopop: Are you guys going to have more store exclusives, like for your own store on your website?  Shocker Toys: A lot of toys that came late for cons that became Shocker Toys Exclusive. We did sell black and white Dick Tracy figures after San Diego Comic-Con.  We don't have exclusives only sold at SDCC. I think that if we have extra exclusives and people want them, we should sell them.  Tomopop: What series would you really want to do, regardless of what licenses you currently have? Shocker Toys: There are a few which would be Tank Girl, some 2000 AD stuff, But we are trying to get Tank Girl since we are such a big fan of it. Tomopop: What's the status of the the mail-away Mr. Gone?Shocker Toys: That's with series two stuff and will ship it out either before San Diego Comic-Con or afterwards. We also have the Gone and Maxx Mallow which will be at the Philly show.  Tomopop: Is it true that every wave 2 figure will have a Tick Accessory? Shocker Toys: Yes,  like the Isz from the first wave, it's something that comes with every figure. The Tick himself comes with a stop sign and his alternate evil head. Everyone else comes with every other accessory which is the spoon, the viewfinder, the purse and the tie, then you send them all in and you get Arthur the sidekick. It's more of an incentive to buy them. The comic book shops didn't understand that because like when we go to what we were talking about earlier with diamond. They didn't promote it properly, they didn't talk about the mail aways, they messed up the listing twice so we don't sell with them.  Tomopop: Do you use two-ups for your figures? How exactly are they made?Shocker Toys: We don't use two-ups because unlike Hasbro or Mattel we don't have any sculptors lent to us. We do it all in 3D. To me, I think 3D is the best, because when you use a two up and go down sometimes when you re-sculpt you lose some of the details, and it just looks different. We change what we need to change in 3D and the parts are already there, but we don't need to make models anymore since we have a guy with a 3d printer in San Fransisco who is linked to our sculptor. He does everything in 3-D and is printing our parts out now. Tomopop: What exactly does the Funimation Mallow license give you?Shocker Toys: One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist, Dragonball Z and Soul Eater. There is some other stuff like Sgt. Frog. We are trying to get all the anime stuff we can into Mallows.  Tomopop: Can you talk about the "Vinyl" aspect of the mallows?Shocker Toys: You can't really group vinyl with Mallows because they aren't vinyl since they are made of ABS. They are a designer figure, but they are a different designer figure, a new type of one. We are doing an artist line, it won't be a blind box, it will be a chance box. You basically know what artist you're getting but you don't know which design. It will have a good version and an evil version and you don't know which you are getting, but you do know the artist so that you can get the artists you want. We are going to have seven artists, fourteen designs, fourteen mallows per case and the artists will get two designs each. Tomopop: Thanks so much for your time guys -- we look forward to seeing you at SDCC!
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It took quite a bit of time and effort, but I present to you, the readers, an exclusive interview with Shocker Toys! This interview took place at Shocker Toys HQ with the head of the company, Geoff Beckett. To say a few words...

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Ladies and Gentleman, it is interview time! Tomorrow I will be taking a trek across the state to eventually reach Shocker Toys HQ and give them an interview the likes of which they've never seen! While I have a ton of questio...

Toy Fair 2010: David Horvath talks UglyDolls

Feb 17 // Matthew Kaplowitz
Please note: For some reason, the video decided to add about 60 seconds of blank space at the end of this video. I will correct that in a day or two, but it does not affect the vid other than just having a long space of silence and darkness after the interview wraps up. Enjoy!
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Leah Bayer caught up with David Horvath, the creator of UglyDolls, at NY Toy Fair to learn about the origins of these cute critters, what's new for 2010, why Ice Bat is so popular and other questions viewers want to know about UglyDolls! After the jump, the exclusive one on one with Mr Horvath!

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Our very own editor-in-chief, the proud Miss Colette was interviewed by Collect3d. For those not in the know, "Collect3d is a designer toy blog featuring vinyl, plastic, plush, paper, wood, resin, customs, rendering and ...

