Marvel Zombies

Misfit Toys: The Saga of the Marvel Zombies Action Figures, Part 2

Sculpting with Diamond Select Toys

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By Jim Beard

Colonel America
final figure

Welcome back to our 3-part behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Marvel Zombies Action Figures! In Part 1, we talked with Michael Leavey of Diamond Select Toys about the genesis of the Marvel Zombies figures and their design. We now move onto the next stage of their development--and for a three-dimensional object, perhaps the most important--sculpting. Digger Mesch, founder of Art Asylum and currently heading up Dig Deep Entertainment, clued us into the wild and wooly world of action figure modeling. Part 2: Sculpting

Colonel America
head sculpt

Marvel.com: Digger, a lot of people are familiar with Art Asylum--give us a bit of background on Dig Deep, please. Digger: Dig Deep Entertainment was formed last year--I resigned as active president of Art Asylum over a year ago. For clarity on what Dig Deep's mission objectives are in a nutshell…my vision for Art Asylum when I started it was never to be a full time toy development house. That's what we became out of the need to meet a bottom line every month. We were always trying to develop content for entertainment that we would own and it just never happened.

Colonel America
head sculpt

What you have here with DDE is Dig Deep Films being 75% of my focus and Dig Deep Design (which handled the Zombies figures) that has a broad range of creative activities but only 25% of our overall workload. I just love comic books though and Marvel more than anything since I was five, so there is still a high from working on this material. I still read and enjoy the Marvel Universe in total fanboy mode so you'll always see love in the work. Marvel.com: Mike walked us through the initial concept of the Zombie line, the control art, etc. At that point everything's good with all concerned parties and they turn it over to Dig Deep for sculpting. How do you work with the control art?

Colonel America
control art

Digger: Control art is a variable, sometimes it's followed very closely and is integral to the final work, and sometimes it's a basic guideline for the sculptor who has a certain amount of creative liberty because he knows the material. The control art for the Marvel Zombies was done at Marvel Toys, internally. They knew what they wanted but the style it was drawn in was left to my judgement. It's not always that way but in this case it was.

