Saturday, November 3, 2018

FANTHA TRACKS INTERVIEWS "CUSTOMS FOR THE KID" by Mark Telfer



It’s my great pleasure to welcome two of Star Wars foremost action figure customizers, father and son team, Brian (Darth Daddy) & Elias Fulton of “Customs for the Kid” to Fantha Tracks. What inspired you both to begin customizing?

Elias:  It all started when I was about six years old.  I had received a custom action figure made by Star Wars custom action figure artist, JACKOFTRADZE for my birthday.  It was a gift from my dad.  I was so used to all the Hasbro figures, so I noticed that it didn’t look the same as the rest.  It was a Wookiee Jedi made out of a Chewbacca with a Jedi body.  The paint scheme was very different from the other figures, so I couldn’t help but ask about it.  I asked him where he got it, and he told me that it was very special, and there was only one in the whole world, with no others like it.  I remember feeling like I was so special, because I was the only person in the whole galaxy who had that Star Wars action figure.  He showed me the customizer’s website, and I thought it was the coolest thing when I saw it.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it and how inspirational it was.  I eventually asked him if we could customize and have a blog ourselves.  We thought it would be a cool idea to feature other artists, and not just ourselves.  He was very reluctant at first, because we had never customized action figures before.  He eventually said yes thinking that I would get tired of it after a few weeks, but I stuck with it. We still haven’t quit after nine years, and we don’t plan to any time soon.

Darth Daddy: For me it was 100% Elias. I just remember him looking up, asking me to make Star Wars custom action figures with him. I was quick to tell him that I didn’t have the skill to pull it off, and this little kid just stared up at me with his big, brown, eyes and said, “Dad, I believe in you. Just start and I know you’ll finish.” I knew I couldn’t say no to him after that, and well, the rest is history. “Customs for the Kid” was born in that very moment and we’ve been at it ever since.

It doesn’t feel so long ago, Elias was painting wonderful Star Wars 3¾” figures. He’s since progressed quickly onto some impressive customized figures rivaling Darth Daddy.  Is there much competition ruling the customising galaxy as father and son?

Elias:  I wouldn’t use the word “competition” to describe our dynamic.  We really operate as a team.  We provide constructive criticism in order to achieve our best possible work.  My dad started me out painting figures with only five points of articulation so I didn’t end up giving an expensive figure a novice paint job.  I remember always asking him when I could finally make a super-articulated figure, and he always told me when I was ready.  So, the first time I actually was allowed to make a custom out of a high-quality figure, it felt like a significant rite of passage.  As I became more skilled, I was allowed access to more tools, and higher-quality figures.  I started to sculpt onto my figures about four years ago, and I’ve been developing that skill ever since.  I would also say that we customizers aren’t competitors by nature. We are a tight-knit group of friends who all help one another to make the best possible Star Wars custom action figures.  We give each-other advice, and hot tips so we improve together as a group rather than fighting our way to the top.

Darth Daddy: Elias is spot-on. We really work as more of a team to bring our creations to the masses. Elias has worked on so many of my pieces at this point I feel bad that he doesn’t get enough credit for all of his contributions. The whole endeavor started off as a true master and apprentice relationship, although when we started neither one of us were exactly masters. Because customizing can be such an expensive hobby, I did sometimes call the shots when it came to what action figures Elias was allowed to work with. Because of safety, that applied to the tools he was allowed to use, as well. Reducing the joints to prevent paint rub can be extremely dangerous work, so to this day I am still hesitant to let him use some of the attachments for our Dremel tool. All that aside, Elias has grown to be the better sculptor out of the two of us, and he now paints the eyes on most of my figures these days, because he is much better at it than I am. He has really taken lead on the blog this year and I’ve had a more reduced role.

Following a manufacturing vacation, Hasbro celebrated Star Wars return by releasing waves of new figures, sadly however, following the evolved super-articulation figures we had grown accustomed to, these new figures regressed towards the vintage era’s five points of articulation. Through customizing, you’ve addressed the articulation of the latest Star Wars generation of figures, especially Rebels.  What persuaded you to tackle the customizing transition from five-point to increased articulation?

