Yakface readers, we're happy to announce or Second Round of Customs & Answers! Many of you may remember our first feature, in which we interviewed expert customizer Sithfire30... following the success of our initial installment, we are now ready for Round 2 - featuring fan favorite DanoftheDead!We'd like to thank Dan for taking the time to provide some great responses to the many questions that we had for him this round, and we hope this is not only an enjoyable read, but also helpful for all the aspiring customizers who frequent the boards here at Yakface.1 - YAKFACE - So, first off, how did you get into collecting Star Wars? And what got you into customizing? And when did you begin?
I’ve been a Star Wars fan as long as I can remember, though as I kid I think I only had Lando in his Skiff Guard disguise and Logray from ROTJ. I was much more into GI Joe, Masters of the Universe, and TMNT as a kid. I can remember one year, probably my first year of high school, I decided I was too old for action figures and boxed everything I had up.
It didn’t last too long because around a year later Hasbro started releasing the POTF2 figures. At first I just grabbed Vader and Boba Fett... but before long I was into collecting full swing and was somewhat of a completest until around the time of Episode 2. I was burned out on the collecting aspect of the hobby and really wasn’t enjoying the new direction of Star Wars. Since then I’ve gotten much more casual about collecting, especially Star Wars. My figure room shelves right now are mostly devoted to Muppets, Marvel Legends (primarily X-men characters), and modern GI Joes. I’m definitely more of a customizer first and a collector second these days.
As far as customizing, I’ve been doing that since I was old enough to figure out how to take apart the old A Real American Hero GI Joes. I had a ton of them and loved to take them apart and swap parts. I remember coming across customizing as a real hobby in my early experiences on the internet with the work that used to be on Rebelscum.com and the old FFURG. I’d buy parts, crack torsos, and made a few customs but was never really happy with the way they turned out.
It really wasn’t until the past year or two where I feel like I actually got any good at this... a lot of that has to do with having a lot of time on my hands due to surgery, and customizing kind of became my rehabilitation. I’ve probably done far more figures in the past 15 months than I’d managed to finish in the 10+ years prior of dabbling in the hobby.2 - YAKFACE - Okay, as a customizer, do you find certain elements that inspire you? It seems like you like to explore some non Star Wars customs? What is your inspiration behind those?
For Star Wars customizing, I love concept art for inspiration. And not just Star Wars concept art... I love adapting concept art and designs that have nothing to do with Star Wars into the look and feel of that universe. Games like Mass Effect and artists like Gerald Brom have been huge influences on my customs. The Force Unleashed art book is full of inspiration for me... I really enjoyed making figures of the “Corpse Droid” concept art.
My primary interest in customizing is in the current GI Joe style... I love that so many toy lines are adopting that scale and articulation (or close to it). I’m a bit obsessive for uniformity in my projects, I think one reason I never finished a lot of my old custom attempts is that scale use to be all over the place... But I’ve kind of settled on this scale and it’s great, it lets me have all of these characters that never got made into toys and display them together on the shelf, and have them look like they belong together. That’s my goal, to have my customs look like they all came from the same factory or toy line or whatever. 3 - YAKFACE - You really seem to have a knack for presenting your customs flawlessly. I believe you mentioned recently you are a graphic designer - how does this impact your approach?
Presentation is so important in this hobby, and I think more than anything else that’s where I really excel. I know Photoshop pretty well, I’ve worked in multiple photography studios and a sign shop, done some freelance... so I’ve been exposed to it from a lot of different angles. I want to be clear that aside from the occasional light saber blade or glowing droid eye or composite, I don’t ADD anything to a figure when I work on images of my customs. I’m cleaning up the background and tweaking lighting and color to make my work look as good as possible... and that’s actually a lot of fun to me. I try to be “honest” about my paint work on my customs in my photography... and I’ve been guilty of touching up a mistake or two from time to time... but as I said that’s the exception to the rule. 4 - YAKFACE - It seems like the paint that you use is pretty good - your results seem to always be production quality. What brands of paint do you use the most? Or are there different kinds, depending on the look you are going for? Do you have a special type of brush that you use? Or any special painting techniques you would care to explain?
The cheap bottles of craft acrylics from Michael's and Hobby Lobby are what I started with. My work improved greatly when I learned to thin the paint with a bit of water and a little bit of Model Master’s semi-gloss. I’ve also started using Games Workshop’s Citadel paints, which I’ve been very pleased with... though I’ve had some issues with certain colors being more glossy or clumpy.
Keeping the paint thin and smooth is important, and sometimes I get impatient and rush that. But when I’m taking my time, those Citadel paints do a beautiful job. 5 - YAKFACE - Some customizers rummage through parts bins to find something that inspires them. But from what I can tell, you look like you really plan things out far in advance. Is this the case? How long does the average figure take you to make, from start to finish?
I’m a huge part hoarder... the fun of going on toy runs for me is looking for anything cheap that could be used for customizing. I’ve got a lot of parts that I’m finally getting good about organizing and sorting and using. I’d say my method is a mixture of rummaging and planning. I’ll sit on a project for a long, long time if it’s just not coming together with the parts I have available.
