The "Toy Zkulptor" on Marvel, Gears of War, Turtle Warriors and more...
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Erick Sosa is known by legions of toy collectors - if not by name - then from his amazing body of work. Chances are good that you own at least one action figure or statue masterfully crafted by the "Toy Zkulptor". A verteran in the toy industry, Erick has worked for many toy companies over the years, including Bowen, Mattel, Hasbro, Art Asylum, Master Replicas, SOTA, Disney, Warner Brothers, and DC Direct. More recently he has been flexing his talent at TriForce on wild new Gears of War collectibles and at Kotobukiya where he acts as Art Director for their stunning Marvel statue series. Erick Sosa was kind enough to take time away from his hectic sculpting schedule for this illuminating interview on his passion and profession. Read on...
FIGURES.COM: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to become a sculptor?
Toy making technology has really come a long way in recent years. Do you find modern modeling programs such as ZBrush and Freeform replacing traditional sculpting methods? Is there a happy medium?ERICK SOSA: I am 34 and married to a beautiful lady by the name of Erika. We have three daughters (so far): Keira (5), Wendy (2.5) and our youngest, Erika. We live in Reseda, home of the Karate Kid
I started sculpting at the age of 4, mainly using Play-Doh. As the years went by I never stopped sculpting. When I turned 15 I met some guys from Hanna-Barbera Studios. They were animation maquette sculptors who introduced me to Super Sculpey. Oh, how my world changed!
My high school ceramics teacher Shelly Hill (wonderful teacher) realized I had a talent, as I would finish whatever pottery project she would assign in order to get free time to do any project I wanted. All I sculpted was superheroes and Street Fighter characters. Mrs. Hill realized I could earn I living doing this, and was very vocal about it, claiming I could be hired by Mattel. 6 months went by, and I must confess, I had lost complete faith in the possibility Mattel would ever call.
One afternoon I was in my American Literature class watching the film Rudy, the movie that many of you have seen where a little guy fights his way into Notredame's prestigious football team, and in the end, despite the challenges, he makes the team. Well... right about the moment when the movie was ending, and I was feeling I could take on anything life threw at me, a student walks in stating Mrs. Hill wanted me to go to her classroom. "The Mattel guys called, they want to hire you," the nice girl said. She got me into Mattel Toys and that is how it all started! Shelly Hill, wherever you are, thank you!
It sure has. I use a lot of both traditional and digital mediums to create real cool stuff. Some sculptors seem understandably threatened by the new technology. Others, like myself, have learned to embrace it.
I think so far digital sculpts can always benefit from traditional enhancement. Basically you can print out a model you did in ZBrush/Maya/3D Max, mold it in silicone, take the original out, cast it in molten wax, and start tweaking and enhancing. I believe excellent traditional sculptors are here to stay, but the reality is digital is usually done for a fraction of the cost and time it takes to produce a handcrafted sculpt. I see the trend leaning towards digital, it already has.
I recommend newcomers, both ZBrush and traditional sculptors, to learn from each other. It is very common to see something done in digital format that looks amazing on my computer monitor, but once I see the actual print out, it is a bit "soft" and the anatomy tends to be a bit forced. I think digital artists could benefit from a traditional foundation, and vice versa. Then again, I have seen amazing digital sculpts that translate perfectly when printed, meaning the original was actually very well executed, and the textures do not deceive you.
Personally I don't sculpt in digital media, but I do have a team member who does. His name is Avinash Hegde, a freelancer, but I try to keep him busy with clients projects and personal stuff. Avinash is a great blessing to my team. He is usally available for private commissions. Check out his Deviant Art Page.
Koto's Marvel Danger Room Session PSYLOCKE Fine Art Statue
The Marvel Fine Art Statues are remarkable thanks to your amazing sculpting skills. Can you tell us how this collaboration with Kotobukiya began?
