What got you into customizing and building dioramas to begin with?
Historically? Or with Joes? Historically would be kindergarten. We had to make one of those "shoebox" dioramas about a place we would love to live. I remember my older brother helping me with it since he was in art school as well. It was an ice covered lake with a small cabin nearby. I lived in East New York, Brooklyn. We all dreamed of cabins, considering living in the projects. As far as a full on worldbuilding, that started with ordering one of those "knights" sets from the comic books when I was about twelve.
With Joes, it was for my son, Michael. We couldn't find any Joe playsets, and he asked me when I was making a diorama of turn of the century Victorian homes if I could make him a computer room. I jumped at it. We took a standard carboard box, added walls from the flaps, and then scratch built computers from illustration board and made the terminals from images cut out of PC World Magazine. Soon after, he wanted snow stations, jungles, and more. I came to 3 3/4 through my son, because Joe to me was still twelve inches. My first custom was a custom of myself that my son called "Lucky Strike", because he had a shamrock tattoo.
What work are you most proud of and why?
(laughing) Now that's tough. That's like asking which of my kids I love more. I know I have said it ad nauseum, but only 30% of what I have made, has actually been seen. Some pieces I did were in film, like Chris'(Jedsoon's) award winning film. Other pieces, some that haven't been seen, cost me not only money, but my computer, so those are memorable to me. Perhaps if those that have them would show them, I could gauge best by the reception of those who see them. We're talking quite a bit of sets now, remember. To give you an idea how hard this would be, a sampling:
- Hadley's Hope from ALIENS
- Tibetan Ruins
- sewer systems
- generator room
- Red Light District(booze, food, X-film theatre).
- Communications rooms(4).
- medical labs(3)
- SnakeEyes' cabins(2)
- Dreadnok Hideouts(3)
- mountain terrain(2).
- Cobra strip club.
- Dock and boardwalk.
- Castle Destro tops(2).
- Russian Security Agency.
- AF Communications room.
- London city streets.
- medical research laboratory(2).
- Springfield City
- Arabian City
- Japanese temple forge.
- Stargate SGC Operations and gates(4).
- Stargate Atlantis Pegasus site and Puddle Jumper.
- Zedhatch's store and surrounding shops.
- Shipwreck! Show set.
- Sailor's Bar.
- Downtown ghetto.
- generic city streets(2).
- Cobra Gas station/hidden base.
- Pit training area.
- At least three "Secret Surprises" of immense proportions.
- Wrestling GM office and locker room/halls.
- Arctic floes
- buildings-functional(too many to remember)
- Spanish decrepit town.
- Umbrella Corporation research facility.
- Some who escape my memory, afterall, this has been some years.
If I absolutely had to pick one, or two, one would be Spin Doctor's training area, which has fighting mats, surikens and knives in the targets, as well as arrows in the silent weapons area. There is a gun range where you can actually put up targets and slide them up and down the range. I think the term he and his Mrs. used was "geekgasms". That is some very high praise. The other would be maybe the London city streets, only because the antique shop actually has antiques in the windows you can see from the street. Wowboy's Springfield Toystore is actually stocked with homemade blistered package toys. Again, if you get to see the stuff that was never seen, well...
Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
Clearly from all of you. When I am given a commission, I often receive two types. One is actual floorplans, such as Wowboy's Springfield City, and the other is that great creative question: "I'm looking for a *****, can you build it?", which leaves all the creative control in my lap.
What do you find to be the most difficult part of customizing?
In customizing Joes, insecurity. There is some amazing talent out there that instead of trying to reach that bar, because it is daunting, I'd rather swallow my fear and try my best at it. It is very easy to get discouraged, but then I remember that if I don't create the custom I want, I will never have it.
In making dioramas, it is the scarcity of parts. It is no secret that at least in Florida, hobby stores are drying up, and the various dollhouse accents such as brass doorknobs, hinges, and even chairs are extremely rare. Every hobby store I utilized in a ten mile radius has closed due to either lack of sales, or the horrendous rent they were charged. Every now and again, I can find a gem, such as an actual Joe sized Tiffany lamp I used in a Destro's office. Or the Joe sized microscope I used in a Mindbender's lab.
How does one develop an eye for seeing things in a miniature world where a common household item becomes the perfect diorama piece?
Don't laugh, but it was an Easter Egg. I remember being given one of those huge hollow sugar Easter Eggs as a kid in school. You know, the one with the window in it that you can see inside? I remember the one I had succinctly. It had trees, a stream, a rabbit in clothes just walking about and a small cottage. All made from sugar and all in full color. To me, at that time, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Since I was poor, to even remotely do anything like that, all I had was refuse from the dump across the street, and paper from art school. So, poverty and Easter Eggs.
I remember in kindergarten when we had to make things with Elmer's glue and the huge trunk of wood shapes, I made the robot from "Lost in Space". I knew the model and the toy existed, but we were destitute, and I learned to make my own. In art school, I had exceptionally eclectic teachers from the fifties and sixties. Thinking outside the box long before the cliche. They taught me things that I couldn't even learn in H.S of Art and Design. When I was highschool bound, I wanted to be an architect, and was accepted Brooklyn Tech. But my folks were more inclined that I either go to Erasmus School of the Arts, or H.S. of Art and Design, because my brother had already been there and they figured erroneously I could use his leftover supplies, which didn't exist.
Can you tell us about a few of your other artistic interests?
