Friday, August 10, 2012


Since I started doing these interviews I've gotten the opportunity to learn alot about what makes these artists click.  Today I got the opportunity to interview one of my favorite custom figure makers, Serang Kim.

Serang Kim, 40, from Seoul, South Korea, is a painter, sculptor, figure artist, military advisor for film and art director for music video.  With all that on his plate he somehow finds the time to make probably some of the bext custom figures today.

First, let me start by saying that your work is phenomonal. I noticed from your blog that you're an established artist.  Is that correct? How did you get into working in 1/6 scale?

I am an artist for sure, but I am not quite sure if I can call myself an “established artist”.

I’ve worked in many different fields and, probably the most significant career I had so far was being a chief editor, writer and publisher for a plastic model magazine named “Hobbist-Neo” for more than 15 years.

I became a pretty well-known plastic modeler in my teens and twenties, but after I won multiple awards in prestigious international model fairs, suddenly I lost my motivation and drive which made me successful in my field.

Making the situation worse, my health failed miserably and I had to fight against my ill condition for many years.

After my slow recovery, I tried to find a new field that can ignite my engine again. 1/6 scale was the answer I found.  Since I had worked in much smaller scale plastic models, 1/6 scale felt like a huge canvas that I can express my imagination in a more free and detailed way.

When creating these works of art, do you work alone or with a team?

Basically, I work alone.  I do my planning, researching and designing by myself. I almost always build my own figures and prototypes alone.

However, there are few artists who I collaborate with when I need to do computer generated 3D-modelings for mechanical works and/or some high level costume works. I still prefer working alone, but in reality I have to think about efficiency and quality of the work, too.

Your earlier work consisted of fan favorites, such as "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon". You then moved off to characters that most US fans probably would not have considered, characters like "House" and "Spartacus".  How did these come about?

When I decided to work in 1/6 scale, I gave myself a theme for all of my works “ambivalence of people”.  Then I think about suitable characters for the theme. Even though I utilized “fan favorite” characters, it is not in the viewpoint of fans, but it is a tool to express the theme in my mind.

For example, Captain Miller was both soldier and school teacher. Characters in "Platoon", "Dr.House" and "Spartacus" also were fine examples of human ambiguity.  Probably people would never find out the criteria of my works until I reveal it, but I’ve always selected characters that fit my theme.

You really excited your fans with your "Oldies But Goodies" (OBG) series. Your first offering, if I'm correct, was The Beatles.  Out of their many looks, how did you decide on the two looks you chose, Original and Abbey Road?

The first work of my OBG series was "Camera Man-James Dean".  Sir Winston Churchill was the second.

I believe The Beatles was the fourth work of the series.  When I decided to make the The Beatles, I was going to build Abbey Road version only because I thought that Abbey Road era of the Beatles was the period that The Beatles became real Musician-Men, rather than young idol stars for teenage fans.

After years of being young super stars, they finally became real musicians with their own philosophy and individual lives.

It was too bad that it was their last regular album together, but paradoxically it was the time when each member of The Beatles was in their artistic prime.  Of course, their Guru-like appearances with long hair and beard were also very interesting to me.
The original look version of The Beatles was a fan service because there are many fans who have different tastes from mine.

Next in the series, was the guitar god himself, Jimi Hendix. I must say, this is probably one of your most amazing figures.  What was the process of creating a figure like this? How difficult was it to find the reference material for his outfits?

Being a "radio-generation" person, I’ve been a fan of Rock and Pop music of the western hemisphere.  However due to the fact that I was born and raised in Korea, I was not familiar with the works of Jimi Hendrix until recently.

After I bumped into Jimi’s live performance video last year by chance,  I instatly became a huge fan of his music.  I studied not just his music and concert videos, but his life story and philosophy.

When I build a 1/6 scale figure, normally I collect about 1 to 2 thousands photographs for each character and I analyze and study those materials before I start to build the figure.
For Jimi’s costume, I studied much more images. I captured frame by frame from Jimi’s HD Live videos, especially for the details of his costume’s side and back.

You then went to a more classical figure and gave us Ludwig von Beethoven.  Being that there no actual photos of the man, how challenging was it to get the correct likeness?