When coming up with the style or pose for a new statue for Koto's Marvel line, where do you draw your inspiration from? Your personal concept drawings or do you page through the comics and choose a particular comic book artist's look and style?Thank you, but I cannot take all the credit. I do a lot of brainstorming with my team, which consists of Jorge Martinez (mold maker/caster/collector extraordinaire), William Valenzuela (sculptor/clean up master - he does most of my bases, engineering, and clean up because I am too lazy to sand sometimes), Avinash Hedge (all things digital) and Cleo Michel (painter). Also, the Silva Brothers: Manuel and Leonardo - former GORE Group members - are the force behind bringing our ideas to life on paper. I wish I could hire them full time, but they are very busy working for Dark Horse Comics and others.
Koto's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 CAPTAIN "SOAP" MACTAVISH ARTFX Statue
I had been trying to get into Kotobukiya since 2005, but they only worked with Japanese artists, and understandably so. One day former VP of Kotobukiya, Mr. Frank Supiot, gave me a call and told me he had an opportunity for me to get into Koto. Frank said "I can not promise anything, but if you pass this test, they will most likely keep you." Then he proceeded to explain he needed a very complex statue done - an ARTFX statue based on the character "Soap" from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The project required a lot of elements - three pairs of arms, weapons, climbing gear - and it also had to be designed, since they only had a basic idea of what he should look like. Then he said the dreaded words: "You must bring this to my office as a final painted prototype in exactly 14 days from tonight. Our Japanese development team does not think this is doable, but I have heard you are fast, and this is a once in a life time opportunity. Remember we have never worked with any sculptors outside of Japan."
I then proceeded to pass out... Here I was so close to working with one of the coolest companies from Japan, one of the oldest (60 years old) producers of cool PVC, and now cold cast statues and all I had to do was something that was impossible. To top it all off, my daughter Erika was due any day, and all the stress was taking a toll on my health - I suffer from migraines, and they were coming down hard!
After consulting with my wife, I decided to take the plunge. To make a long story short, we delivered the piece on time with the help of my team and Paul Komoda and Jordu Schell as painters! And yes, we delivered it in resin and painted, with every single detail. Needless to say, Koto was very impressed. A few months later they asked me to meet them at Comic-Con and they requested me to become their Managing Advisor/Consultant, plus Manager of Product Planning and Development. In other words, they gave me Art Director status, and ever since they have allowed me to do things in whichever way I see fit - which can be both awesome and scary because I've got their brand name riding on my shoulders in many ways. As a consultant I was now able to assist Koto's CEO Mr. Jeffrey Kashida in making licensing decisions and other business related matters.
After all the years of laboring in the dark the little guy got a break! I am very glad I decided to take on that project, and I am even more grateful to Mr. Frank Supiot who saw the potential many companies had overseen. I will always be grateful to him and Kotobukiya for giving me and my friends such a tremendous opportunity.
I think William, Jorge and I are what you may call nerds. We are somewhat acquainted with these characters as we all grew up reading comics. We use this knowledge as a foundation to our ideas, but we do a lot of research, usually online. I think one thing that distinguishes our operation from other companies is that we truly listen to the collectors. Forums are a great way to get feedback and find out what people are really looking for in a specific character.
As for posing, I am mainly the one to blame: I like to exaggerate stuff. I always tell William that we must learn the rules of anatomy/ posture and then learn to bend them, even break them. To make the poses more attractive so people will like what they see from any angle. A lot of my inspiration comes from the works of people like Jim Lee, Boris Vallejo, The Shiflett Bothers, Tim Bruckner, John Mathews, Jordu Schell, Keita Amemiya, Dave Finch, Takeyuki Takeya, Steve Wang, Alterton, Keith Kopinsky, Michelangelo, Bernini, Richard McDonald, Kent Melton, Mike Hill, Taishiro Kiya, Heavy Gauge, Mitsumasa Yoshizawa, Shin Tanabe, Ed Espinosa, and last but not least, Simon Bisley. SO many more to mention here!
