Friday, April 30, 2010


I’ve been thinking about how to introduce my friend, Tony Cipriano. I’d thought about extolling his virtues as an artist. I’d considered mentioning his genuineness. His down to earth, easy-going, joyful spirit. Maybe touch on his steadfastness as a friend, his loyalty and integrity. I could have opened with his compassion; he is a true blue dog lover and a man on intimate terms with Mother Nature. (Its okay, his wife knows). His devotion to old TV shows and classic movies, in particular, horror movies that open with a miniature plane circling a rotating globe. A die hard Beatles fan and the only other guy I know who listens to the Beau Hunks and their impeccable renditions of music from Laurel and Hardy and Little Rascal films. But, I suppose it makes more sense here, to discuss Tony, the sculptor. There ain’t nothing Tony can’t sculpt. He thinks with his fingers. He doesn’t over analyze, doesn’t get bogged down in minutia. He sculpts until its right and when it is, and he’s done and moves on to the next piece. He’s not as well known as he should be. If reputation were a direct result of talent, Tony would have his own network prime-time TV show. But he’s a terrible self-promoter. He’s more concerned about maintaining a good relationship with his clients and the quality of his work. Help us spread the word about our reluctant star. Ladies and Germs, the first of a three-parter, Its my pleasure to introduce, Tony” here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into” Cipriano. - Tim Bruckner

So Tim asked me to 'blog' with him. At first, I thought it was a tropical drink. Or maybe some kinky activity left over from his 'free love' days. So I did a little research and found out that this 'blogging' is all the rage with the kids today. Apparently they like to ‘tweet’ each other, too. To each his own. But, since I owe much to these grand old men--Procopio and Bruckner--I had to give it a whirl. I've decided to show my twisted, convoluted approach to a statue from 'soup to nuts'. I don't know too many other sculptors who are dumb enough to bake a Sculpey sculpture 20+ times along the way... and have clay dust an inch thick on the studio floor and shelves, not to mention on me. My wife calls me 'Pigpen', from the Peanuts cartoons...only my dust cloud is pink. (make your own jokes). Along the way, I'll go through several different materials, a dozen tubes of super glue, found objects, waste expensive silicone, and typically burn myself with boiling wax or slice off a fingertip or two. In short, I can't, in good conscience, recommend you follow my process…but maybe a tidbit here and a snippet there will apply for you. I hope you will take some useful info from this essay, but please save your laughter till I've left the building? Deal?

The sculptures I will be chronicling for this entry are the GAMBIT Premium Format Figure, and the SILVER SURFER Comiquette produced by Sideshow Collectibles. These are two recent projects and I worked on them simultaneously. SS's 'Premium Format' line consists of larger, 1/4 scale figures...mostly sculpted, but having some type of mixed media element leather, fabric, etc. In Gambit's case, it was decided to sculpt most of his body, and add a 'real' trench coat. The SURFER, also 1/4 scale, is fully sculpted.

When I am initially contacted to begin a project, either the client will present me with an initial concept sketch, or ask me to draw one. Sometimes we will brainstorm on the phone, but in both of these cases, the client had a specific pose in mind. With Gambit, I was sent some existing artwork for inspiration..... and for Surfer, they sent me some JPEGs of a model ( my art director!) in the pose they wanted. ( FIG. 1) Most producers do not go the extra mile like this. It really makes my job easier. Using the photos of the model, I did a small drawing of the proposed statue from 2 angles. This was used to show to the licensor ( Marvel, in this case) and get a green light before we began sculpting. (FIG. 2)

Once the concept sketch was approved, and the OK was given to proceed, I decided that it might be a good idea to work out some of the kinks on Silver Surfer in a small, oil clay maquette. Gambit was a straight forward, standing pose, but Surfer was to be on a 22 inch surfboard... banking into a turn... with trails of 'cosmic dust' behind him and supporting the 18 inch figure. So, I made a quick 1/8th scale model. ( FIG. 3) Once I began work on the larger version, this little 'study model' would eliminate all the guess work, making the project go much faster. This figure is only about 8 inches whereas the actual product will be an 18 inch figure.

For these 18-inch figures, I am using 1/4 inch armature wire. I like it because it is firm enough to hold up my figures, but it is a pain in the neck to cut through later. I suppose a more organized sculptor can plan ahead for cutting up a figure, but as I say....LAZY. I'm working in Super Sculpey. I had some gray for Gambit, but frankly I prefer the softer pink. The gray is harder, drier & takes detail better, but the pink is faster to work. Here is the Gambit figure blocked with the gray ( FIG. 4 ) I squeeze my clay on fast....pushing, scraping with the loop tool....raking...mashing. My first and foremost concern at this stage is that pose. I want it to be dynamic even if the figure is simply standing upright. You'd be surprised at how much of a difference even the slightest head tilt, shoulder dip, or finger bend can make. Even as rough as this is, it has already been baked several times to lock in the pose. You can see the light gray areas where I had to patch the cracks form the baking process. I've also used my grinding tool to actually 'sculpt' some forms. I use a barrel/drum bit on my Dremel, to sand the figure and break it down into planes. This may be my favorite part of the entire process. I can already tell at this point if I have a successful pose or not. Many times, I break the limbs and re-position them, using Magic Sculpt Epoxy.