Colonel America
early sculpt

So the project gets green lit and choices need to get made. The covers of the Marvel Zombies series by Arthur Suydam are super hot; I've always loved his work. The interiors of the book were by Sean Phillips. [In contrast] the control art was done very simply. At any rate, we chose to do none of the above because it wasn't the sort of a line where it was necessary. I let the sculptor decide. It was his first figure with articulation, and his style (his natural style) was dark enough without giving him too much other stuff to worry about outside the complexities that making something articulated can be, for a first-time job. Marvel.com: Who was the sculptor for the Colonel America figure? Digger: Noli Coronado did all the main figures and Xiaolin Night did the bases. Both of them [are] exceptional artists with totally different styles that for this project needed to gel. I think we pulled it off. Marvel: What material was used for the sculpting and why was it chosen? Digger: The figures were done in wax and epoxy and the bases were done in a wax-based hard clay that is used widely in Asia as the primary sculpting medium. I personally use whatever works in my own work but I try to let the guys use whatever they feel comfortable with unless something isn't clean enough. Marvel.com: What do you mean by "clean enough"? Digger: "Clean enough" means the cleanliness in the detail that can be achieved when using the material. People work in different materials. Wax I consider the best. When working from digital outputs the work is molded and cast in wax to fine tune it. From scratch, I personally work in mixed media as do a lot of the people I have working for me. In China they typically work in a wax-based red brown clay that is very hard and carvable, but the final details would be better with wax. Marvel.com: So, what's sculpted first? Torso? The head? Are the parts sculpted separately or at the same time? Digger: Everything gets roughed out at the same time. It's like sketching for a drawing or laying in an under-painting for a painting. You build it up and check it as you go. Proportions are important. Marvel.com: At what point in the sculpting does the articulation come in? Are there standards for what must be done to include the articulation or is it different for every figure? Digger: That comes first normally, but I've worked backwards here…I've had people do sculptures and cut them up later, but traditionally you make the articulation first and then sculpt with it in mind the whole time. You play with it as you go and get into the character. Marvel.com: Speaking of character, let's go back to Col. America again: was he sculpted fully and then cut up for articulation? Or the other way around? Digger: Actually, I didn't have the parts fabricated for him in time. The right way to do it is to use the joints from the start, work around them, get the attitude and movement, and then detail it. Marvel.com: What's the average amount of time to sculpt something like the Marvel Zombies figures? Digger: Normally I think a figure, from top to bottom, should take three weeks of hard work, from start to finish with nothing else in the way. Marvel: Were the Zombies sculpted "two-up" (two times the actual production size) or at some other larger size than the finished figures? Digger: That was done a lot in the old days. It was thought that doing two times up had some detail benefit. This was of course a lie that became an industry standard. People usually follow what they see others do and I guess there was no reason not to but it's time consuming and unless you are going to release the two-up as it's own product, as a lot of companies have in the past, it's not needed. It is a very specialized talent to work super small and one I never could handle personally without wanting to kill something along the way. Eight inches is about as small as I can personally deal with. I'd rather sculpt eight feet tall. Marvel.com: Once the sculpt is finished and completely approved, what's the next step? Digger: Well, in the case of the Marvel Zombies, they handled it internally as far as molding, casting, paint and packaging. It depends on budget and timing and [whoever] does what after. This was strictly a sculpture job for Dig Deep with an open-ended guideline for style. Marvel: Does Dig Deep suggest color/paint schemes? Digger: It's the same situation as it was at Art Asylum in some respects. Color schemes are worked out in 2-D. If someone wants our creative input, I'll give it. On the lines that are under our Dig Deep banner we do everything of course. Marvel.com: Is there anything about Marvel's heroes and villains in particular that makes them fun or more enjoyable to sculpt? Digger: I'm personally more down with Marvel than anything else. I grew up with it. I've forgotten more about Marvel than most people ever learn, and for the most part when it comes to working on other people's properties they need to hold my interest. The rush is still there to work on Spider-Man and the X-Men, no doubt. The new crew I have here in HK is mixed. American, Hong Kongese, Filipino and Japanese and they all "GET IT," for the most part. If you don't understand the culture that is at the core of the characters it shows in the work. The work becomes weak. If you look beneath the surface at that way we design and execute our work at Dig Deep, and before at Art Asylum, you can see an insightful thought process, not just another nice sculpture. When I started out at Art Asylum there were not that many really good sculptures out there in the mainstream. That's changed now. There is a ton of really beautifully done sculpture out there from all the companies. The bar has been raised. So where do we go from here? Its about creative muscle not hand skills anymore. The one place I know I can really shine is in being able to take fast decisive creative action and never being afraid to try something new. The relationship I have with Diamond Select Toys has always been healthy because Chuck (Director of DST) and I work well together and he lets me take chances on our joint ventures. I think at this point in general I get a lot of space on work for hire because I care about other companies' work as I do for our own. Marvel.com: Okay, Digger, give us one of your favorite anecdotes about the Marvel Zombies figures to wrap this thing up. Digger: The Colonel America figure has the open skull and exposed brain. That wasn't in the control art. We did that on the fly during the job as Damon Nee [at Marvel Toys] requested. That was Chuck Terceira at DST and Damon's brainchild (so to speak). Dig Deep was a hired gun. Hey, I like the sound of that for a change! Marvel.com: Thanks, Digger! This has all been very, very illuminating.

Shield control
art

Please be on the lookout for Part 3 of our behind-the-scenes feature on the making of the Marvel Zombies figures as we scope out the molding, production and packaging of the action figures…along with a more in-depth view of a certain green-hued, yet decomposing, giant.

Colonel America
early sculpt

Colonel America
base sculpt

Colonel America
head sculpt

Colonel America
head sculpt
(back)

Colonel America
head sculpt
(back)

Colonel America
head sculpt
(side)

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