The truth is I do borrow a few elements from the aforementioned individuals, but mainly I try to be as versatile I can. Each character represents a challenge as one tries to convey sheer power and dynamism.
Koto's Marvel RED HULK Fine Art Statue
The recent Red Hulk release is perhaps the best static interpretation of Marvel's unstoppable red behemoth yet. You did a fantastic job in capturing the artistic style and look given to the character by creator Ed McGuiness. Did you work directly with McGuiness on this project?
We are all very excited about the upcoming X-Men Danger Room Session statue series. Can we expect to see full completion of the team by 2011 or will you be branching out into starting an Avengers series to coincide with the highly-anticipated film in 2012?I was actually very lucky to have worked with Ed, he is the coolest guy. He basically approved everything right away.
Well, yes and yes. I want to make this very clear, Koto may be the new Kid on the block when it comes to Marvel, but we do everything in our power to make statues that seem to jump right out of the comics at a reasonable price. In the next few years Koto will be known for doing some of the most dynamic/detailed figures out there.
Like I said, I want people to know that my philosophy with doing Marvel product is not one of "churning out" as many statues as possible, but rather as many statues as possible within the quality standards Koto has been known for many years. Sure, ultimately this is a business, but I am sure even if we are not turning out 40 statues a year, fans will appreciate the, say, 20 statues they will get from us yearly. Plus, all of these statues are being made by the same sculptor, so it is easy to keep track of scales, anatomical consistency, style, poses, etc.
I am confident our fan base will reciprocate. We will do better by volume than by selling low numbers and flooding the market with tons of characters. We have already seen this happen - our new statues are being received VERY well and as we give people better quality, the trend will only get better. It is a win-win situation. True, we don't know what the future will bring, but I am positive things will only get better.
Also I believe collectors have been very vocal throughout the years about companies completing teams. Before I had no power to make this happen. Now Koto is allowing me to give this to the fans, and this we shall! So in other words, our mission is a dual one: Bring people their beloved characters in very dynamic format and completing teams, scenes, and so much more while being affordable!
So in short, yes, you can expect more X-Men next year and we are branching out with Avengers, Fantastic Four VS Super Skrull battle scene! And a certain Webslinger battle scene! All characters will look awesome individually, but after you see the whole scene you will want to buy them all!
TriForce's Gears of War MARCUS FENIX Epic Scale Bust
Gears of War. We're all huge fans of the game here, and by looking at your recent work for TriForce, it's pretty obvious you are too. How did you become involved with TriForce's Gears of War line and what's it like working on such an "Epic" property?
Your head sculpt on the Marcus Fenix Epic Scale Bust exhibits an eerie level of realism; an amazing example of a fictional character "brought to life". What are some of the challenges you face as an artist in turning a 2D character into hyper-realistic 3D?Well, I have been friends with Rob Baricevic (CEO of TriForce) for a few years now. When he partnered with Drew Seldin (TriForce VP) and Epic Games to bring awesome Gears collectibles to the fans, he decided to call me, as I am one of the biggest Gearheads out there. Actually William Valenzuela is an avid Gears fan as well. This game is so awesome, I can not wait to play the third installment!
Anyway, we did a couple of test sculpts in order to prove to Epic we could do this for them, and it seems they liked what they saw. The rest is history!
There are always a few challenges, mainly being able to convey the character in a way that will resemble what you see on screen. At the same time you want to make sure the sculpt and paint match that very look, but without making it look so realistic that it loses the spirit of what Epic intended him to look like. It's like a hybrid of fantasy and reality: Too much of either and the character loses its magic.
TriForce's 1:1 Scale Gears of War LANCER Assault Rifle
On a more technical level, we have the 1:1 Scale Lancer Rifle: A made-up weapon sculpted to look as if it was a real, fully functional firearm. I am assuming that digital data from Epic played an essential role in helping you craft the Lancer, but was there ever a time during its creation where information was not available? Where certain parts/ real-world function had to be established for the replica?
