INTERVIEW: Rocco's Archangel Michael Project
More on the 7-inch Scale Angels VS Demons Action Figure Kickstarter...
Crowdfunding combines the admirable entrepreneurial spirit with the inherent human longing to "be a part of something" and has allowed sites like Kickstarter to bring peoples of all kinds together in support of one another's humble projects.
One recent project that has caught the attention of Figures.com staff has been the Archangel Michael Project by Rocco Tartamella, an impressive offering that is sure to satisfy figure fans as a prized piece on their shelves. Rocco was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the project, and our hope is that you'll consider aiding Rocco in making this dream a reality.
FIGURES.COM: How long have you been in the collectibles industry and what have been some of the highlights of your career?
ROCCO: I've been working steadily in the toy and collectibles industry for about 15 years. I've had a lot of experience in pretty much every aspect of the industry. I've set up booths for conventions, worked in mold shops mixing silicone, pouring up resin, cleaning off castings and making prototypes, I've manufactured my own product lines that range from statues, bookends, busts and even jewelry. I've done paint masters for various companies, concept sketches for preliminary designs, taken a small company and grew it to a six-figure success. I'm one of the only sculptors in the industry who has had the fortune of sculpting so many whole lines like the Onimusha 2 series for McFarlane Toys, the Samurai Champloo, Hot Topic Exclusive Mortal Kombat figures and America's Army Real Heroes for Jazwares, the All Star Vinyl line which consisted of about 95 sculpts for the UpperDeck Company, Funko's line of Star Wars Wacky Wobblers and the first wave of Capcom's Street Fighter articulated action figures which I art directed, created my own articulation for and sculpted all five figures in less than three months including licensor approvals. You name it I've probably done it.
That said, from my perspective, my career has been one big highlight. I've learned so much through the years and I think the whole of it has been paramount in the journey to where I find myself today. At the present moment I have some big news that I hope to share with everyone very soon.
FIGURES.COM: In the wake of the shifting toy landscape, crowdfunding has emerged as a great way to get specialized collectibles to niche fans. What factors led to your decision to launch this project using this model?
ROCCO: There were many factors that ultimately led me to this avenue - a lot of which were personal motivators. I had partnered up and trusted what turned out to be the wrong people and I think I was just fed up with helping others turn out massive profits while I was left struggling to feed my family. The past several years have been especially difficult. The individuals involved basically in some way shape or form tried to either steal my work, sell it behind my back, tried to ruin my reputation as a sculptor and leave my family and I with no way to support ourselves. It was enough to drive me in a totally different direction.
It's tough enough to make ends meet while raising a family when it's just my wife and I, you know, you wake up every morning and you try to be the best husband and father you can be, you try to keep your life as balanced as possible but the levels of disdain that my family and I endured over the past couple of years pretty much forced me to move in this path.
In the industry the subtle message is that as an artist, you're somehow not worth much and can therefore be crushed at any time, though they are quite happy with your proficiency and the quality of work you provide. I can't even begin to tell you what I've been through, even down to art directors who take full credit for all the work that you've done. For large companies, artists like me sometimes get lost in translation and it is often about the bottom line. Though I get it, I get that if there is no profit, there is no company, but I also know that the only thing that makes a company truly successful are the people involved. If everyone is only out for themselves, eventually the whole system collapses; I've watched a lot of companies and toy division implode because of the "money first, people last" attitude and I really needed a break from it.
I have high hopes for the Angels and Demons line, they're beautiful figures and I think they deserve to be produced. Perhaps I'm a bit stubborn, but my wife has always got my back and with her support, I'll find a way to get the Archangel Michael manufactured one way or another.
FIGURES.COM: How did you arrive at the $85K goal for the Kickstarter Project?
ROCCO: There are a lot of costs involved in manufacturing action figures, the prototyping, molds, production, packaging, shipping, insurance, etc. Most people don't realize all that goes into getting something produced in this industry; it's easy to go into the store, see something for $15.99, and wonder why a specialty figure might run so high not realizing just what is involved for the person producing it.
In addition to what I mentioned earlier, there's also the quality of the factory and materials being used which can add significant costs, as well as everything you add to the figure like alternate heads, alternate hands, weapons, extra accessories, extra points of articulation, every color you add to the overall paint scheme, the type of packaging used... it all adds up to higher production dollars, and it's often significantly higher for a production run of 10,000 or less. That's not counting the platforms that require percentages, warehousing fees, merchant fees, advertising, promotion teams and all the time and energy it takes to spread the word and get eyes on your product.
Furthermore, there's no guarantee that you'll recoup any of these costs, so Kickstarter is great in that if your project doesn't get funded, then all your backers get their money back (EDITOR'S NOTE: no money is exchanged until a Kickstarter Project reaches its goal) and you don't have to drown yourself in debt trying to follow your dreams. I like that feature.
Large toy companies have all that I've mentioned and their buyer's channels already in place. They often move forward with very high production numbers and so they can put their prices lower and still turn a profit making it worth creating these figures in the first place. I'm thankful for the toy companies that turn out some really awesome figures. I've done work for a lot of them and it's great seeing something that you've sculpted sitting in a case or on a shelf when you hit the local comic shop or the larger toy stores, but it's also a dream of mine to be able to get some of my own designs and work produced and out there for others to enjoy.
