“This sculptor should be fired, rehired, and then immediately fired again.” “This is without a doubt the world’s worst sculptor.” “This looks like shit. A literal piece of shit.”
These are just some of the ego-boosting comments I have found in forums reviewing collectibles I have sculpted. It’s easy to blame the sculptor. When you don’t understand the toy industry, blaming the sculptor just makes sense. However, it is not as black and white as that, and I hope this post gives you a little peek into the grey.
I am going to start with the example of my work that has caused the most ire. The 2014 Factory Entertainment exclusive 6” Archer figure. I got TORN UP over this piece. I think someone even told me I should die (through the bravery of a forum and a pop culture user name). Toys don’t begin and end with the sculptor. There are licensor requirements, factory modifications, paint masks - multiple things that can change a sculptor's vision into a piece of worshiped hatred.
Let us break this down:
1) The face. The Archer licensing team did not have a style guide when I was sculpting this, so I only had season 1 screen grabs for reference. My first sculpt was based more on the actor that they used as a reference model for Sterling Archer. He looks just like - actually is - a “human” Archer so this made sense to me.
The licensor said it was “too human.”
Next I toned it was back and went more accurate to the animation. This was “too cartoon.” They requested a specific mix of both, and that is where this head had to go to get approval.
2) The wide shoulders and goofy joints. I don’t sculpt articulation. Generally I sculpt the form, and give specific direction to the factory of what kind, and where, articulation should go. I did that here - and that was totally ignored when this became a “rush” release. (More on that later.) Instead the factory did *this* articulation, which is clunky joints and odd shoulder ball-joints that give his jacket a flared shoulder pad look. There wasn’t time to revise the articulation and hit the new delivery date, so there we are.
3) The tuxedo torso. I didn’t even sculpt this. Seriously. Remember a second ago when I was saying “rush release” - That was because last minute a decision was made to take my sculpt (in the classic archer suit) and throw him into a tuxedo for a last minute SDCC exclusive variation. Instead of having me sculpt it, they let the production factory do it. They removed the neck tie, added a bow tie and a cumberbund, and seemingly ignored proportion and rules of negative space? I don’t know.
4) Oddly skinny pants. Archer’s pants aren't skinny. They taper a bit, but are mostly straight, well fitting pants. And I sculpted them that way. However - the licensor insisted on this style of pants and wouldn’t approve the sculpt otherwise… even though Archer never wears pants like this.
Speaking of things Archer never wears…..
5) Insanely specific detailed shoes. In the show, Archer’s shoes are very plain. Again, that is how I sculpted them. Instead of approval, I got back images of a pair of elaborate $1000 designer shoes that - I guess - the Archer show runner was obsessed with. Again, not ever in the show, but this was a non-negotiable request.
6) Paint application. This was a no win. Anyone familiar with the show knows it’s style is that very specific drawn shadow - And we experimented with it:
But it never looked right. That, and the fact that more paint masks = more money and it was decided to go another direction. Without those shadows, it’s just not “Archer.” This was really nobody's fault.
In the end, this is what it took to get this figure approved. This figure was over 2 years in development because of back-and-forths over issues like the ones above. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to exonerate myself of guilt. I am not the world’s greatest toy sculptor. In fact ToyHound69 said I may in fact be the world’s worst. And I'm not saying that sculptors don't botch things occasionally. I'm just saying that more goes into a figure than just a sculpt. So maybe next time you see a figure you don’t like hanging on the pegs of your local target - maybe give the sculptor a pass. You don’t know what he or she may have gone through!