Collections: An Aliens collection to die for

Nov 06 // Colette Bennett
Tomopop:  When did you realize you were in love with toys?Chris: I've been in love with toys since I can remember.  My younger years were spent pitting my G.I. Joes against Star Wars Stormtroopers. My passion was always for action figures.  Sci Fi, Military, Dungeons and Dragons...you name it, I loved it. My fondest memories from childhood were of spending time with my brother going through the giant J.C. Penney Christmas catalog picking out what cool toys we wanted for Christmas. I had great parents who, without spoiling me, bought me pretty much all of the figures I could want.  Of course, I grew up, got married and had gotten away from toys.  That was, until I discovered eBay in my latter years. WOW!  What a revelation that was.  I can remember doing my first search for some of my favorites from my childhood. I was addicted!  I could collect what I wanted and could afford to do it!  Great times. I started back into it full force.  If there was a movie that had toys...I bought 'em.  Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Kenner Alien and Predator. Even little known lines like Virus and Battlefield Earth.  Of course there was Spawn and all of the McFarlane lines. My greatest hope was realized when he started producing Alien and Predator figures.  These were always my two favorite movie monsters. And, up until then, the only thing to be found was the Kenner line. So...fast forward a few years and I started to realize that there was just TOO much stuff out there.  I couldn't keep up. And, frankly, I didn't have the desire to.  So, I got rid of ALL of it ... everything ... except for my precious Alien and Predator figures. I decided that I'd concentrate on just these two creatures.  Beyond the McFarlane figures, there really wasn't a lot available then that was worth collecting.Or, so I thought. Enter eBay ... again.  I stumbled across an auction for a pro built Geometric Alien kit.  I could not believe how incredible this thing looked!  I bought it, of course, and talked to the seller about what else was out there.  Thus, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Garage Kits (Thanks Joe!). There were so many great Alien and Predator kits out there, I was in heaven! I especially loved "concept" pieces (these being kits based on concept art from the films), and these are my current favorite type of kit to collect.But, I'd finally found a way to have my two favorite sci fi baddies in all their various incarnations. And, that's what I've concentrated on for the last 5 years.  Tracking down those hard to find and rare pieces.Throw in there all the new Alien and Predator figures that have come out from companies like NECA, HOT TOYS and MEDICOM and I was one truly happy collector. Where there were once only a handful of decent pieces, there were now hundreds and hundreds of amazing kits and figures. There were incarnations from all of the movies, comics, art and custom sculpted statues and kits. Paradise, I tell you! Tomopop: What's the pride and joy of your collection?Chris: I don't think I can narrow it down to just one piece.  They all hold a special place in my collection.If I had to pick "something", then I would have to say that all of my "concept" pieces are my favorites.As much as I love a movie accurate Alien or Predator sculpt, kits based on concept art just fascinate me.It's like being able to, not only have what we see on screen, but a piece of what brought the designer to the final version.I like them so much that I even have a kit based on an early Ron Cobb design for the Alien.  Before Giger was given the job.  Now THAT'S dedication! Tomopop: What's your current toy "Holy Grail?"Chris: Well, I'd have to say that my Grail isn't a toy. I'd LOVE to find the 1:1 Alien Warrior bust from Sideshow. Sadly, I missed out on this when it was first released and the after market price has jumped several thousand dollars. But...some day...it will be mine. (insert evil laugh here) Tomopop: Have you made any custom toys of your own? If not, what would a toy you would create look like?Chris: I've never, personally, made a custom figure. But, if I were to make one, it would be an absolutely screen accurate and poseable version of H.R. Giger's Alien. NECA made a fantastic figure of both the Giger version and the Cameron "Aliens" version of the creature. NECA put a lot of great effort into making it as accurate as possible, and it shows. But, there were still some aspects that were just a tiny bit "off".Mine would be something that you couldn't tell from the on screen version with a paint app to match. But, I'm not a stickler for accuracy.  I've got many pieces in my collection that are far from accurate.So, as long as there is a cool Alien or Predator kit or figure to be had...I'll keep on collecting. There's still so much out there that I don't have.  And, like they say ... the hunt is half of the fun.Tomopop: Thanks for sharing your collection with us, Chris!
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We met the astounding collection of Chris Ausbrooks quite by accident. This collector is all about Aliens and Predator, and you can tell if you look at his Photobucket account, because it is full of jaw dropping stuff. Its ob...

