Waves are but water. Wind but air. And though lightning be fire...yet it must answer thunder's call! Make way for the mighty Thor, who comes to theaters this weekend! In preparation for the Thor film release, I visited Devin Martin, our Disney Store 3-D Designer, who has been busy the last couple of months sculpting three-dimensional Marvel figure sets, including a figurine of the awesome Nordic god of thunder. Devin shares the process of 3-D computer sculpting, his love for Thor and gives us some very impressive and detailed sneak peeks of his Thor figurine:
Amy: Hi Devin, can you tell our readers your role at Disney Store and what you do?
Devin: I am a 3-D Designer for hardlines toys. This means that I work on using computer programs to sculpt three-dimensional products, like snow globes, toys and the Marvel figurine sets I have been working on.
A: What is the process of creating one of these figurines?
D: The process of 3-D sculpting I do now is actually quite new. In the past, we had a team of character artists who would draw and design products in 2-D. We would draw pictures of the products from the front, side and back view on Photoshop and send these files to artists overseas who would hand sculpt from our drawings into clay. They would take pictures of the sculpts and send them back to us. Because our 2-D ideas were being transferred to their 3-D sculpts we often had to make corrections on the photographs they sent us, send them back, and they would change and fix the sculpts accordingly. This process sometimes went back and fourth three or four times and could take up to 2 months. Now, with the 3-D sculpting computer program, the whole process can be a lot faster: I directly sculpt the figures in 3-D on the computer and a machine actually prints the 3-D figures out. There is no more middle man and one less step to take to go from design to actually producing a physical 3-D piece to use to make a mold. Sometimes I don't even physically draw the figurine out on paper before I start so I just sculpt on the computer from my head. Digital sculpting gives you a lot of flexibility and tricks that actual physical sculpting don't. Half the time the characters I need to sculpt are already available in digital form and I can use the actual file of a character from the movie. For example, I can use the actual cg file of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and open it in my 3-D program and adjust it to create a Buzz Lightyear toy. Everything is already to scale and model so I can get it done quicker! One great advantage of 3-D sculpting on the computer is we can re-use character files. Once we have a sculpt of a character saved on digital file we can re-use it over and over again, in different poses or styles for whatever 3-D product featuring that character. After sculpting a figure on the computer, a machine prints the 3-D figurine out and the sculpted piece is then cast to create a mold casing that will be used to produce the actual product. Once the mold casing is finished it can begin to be used for producing the figurines. From that point on the product is out of my hands and it goes into package design and everything else.
A: How long does it take to sculpt one figure?
D: At first it took a week to two weeks because the digital sculpting process was new to all of us. Now I can sculpt something in 2 or 3 days.
A: There's so much detail in your Thor sculpt, like the veins in Thor's hand! Does that kind of detail translate onto the small figures?
D: That's a good question! Some of the detail won't translate but I sculpt the details regardless because we may use this same Thor file for another product at another time. Sometimes I'll have to simplify or thicken parts of the characters, like their fingers, to make sure they turn out when they are cast.
A: Did you have to do any research while creating the Marvel figure set?
D: A lot of the people on the design team grew up liking comics so a lot of the knowledge we have about the characters come from our childhood. I also bought some comics and used a Marvel Encyclopedia to help and people from Marvel also gave me images to use as reference.
A: What do you enjoy about getting to sculpt Marvel characters?
D: The beauty of comic books is that different artists have drawn characters over time and each artist puts their own twist or style on a character. When I'm drawing Marvel characters I have to stay true to the character but I have leeway that I wouldn't ordinarily have with Disney characters. Thor has always been one of my favorite, even as a kid. There's something about him that was always interesting to me.
A: What is your own personal twist on the Thor figurine?
D: When I picture Thor I picture his character having a distinct chiseled face so I sculpted his face from head shots of male models who had chiseled features. I can describe my process as being similar to the process the casting agency went through to find the right actor for the movie. They were looking for certain kinds of features to fit what they thought was reflective of how Thor should look. I was looking to create him with a chiseled face because that was one of the features I thought Thor should have. Other artists might emphasize different things or exaggerate other features they think reflect the character.
A: Did you face any unique challenges when sculpting the Thor figure?
D: Yes! The wings on Thor's head are very small. Because I am creating a digital sculpt that will eventually be read by a machine, I had to thicken the wings to make sure they would not be lost in the printing of the 3-D piece.
A: Thor has a lot of muscles- how did you learn how to accurately sculpt them?
D: As a figure artist I had to learn a lot about human anatomy. I spent years and years of art classes studying anatomy so I know basic muscle structure. Even so, I have to look at references sometimes to see how muscles flex and move. With comics I can over-exaggerate the muscles but I still use my references and often ask people on my team to check my work in case there is something they see that I don't.
A: How do you decide what poses to put the Marvel characters in?
D: I actually sculpt all the characters standing first and then I pose them. I think about what kind of poses reflect the character. To help me, I bought physical pose-able figures online that have 33 points of articulation. This means the pose-able figure can bend and move just about the way a real human being can. I pose the figure in different positions until I see something I like and use it to help me decide how to pose my sculpts. I also have to keep the manufacturing process of the figures in mind when I choose character poses. I sculpt thinking about how the figure will pull out of a mold.
A: In addition to understanding anatomy, you also have to deal with sculpting clothing on the figures while they are in action.
D: Yes, it really is one thing to draw and another thing to sculpt. I had to understand fabric movement and the folding of soft surfaces. It's part of the learning I had to do over the years and, again, I still look at a lot of references today. I have to do the same when I'm sculpting hair, too! Thor has lots of hair...
A: Devin, what kind of encouragement or advice do you have for young artists who might be reading this interview?
D: Be serious about the craft and take the time to learn it. Drawing is really cerebral, it's more than just training your hand to do a skill, it involves understanding how the eye perceives things. Learn how to draw and paint and design, don't take short cuts. When you learn these skills they will take you through whatever technical advancement that comes. Like I said, I took years and years of figure classes that help me today. They served as a really good foundation for the sculpting I do now on the computer.
There you have it! It takes some serious talent and skill to sculpt the muscles of a Nordic god! Hope you enjoyed learning more behind the scenes processes of 3-D sculpting as much as I did and keep your eyes open for the Marvel figure sets to be released in the near future! Also keep your eyes open for some more Thor news... ;)