Rubber Monsters and the Making of the Figrin D’an Life-Size BustTuesday, May 15, 2012
Sideshow got a chance to interview Tom Spina of Tom Spina Designs on the collaboration behind the scenes of the Figrin D’an Life-Size Bust.
SIDESHOW: Can you tell us a little about what it is you love from Star Wars and the Cantina scene?
TOM SPINA: Two words – rubber monsters! I’ve just always been a sucker for monster movies; King Kong, Universal Horror, 50′s B movies… if there are rubber monsters, I’m there!
So along comes Star Wars when I’m like 5 years old and BAM! I’m hooked. It’s got a classic story, brilliant film-making and a room full of rubber monsters by some of makeup’s most talented folks. Over the years, I learned about the people who worked on the film, how they shot the scene twice and inter-cut. There are so many layers, so many unique sculpts and characters. It reminds me a bit of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion (another favorite of mine). You can experience it over and over and always discover something new.
Tell us about how the collaboration with Sideshow on the Figrin D’an happened, and what compelled you to participate in the project?
Some months before Star Wars Celebration V, Rich Riley and I were working on ideas for some crazy photo-ops for the convention. Things like an upside down Wampa cave for people to pose in (flip the pic and you’re hanging from the ceiling!) and a life-sized dead Tauntaun, where people could pose in the belly (still want to do that one!).
We approached Sideshow about being a potential sponsor for one of those and Brant Bridges (Vice President of Sideshow Collectibles) called me shortly after. We had this amazing chat. It seems like a lot of the Sideshow crew and I are around the same age; all from the Star Wars generation. Brant saw some of the other work we’ve done at Tom Spina Designs and just outright said, “We really need to be working together”. Naturally, I agreed!
Who did you work with on the project? Describe what each person “brought to the table” to make it successful.
One of the things I love is having people with unique skills get together to make something better than we each could’ve done alone. For this project, Brian Lewis, a sculptor and toy designer (and good, good friend) I’ve worked with for years immediately came to mind. Brian sculpted a pretty awesome Cantina band head mask over a decade ago and he and I always talked about the chance to really do a definitive take on the character.
So Brian flew out to NY and we each sat on the opposite side of a sculpting desk and worked away! In pretty short order, we had the bulk of the sculpture done. Brian’s sense of form is really sharp and he’s got an incredibly discerning eye. We did a lot of comparisons to reference of the original masks to be sure we were creating something that looked like it could’ve been used on set.
The molds were created by myself and Rich Krusell, a New York area makeup artist who has worked with us quite a bit. He’s a mad scientist when it comes to materials (my kind of guy!). He’s another friend and mentor and an incredible talent.
I did the first shot castings, one of which Brian refined to become the mold master and two of which I hand painted to become our two finished prototypes.
Kitty Hebert, who’s also worked on a lot of our past projects, came in to do the costume element and really did a wonderful job creating something true to the film that also worked over the unusual form of the bust.
What’s nice is that Brian, Rich or myself could have each probably sculpted this head alone, but together, I feel like we’ve created something really special. Naturally, when our next Sideshow project started, I was sure to include each of the above artists… but more on that another time. :)
Tell us a bit about Bob Burns, Doug Beswick, Rick Baker, and the original props. How have they influenced or inspired your work?
I’ve been a collector of original movie props for a long time – it’s a hobby that kick started my business. We work with original props all the time at our studio, either restoring them or creating themed displays, but even after years of doing this, it’s always a special experience to hold something in my hands that was in one of my favorite films. Some of them are works of art in their own right, and some look ten times worse than they did on screen! But it’s always cool to finally see something in person and have that tangible element that was once part of the magic.
With this bust, Brian and I both had the good fortune of seeing an original band member mask at Bob Burns’ home. He had one of the original masks used in the film and seeing that in person was invaluable! There are so many details you just never really get from pictures.
I met Bob Burns when Gus Lopez, Brandon Alinger and I were doing a talk for one of the early Star Wars Celebrations. The talk was about original Star Wars film props and we knew Bob had some in his incredible collection. Bob and I talked by phone a bit and just hit it off. He invited my wife and I (and some friends!) into his home and we had an absolutely wonderful time. He and his wife, Kathy, are just such great friends now and they both push me as an artist. They’re always rooting for me, and were thrilled when they heard my company was doing work with Sideshow!
Through prop collecting, friends, and my work at Tom Spina Designs, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a lot of my heroes. When I think back though, I realize that folks like Stuart Freeborn, Rick Baker and Doug Beswick inspired me for years before I ever knew who they were! Even as a kid I knew someone made this stuff and I knew I wanted to make stuff like that too. It wouldn’t be till some years later that I’d start paging through magazines learning about their work. They’re each amazing artists and no doubt I could write pages on why each inspires me.
Can you elaborate on the idea of sculpting a piece that brings collectors a balance between exhibiting the “screen accuracy” of the original props and a sense of the true character?
In the movies, a prop mask might only be seen in a dim room in brief shots, whereas a collectible bust will ultimately occupy someone’s display shelves and be subjected to a bit more scrutiny. We needed to find a way to create something that met Sideshow collectors’ high standards and taste, while also maintaining a genuine feel for the original masks from the film.
Brian and I hit on the idea of sculpting the original mask, but “bringing it into HD.” We could have really gone crazy with the characterization and added a lot of our own style to it, but we felt that would be a disservice. So we opted to first sculpt something very close to the original mask, and then add an extra layer of realistic details.
For the paint process I took the same approach. I used the original color scheme and basic color placement, but with a slightly more realistic application, including mottling and break-up, layers and translucency. I avoided the airbrush and anything that would make it appear as a mask.
So when you’re looking at it from a few feet away it looks, hopefully, just right – just as it does in the films. As you get closer, you’ll notice finer details in the skin textures and coloring that fit the vibe of the original masks and feel as if they’ve just always been there. It just feels like you’re finally getting a clear look at the character for the first time.
Images courtesy of TomSpinaDesigns.com