 

Darth Daddy: Since power tools are needed to transition 5poa figures into super-articulated figures, I do the work on those. It started from a desire to bring the main characters from the show up to speed with modern figures that had been released prior. There is nothing more boring to a child than a 5poa Jedi, regardless of what Hasbro says in their talking points about why they made the transition to less articulated figures. I even remember when I was a kid how frustrated I would get when I couldn’t get my Vintage Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker to hold their lightsabers with two hands like in the movie. The conversion process can also be one of the most frustrating tasks a customizer can take on, and it has nothing to do with difficulty. Sure, there are challenges while making the conversion that need to be addressed, but once you figure out the engineering that needs to be implemented it is rather easy to do. The frustration comes more from the sacrifice that is required. Namely, stealing joints from super-articulated figures. It is a costly process when you lose a perfectly good modern figure to update a stagnant limited articulated figure. Most times, you have to grab the joints from more than one figure to get the colour or size joint that the project requires. It is something that we started to stray away from rather quickly, and as a result we have made far less Star Wars Rebels customs compared to other Star Wars content as a result. It has to be a character like Chirrut Îmwe, who demands a wide range of motion to get us to steal those joints from high-quality figures going forward. Nobody was more disappointed by the switch to 5poa than a Star Wars customizer, except maybe diorama builders who want to convey the drama in the scene that they created. 5poa figures also provide customizers a very limited range of parts for us to use after being boiled apart. A 5poa figure may provide a customizer 6 parts, while the super-articulated figures may provide up to 15!

Having developed increased articulation techniques, have you ever considered the challenge of applying this to a vintage figure?

Elias:  I haven’t yet learned about super-articulating 5poa figures.  I will say we haven’t thought too much about improving the vintage Kenner figures with super articulation. 

Darth Daddy: It’s just not really our area of focus. I might feel bad cutting up a Vintage figure. They are so old it just feels sacrilegious.
              

What’s been your most challenging custom?


Darth Daddy: For me it would be Pong Krell. He was slow going because of all the limbs. I tried sculpting multiple limbs at once, but I kept ruining something I had finished before it was done drying while trying to work on a different limb and would have to readdress the disturbed area to fix what I damaged before the sculpting medium would dry reducing the time I had to work on the second limb I had moved on to. Making his lightsaber hilts from scratch was also a huge challenge. I wanted to make his hilts in both the open and closed position and making them display uniformity required me to learn how to mold and cast. Fortunately, I got an in-house lesson with Star Wars customizer Luke Sprwalker who regularly worked at the Diorama Workshop for multiple Star Wars Celebration events. His assistance was a boon that gave me an education that helped me create many cool projects since. The saving grace on Krell was that I was able to collaborate with Star Wars customizer Hyperdrive who fabricated the soft goods and leather belt to dress my sculpt in, all thanks to our strong connection in The Force which is an inside joke you can read about in the blog post for figure.



Elias:  I would say the most challenging figure for me was making Queen Miraj Scintel.  The paint scheme was so detailed and tedious.  The sculpt was also extremely challenging.  I definitely reached my mental breaking point after a protracted series of setbacks.  The spikes of her crown wouldn’t stop breaking off and getting lost, so I was stuck constantly re-gluing and re-sculpting.  I finally got them all to stay, so I decided to spray seal her to keep paint from coming off.  While she was drying in a hallway off of our apartment, our neighbor didn’t notice her there and stepped on her, consequently breaking off another spike.  Another problem that I encountered was that once I put in the soft goods and belts, the clothing looked too thick.  So now with everything assembled, I had to take it apart again, so I could recut the soft goods and thin out the belts.  When I sanded the belts to get them thinner, I accidentally sanded straight through one, meaning I had to roll out more sculpting material, fit, and cut it again.  I had to re-adjust her ears twice, so they would flare out the right way and be the correct size.  The small horns just in front of her ears constantly popped off as well.  I was so happy when all my sculpt work was solid and securely fastened to the figure. After the sculpt work came a ten-hour paint job that included intricate paint applications on a tiny tabard.  By the time she was done, I was at my wit’s end, but after some quick reflection, I knew she was one of my favorites.