Tomopop Interview: ImaginaryThomas

Sep 11 // Jason Millward
Tomopop: This whole art gig is a relatively recent thing for you. How did you get into it?Thomas: I started about 2 years ago as sort of a "bettering myself" thing. Since I'm a programmer by trade I don't get to flex my creative muscles in my work environment. In an effort to keep them from atrophy I decided to draw, which lead to me branching out into a bunch of different areas.There's also a store downtown called Active Surplus -which is basically a junk store. surplus hardware and miscellanea- and I fell in love with it. I'd walk up and down the aisles just picking up random things. That's how I got into the toy building.Tomopop: Is that how it began? Did the found art creations come first?Thomas: The drawing and paper collages came first and I took the collage mentality to junk and went from there.Tomopop: You've got a lot of different media styles on display at your site: stuffed toys, metal robots, photography, sculpture. How did that all evolve, especially over a relatively short period of time?Thomas: Hah, I never really noticed. Probably due to my personality. I like to try and dip my toes in everything. Some days I'll crank out a papercraft overnight. others I'd be happier just coding something. I kind of work with my mood which is why some projects take months to complete. I have to wait for that same mood to come back around again, haha.I'm very mentally disorganized.Tomopop: That's awesome. I can relate.Thomas: Glad I'm not the only one!Tomopop: Not at all! Are there artists that have influenced your work, or the types of pieces that you work on?Thomas: I don't have many specific artists I draw inspiration from; more from specific pieces. I love going to book stores and leafing through art books, mostly graffiti books, and just get inspired. I do however love the works of Derek Yu, Brian Lee O'Malley as visual artists. For non-visual inspiration, I admire Author Italo Calvino. I found him about a year ago and I'm reading everything by him that I can find. He writes in this fantastic-realism style that I too like to use. Hajime Ueda and Jamie Hewlett.Oh! Genndy Tartakovsky, too.Tomopop: You credited Italo Calvino, in particular, as inspiration for one of your paper crafts, The distance to the moon. I really want to track down that story, now. The distance to the moon"Inspired by Italo Calvino’s story of the same name.Based on the theory that the moon is progressivly moving farther away from earth at ~3cm/year. Calvino writes of a time when the moon was close and folks would take a boat out when the moon was full and would climb a ladder to the moon and collect it’s cheese. The main character, ’Qwfwq’, falls in love with the captains wife and tries to get left behind on the moon with her."Thomas: It's in a collection called Cosmicomics. Brilliant, brilliant read.(We geek out about Tartakovsky's Clone Wars for a bit, before moving on to talking about his favorite places.)Thomas: Really my favourite place is probably my work desk. I've got all my tools, junk, paper pens and what have you all within arms reach. It's cramped and I love it. Outside of that probably the surplus store, haha.Tomopop: Right on. And your favorites of the art that you've created? Which ones stand out in your mind?Thomas: Oooh, good question. Probably, Once upon a whale. It was also the first piece I sold. Reluctantly. Once upon a whaleThomas: It just came to me when i was doodling and I loved the way it all came together.Tomopop: I'm amazed because of all of the different mediums that you're into, I find that there's so much to enjoy. Your site is very huge and I've spent at least an hour or more going through it. And it's all so varied. It's hard to believe that it only represents 2 years of work.The masked men from the woods is a perfect example. It's one of my favorites.Thomas: I love the mask, too! It was just on a whim. I went out and got some sticks from around our building and just went for it. I'd like to do something in that style again soon.The masked men from the woodsTomopop: Tell me about your creative process? Can you walk me through how you go from idea to finished piece?Thomas: A lot of my ideas come from the bored at work doodling in the margins. Other times inspiration comes from just staring off while on the subway or someplace and just letting my mind wander. As corny as it sounds I'm a real advocate for imagination and just letting your mind run. You'd be amazed where it goes.Tomopop: How much time do you spend creating, say, in an average month?Thomas: Most of my time, actually. Most of my friends are back home so I don't go out too much. I just feel really relaxed when I'm creating. Even if it's just doodling idly while watching TV. I often joked that I was their "imaginary friend" since I was never around which is where I got my pseudonym from.Tomopop: That is awesome. I like that. In terms of the more sculpture based items, when you're creating those is there always a plan? Do you sketch them out in detail, or just put them together as you think should work as you go along?ImaginaryThomas: I'll often start pulling things out of my junk drawers at random and kind of force the creative process. Take one thing and rotate it and wonder "what could this be?" from there I find other pieces that fit around it swaping one part for another until I feel it's the best possible composition. I rarely have a plan going into it because I'm at the mercy of the junk I have. If I don't have a specific part I can't do much about it. Tomopop: Where can we get a hold of your art? Do you do gallery shows? Do you have an online store?Thomas: I haven't done a show yet but I would love to. I really need to hold on to some of my stuff though. I sell a lot of it online or to friends. I love creating but It's a small apartment so I can't keep it all and I love being able to pass something I've made onto someone else. It's a great feeling. One thing I sold was actually as an engagement gift for someone's fiancé. I felt really special to have made something someone would give for that occasion.Tomopop: Alright, sir! Thanks so much for your time.Thomas: Thanks again, my friend.ImaginaryThomas' art can be seen on his website with many items available for purchase at his Etsy Shop. He is available for commissions and can be contacted through his website imaginarythomas.com.
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ImaginaryThomas is a man of many talents and a seemingly unlimited amount of imagination. He's a creator of toys and art that transcend any single medium. It would seem that if he can dream something, he will make it a realit...


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