Some figures come together very quickly for me, as far as assembling and painting, but from when I start thinking about them, finding that first perfect piece, to when I finish, is more often weeks, months, or even years. I’ve gotten better about that though, and part of the reason why I really like the Yakfinities projects is it gives me a timeline and a deadline.
It’s hard to say how long any one figure takes for me... I work on it until I lose interest, get stuck on making certain parts work together, can’t find a specific piece I want to use, and it gets put on the back burner. Some of my favorite figures were ones that I started, gave up on, and came back to much later.6 - YAKFACE - Have you ever considered making a photonovel series? You really seem to have the talent for it. If you ever did, would you explore using fan fiction characters of your own, or would you lean toward choosing established characters from the films?
I’d love to. I’ve started multiple times but got overwhelmed with the amount of work and planning involved in doing it “right”. I’m becoming very interested in the photography of our hobby as well as diorama building. I’m amazed people like Gianni Lopergolo have made a living out of it and really enjoyed reading about that in his book “Insight”. I think it’s awesome Stephen Hayford’s work has been officially recognized by LFL. I see all that and think that’s the direction I want to push myself in this hobby, and photonovels seem like such the perfect project for practicing those skills.
As far as content, it’d be fan fiction. I’d love to run a Star Wars table top RPG with friends, and then use those sessions as a basis for telling a photonovel story. Or go the opposite direction... build an elaborate diorama display, and just do quick one off stories for each environment. I’m tempted to list all the ideas I’ve had and given up on, but somewhere in the back of my head I think I might actually get around to them... we’ll see.7 - YAKFACE - There are a lot of collectors who have never customized a figure before. What sort of advice would you give someone who is interested in starting out?
Start simple. I think it took me so long to really get into it because I saw the work of some really talented people and when my first attempt didn’t look that good I just wanted to give up. Build on each step, but DO push yourself to go further. Also, have some idea of what the finished figure is going to look like as you work. Rummage through parts, play with ideas, and let designs evolve as you work on them, but have a clear idea of what you want to get out of the pieces as you begin to paint them and bring the figure together.
If you like Star Wars, and you like toys, and you’re at all creative, you’re probably going to love customizing. I let friends who aren’t even into collecting go through parts and put stuff together with me and they’ve enjoyed it. I’ve even convinced my wife to get in on some of the Yakfinities projects.8 - YAKFACE - A lot of the customizing process is trial and error. Have you had many projects go completely wrong, or some tips that you learned from that you could share with other customizers?
This ties back into my habit of walking away from a figure and coming back later. The Besalisk General I made recently is a great example. I started him whenever the Iron Man 2 toys hit the shelves. I knew I wanted to use Mass Effect’s Krogan species a guide, but I also wanted it to fit into Star Wars... so I kept going back and forth on adding the extra set of arms. Eventually you’ve just got to start drilling holes and see what happens. And I realized my first attempt wouldn’t have room for the second set of arms, so I had to take him apart, fill in some holes, and drill out entirely new sockets. But it came together...
Again... if it’s not coming together right, take a step back. Really try to have that clear image of what you want it to look like... and if that doesn’t work, throw it back into the parts bin and wait until Hasbro releases a part that solves all your problems.
Not every figure comes out how you want, my Rodian Waitress for example... it was supposed to be a really simply figure, but it just came out awful. But I’m glad I pushed through and finished it... because the head and hair sculpting actually came out okay, and I could always go back and salvage that piece. It was really one of the first things I posted that people reacted to with a bit of, “Hmmm, I see what you were going for but you didn’t quite pull it off.” But, I’m glad I finished it and it’s not another “could have been” project sitting in my parts fodder.9 - YAKFACE - You've made some awesome customs, but what are a few of the projects you are most proud of? Are there any that stand out as something you look at and wonder how you even did it?
Of the top of my head, I’d say my Nautolan and my Renegades come to mind. Those are both tied very specifically to other memories and events. The Nautolan was a head I’d been toying with off and on for years, I can remember working on it at the first place my wife I had together. It was based on some Episode 2 concept art. So years later I get into the Yakfinities projects, and the aquatic theme comes up and I remember I have that head I’d been trying to get to work of a female Nautolan. And I think it was one of the first things I posted where I just got an amazing amount of feedback, offers to cast the head, that sort of thing. This was all right before Hurricane Ike hit Houston, and the two are completely linked in my mind. It was the start of a really rough series of events... so I guess that’s why I remember working on it so vividly.
Which brings me to the Renegades... We had just moved back into our house after having to live in a hotel while our home was undergoing repairs for the hurricane. I was kind of already at my wits end when I got some pretty serious health news and was laid off a few hours later. It was just a really crappy time. So I just really poured myself into customizing. I was going to have to have some pretty major surgery, and it just gave me something else entirely to focus on with my time. I think that shows in how quickly I came up with the designs and how well they came out... I really needed that outlet.