Do you have a favorite among each other’s customs?


Elias:  There are a lot of Dad’s customs that I love. Some for the nostalgia and others for the sheer cool factor. Among them would be his Phantom Menace Captain Panaka who is in great need of an update in Hasbro’s Vintage line. I also really love how Dad brought Clone Wars 99 to life. He was one of the coolest characters from the TV show and the character desperately needs an action figure release. Dad’s Revenge of the Sith Darth Sidious is just sinister and really does one of my favorite Sith Lords some justice. I’ll always treasure his Tzizvvt from the Cantina in A New Hope. Dad used his own hair to make the figure so if science and technology improves, I can use the figure to clone my dad when he returns to The Force.


Darth Daddy: Indeed. Elias just finished a Clone Wars Old Daka that I am over the moon about. I really love his Slave Ahsoka. That was a version of Ahsoka I always wanted to see added to our collection and I love Elias’ execution that allowed her to wear both outfits. I personally think his 3.75” Admiral Amilyn Holdo looks even better than the official Hasbro 6” version, and unlike some Star Wars fans, I really enjoyed the character. After seeing all the work he put into Queen Miraj, she’ll always be one of my favorites too. My all-time favorite would have to be his first 100% sculpted figure of Senator Riyo Chuchi. It was so cool to see him take the leap and attempt such a challenging project and accomplish it with ease. I’m truly amazed every day at how hard he pushes himself to improve. He has a lot to be proud of. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

How many customs have you both completed?

Customs for the Kid:  We have made a total of 352 custom action figures since we started, and we have many more that are on the way. All of our completed customs can be found in the Action Figure Index on our blog.

Do you have a preference for Star Wars figure types to work with, such as the real world or their animated forms?

Elias:  I absolutely prefer the Clone Wars figures.  That might have to do with the fact that the Clone Wars was my generation of Star Wars.  I grew up with the show and all those characters on a weekly basis, so my appreciation for The Clone Wars content is understandable.  I have grown to appreciate the unique art style of the animated series, so that’s most likely why it’s my preferred medium.  I had become so accustomed to Clone Wars figures that at one point, executing a realistic style paint job and sculpt were very difficult for me.  I must say, I absolutely love the movie content as well, but there’s always going to be something extra special about The Clone Wars for me.

Darth Daddy: I don’t have a preference. I really enjoy doing both realistic and animated figures. I’ll always have strong desire to work on Cantina patrons and Jabba’s denizens, because I grew up on the Original Trilogy and those were the scenes that provided me with the coolest eye candy as a kid. I’d also like to get around the making some of the Cloud-Riders from Enfys Nest’s gang in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, or ME-8D9, Grummgar, and Bazine Netal from Maz Kanata’s castle in “The Force Awakens”.  Like Elias I also have a strong affinity for the animated content and will continue to draw from Dave Filoni’s animated projects for years to come.

Customizing can draw across many craft disciplines, which has been the most challenging and how did you overcome this?

Elias:  So far, the hardest for me has been engineering, considering I’m still a novice.  This is the one skill that I haven’t really learned yet.  That probably has to do with the fact that it’s the most dangerous.  Engineering is the part of the process in which you use power tools and heat guns to pop figures apart and grind them down where you need to.  Most of the attachments on our power tool could put me in an emergency room, as would a slip up with an X-acto knife at any given time, and we don’t want that.  So that’s why my dad is in charge of the engineering.  All of the other skills, I feel fairly confident with.

Darth Daddy: Believe it or not, it was painting. Before I was a customizer, I was the kid in art class who always mixed in too much water in my paint ratio and my paint just bled right through the paper. Anyone who goes to our first blog posts can see it took me a while to improve my paintwork before I got to where I am today. It is definitely an area where I can still stand to improve some. Another area where I’d like to improve is in creating soft good clothing for my figures. I’m somewhat new at making clothing by hand, and making my own patterns has big a huge help, but I still have so much to learn to become proficient at it. Like every other artist out there, I am still learning. YouTube has a lot of great tutorials that cover things from dry brushing to painting small heads that can be a huge help for beginning customizers. I try to share video tutorials from all the different disciplines on our blog whenever possible to spread that knowledge to our readers. I have even made a few of my own tutorials that can be watched on our YouTube channel that we hope can be helpful to beginners to seasoned artists alike.