I love this stage, because I'm not noodling it...I'm not worried about the tiny details yet. I can just sand, grind, slap clay on. I think it is the promise of what is to come that excites me. In other words, I haven't screwed it up yet! : )

Here is the first pass on the Surfer. ( FIG. 5) This is a little bit further along from the 'Dremel' stage. I have begun to add anatomy. Notice the light gray areas. This is Magic Sculpt epoxy, used to putty cracks and add keys to the arms & legs, which have already been separated for molding.

Another round on Gambit. I've begun to add some anatomy to his chest, separated the parts, and begun to actually draw with pencil where the costume details will go. The staff is only a wood dowel, but later will be replaced with brass stock. This statue comes with 2 alternate depicting the classic look, and one with the more modern incarnation of the character. ( FIG. 6) You can see how much I rely on the epoxy putty in the early stages. This is mostly due to the cracking that occurs with baking the Sculpey so many times. I know some sculptors will use a heat gun to cure small areas, but I never like to use a heat gun. It cures things unevenly and sometimes burns it. This is also why I like to separate the different components early on; I can bake parts while I continue to work on other parts of the sculpture. ( FIG. 7)

And another round on Surfer. ( FIG. 8 ) Since the last pass, I have sanded and primed the figure and continued work on the cosmic dust trail. The middle image shows a quick Photoshop area where I was showing the client what I planned to do to the dust. The client wisely requested that I raise the tip of the surfboard upwards. I think it made a huge difference. This is one of those things that happens when a sculptor works alone in his studio, and looks at the sculpture for days at a time. You begin to get 'tunnel vision'. It's extremely important to have art directors who know their stuff, take a look at the work many times along the way to catch things like this. Compare the difference to the earlier photos; much more dynamic & in keeping with the character. At this point the dust trail is just epoxy putty, stippled with tools.

In these shots (FIG. 9), you can see the new board. I cut 1/4 inch Masonite and carefully cut strips of thin styrene, gluing them down to the top and bottom.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Here's your first look at a teaser video for Pop Sculpture, edited by Tim with narration by Thor, er, Zach.

Do you want to see more like this? Let us know!


Every now and then, we'll upload a digital promotion poster, just for the fun of it.  This is our first effort, designed by Tim and based on an old Gene Autry movie.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


On October 6, the end result of two years' work will arrive in bookstores. But what the heck is it? Simply put, it's a start-to-finish instruction manual for creating prototypes, molds and paint masters for a 3-D sculpture headed for mass-production. While we show a bunch of different pieces in the book, in different stages of completion, we needed to create one piece on which we could demonstrate the various techniques we were about to teach. Since Tim, Ruben and I were emptying the contents of our skulls to benefit aspiring sculptors and curious collectors around the world, we figured, why not choose a character who sprang fully-formed from someone else's skull? And so Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, became our willing test subject. Here, you can see glimpses of her representing the many steps of the process. - Zach Oat

1: Rough clay. Playing with position and proportion on a mock-up base.

2: Finished clay ready for Waste Mold.

3: Finished clay head.

4: Clay head part cut from figure and gated for waste mold.

5: Waste mold cut and clay part removed.

6: Collection of wax cast part from waste molds

7: Working wax toward finish

8: Finished wax head for Athena statue.

9: Cleaning resin cast for Paint Master.

10: Primed resin cast. Paint Master started.

11: Finished Paint Master of Athena head.

Friday, April 16, 2010


My work at DC has included a little of everything, from statues to action figures... both from my own stylings and from specific comic artists' styles. I think some of my most successful pieces, from both fan reaction and personal gratification, are the ones I've sculpted to capture a comic artist's two-dimensional style in three dimensions. I loved working in Mike Mignola's style, and, judging from the pricing on eBay, the Batman Black and White statue I did from Mignola's art is a fan-favorite. ...Of course, that could have to do with low production runs. I'll tell myself it's fan popularity, though. Makes me feel better.

This particular Batman piece was pretty challenging. Mignola's artwork is highly and wonderfully stylized. It looks great on the page… it also happens to be difficult to translate into three dimensions. I'll assume Rubén had the same difficulty (and similar success... love the Lobster Johnson statue, Procopio!) in rendering shapes that don't necessarily belong in the three-dimensional world. I had to cheat angles, add planes where they wouldn't normally work, and generally throw all the knowledge I have of three-dimensional realistic anatomy out the window. The result in painted prototype form is a statue that reads as two-dimensional. Granted, I painted differing light and dark areas onto the statue to enhance the effect, but I remember reading forums where collectors honestly didn't believe the statue was anything more than a cardboard stand-in for what would be the final piece of sculpture. Pretty funny, actually.

