WOODEN DUCKIES AND TEDDY BEARS? BAH, HUMBUG ON THAT CRAP! SANTA'S ARMY OF HAMMER-PUSHING MIDGET CRONIES AIN'T GOT NOTHING ON TOYMAKER, SCOTT WILKOWSKI.
Debbie: Just to start, why don't you tell us how you got into sculpting toys.
Scott: Well, I've been collecting comics for awhile now, and always had an interest in art. I pursued art through high school, and one of the teachers suggested that my skills would be good for industrial design. There's really only two schools that taught it in Wisconsin, and at the time I wasn't really into branching out. I didn't even know what possibilities were out there. One was the private art school in Milwaukee, and the other was the University of Wisconsin Stout. So I chose Stout, because I could afford it.
D: Hell yeah. State funding.
S: Yeah. And then industrial design basically taught me the skills needed to design action figures and enter the toy world.
D: So were you sculpting in high school? With the comic interest, it sounds like you started off with just the drawing aspect of it all.
S: Right. I actually did a Wolverine bust in high school. It's kinda ridiculous. (laughs)
D: (laughing) What? Wolverine, ridiculous? What are you talking about?
S: (laughs) I didn't do too much sculpting, not even in the early parts of college. We had to do a lot of model making, like making fake products; drills and stuff like that. But I always tried to gear my products toward toys.
D: So when did the actual sculpting start to come in for you?
S: I guess my senior year of college. I did an action figure-type project. And then I had a friend who had graduated a year before me. He'd started sculpting professionally at this place called Leisure in Minneapolis. Actually, it's in Chanhassen.
D: Close enough.
S: Basically, he got me in on it. There was an opening right when I graduated, so I stepped in there and started to learn how to do it.
D: When did you realize you wanted to sculpt toys for a living?
S: It's pretty funny. I've always wanted to be a toy collector. I'm actually gonna send you a photo of me at Christmastime when I was four years old, playing with Megos, my first toys. (laughs) So when I was four, I already knew that I had some kind of weird bond with these things.
D: Do you remember your favorite childhood toy?
S: I was a pretty big fan of the Batman and Spider-Man Megos.
D: What's a Mego?
S: They're dolls from the late Ď70s.
D: Do they look kinda like marionettes?
D: I've got a Robin one of those! It's all naked and fleshy!
D: Uh,.. but anyway, those things are cool. Do you still have any of your old Megos?
S: In junior high I actually sold a bunch of them off. But they were pretty beat. I remember some dealer laughing at a kid that was buying this Thor Mego from me, because he didn't have his helmet. He just had this blonde, curly hair and looked like a girl with a mean face. (laughs)
D: (laughs) Coming up as an illustrator, I can look at an image and say, "Oh, this painting is really cool. That comic artist really inspires me." But when you were getting into toys, who did you look up to as big influences? Was it a certain sculptor or a company?
S: It was definitely hard because, back then especially, no names were attached to the figures or the sculptures themselves. I had an issue of Marvel Age or some weird magazine that came out, and it had a whole interview with Steve Kiwus in it. He sculpted all these Toy Biz toys. He's also in Minneapolis. And I actually ended up working for him years later. He was probably the first person I knew of that did it.
D: Now, over the past decade, there's been this whole shift with action figures. It's gone from companies like Kenner and Mattel, to also include studios like McFarlane and other companies that are raising the bar as far as action figure quality goes. With all these studios upping the ante, do you think the actual sculptors are being thrown in the forefront now?
S: Oh, for sure.
D: Has the toy world and the interest in it become just as big as the comic world?
S: I don't think so. But it's definitely gaining ground.
D: You don't limit yourself to strictly doing action figures or strictly doing resin model kits, do you?
D: Do you think the model kits are a more "elite" business realm to stay in?
S: I guess the problem they're having is that people are re-casting the artistís work and selling it cheaper. It is kind of expensive, just because of the cost of materials and the artistís time. In order to break even, sometimes you have to charge $100 for the piece. But, when people re-cast them and sell them for half-price, that kinda ruins everything, and people don't want to make them anymore. It kinda spoils it. I think they were more popular in the early Ď90s than they are now. And since toys are so cheap and detailed now, that's taken over.
D: Yeah. I'll go to Target and walk through the toy aisle, and it doesn't seem like it's even for kids anymore. When I was a kid, Star Wars and G.I. Joe toys were simple playthings for children. Now it just seems like it's all about 30-year-old men trying to find the newest Simpsons figure. Do you think any of these new toys are still for kids?
S: Some are, I guess. Maybe these weird Yu-Gi-Oh figurines,...
D: What are they?
D: What's that?!?
S: It's a cartoon. It's one of those card games; kinda like the Pokemon deal.
D: Oh. The Japanimation stuff.
S: Yeah. My nephews are really into it, so I know about it.
D: Hey! That's an easy Christmas gift. Just sculpt a Yu-Gi-Oh character for them.
S: They probably wouldn't even appreciate it. They just want the ones in the store. (laughs)
D: So who do you think is making some of the best toys today?
S: I'm a big fan of the McFarlane hockey figures, because I'm a hockey fan. And they always have really detailed work. I suppose there's a big trend toward RealScan nowadays.
D: I noticed that. Some of your work even has that.
S: Yeah. I think it's great. It's a commercial product. I saw some Hasbro busts that are coming out with a Samuel L. Jackson RealScan. It looks like a miniature him. It's perfect. So I guess, why not, if the technology exists. I think that also opens up opportunities for more creative stuff.
D: Right. Everybody will see so much RealScan stuff but, when they get an actual hand-sculpted bust, they'll appreciate it that much more.
