Catching up with the talented statue, bust and action figure artist...
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One of the friendliest artists in the industry, Rocco Tartamella brings something unique to fans and manufacturers. A super-skilled artist able to sculpt in a broad range of styles, the freelance talent recently launched his new website - RoccoTartamella.com - to showcase his amazing work to the world.
We caught up with Rocco to re-introduce him to collectors, see what new projects he is working on, and discuss his future plans...
FIGURES.COM: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to become a sculptor?
ROCCO TARTAMELLA: Well, I was born in Queens, New York and have always valued working hard for the chance to be better than I was yesterday. I'm a hands-on kind of guy and so traditional sculpting, getting my hands working in clay, seemed a natural fit. Of course, the road that eventually led me to where I am today was a side-winding, crooked road full of twists and turns taking me to places I never thought I'd be.
I got my start as a sculptor sort of by accident, if you believe in accidents; I'd been working as a baker and couldn't escape the overwhelming feeling that something was missing from my life. I began each day at 2:30 a.m., at that quiet hour you can get a lot of thinking done. Everything is so still and quiet, it's a good time to get right with yourself since there are no distractions to pull you away. It was around this time that I started to ask myself questions, perhaps for the first time in my life; I began to wonder if this was all that life had to offer me. I suppose it all came to a head when I picked up a magazine one day. I was killing some time and happened to read an article about sculpting. As I read, I can't explain it but for some unknown reason, I just thought to myself "This looks easy enough, I think I can do this". I donít know what happened, but I guess I believed I could do it.
I took myself to a local hobby store and picked up some Super Sculpey. I couldn't wait to try it out and as soon as I got home I went to town sculpting everyone and every character I could think of. Before I knew it, I was getting better and better with every sculpture and soon had enough to pull together a portfolio. Long story short, that's how I got started, it was never a conscious decision that this would turn into a career. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would happen but here I am, a living testimony to the seemingly impossible. Perhaps it's just what I was born to do because in high school all I wanted was to be an architect, that was my plan, I guess God didn't agree.
How did you become involved in the toy industry and what are some of your past accomplishments?
Once I realized that I wanted to become a professional sculptor, I started to think about building a portfolio of my work to showcase the different styles I could achieve. After I'd accumulated enough sculpts, I just began contacting people in the industry and showing my work to those that were willing to take some time out for a newbie. This eventually landed me an unpaid position as an intern at Art Asylum in NY. I was so passionate about sculpting that I didn't even care that I wasn't going to be getting paid and packed my bags, flew from Florida to New York, and stayed with some relatives, just for the chance to keep doing what I had come to love.
From Art Asylum, I went to McFarlane Toys where I got to work on toy lines like Spawn and sculpted the entire Onimusha line. I had a blast. After McFarlane, I went solo and started freelancing. Since then I've worked with a fair few companies: NECA, Bowen, UpperDeck, Hasbro, Jakks Pacific, Mezco Toyz, Diamond Select, Sideshow, and Jazwares. It's been great working with all of them, there's a lot of really great people in the industry.
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?
It's really difficult for me to make a judgment on this one. I've tried my hand at ZBrush, for me, there were times when it was fun and then there were times when the program "glitched" well beyond the realms of my keeping my sanity. I spent more time trying to iron out the glitches, hopping on forum after forum regarding the subject, troubleshooting, watching DVD after DVD, reading book after book, and trying to sculpt something that looked mediocre and took up ridiculous amounts of memory and way too much time.
In the time it took me to do all that, I could have had at least 3 sculptures completed, molded, casted, had painted prototypes to show for it, and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they would hold up in production. On ZBrush, I wasn't even sure if at the end of the day the model would be useable due to high poly counts and/or any overlapping that could render the model useless, especially in terms of taking the model to print. Even then, there's a certain amount of detail that a printout canít hold and so a sculptor still has to get his or her hands on the model just to put the detail back in, following that, you still have to get it molded and casted up if you're making a prototype. It just seems a lot of extra steps to get where you're trying to go, but I guess some people just like to take the scenic route and like the idea of going digital.
In saying all that, I believe there is room for both. It just depends on the final product you're after and what kind of budget and deadlines you have to work with.
Tell us a few of the pieces you've worked on recently. Which have been your favorites and which have been the most difficult?
What projects are you working on now?