I've also had the honor of working with Darwyn Cooke on the New Frontier action figures. I remember beginning the project and being introduced via email to Mr. Cooke; he forewarned me that he's a bear to work with. I've worked with some prima donnas in my time, so I assume if the guy's telling me he's hard to work with it, can't possibly be anything but a nightmare. I'm expecting revision after revision, mid-progress changes, the works. It turned out he was one of the easiest artists to please that I've ever worked with. A true professional. He gave my art directors beautiful and fully realized turnaround artwork for the figures, plus we had his whole New Frontier graphic novel to pull from for stylistic reference. Mr. Cooke was well pleased with the result, and I was honored again to be thanked for the effort in the "Absolute" edition of New Frontier.

Finally, I did action figures of the New Gods, based on master comic artist Jack Kirby. This was a similar challenge to the one I faced with Mignola -- a whole lot of artistic license is taken to get the effect Kirby wanted on the page. So, tear out the first chapter in realistic anatomy. No smooth transition from one muscle group to the other, and how the @#$% do you translate all that ultra-bold ink work into three dimensions? Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby wasn't around to help us nail down the style, but we did the best we could, and I was pleased with the result.


Jonathan Matthews

Friday, April 9, 2010


I’ve never known anyone with more enthusiasm for sculpture and sculptors than Argentinean sculptor Alterton Bizarre. Alterton’s Sculptor’s Corner ( was the first online gallery I joined. Mr. Bizarre works in epoxy putty, the most unforgiving sculpture material known to modern man. You have to have the patience of Job, the work ethic of a stone mason and be fleet of hand and sure of eye to be able to beat the damn stuff into submission. He has all of that and a mode of expression that would make the entire crew of a pirate ship blush. In addition, he is a doctor of dentistry and orthodontics. But don’t call him Doc. He promises to “kick your fat ass” if you do. How he knows I have a fat ass, I don’t really know. None the less, ladies and germs, midgets and microbes, I give you, the one and only Alterton Bizarre! ~ Tim Bruckner

1: This was my first time working with this kind of control art. Mike Pavlovich did an awesome job creating the ZBrush file, and I was able to disassemble it in parts: shoulders, torso, head, etc. Having all the reference in 360 degrees meant I could examine the piece from every angle in detail. It was a big challenge, because there was no room for mistakes or “cheating” as everything was there, right in front of my eyes.
2: I started with a wire armature for pose and proportions and covered it with a fast-curing epoxy (5-10 min of working time) to get a rigid skeleton to work over. Then I used regular epoxy (45 min to an hour working time) to create the basic volumes and shapes. Once the epoxy was cured, I did some rotary tooling to compensate and accommodate the shapes.  

3: One of my biggest concerns was the relationship between the belly and the gun. So once the gun was sculpted, following the digital file, I positioned it in place to see how it would work.
4: As some volumes were tricky, having to leave room for details, I used polymer clay to add volume to the belly and the hunched back. This allowed me to be a little more specific in adding/removing material. After the polymer clay was baked, I added some epoxy layers covering the clay. Pete Jirles' directions were really helpful and easy to follow to accomplish these proportions. Next, I cut the piece into parts with a jeweler’s saw for molding and casting purposes.
5: It was working!!! It was time to start adding armor shapes and volumes, cleaning and reshaping with a rotary tool. It was a process of adding layers of regular epoxy, letting them set, tooling, new epoxy layers, letting them set and tooling again and so on and so on, until the desired result were achieved.
6: Details followed the same process of adding epoxy layers and tooling. I did one side first to see how it was working. Once the client was satisfied I continued with the other side. For the gun I used some styrene rods and sheets, using heat and shaping blades, and adding thin layers of epoxy. And lots of filing and heaps of sandpaper to get those damned sharp edges!!
7-8: To give a final smooth surface, I sprayed gray automobile primer in several layers, being very carefully not to smooth out the details, but enough to give a unified look and a continuous polished surface. The first layers of primer allowed me to see which parts needed more sanding and refining. Again, it was a process of spraying primer and sanding, spraying and sanding, until I was happy with it. Finally the piece was ready for approval!!!! I took a set of turnaround pix and some close-ups and sent them to my Art Director for approval, and from there straight to Epic Games for final approval. Luckily, the approval process was one of the fastest I ever had!!!! Epic didn’t ask for modifications, so my AD was happy and I was even happier. After a month and a few days, I had finished one of the most intricate and detailed pieces I’d ever done.
9: The base was sculpted by Peter Jirles, who sculpted the bases for the other figures in the series. The final product was done in cold-cast platinum and cold cast bronze, which really heightened the sculpture’s details.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Translating a piece of 2D art into 3D is a challenge every hands-for-hire sculptor faces throughout their career. The nature of the art, and how stylized or impressionistic it is, often determines how successful the translation, but to translate a piece of 2D art into 3D and perfectly maintain its 2D character is damn near impossible. Jon Matthews achieved the impossible in sculpting Mike Mignola’s Batman for DC Direct’s Batman Black and White series. When I first saw the solicitation picture, I thought, like most everyone else, that I was looking at a Mignola illustration. Maybe Jon didn’t have time to finish the piece and so they used Mignola’s art in the interim. When I learned that I was looking at the actual statue, I was gobsmacked, as the English say. It's a brilliant piece of sculpture. I’d never seen anything like it. His solutions to a variety of difficult problems were elegant and inspired. Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, it is my pleasure to introduce Jonathan Matthews, Master Sculptor. - Tim Bruckner

