Pixars Brave

3d modeling the hulk

Sculpting the Hulk
Joe Shepter

Art Asylum

Even though you probably haven’t spent much time wondering about companies they make action figures, the answer might surprise you. In a world of high tech modeling and CAD programs, such figures are among the last holdouts of a most ancient art: realistic sculpture.

“The sculpture they teach in school is really just putting together found junk,” says Manuel Jesus, senior art director at Brooklyn-based toy company Art Asylum. By contrast, he says, people at his firm carve out photo-realistic figures every day.

Not that their workshop exactly harks back to Bernini. Like most people devoted to action figures, the Asylum sculptors are more hip and geeky than refined and artsy. Around their shop you can find lots of baseball caps, black T-shirts and goatees, and the president himself is one of those shrouded-in-mystery figures with a one-word name: Digger. According to the company Web site, Digger “plays by few rules,” considers his job title an “affliction,” and spends half his time in Hong Kong “tooling around the mountains of mainland China on his motorcycle and coming up with on-the-fly variants that collectors love.”

But at least Digger has some small justification for his semi-legendary existence. The company, which he co-founded in 1996 with vice president Donna Soldano, has quickly emerged as a major player in the world of action figures. It produces them for KISS, Marvel, Eminem and the Star Trek franchise, as well as a number of other properties.

For all that, the work the Asylum does is far from exciting. Realistic sculpture is painstaking in detail and, except for patterns for spaceships and hero chest plates (which are made in Adobe Illustrator), most of it is done by hand.

To explain the process, Jesus walked me through the creation of a twelve-inch Hulk statuette. Commissioned by Marvel, and sculpted by one of Art Asylum’s many freelancers, Meg Stone, it’s scheduled for a limited release around the launch of the movie. Click here >

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