So those two projects are an interesting set of “bookmarks” in my life... I can’t see them on the shelf without remember some very specific, vivid emotions. But they’re also some of my favorite figures because they came out so well and got such wonderful feedback.10 - YAKFACE - How about this, do you have any upcoming projects coming up that you would care to discuss?
I really want to get into displays and dioramas. I’ve got some fun ideas for that. And if that works out, that makes it far more likely I might actually do a photonovel.
Currently I’m helping a friend finish the Star Wars fan film he began in film school a few years ago. We’re trying to do the effects shots with practical effects rather than full CGI, so I’m trying to take some existing ships and modify them for film. I’ve “outsourced” some of the scratch building to Incom and it’s looking great.
I also just had my first gallery show. A really neat art gallery/tattoo parlor here in Houston was trying to put together a comic book inspired art show. I heard about it through the local comic book store, Bedrock City Comics Company, and contacted Christina at Gaslight Gallery. I took in some of my movie, television, comic book, and alternate history customs and she thought they’d be perfect. There was a small opening for the exhibit earlier this months, had a lot of friends and friends of friends show up for support. It was a really amazing experience to get to share my hobby and artwork with people who’ve probably never heard of customizing. 11 - YAKFACE - Are there any customizers that you look to for inspiration?
Such a hard question because I couldn’t even begin to list them all. Joescustoms.com and Yakface.com have become my forums of choice, and I can open pretty much any thread from any user and find some great inspiration.
One thing I dislike about the internet aspect of this hobby is that because screen names change, websites die, it’s hard to keep track of the people who were inspirations to me early on. I couldn’t tell you names, but if I came across their work I’d recognize them immediately.
I’ve been working with Incom on some parts I needed built from scratch, and I’ve just been amazed with his ability to work with styrene.
Yak_Chewie’s photonovels, their related customs, and his involvement in the Yakfinities projects are a big reason why Yakface.com is my star wars customizing home. I think a lot of the amazing community here is built up around his work.
Jedistyle, especially after I drew his name for the Yakface Secret Santa custom last year and went back and looked through all of his stuff again. Such a distinct style and really creative designs.
Jin Saotome for his wide range of imaginative GI Joe scale figures and for getting me into doing Alt History figures.
Sillof because his ideas are so original they end getting passed all over the internet. People who aren’t into toys or customizing will send me links to his work, and I think that’s so cool. To have work that’s recognized totally outside of the hobby.
But honestly, I couldn’t begin to list everyone whose work I’ve borrowed ideas from, or who posted something that got me excited about customizing all over again when I was in a slump. If I’ve posted about your custom, you’ve probably been an inspiration to me.12 - YAKFACE - Have you ever taken commissions for your work? If not, would you ever be interested in doing so?
Haven’t had much luck on this front... I’ve had offers from friends, and I’ll look into those, but because of how I work, it’s hard to meet a deadline when someone is wanting to buy a product from you. I’d be interested in learning how to work efficiently enough to meet the demands of commission work, more than I am interested in customizing for money. That said, if there were a way to do this for a career, I certainly wouldn’t be against giving that a shot! 13 - YAKFACE - Other than customizing, are there any other hobbies that you have? Are you a video gamer? I seem to recall that you like to play Left for Dead 2... are you a sports fanatic?
I’m a pretty classic nerd. Comics, video games, movies, etc. Yup, big Left 4 Dead fan and zombie stuff in general (hence the user name). I got my brother to help me do this parody of “I Don’t Like Mondays” for a contest to win Weird Al tickets, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_u0skh0VEc
. I had my brother sing the vocals into a cheap gaming headset, tried to line that up over a karaoke version of the song (which was a pain because they weren’t actually the same tempo) and then mocked up those posters with the lyrics. That was a lot of fun, and I won the tickets! I’d like to make more time to do random projects like that with friends.14 - YAKFACE - That's a lot of questions that we've asked and we'd like to thank you for taking your valuable time to share your thoughts with us. Are there any questions or words of wisdom you would like to share with us, or with the community?
I’m just very appreciative to be part of the Yakface.com community. I can’t say how much it meant to me that when I was recovering from my surgery, in addition to the friends and family who were coming to visit me, I had a ton of great support from here. One of my earliest memories after the surgery was my wife reading me posts from the forum. It meant a lot to the both of us.
For a long time, I didn’t take my own customizing seriously. I guess in a lot of ways I still looked at it as just playing with toys. But it’s become something very important to me personally and creatively. Even if there was no online community to support the hobby, I’m sure I’d still enjoy making things, but the feedback, help, and support of the online customizing community in general and especially here at Yakface is what really inspires me.YAKFACE - Thanks again Dan, that was great. You are a class act and a great role model for the younger members of the community here. We really appreciate you taking the time to make this interview so special, and for your continued support for other members of the customizing community.
Everyone else, please feel free to share your thoughts on this interview! And feel free to ask Dan any questions that you may have in this thread, or in his customizing thread HERE.