Greetings all...

When I was asked to contribute to the upcoming Pop Sculpture book, I was both flattered and a little daunted. I've never spent a lot of energy trying to put into words what I do as a professional collectible sculptor. I've always been the kind of guy who'd rather show someone how to do something than explain it. Not my talent. That said, I've got the utmost respect for anyone who can describe in detail a process that most folks have no point of reference for and no experience in. I would have killed for a "how to" book back when I was starting out. I've been asked countless times how to get started in this biz and don't ever have a good answer.

I started in this job on a whim, really. I had a couple friends that designed toys right out of college at a collectibles company. At the time, I was working as a grunt in an ad agency. I'd just gotten to where I was using some of my illustration talents -- which I had spent my college years honing -- when these guys I know told me they had a position as a sculptor opening at their company.

I was on the fence about joining them, initially. I was an illustrator, after all -- what business did I have showing up and interviewing for a job sculpting? My portfolio had a piece or two of figurative sculpture I'd done as parts of projects for school, but enough to show up and interview at a toy company? I didn't think so. Turns out these few pieces were exactly why my pals had called me. They remembered me doing some sculptural stuff in school and thought I'd be a good fit. The designers at the toy company looked over my portfolio and gave me a project that same day. It was a trial project, one for which they'd padded the due date, in case it had to be redone, but a paying project all the same.
I worked on the project in the evenings while working my ad agency job. They hired me, but only lasted another year or so before having to close shop. I only worked there a year, but I gained the experience and contacts I would need to continue on as a successful freelance collectibles sculptor.

To this day, I work with some of my co-workers from that first sculpting gig. When the company went out of business, my fellow sculptors, prototypers and designers all ended up in different places and took my name with them in their Rolodex. I ended up working for Palisades, Wiz Kids, Diamond, Plan B, Graphitti and DC Direct, where I'm currently on exclusive contract.

I've met a group of talented and generous people since signing on with DC. I've learned a lot about how my colleagues work and gotten tips and tricks from some sculptors who've been doing this job way longer than myself. I've always felt that if you've got confidence in what you're doing, you should welcome the opportunity to share your craft... particularly with someone just starting out.
When I was first starting out, I had met several sculptors and guys who ran sculpting houses and always found the meetings uncomfortable and even adversarial. Any questions I asked about process or materials were met with blank expressions and the old "That's a trade secret!" wink-and-nudge routine. In my early experience, it was like pulling teeth to get any kind of information from another sculptor about how he/she got their results… very frustrating for a young guy starting out. I vowed to myself never to be like that. If someone wants to know how I achieve a certain result, or about my process from start to finish, I'll tell them without a second thought.

Based on this early experience, I was surprised at how welcoming and willing to share knowledge the other contract sculptors at DC Direct were. Tim Bruckner, in particular, was willing to share techniques and often opened discussions to that effect. It was so refreshing to find a whole group of professionals who were not only willing, but eager to talk about and share all their tricks, tips, and everything in between. A great group of talent to hang out with.

There are so many different ways to do a job for the collectibles market. I think it's safe to say that all us old horses use multiple materials throughout our portfolio of works, but most of us have a favorite. The beauty of having such a choice of materials to sculpt with is that there's something out there for everyone who has the inclination to start down this path. I've tried both soft and hard wax, but I've put in the time with Castilene and am most comfortable using it. Sure, I'll substitute different waxes if I can't make Castilene work, but I know I'm an old dog now. No new tricks for me!

 So... how do you get started in the collectible sculpting business? Now I can tell people to check out the textbook. No teeth or punches pulled. Kudos to Tim, Zach and Rubén.

Pre-orders, everyone! Enjoy.


Jonathan Matthews

Check back next week for another posting by Matthews, in which he talks about his experiences translating the 2-D art of Jack Kirby, Darwyn Cooke and Mike Mignola.