Comic-Con revealed TriForce plans for an Epic Scale Cole and Lambent Berserker. Are these projects you will be working on? What can you tell us about them?I think we worked on that Lancer for 6 months. TriForce and Epic wanted something that was screen accurate, but they also wanted it to look as though it was fully functional, yet it had to be production friendly... How do you make something look real when in reality it is not? Every single inch of that piece had to be accurate. Paul Komoda (currently working at ADI FX), Toi Ogunyoku (currently working at Legacy, formerly known as Stan Winston Studios. Check out Toi's personal site HERE) painted the Lancer and made it look Epic!
With Epic you get all the reference you need and then some. These guys are extremely focused in bringing every detail to life, making sure every rivet was positioned at the right spot... oh man! We learned so much from this project. It was challenging but extremely rewarding. Like at Comic-Con when people kept playing with it and trying to pull the handle and trying to press the trigger, basically parts that truly have no mechanical function, but these people were fooled, and that means we all did our job well!
Given the opportunity, which Gears of War character/weapon/vehicle would you like to sculpt?Only the future will tell, these things take months of preparation. Right now my primary focus is with Kotobukiya. Hopefully we will be able to see a Lambent Berserker soon!
I would like to do my own take on any of the Locust Horde characters, that would be sweeet!
Erick Sosa's Thundercats LION-O Personal Sculpt In-Progress
Based on the huge logo on your blog's home page - toyzkulptor.blogspot.com - it looks like you have a real soft spot for the Thundercats. Are you working on any production pieces aside from the ones you are making for your personal collection?
I love the Thundercats! Actually, I was approached by a company that holds the license, but I am not working on anything officially other than some kits I am doing for myself and some friends.
Erick Sosa's KAME-BUSHI
How did you come up with the Kame-Bushi character (pictured above) and where can we go to purchase this piece?
Any other original sculptures in the pipeline?Kame-Bushi... Well first of all, the name is made up. "Kame" means turtle in Japanese and "Bushi" means warrior, so basically "Turtle Warrior," or "Chelonian Warrior" as the piece is know here in the U.S.
I started working on the original character because first and foremost the reason why I ever picked up a lump of clay was to make stuff that I wanted to do. I never thought "Wow, I can earn a living doing this for some company!" My thoughts were always "I want to do this because I enjoy it, because it brings fulfillment to my soul." To be honest my main goal is to one day earn a living by doing absolutely nothing other than my own creations. This is not a pipe dream, there's solid evidence of this becoming reality. It is possible, and I am working very hard to make it happen. I came up with Kame-Bushi when I decided to do my own take on the Ninja Turtles. Then the piece evolved into something different and I came up with a story behind it.
There are other characters, like the new shark creature I call "The Demagrogen" or "Water Demon." Trust me, there are way more crazy creatures in this head of mine. I just hope someone will consider them good enough to buy as unpainted resin kits, and maybe one day as pre-paints. This is my dream!
As for the place where you can buy them, well, please feel free to contact me directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much for your time and keep up the amazing work! Any parting words for our readers?As for Koto, yes, there are a bunch: Magneto, Gambit, Warpath! As for my own, I am working on a line of fantasy/sci-fi creatures as though they were taxidermy pieces mounted on an oval base. I am also continuing my line of 1/6 scale, full size creatures. I am also working out a deal with a very well known Japanese video game company in order to produce limited edition kits based on their characters... I will keep you posted!
For more on Erick Sosa, including a look at all his incredible work, visit SosaStudio.com, Toyzkulptor.blogspot.com and on TheSculptorsCorner.com .Thank you! I want to thank the people that take the time out of their busy schedules to read a crazy sculptor's rants. I also want to thank all those that buy our stuff, without you I could not be a stay at home dad/husband. Thank you for helping me earn a living from what I love most!
Special thanks to Erick Sosa for taking the time out of HIS busy schedule to do this interview!
Interview by: Jeff Saylor and Jorge Pelaez