Joe only is about 20% of my toy enjoyment. It is the easiest to customize, due to the volume of customizing fodder, but I am a fantasy artisan by nature. If it has dragons, knights and elves, swords and sorcery, magic and treasure, dungeons and castles, I am my most creative. I have a project in the works of mixing Mcfarlane's Dragons, with a wealth of customized Armies of Middle Earth figures I have, that were a gift. This of course requires terrain and sets, which living in a one bedroom apartment with a fellow artistic wife, is almost impossible. I shelved my Stargate projects for Resident Evil ones, purely because I can imagine more with the characters and I am not really bound by a tough canon, like Stargate.
I have a wealth of fantasy miniatures and terrain. Amusing, since to date, I have never played a single round or game that the miniatures came from. They were bought simply to people the immense cities I had created in my head first, then in a tactile fashion. My pinnacle piece was recreating the entire downtown of Shadowdale from the Forgotten Realms, complete with roads and shops.
Toys aside, I have been in art related schools all my life, and unlike those artisans who master one or two meduims, I just prefer to remain multifaceted. There are too many mediums to enjoy. Right now, the insomnia hours are spent making medieval boxes and clothing, as well as crafting handmade medieval books.
The other unspoken love is also writing. I used to be a student at the Institute of Children's Literature, so I have some children's stories as well as some adult fantasy and horror all in my files. The ideal artistic wish would be to have the chance to be an audiobook narrator. Doesn't pay a lot, but I enjoy the genre.
Are there any customizers' work that you really enjoy seeing and maybe even feed off of with your own work?
I try to read not only all the more notable ones, but also a few of the "up and coming" writers and artisans if you will. With regard to respectfully thinking "Dang!, I wish I was that good!" type of thinking, John from JFAK, and John from Marauder inspire me to consider making the fantasy action figures I keep hawking all Japanese and American companies to consider. Everytime I see a line come out over three inches, I get bummed because there is so much potential in a poseable 1:24 scale line, such as the defunct Lord of the Rings line from PlayAlong.
Doc Rob showed me with no illusions whatsoever that anything is indeed possbile, figure wise, if your intent to see it created is strong enough.
If time, money, and/or space weren't an issue, what would be the dream project you'd love to tackle?
For Joe, it would be a collaborative piece with all the top names here. To make the ultimate in dio-stories, with everything from animated sequences, flash, dialogue, digital effects, and of course the sets. Would be even better if we could get corporate to be enthused about it. But I would be afraid that people would immediately give it a "Robot Chicken" reception or feel. Pity too, because as has been demonstrated by the dio-writers and artisans here, there can be poignant stories with dramatic impact. Wowboy's and General Hawk's stories have been known to actually "bum out" some of their readers because we have become attached to the characters by the way they were drafted and evolved.
Essentially, there is enough talent here to actually make in pure narcissistic fashion a great diostory where the figures and characters are our own sculpted selves. Imagine, that, the ultimate in play, where YOU are the center of your imaginary world. It could be purely humorous, or it could be cutting edge action, or spine tingling horror. You are only limited by your imagination.
All builders dream of the "Lord of the Rings" type of account. Not in genre, but in budget and notoriety. When I was looking at "the making of" of many movies that use elaborate sets, it really struck a chord in me to note that they often use the EXACT same techniques that we often employ, and in some cases, the EXACT same materials. When I noted that the team that built the Minas Tirith set used foamboard and joint compound, I was very surprised, and maybe a touch jealous, because I probably could have done the exact same thing, and I'd wager have done it for much less than the bid they did. What they received for that job in all honesty could have changed my life here completely for the better. I guess the real trick is finding out where these type of bids get posted, and of course, the artistic portfolio.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to a budding set builder?
Clearly this....before you throw anything away, give it a second look. When I finished a bottle of dishwashing liquid, I noticed that the cap looked like an old bloodwork centrifuge, so I used it in a lab. Every blister or clamshell action figure, offers perfect window making material. The more firm, and clear, the better. Toy ties are your cables and wires. Pill blisters make excellent glass guages. You get the idea.
Don't be afraid to get your loved ones, if possible, involved in your hunt for raw materials. My wife uses a lot of saffron, which comes in a channeled clear plastic container. This makes a great glass shelving, or a specimen trough in a lab. A lenticular trading card can make an actual moving TV, console, laptop, or RADAR screen.
This is not to knock those of unlimited funds and access to high end professional grade miniatures. If you're of the means to get them, kudos. I have never been, so in this, necessity was the Mother of Invention. That is why I offer alternatives. Trust me, having discovered a literal treasure trove of designers overseas who make realistic diorama items, were funds of no consequence, I would corner the market on any and all. From Japanese gashapon, to Czech dollhouse item production.
If there was a fire and you knew everyone was safe, what one figure and one vehicle would you try to rescue and why?
If you had asked me this last year, it would have been a perpetual SpiritV3 and the Locust little chopper. But now, since I am in full Resident Evil mode, it would be my Leon S. Kennedy custom, and the Mortal Kombat MK-1 speedboat that he could ride on. As much as I love my other figures and Joes, the Leon custom came about by two of the grandest JC'ers here, Doc Rob and JFAK05. All my original attempts were so pedestrian compared to the legs Doc provided, and John's excellent sculpting and miniaturizing artistry.
If you were inducted into the toy customizing Hall of Fame, what about yourself would you be sure to include in your acceptance speech?
Probably that I couldn't have been appreciated artistically in this medium, without the visions of those that asked me to create the things they desired.