FIGURES.COM: What drove the decision to go for 7" scale as opposed to 4" or 12"?
ROCCO: I don't really have a bias one way or the other regarding scale; I happen to like them all for different reasons as I just truly enjoy the whole scope of collectibles as an art form and have sculpted quite a few figures in various sizes. With action figures that have over 20 points of articulation like the Archangel Michael figure that I sculpted, I really like the overall esthetic at the 1:12 scale. It's just a personal preference that appeals to the collector in me. I like the amount of detail that I was able to squeeze into this figure, as well as how the demon is coming along, which I am busy sculpting right now. He's going to be awesome and I'm really excited to start showing images as soon as I can.
FIGURES.COM: $45 for a 7" Figure will seem steep to some collectors, but we know that limited run items like this are no small feat to produce. What are the key aspects of this figure that make it so unique and special?
ROCCO: Yes, you're totally right, there is a lot that goes into producing action figures with costs being much higher for limited runs. With the Archangel Michael figure, I have included a lot of accessories, and a lot of articulation that all add up to higher production dollars. I've equipped this figure with a 10" spear, a fire sword to be cast in clear amber featuring a paint scheme to give the effect of flames, he also comes with a large shield, clicking ball jointed wings that are articulated to expand up to 20" when attached to the figure, and a base in the packaging to allow for display.
In addition to this, I am looking to use a high quality factory and materials to make sure that when you receive your figure that you can actually pose it without parts falling off. I have to say, as a collector that really irks me when I get something that you can't even pose without everything falling off. I've even had some figures just snap because the materials used were so brittle. It's just annoying and I really want to avoid those types of quality issues.
FIGURES.COM: The Bible is good subject matter for epic collectibles. Why have you chosen to start with Michael the Archangel?
ROCCO: I'm a big fan of angels anyway, but the real reason this all got started was because my son was having trouble sleeping. I guess he was just having some fears about being in a dark room at night, so long story short, we tried everything we could think of to give him a sense of peace. Even all of the different night lights we'd gone through didn't seem to help, we went through several different types but some were a little too bright or just made shadows that creeped him out more.
After roughly a month of this my wife finally handed him her Archangel Michael medal and told our son about this magnificent guardian who would defend him from whatever it was that was making him afraid. For the first time in what seemed like forever, with such little sleep, our son was so much more at ease and that evening he slept through the night without being afraid. I guess what we told him about this magnificent angel really made an impression on him and he was like a sponge for more information.
So we looked for descriptions and images of the archangel, but my son didn't seem to connect with any of the paintings or statues we found. I think a lot of the images depicting Michael were a little too antiquated for him. Let's face it, at the end of the day he's used to seeing He-Man, GI Joe, TMNT, Transformers, etc. and the idea that this wiry dude wearing a flowing tunic could defend him against whatever it was that causing him to fear the dark just wasn't cutting it. I did a lot of research and read up on his appearance and got to work. As I sculpted my son was getting more and more excited to see the final outcome and now that the sculpt is finished, he can't wait to have one in his room.
Just as a side note, he hasn't been afraid of the dark since. I like to think that Michael is helping him out.
FIGURES.COM: On the project page, you focus on the weapons that will accompany the Michael figure. What is their significance?
ROCCO: In most of the scriptural, literary and artistic depictions that I was able to find regarding Michael described him as being clad in armor, carrying a shield of protection and wielding a sword of flames and in some cases a spear. This seems to be the most common school of thought regarding his weaponry. So you have the armor and shield, fire sword and spear, all symbols of Michael's rank among angels and his strength, courage, healing protective spirit.
The fire sword is sometimes described as the Divine Sword of Truth or Divine Justice which conquers and purifies the forces of evil, making the one who holds it invincible. The spear has also been associated with cutting through the negative energies and lies of the devil filling the void with light and truth in its place. Personally, I've always associated him with the sword of flames but the idea of also giving him a spear was really appealing to me. I want collectors to be able to have the option to display with either depending on what they are most familiar with.
FIGURES.COM: What can you tell us about the Demon?
ROCCO: Oh boy, the Demon is a seriously beastie figure standing at a hulking 10", and sporting a lot of hair, teeth, claws, horns and about 19+ points of articulation. The Archangel Michael is formidable in his own right, backed by God Almighty, and though he can handle the greatest evil in the world we all have our demons to fight, just Michael's are bigger. No doubt he's going to be a big figure. I am putting the finishing touches on him now and I am very excited to start showing images as soon as I can.
FIGURES.COM: What's been the most memorable part of your journey on Kickstarter thus far?
ROCCO: It's definitely been a learning experience but I have to say, the most memorable part of this Kickstarter campaign so far has been the backers and supporters of the project. I've gotten really positive feedback, met some really great people and have reconnected with some awesome friends. I'm really excited to do more in the Angels VS Demons line so it would be great when we got backed.
Thanks so much for the continued support!
Given the prices of 6" on the mass market and specialty stores, the $45 price point for this limited run figure is a small price to pay for not only getting a great piece but supporting a fellow fan and artist whose given much to the collecting community. Figures.com would like to thank Rocco for his time, and we continue to hope for his success on this project.