I never try to make a copy of a few selected photos of the character.  It is a principle I have when I work on any figures.
If I try to build a copy of one image of any character that figure won’t reflect the overall look and feel of that character or the life of the character.

When I build a figure, I research and study the character thoroughly and construct my own image of the character which is often very independent from that character’s publically known images.  In Beethoven’s case, luckily both his life-mask and death-mask are still existing.  In fact, almost all sculptures and portraits of him has been based on them.

For Ludwig’s figure, I studied numberless copies of his sculptures and portraits that I could find and I constructed my own image of Beethoven based on his music, life and historical background.

Just like Jimi Hendrix, you included an extra headsculpt showing the character in a more "emotion filled state".  How did this idea come about?

Anyone who has watched any of his live performance videos will have to agree that not only Jimi’s vocal and guitar play, but also his facial expression and every single motion on the stage were huge parts of his musical performance.

Most collectors and buyers of the Jimi’s figure are used to a “passport-photo” like empty expression of factory made figures. When I decided to build the Handrix figure I really wanted to reproduce his soulful facial expression on live stage which later turned in to  “Voodoo version" head sculpt.

After I finished "voodoo version" I decided to show more versatile expressions of Handrix.  I ended up building 3 head sculpts and 3 hair styles meaning 9 different variations head system!

Recently, I found that few factories are using similar system with their Batman line ups. LOL!

Your latest figure in the OBG Series is Vincent Van Gogh.  This figure is truly a work of art.  Everything from the incredible likeness down to the paintbox and easel.  Is it safe to say that this has been your most challenging figure?

In a purely technical point of view, Jimi Handrix was the most challenging one.  In the case of Vincent Van Gogh, his publically fixed image was the real challenge.

Since photo records of Gogh do not exist, most people recognize Van Gogh by his famous self-portraits.  This means that most people have a false impression of him with a hobo-like appearance and overly distorted face which symbolizes his unstable mental state.  If I construct Vincent’s portrait in a 3-dimensional form straight up it will be demon-like monstrous figure.

I know that apart from his miserable life, Vincent was one of the most passionate and intense artists of all time.  Fortunately, I had a chance to enjoy the actual works of Van Gogh and I could feel his volcanic-like intensity from his brush touches on canvas.
Thinking back to that special moment of my memories, I really wanted to express his flamboyant passion for art rather than his pitiful daily life. I made every little part of Vincent Van Gogh figure to build that image in my head.

Changing the subject a bit, I see from your blog that you also have a passion of motorcycles. How did you get into motorcycles?

In my teen years, I was a junior-class amateur motocross riderSince I was very young boy, I was in love with motorcycles.

When I was in junior year in high school, I was badly injured during a motocross tournament and I had to retire from being a contest rider.  Even after the accident I still rode motorcycles until my early college years.  I then quit riding for about 10 years after I entering my mandatory military service.  Ten years later, when I was in a long home-recuperation after my retirement from the magazine work, my love for motorcycle suddenly reappeared.

You have an amazing bike. It looks like something out of an anime!  Did you design it?  Tell me about it.

Yes, I designed it.  More accurately, it was a collaborative work with an artist named “D Hwang”.  I wanted build a bike that reflect my uneasy, unusual life.  At that time the image I had for my life was something heavy and rough, but powerful enough to penetrate through any obstacles.  I built that bike for 3 months and rode all around Korea for 10 days.

Now that you've completed Van Gogh, who is next in the OBG Series?

My next OBG project will be Jimmy Page, the guitarist in Led Zeppelin.  I am already working on Jimmy Page and it will be done in few months.

After Jimmy Page, I am planning to work on the most important project of this year, Admiral Yi Sun-Sin (1545 - 1598).  Admiral Yi Sun-Sin was a legendary Korean naval hero who was well respected by many famous admirals and war historians around world including Admiral H. Nelson.

Japanese Samurais are already well-known characters around the world, but Korean warriors who fought and won the Japanese invasion do not have the same level of recognition.

2012 is the 420th anniversary of the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592.  I want to recognize Admiral Yi’s strategic and tactical brilliance during the Invasion.