While customizing can embrace the re-purposing of spare or damaged parts, have you ever utilized other recycled materials to complete a custom?

Elias:  I have only done so once.  The hilt of the whip on Queen Miraj Scintel was re-purposed from a bristle on our hairbrush.  My dad happened to notice it had fallen out, and we thought it would serve as an excellent skeleton for her whip handle.  We might need a new hairbrush though.


Darth Daddy: All the time. One example was when I used the safety seals on my vitamin containers along with cuttings of a bread packaging fastener to make the feather crown that adorns my Clone Wars Ziro the Hutt custom.

Have you embraced laser printing within your projects?

Elias:  We do know some fellow customizers that use it, but unfortunately, due to space constraints, we don’t have a lot of use for it in what we do.  We have only a few small dioramas, all of which we did without laser printing.  We live in a smaller apartment, and we probably don’t have the space to get a whole laser printing setup.  It’s a tool mostly used for diorama building, which we haven’t done much of at all.

Darth Daddy: Yeah, since we don’t have a large fancy art studio and we still do all of our art at the kitchen table, laser printing just isn’t within our reach. Maybe one day we will get a large dedicated workspace complete with a 3-D resin printer, ZBrush software, a laser cutter, pressure pot and vacuum chamber, but until then, we are stuck working within our means and they are very limiting.

Your “Custom for the Kid” website showcases your wonderful customizing work, but also makes great effort to promote fellow experienced and new customizers.  Among the customs featured, if you could both pick one to add to your collection, which customizer and figure would they be?



Elias:  One of my favorite customs from another customizer is Peak-OB1 Custom Creations “Trench” from The Clone Wars.  I’d love to I own it, because it’s one of the most beautiful figures out there.



Darth Daddy: The thing I enjoy most about our blog is our ability to share the work of other artists. We have been archiving Star Wars custom action figure art from all over the world since we started, and it has led to so many wonderful friendships. If there was one custom that has been repeatedly dancing around my head, it would be “The Ghost” vehicle that was made by customizer @JohnnyStarWars on Instagram. I want a “Ghost” really badly and his version has a lot of the bells and whistles I would want if I ever made my own.

Do you have any tips for anyone considering customizing?

Elias:  If you’re starting without any experience at all, I would say you should start with simple figures rather than jumping in headfirst into the world of advanced customs.  I would say that acrylics are the best paints to use, because they won’t dry incorrectly or ruin the figure.  Start with using lower quality figures, considering that super articulated ones are so expensive these days.  Most of all, don’t be discouraged.  You aren’t going to be a master on your first day.  I have developed my skill for nine years, and you must devote a lot of time and effort to become an outstanding artist.

Darth Daddy: The community is a great resource. If it weren’t for my fellow customizers and their advice, I’d be nowhere near the artist I am today. Another thing important to remember is persistence pays off. Keep at it and the more you work at it, the more you will improve. I still learn something new on every figure that I make. Also, don’t be afraid to push yourself outside your comfort zone every now and again. It is the only way you will truly grow as an artist.

I’ve enjoyed the “Customizing The Clone Wars” YouTube show you’ve both done in partnership with another talented customizer, Mr. Chad Peak aka Peak-OB1 Custom Creations. Can you tell us a bit about the show and what’s planned for the future?