There are actually a few pieces I've been working on that I'm really excited about. The trouble with 'in progress' projects, however, is that you have to wait until the line is released before you can really talk about them in any detail. One of these projects is for Hasbro. I'm really excited about it and can't wait to see what they're doing next with the line.
I do have a few personal projects I'm working on at the moment. One project is a compilation of sculptures I'm putting together for a new book I'm writing, which I'm hoping to release next year. I'm also working on some sculptures that I would like to add to my website soon. I'm trying to show some of the steps and share what I'm working on with others who may be interested in what I do or who are just generally curious about sculpting.
There's another project I did recently, for charity. This project was simultaneously the most rewarding and most difficult. The project involved sculpting a memorial bust of a beautiful little girl whose life was recently cut far too short by brain cancer. This was really difficult for me. I had my wife in tears when I told her about the project and the little girl's story. In truth, I don't know how I managed to get through it. Having a young child myself it hit especially close to home, but I kept the family in my mind and in my heart throughout and their strength got me through.
Right now I've been working on some political sculpts. I guess it's reflective of the times we're living in at the moment, well, maybe it's always been this way and I just haven't been paying attention.
On your website I see that you accept commissions for statues and busts. Any plans to incorporate action figures as a request?
Sure, why not. Action figures are always great to work on. It's a fun challenge to see how well you can disguise articulated joints, problem solving at it's finest. The rub lies in the practicality and costs of getting a single, working or functioning figure made regardless of size.
Most of my commissions' requests are for busts and statues, however. Right now I'm making it easier by offering set sizes for busts and statues whereby I can offer them for a lower price due to the basic size, standard base, and finish.
What original sculptures do you have in the pipeline?
I've been doing some stuff with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of which I hope to be sharing on my site soon on my "in progress
" page. I recently had the chance to visit both Mount Vernon and Monticello, George Washington's home and Thomas Jefferson's home respectively, and was really inspired. A French sculptor by the name of Houdon created busts of both men. I was able to see these busts as well as some of the death masks he created and really wanted to see what I could do. I usually sculpt movie or cartoon characters and I thought it would be cool to change things up a bit. I think Houdon is now one of my favorite sculptors.
Given the opportunity, which licensed property would you like to sculpt characters from and why?
Wow, that's a good one. Over the years there's been like a ton of properties I would have liked to sculpt. GI Joe, Superman, Batman, to name a few. More recently I wanted to sculpt Dexter, but I don't know, something has happened to me in the last several months. While all those things would be cool I guess I'm just in a place right now where I've kind of let go, you know, like it's not going to make my life one way or the other. If I get the chance, awesome, but I suppose I'm not looking at life from a stand point of what I haven't done but rather a 'look what I have done' perspective, and I've done a lot. It's been a really good run so far.
Do you collect toys and if so what are some of your favorite collectibles today and why?
I think I may have been born to be a collector. I was a fat kid whose main interests were food and action figures. I mean, when I wasn't eating I was changing the paint scheme on my GI Joes and DC SuperPowers figures because, you know, they needed bloody knuckles from fighting all day.
Today my collection is pretty modest. My priorities changed when my son was born and I went from collecting to hanging out with my boy. So far he's really into some of the wrestling figures from Jakks, I bought them when I started doing some work for the company but he stole them and I don't have the heart to take them back now. I've really been digging the Revolt Tech line of Transformers, I love the articulation and accessories. I also really like the Assassin's Creed figure from NECA, it looks awesome, and again it's got great articulation, well hidden, which is always a major plus for me. NECA has been putting out some really cool stuff.
Thank you so much for your time and keep up the amazing work! Any parting words for our readers?
Thank you, it's been an absolute pleasure from my part!
Parting words? Yeah, why not. Um, life is simple but we make it harder by making it more complicated than it has to be; treat people better than they treat you even when they don't make it very easy for you; tomorrow is another day so don't get stuck on yesterday's failures and shortcomings; life is too short to stay angry and your hands are too small to hold onto all that baggage anyway, let it go and be free. No thing is more important than people so hold the door open a little longer for an elderly person, smile and say 'hi' to others even when they pretend not to see you, remember to treat others as you'd like to be treated and God Bless America!
Oh, and don't forget to stop by my website, RoccoTartamella.com
, whether it's just to say hi or even to ask for a commission, either way I'll be glad you did.
Special thanks to Rocco Tartamella for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this interview!
Interview by: Jeff Saylor