To see more of Serang Kim's amazing work, go to SERANG WORLD.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Since 2009, freelance artist, Scott Petterson, 39, from San Francisco, CA, has been wowing the 1/6 community with his 1/6 works of art.

So Scott, what's your professional background?

I studied fine art in college focusing on oil painting. For a few years I showed my paintings with galleries, did illustration work and worked as a decorative painter doing faux finishing and murals. I started to get disheartened with gallery policies, lost my job with the paint company and needed a break from the chemicals involved with oil painting. So I started playing around with sculpting. Though it is still very new to me It's quickly become my focus. It's an incredible challenge and I really enjoy the problem solving involved and learning new materials and techniques.

What got you interested in this hobby?

When I was a kid I got a Mike Power Atomic Man from the older boy down the street at a garage sale. Something about the figure just sparked my imagination more than other toys. I liked how "realistic" and movable he was compared to the little Star Wars figures I had. For the longest time I searched for another GI Joe like that but they had stopped making them long before. Then like most pubescent boys I discovered girls and music and priorities changed haha. That stalled my quest for little plastic action men. That is until I got the girl and music collection taken care of and stumbled across the 1/6 Nosferatu and 1/6 Black Beard by Sideshow Collectibles. My interest was reignited. It was such a huge leap in detail from the days of Mike Power. I was really impressed by the "art" of the figures. So I guess that's when I began taking interest in the hobby and wanting to approach it as an "art" form.

Did you start making figures or customizing? What was the first figure you made/customized?

The first figure I wanted to make was The Man with No Name from the Sergio Leone trilogy. The very first Blondie I made was the first time I tried sculpting a likeness. I sculpted the head out of clay and made the poncho and vest. The rest of the clothes were bashed from other figures. It was really crude and awful looking haha! I had no idea what I was doing but at the time I thought it looked pretty good... well maybe for a month or so. Then I decided to start over and tried again, and again, and again... I'm still obsessed with that character!

How do you choose what figure you want to make?

There are a few things I consider before I begin a figure project-

It's pretty important that it is a person/character/movie etc that I enjoy or that I at least find aesthetically pleasing.

Since so much time and energy goes into making a figure I really want to be inspired and remain passionate about the process. Diving in and exploring the details could get tedious if the passion is not genuine.

With that being said though, inspiration and artistic merit alone would not allow me to continue doing this if it wasn't for the passion of collectors. Since this is not just a creative endeavor for me, it is also my business, a huge part of the final decision of what figure gets made comes down to plain ole demand. What do folks want on their shelves?

Do you do everything from sculpting to tailoring to painting?

I used to do everything: sculpting, molding, casting, tailoring, painting etc. When I began sculpting I began teaching myself how to sew and make clothing patterns. It was fun but a bit overwhelming when it came down to production time. I was feeling like maybe I was spreading myself too thin. I decided I really wanted to focus on sculpting. My friend Rainman, whom I hold in the highest regards and am most grateful to, introduced me to the tailor he uses. Now I do everything but the clothing.

Do you work along or with a team?

Yeah "a one man band" I suppose; except for the clothing as of late.

Many of these figures seem very intricate. Which one was the most challenging?

Thank you!  Hmmm, well they all have been pretty challenging for me, all in their own special ways; perhaps the one with the most challenges was "The Dying Man" that I made pretty early on. He was my attempt at making the character William Blake from the film "Dead Man". Not only is Johnny Depp a difficult likeness to capture but the clothing was tricky as well. Finding the particular plaid fabric of the suit and fur for the coat was very challenging. I remember it took me several months to track it all down. Then there was the hair implanting. Glueing each piece one clump at a time with tweezers and on several heads was ..well a sticky situation. He definitely has flaws and it may not be the perfect representation of the character but I still enjoy looking at that one.

Can you walk me through the process?

The first thing I do when I start a figure is gather reference. Lots and lots of reference. I watch and re-watch the film, take screen grabs, scourer the internet for pics, watch interviews, find books, etc. whatever it takes to get as many angles and insights of the character as possible. Then sometimes I'll do sketches to try to get acquainted with the face and it's structure. I pick a single image that will be the "master" expression. Then I begin sculpting.
I sculpt in wax and sometimes in casteline, I've been playing with putty too recently. For me the sculpting process is the most enjoyable aspect in creating a figure especially when the blob starts to look like something. It takes a couple of hours for me to warm up and find my rhythm but once I get in the "zone" it is really the best feeling. Getting a likeness is very daunting and when my eyes start to play tricks on me I like to get a fresh perspective.