Darth Daddy: I’d love to! The show is truly a labor of love by all involved. On the show, we teach our viewers how to make custom action figures of their favorite unreleased Clone Wars characters. We share our part recipes, the techniques, mediums and tools we used, and our thoughts about the show itself. Mother Talzin, Bo Katan, Master Sinube. We made them all and so, so many more. It is a show about the art of toy making with a Star Wars: Clone Wars slant. We even share customs made by artists other than ourselves. You’ll also get the chance to learn about some fun Easter eggs in each episode that you might have missed. Chad and I became friends around the time I started customizing. Elias, as you have read throughout this interview, is a huge Clone Wars fan. It was the first Star Wars movie he saw on the big screen. He was only 4-years-old at the time and it was a great introduction to the TV show. It was a weekly ritual in our home. Which leads us to Chad…Chad was already a seasoned customizer and he was one of the few artists in the customizing community that was making Clone Wars custom action figures. His work was truly inspirational. Elias was already a dedicated custom action figure collector and once the show was in full swing it didn’t take long before Elias wanted to add some of the characters from the show that weren’t released as toys to his collection. I remember seeing Chad’s Clone Wars figures in several forums under the name Peak-OB1 Custom Creations and he sold a good number of his customs to us throughout the years. I think we have almost 50 of his action figures here at home. We ended up being so inspired by his Clone Wars customs, we started making some of our own. Over the years we became great friends with Chad and threw the idea around of doing a custom tutorial show together to help customizers make their own figures. Since we had a huge catalog of Clone Wars customs already made and deep admiration for what George Lucas, Dave Filoni and team created, we felt it was the perfect vehicle for our show, and “Customizing The Clone Wars” was born. We have already covered the first three seasons of the show and are more than halfway through season 4 at this point. You can expect us to keep showcasing figures from the remaining seasons that were released, as well as cover the new content set to be released next year.

What Star Wars features do you enjoy watching from the live action trilogies, standalone stories or animated Clone Wars, Rebels or Resistance?

Elias:  I didn’t even have to think about it.  Clone Wars is always going to be my favorite content.

Darth Daddy: I’m a huge fan of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. I’m happy that Star Wars fans are showing some love for the film now that it has been released on home video. It really nails the chemistry and nostalgia from the Original Trilogy with the interaction between the cast that the Sequel Trilogy hasn’t matched just yet. Ron Howard really needs to direct another Star Wars film. He gets it. I know a lot of fans are kicking themselves for not seeing “Solo” in theaters when it was released. You live, you learn. The standalone films have been my favorite content since the Disney takeover. “Rogue One” was really magnificent! Like Elias, I can also watch episodes of The Clone Wars TV show over and over. The story arcs, diversity in the stories, and plethora of new characters make it the most satisfying Star Wars content in my humble opinion, and the show really did a lot to expand our understanding of The Prequels. I am a Star Wars fan who loved ALL the Prequel films just as much as the Original Trilogy, so that was a huge bonus for me. Star Wars Rebels really expanded upon what The Clone Wars was doing and was a great watch some of my favorite characters carry on into the new show.  Truly memorable. I’m really enjoying Star Wars Resistance too. I am a firm believer that Dave Filoni can do no wrong. 

Are you excited for the return of Dave Filoni’s “Clone Wars” and John Favreau’s “The Mandalorian” and not forgetting next year’s trilogy climax?

Elias:  After Dave’s great successes in story writing and directing with the animated content, I absolutely trust that he will deliver great content within “The Mandalorian”.  I’d go as far as to say that I’m looking forward to Dave’s Star Wars content, more than Episode IX.  I can say that I enjoyed The Last Jedi, and all I can do, is hope that Lucasfilm is going to give us a solid conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

Darth Daddy: Oh yeah, I am even more excited for the TV shows than I am for Episode IX.  “The Clone Wars” TV show is my favorite Star Wars content of all-time. Hearing it was making a return was a dream come true. To say we were massively disappointed about its cancellation years ago is an understatement. We were devastated. I’m really excited that Dave Filoni is directing the pilot to Jon Favreau’s “The Mandalorian” and another episode soon after. Seeing Dave Filoni transition into live-action provides hope that one day we may just get a live action Ahsoka Tano movie one day, I can’t wait for the new live-action show. Jon Favreau’s contribution to Star Wars has already been significant and nothing but positive so I have nothing but excitement about the road ahead.

We can’t thank Fantha Tracks enough for inviting us to be interviewed. We encourage everybody to try and make a custom action figure one day, whether it be a character of your own creation, fixing a mistake on a figure you bought in the store or bringing a character to life that was never released as a toy. It’s such a rewarding endeavor. If you need some help with getting it done or want some inspiration, look no further than customsforthekid.blogspot.com for all of your customizing needs. We have platforms on: Blogger, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, & Instagram so it shouldn’t be hard to find us.