He's pretty good at sculpting gross things... shoes and hands too.
Sculptor Trevor Zammit
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Like so many talented artists in the toy industry, you may not recognize their name, but you're sure to know their work. Trevor Zammit is one such example, a skilled sculptor whose talent graces everything from Mezco's Family Guy accessories and Stylized Cinema of Fear to his current work with NECA on Gremlins, Freddy Krueger and Left 4 Dead. Trevor also has a wicked sense of humor, a talent in its own right. Read on to learn more of this under appreciated sculptor: How he got started, the tools of his trade, what he's working on now and his desire to design amusement park rides...
FIGURES.COM: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to become a sculptor. Did you always know you wanted to sculpt?
FIGS: Tell us a little about how you learned to sculpt. Are you formally trained or self-taught?TREVOR ZAMMIT: I've been interested in art since I was a little kid. Toys and cartoons always fascinated me. My father is also to blame. He went to Toy Fair a lot in the 80's, and every year he would bring home toy catalogues and stuff, so I was hooked from an early age. By the time I got to college I was obsessed with learning the process of how to make action figures.
TREVOR: I earned a BFA from the Columbus College of Art & Design, majoring in industrial design. That sharpened my skills overall as an artist and gave me a good understanding of the manufacturing process, but I really learned the most about action figures while working in the industry. My last semester of college I had an internship at Plan-B Toys. It was an amazing experience, they have worked on such a wide variety of products and for so many companies and I was able to see it all first hand. They showed me how to prototype figures from start to finish. You can pick up little tricks here and there when working in a studio with other artists.
Mezco's Cinema of Fear Stylized Freddy Krueger
FIGS: What are some of your past accomplishments as a sculptor?
FIGS: How did you go about getting hired by NECA and what's it like working for them?TREVOR: The first toys I ever worked on professionally were Family Guy accessories for Mezco Toyz. That stuff was all prototyped at Plan-B's studio. I sculpted beer cans/bottles, a fire hydrant and a few other things. It was pretty fun. Not long after I graduated I was working for Palisades Toys, that was a fun company to be a part of, they're all great people. Most of the stuff I worked on there never came out and after Palisades went under I found more freelance work with Mezco. Most notable would be the Stylized Wolfman and Freddy figures. I worked on some Kick *** figures too but they never saw the light of day. But without question I'm most proud of my Gremlins figures, George, Lenny, Daffy, and the Phantom. The George Gremlin is my favorite sculpture so far.
TREVOR: Working for NECA took a little time. I really liked the toys they made and wanted to be a part of their team, but I didn't have any hyper realistic sculptures in my portfolio. I talked to Randy (Falk), NECA's product director, and he was kind enough to give me a shot. Ken Lilly from Palisades gave me a great letter of recommendation, too. I owe a lot to Ken, he has been instrumental in my career. NECA is an amazing place to work. It's been over a year now working for them and it's been a blast. Our "Bring Your Man E. Faces To Work Day" is now my favorite holiday. Not only is there a lot of joking around and good times but we make the best toys in the business. Robocop, Predator, Evil Dead, Terminator, Freddy, Gremlins... It's awesome.
NECA Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City - "Vector" - Work-In-Progress
FIGS: 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?
FIGS: Do you do certain sculpting jobs or techniques better than the other? What are some examples?TREVOR: Computers are definitely taking over, there's no doubt about that. But I prefer traditional sculpting. I don't use any of the computer programs, and don't know too much about them. ZBrush is a tool like anything else and when used correctly it can be a great asset. But there's still that fine touch a human hand can give that the machines can't.
FIGS: What kind of clay do use? Do you have a preference in firmness (soft, medium, hard clay)?TREVOR: I've gotten pretty good at sculpting gross things; scars, guts, zombie stuff. That comes from years of practice. That being said, I guess I'm good at shoes and hands too. I worked on a lot of our Freddy figures; Part 3 & 4 heads and necks, all the gloves and the shoes.
TREVOR: I pretty much always use hard castilene. But it can depend on the project. I hear chewing gum is a good medium to work in. It's fun to experiment and there's nothing better than someone looking at your work and asking "how'd you do that?"
NECA Gremlins, Predators and other assorted figures and tools of the trade
FIGS: What kind of tools do you use? Do you custom-make any of your tools of the trade?
FIGS: How do you go about getting your supplies? Do you submit a list to NECA of what you need for a given period/ project?TREVOR: Yeah, I grind down a lot of my tools to make new ones for specific projects. The tools you buy at the store are never quite right. And when I start a new project I always wish I hadn't ground down those tools.
FIGS: What is your favorite subject to sculpt and why?TREVOR: I think NECA is pretty well stocked. If we don't have something for a project Randy is pretty good at getting it ASAP. But we never have enough reference... and we run out of water and paper towels a lot.
TREVOR: It changes so often, but it is most commonly stuff from my childhood. Right now I'm working on a Ninja Turtle sculpture for myself. I like sculpting old Looney Tunes and Disney style cartoon characters are fun to work on and a nice change of pace from the Predator and Freddy stuff we work on all day.
NECA Gremlin - Work-In-Progress
FIGS: About how long does it take you to complete a sculpt?
FIGS: Who are some other sculptors you really admire or like and why?TREVOR: If it's for work I always try to make the deadline, most of our figures at NECA take roughly four to eight weeks to complete. But I hardly ever finish personal projects. My apartment is filled with way too many things I started and never finished. I think it gets on my girlfriend's nerves sometimes. My parents house probably has 3x as much stuff.
FIGS: Given the opportunity to sculpt anything you wanted, what would you do and why?TREVOR: There are a lot of influences: Joe Liptak, Don Sahlin, Jon Mathews, Josh Sutton, the NECA crew, James Groman, Mark Bodnar, Greg Cantaloupe, Ziggy Halfpepper and Walter Shudmiester to name a few. These people all had a profound influence on me. Sort of fueling that desire to be a better artist or push abilities further than you think possible. They are all very inspiring.
TREVOR: There's a few things: Batman figures and Ninja Turtles figures are top of that list but I'd also love to design/sculpt rides for amusement parks.
NECA Left 4 Dead "Smoker Zombie" - Work-In-Progress
FIGS: What amazing sculptures and projects are you currently working on and what do you have on tap for the near future?
FIGS: Any advice for those wanting to get started in the sculpting business?TREVOR: There's a lot of video game figures right now. Im working on Left 4 Dead and Borderlands. The Smoker from Left for Dead 2 has been a lot of fun to work on. I also helped develop some Portal and Assassin's Creed props in China. And there's also some movie figures we just finished, Terminator, Jason and a few other things.
FIGS: Thank you so much for your time! Any parting words for our readers?TREVOR: Work hard, keep sculpting, eat your vegetables and just stick with it. Try to meet as many industry people as you can. San Diego Comic-Con is a great place to network. It can be really tough at times and it seems like the action figure business is always shrinking. So try to master as many skills as you can. It can really help your chances to be as versatile as possible.
A very special "Thank You" to Trevor for taking the time from his busy sculpting schedule to do this interview. Keep up the awesome work! And for the record, my money is on Swamp Thing - he can inhabit and animate vegetable matter... Mossman's just covered in it.TREVOR: Who would win in a fight, Swamp Thing or Mossman?
- Interview by Jeff Saylor