Feedback from collectors and other artist is really valuable to me. My wife also looks at every sculpt I attempt and is very direct and brutally honest about what is on or off. Too brutal sometimes... tears...but appreciated. Once the sculpting is finished I usually realize it's not finished and go back and rework things. After that I make molds and begin casting. More often than not once it is cast I notice more problems and rework the sculpt again and start the molding and casting process over.

There then comes a point when I just have to call it done or it never will be. Once the casting is complete I do paint tests. One to two tests different tones etc. At the same time I work closely with the tailor making sure the clothing details are as close as possible to the costume. Sometimes it's just not feasible at this physical scale and production level but we do all we can to get it right. Once the prototype is complete I photograph it and post it online and hope for the best!

What has been your most successful figure? Why do you think that is?

That is a hard question to answer. On a personal level all have been successful to me.  If I'm having fun it's a success. There is always going to be one that sold faster than others and one that didn't sell well but I am pretty proud with how they all have developed. I'm certainly not the type of person who is satisfied easily with what I do so I am always looking to improve with each new project but If I had to choose just one on an artistic level I'd say maybe "Nexus 7: Rep-Detect Deckard"; though I love all my "children" equally, with that figure I really feel the character when I look at him.

I noticed that most, if not all, of your figures have sold out. Has there been a figure that you weren't sure it would sell out? One that you took a gamble with?

Every one of them. With every figure I release I'm never sure what will happen. There is always the unknown. Maybe nobody will like it, maybe it won't sell, how am I going to explain this failure to my wife? haha! I just never know. Interest in a particular character never translates exactly to actual sales. I was really worried with the "Nexus 7: Rachael" figure. I wasn't sure if she would do well because it seems female figures aren't usually as popular as male figures especially in a niche market. I felt it was a big gamble for a small fry like me. She did really well though, thankfully, so I guess that shows what I know.

You mainly do custom figures of popular movie characters. Have you considered doing an original character?

I think that would be fun but haven't really explored that idea yet.

If I recall, you did a "Blondie Zombie" How did that figure come about?

First off I should mention that Blondie is one of my all time favorites. I have done several version and variations and still continue to try to get him right! Trying to perfect and do proper justice to your favorite character is next to impossible. I don't think you can ever be satisfied. I remember being so scared of the movies when I was a kid when they'd play them on tv. Later, of course, I realized how brilliant they are and have been hooked ever since.

Anyway, I was pouring casts for some Blondie sculpts and one came out with a terrible bubble hole over the nose. So it looked like an open nasal cavity. I thought it looked kinda cool and a bit like a zombie! Blondie zombie! A pretty silly idea but I went with it. The idea sat for awhile until a couple of years later when I saw the cover of a comic book called "The Man with No Name" and it reminded me about it. There was a drawing of a zombie Blondie on it. So when Halloween rolled around Blondie Zombie was finally born!

There are a handful of artists who do what you do. Who's your favorite and why?

They are all very talented and I think they are all great! Hard to chose just one favorite. I definitely have to give a shout out to Rainman though. His sculpting prowess always amazes me. The man lives and breathes sculpture. He's a true artist with no pretense and a genuinely nice guy. I admire that.

Now that you have finished the "Nexus 7: Rachael" figure, what's next?

I have plans for another "Nexus" model.

You really seem to enjoy doing this. Where do you see the hobby and your place in it in say 5 years from now?

Yeah, that's true, I'm really fortunate to have a job I enjoy!

I'm certainly no expert but it seems to me that in just the last few years, over a short amount of time, the hobby has really grown in leaps and bounds. New companies, techniques, technologies, artists, collectors etc have emerged. The level of detail that folks are able to create these days is incredible. The bar is already set really high it will be interesting to see where it goes. Hopefully it will continue to thrive and hopefully I will continue to grow and find my place within it all.

To view Mr. Pettersen's amazing work, visit his blog Figure Art of S. Pettersen.