Jin Saotome Interview
What was your first custom?
I'm not sure if you could call it a custom or not, but I took apart many a 3 ¾" GI Joe via the screw in their backs and swapped parts, then painting them with my mom's nail polish when I was about 5 or so. That's how it all began.
You placed in the top 3 in Hasbro's 25th Anniversary Custom Contest with your Cobra S.W.A.R.M. custom that lights up as well as making several other customs that have this same feature. Why do you incorporate that play feature more than any other?
I've always been fascinated with light-up features. I think my favorite one as a kid was that Rom the Space Knight or my first X-men Cyclops figure. Since then I've wanted to have light-up features in every custom I do. Some day I need to invent some sort of holographic laser projectors that can fit inside figures. Then we'd see a real light show.
Of all the free lance custom work you have done for Toyfare, what has been your favorite piece so far for them?
Probably the Bat Sentry. It was my first ToyFare piece I ever did and took at least a month to complete. The whole thing was a nightmare of cutting diecast and fabricating parts, but in the end I'm proud of the result.
The eBay auctions for your custom action figures end at prices that go well beyond what most other customizers get. Is that a testament to the quality of your work or because of your marketing skills?
That's a really good question and one I don't have an easy answer for. Anyone can create the same quality of customs I do by reading my guides and practicing. The only real marketing I do is post on action figure forums and when my work shows up in magazines like ToyFare and Playstation Magazine. But I will say that all my buyers have been satisfied with the quality of my work and I have lots of repeat buyers. I must be doing something right!
What is the one project you have agonized the most over?
That would probably be my Shuma Gorath Marvel Legends custom. I was searching for the perfect bendy tentacles for over 2 years, checking every rubber snake or dinosaur tail for something I could use. Finally I found what I was looking for and could stop obsessing about making the figure.
How do you feel when you hear other customizers say you steal recipes and claim them as your own?
It use to bug me but now I realize how silly the whole 'my custom' thing is. Customizing is a hobby that should be shared. That includes tips, techniques, recipes, and any knowledge that will help the next person enjoy the hobby more. It's why I post a detailed parts list for all my customs along with guides and tutorials on my site. I want people to copy my customs for themselves so they too can enjoy making that particular character.
What separates your customs from other customizers?
I live out here in the Mojave Desert so there's miles of sand and tumbleweeds between me and anyone else, heh. Actually I've been told on many an occasion I'm not a 'real customizer' because I'd rather combine parts or 'Frankenstein' figures together instead of sculpting a new head or muscles every chance I get. But by definition customizing means to take an existing product and add your own special touches in order to make it different from the rest. I honestly consider people who sculpt to be more artist than customizer because that takes some major talent.
What is your favorite custom someone else has done?
There's a lot to choose from these days! I really couldn't pick out a single custom even if I tried now. Some of my favorite customizers are Kyle Robinson, DoubleDealer, Fast Freddie, and Shinobitron. I could pick any of their works as favorites. Of course Kyle did make a great Jin Saotome custom… heheh.
You have tons of guides and tutorials on your website, but for a novice customizer just starting out, what advice would you offer?
That's an easy one. "Don't expect your first attempts to be masterpieces!" I see so many people give up on their first custom because it didn't turn out to look like something they saw on a site. It took me years of practice to get to where I am now, tools, experimenting with different techniques, etc. So keep practicing and don't give up. It will take quite a few tries with every technique or skill to get to the level you want to be at.
If you were stranded on island all by yourself, what one figure and one vehicle would you want to have?
That would have to be the old Cobra Terrordrome and a Cobra B.A.T. I'm pretty sure I could use the Terrordrome to hold water or store fish in when I wasn't playing with it. The B.A.T. would be there just to keep the fish in line when I was away hunting for coconuts.