Exclusive interview with sculptor Jonathan Matthews, creator of super heroes action figures and limited editions statues - Part two
Article Produits Dérivés du Jeudi 19 Janvier 2012

[First part]

We continue our fascinating talk with Jonathan Matthews, one of the most talented sculptors in the American action figures and collectible statues industry. Jonathan now talks about his remarkable three dimensional adaptations of Jack Kirby’s and Mike Mignola’s graphic styles. As you noticed by now, this is the first time we are publishing an interview both in English and French, to make some of our articles accessible to visitors from all over the world. If you enjoy it, let us know through the website’s forum !

Interview : Pascal Pinteau

You did a stunning job of turning the graphic style of some famous comic book artists into sculptures. Can you talk about the specific challenges of the NEW GODS line based on Jack Kirby's characters ?

Thanks! I actually have a good amount of experience with sculpting heavily stylized figures. As I mentioned above, there was great variety in the work I did for Resaurus. That trend continues in my freelance work. When I started working with DC Direct, I quickly became the go to guy for translating stylized artwork into three dimensions. When I was asked to do figures based on Kirby's artwork, I was both elated and daunted. Big potential for failure if you get it wrong! I think the main challenge to doing any sculpture that's very stylized is remembering not to add your own style to the mix. You have to immerse yourself in the artwork.. look at as much of it as you can, and pick out the things that you see most often repeated. Capture those stylistic peculiarities, and odds are you've done a convincing job. Kirby's style is mostly contained in his line work. Anatomically, it's pretty standard comic book fare. The main challenge was trying to get some of that strange and interesting line work into the surface of the figures without ruining the piece sculpturally. After some trial and error and a lot of referencing back to the source material, I got the effect I was going for. Considering I've gotten mostly positive fan response for my work on the figures, I consider the effort a success.

You also created a statue of Mike Mignola's Batman which must have been quite difficult to conceive and paint...

Yes, pretty difficult to get right, but I had a lot of fun doing it! I've loved Mignola's artwork for many years so I jumped at the chance to sculpt it. As I said, the hardest thing is not to interject yourself, your own style, into the piece. Mignola's silhouettes are very different from typical comic art. Sloped shoulders, wide waists, short skinny legs. It's almost unthinkable to sculpt a heroic character with such proportions, but that's how the artwork looks. With the Mignola Batman, the sculpt was only half of the effect. In order to complete the illusion, I painted a prototype with forces shadows... graphic shapes to represent the muscle groups in two shades of grey on the torso and legs. My art directors were unconvinced the idea would work until they saw the prototype in person. We had forum contributors who after viewing photos of the prototype were convinced we'd used a two dimensional stand-in for the solicitation shots. More than a few folks didn't believe the sculpture was just that: three dimensional. A great compliment, really.

How does your work start when you are hired for a new figure project ? Do you draw a specific pose that you submit for approval to DC direct ? Do you choose the colors yourself ? Or do you receive illustrations from DC to guide you ?

Most often I'll receive artwork. That can be in the form of specific drawings for a project, or in the case of many of the action figures I do, comic pages. Occasionally, my art director will send me pages of sketches he's done and we'll create a cohesive figure from bits and pieces of drawings rather than having everything delineated from go. Sometimes I'll draw or sketch something three dimensionally myself. Really, as long as both myself and my art director have an idea of what the project should ultimately look like, we can get a piece started. As for the paints on prototypes, almost always the colors are determined by the character. Nearly all the characters I sculpt already have a pre-established color scheme. On rare occasion I'm asked to come up with a color scheme on my own.

How do you work with DC during the making of the scupt ? Do you send them photos via email ?

Yep. I've got a digital camera and a photo area set up in the studio. After I get the figure blocked in, I'll send a round of photos for approval. If my art director has changes, I make them and shoot more photos. If no changes, I refine the piece and update my AD as I go. Usually I'll send two to four rounds of photos along the way to final approval.

Once the sculpture is finished, do you send the original to DC via mail, or do you make a mold of your original so that you always have a backup solution ?

I've done both... sent in originals and sent in castings. Almost always though, it's castings. I've got the equipment in my studio to make rubber molds and plastic castings of each sculpture I do. The wax I use is much more fragile than the resin I do castings with, so I try to avoid sending originals anywhere for fear they'd take damage in the shipping process. Plus, it's nice to have the parts on hand in case there are any late changes.

Do you sculpt the figures slightly larger than the finished product will be ? What is their actual size ?

All the sculpture I do for DC Direct is one to one scale. I sculpt every project the same size as the mass produced piece will be. On statues, this isn't generally a problem. Some of those action figures though.. their little head sculpts are the size of your fingernail!

Are your sculptures sometimes scanned in 3D for manufacturing reasons ?

No. I work strictly traditionally for the time being. Manufacturing is done from a tooling pattern... basically a cleaned up complete resin casting of the figure.

Do you get to check and correct the first copies of the figures ?

No, my involvement with a project ends with the completion of the prototypes. I work with a guy who's job it is to tweak the figures if there are manufacturing issues. Once a figure is approved, I move on to the next project.

Batman is probably the character you sculpted the more often, with different looks. Can you talk about what makes a great Batman pose and sculpt ? And about what should be avoided ?

Yeah, I've done a lot of Batman sculpts! I do love the character, so as far as I'm concerned any batman statue or figure has the raw materials be good. Great costume and mythos. One of the things I look for in really any superhero statue is anatomy. If the anatomy isn't there, the statue is lost. I look for dynamic and well done drapery (cape) and a good silhouette (pose) from as many angles as possible. For me, a statue doesn't have to be super posed. In fact, I think some of the best super hero sculpture to date is Bowen Design's Marvel line. Most aren't posed much aside from being a standing figure, but an attitude for each character has been captured. For anything more posed, you just have to use your designer's eye to make it look appropriate. Like Bowen, capture the attitude. Sculpture is different from drawing in that a sculpture has to work from every angle. Even when using comic art as reference, occasionally the pose will have to be tweaked to make the statue work from the most angles. I also love when an established character is changed a bit, but still recognizable. Some of the batman figures I've done have been from elseworlds story arcs where batman looks different from how he normally appears, but still has to be recognizable as batman. What's to be avoided? Miss any of the above, and you'll struggle to make a success of a sculpt. The anatomy and pose don't have to be realistic, but they have to be believable. Any stylization has to make sense and look intentional.

What are the characters you would like to sculpt if you could choose your next projects ?

Probably my two favorite from the DC universe are Batman and Darksied. Batman for the reasons I've listed in the last question, and Darksied for a lot of the same reasons. I've always liked Deathstroke, and as for ladies... Big Barda!

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