D: I saw that you did a Brad Pitt maquette/sculpture for Fight Club. That wasn't RealScan, was it?
S: Nope. No RealScan at all.
D: Have you done a lot of portrait work like that?
S: Not too much. I'd like to do some more, just because it takes so much practice.
D: You've done a lot of work on figures from blockbuster movies, like Spider-Man and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. On top of that, you've done all sorts of ornaments of characters: Hello Kitty, Winnie the Pooh, Toy Story, etc. How long did you have to work before you started landing all these big gigs?
S: I started working in February '99, and I started at Leisure doing the Disney stuff right away. Steve Kiwus has big clients, so that's how I got the opportunity to work on those things.
D: The stuff you're working on now, is it strictly a solo thing, or are you constantly sculpting with a team of artists?
S: Right now, I'm just branching off on my own and starting my own studio. I want to get back into making garage kits, and making them popular.
D: In your studio, do you have access to a lot of the machinery and equipment that you need for making kits?
D: I was just wondering, because it seems like once you leave school, you're sorta stuck without a lab all of a sudden. Was that ever a problem for you?
S: There's not too much involved in the sculpting process. I mean, as far as machines go, you may need a lathe and a mill, casting equipment (which are pressure tanks for painting), and that's about it. The rest is all hand tools.
D: It doesn't sound like it's too expensive.
S: Relatively not, I guess-- compared to starting other businesses.
D: Since you started working on your own as Waxbean Studios, what have you done?
S: I'm working on a piece for Brian Ralph. He's a comic artist. One of his books is called Cave-In. So the figure I'm working on for him will be a resin kit. It may or may not be painted. You may have to put it together and paint it for yourself. I'm not quite sure exactly how it's gonna go. But I think that'll debut at the comic conventions next year.
D: That's cool. Now, Jim Mahfood tells me that you're working on a Smoke Dog bust.
S: Yep. That's another one. That will be painted, and he'll probably come with a little radio and a crate of records.
D: Sweet! Accessories!
S: And there will be limited edition art pieces. Like, we want to have the boxes screen-printed and make them something special.
D: So you have this network of box printers you usually go to?
S: I'm working that out right now. I had worked with this weird politician, making some illustrations for him years ago. He never won-- he's a pretty extreme libertarian. I haven't talked to him in years, but I'm about to give him a call about these box ideas. I know he just ran again and lost but--
D: (laughing) Hey, at least he's persistent.
S: --but he has this whole print shop that he does on his own. Thing is, he barters with grocery stores for their services. He prints up their flyers in trade for free groceries. He's a pretty interesting guy. So I'm kind of excited to talk to him again.
D: Now, for our staple question: not including Smoke Dog, have you ever sculpted a dog before?
S: I don't think so.
D: Well, if you did sculpt a dog, would you sculpt it with lips?
S: I think definitely. I think that dogs have lips. (laughs)
D: Word! (turning to Wayne) He thinks that dogs have lips!
Wayne: (sorting through CDs) Of course.
S: (laughing) I've seen the website.
D: Did you vote on The Dog Lip Poll?
S: Yup. I voted. I let my voice be heard.
D: Can you explain the process of working on a piece, from start to finish?
S: Well, for instance, with the Smoke Dog piece: the character already exists. The art's already there. Jim doesn't have to do anything, because I can just look at the comics and see what the character looks like. Maybe I'll scan it and print the character out to scale. Then I start with a clay rough. From there, I make a silicon mold. Then I'll cast wax in the mold, so I can do all the details in the wax. And then I'll make another silicon mold to cast resin for the final. If it was going to be produced for Target or whatever, it would go to China. The resin would go there for tooling. But all the articulation for The Lord of the Rings figures were all put in ahead of time. All the parts are made for the armature.
D: So it's all sculpted in clay on top of a skeleton?
D: How long does that take you?
S: Anywhere from two weeks to two months. It depends on the amount of changes.
D: What was the toughest job you've ever done, as far as having to constantly make changes?
S: The toughest job I've ever done was for a piece that never came out. It was Kitty Pride from X-Men. It was before the movie came out, and Toy Biz wanted the figure for a possible line. But we didn't have any artwork for the portrait. So I had to basically make it up from a drawing they had done. I didnít even have a photo of the actress, yet they want the sculpture to be as close as possible. Plus the deadline was, like, a week. It was hard work, but I guess they were pretty happy, overall. It worked well for their meeting. Unfortunately, she never came out.
D: Are there a lot of jobs like that? Where you bust ass, but the figure never comes out?
S: Yeah. I did a lot of The Lord of the Rings stuff that won't be seeing the light of day, I think. It's sometimes a little disappointing that you've worked so hard on something. And in a way, that's why I really want to make these garage kits. It's more fulfilling for me to do it and have it come out; to have involvement with the artists and hear feedback from people.
D: What are you gonna ask Santa for this year?
S: I don't even know. (laughing) I've been working on toys all the time, and I can't even think of any toys I want! I guess I would ask Santa for the newest wave of McFarlane hockey figures, because I'm a big hockey nerd.
D: Lastly, are there any upcoming projects you want to promote?
S: Um,.. (pauses) oh! I'm also a part of this design collective called Design Zoo. We're, basically, people from different areas of design: web design, sculpting, industrial design, etc. And whatever kind of projects come up, we try to fit each other in, to be able to work on them.
D: Can you tell us what Design Zoo is working on right now?
S: I don't even know. I'm not the President. I'm just a member. He'd be the one who'd know what was going on.
D: You're not the President? You're just a member? Geez. It sounds like The Hair Club for Men.
CHECK OUT SCOTT'S SITE HERE, OR EMAIL HIM AT STUDIOWAXBEAN@HOTMAIL.COM.