Help­ing hands

Model be­hav­iour We may live in a dig­i­tal age, but fan­tasy sculp­ture is prov­ing more pop­u­lar than ever: meet the artists leading the charge

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Jar­rod and Bran­don Shi­flett’s hugely suc­cess­ful ca­reers as sculp­tors be­gan with just one book: Crea­ture Core by Ya­sushi Ni­ra­sawa.

Ya­sushi and his con­tem­po­raries were the Ja­panese sculp­tors who plucked char­ac­ters from the pages of the Shi­fletts’ favourite comic books and brought them to 3D life. Their work had a pro­found in­flu­ence on the young broth­ers. But more than this, it showed sculp­ture – specif­i­cally sculp­ture tied to comics and video games – could be a se­ri­ous and cred­i­ble artis­tic en­deav­our.

“We still look up to those guys as masters of the craft, and a cou­ple of pieces were

Ya­sushi’s book Crea­ture Core drove home the point that what we were do­ing could be a great art form

hugely in­flu­en­tial to us,” re­veals Jar­rod. “They were an In­cred­i­ble Hulk sculp­ture by the late Ja­panese sculpt­ing icon Moto Hata, and Venom, from Spi­der-Man, sculpted by the great Taishiro Kiya. Then we came across Crea­ture Core, which in­cluded sculpts from Yuji Oniki and Takayuki Takeya, and it was a rev­e­la­tion to us. It drove home the point that what we were do­ing could be a great art form.”

When the broth­ers be­gan work­ing in wire and clay, the cur­rent commercial statue mar­ket didn’t ex­ist. They re­call go­ing to San Diego Comic-Con in the early 90s and see­ing very few mass-pro­duced mod­els.

There were “a cou­ple of years of gru­elling trial and er­ror” be­tween the early fig­ures they cre­ated and the Marvel char­ac­ters that even­tu­ally ce­mented the Shi­flett’s rep­u­ta­tion as in­dus­try lead­ers. But they still use the same ma­te­ri­als: “Su­per Sculpey Firm clay, alu­minium al­loy wire, flo­ral wire to hold it all to­gether, and a whole lot of su­per glue.”

It’s with these ma­te­ri­als that Jar­rod and Bran­don took gold in the di­men­sional art cat­e­gory at Spec­trum Fan­tas­tic Art Live 3 for their piece The Ver­ti­cal Man-Tank, 1892. “The Shi­flett Broth­ers are to sculpt­ing what Frank Frazetta is to paint­ing,” said John Howe, con­cept de­signer on The Lord of The Rings tril­ogy. So how do they do it? The key is to sculpt what you love.

“We love comics and sci-fi and fan­tasy stuff,” Bran­don says, “so that's what we sculpt.” The broth­ers’ top tip, for novice sculp­tors,

cen­tres on anatomy ref­er­ence: you can’t have enough of it. Use fit­ness mag­a­zines to study how mus­cles look and move un­der the skin. For crea­ture anatomy – real or other­wise – use bi­o­log­i­cal an­i­mal forms. As Bran­don puts it: “Once you start fak­ing anatomy, it be­comes im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous.”

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, the Shi­fletts say they’re not par­tic­u­larly pro­fi­cient at draw­ing and paint­ing. If a client asks for a rough sketch of prospec­tive work, they pre­fer to cre­ate and present a smaller model show­ing how the fi­nal piece will look.

Sculp­tor For­est Rogers – as deft in two di­men­sions as she is in three – says those with a draw­ing or paint­ing back­ground are at an ad­van­tage when it comes to sculp­ture.

“To my mind,” For­est says, “sculp­ture is much like draw­ing in 3D. An en­gag­ing thing, work­ing to have all lines from all sides in­ter­wo­ven har­mo­niously and mind­fully.”

The Amer­i­can de­scribes her­self as a cre­ator of “critters, both 'fine' and commercial.” Her fan­tasy pieces are mostly one-of-a-kind, while commercial work fo­cuses on “the di­nosaur, wildlife and weird gift­ware mar­kets.”

“One thing that strikes me as a com­mon prob­lem for the novice is pro­por­tion. It’s just not pos­si­ble to cover up weak pro­por­tion with great de­tail. It will al­ways un­der­cut the hard work laid over it. Not nec­es­sar­ily real­is­tic pro­por­tion, of course, but the right­ness of it, that it works.”

For­est also stud­ies sim­i­lar crafts – from jew­ellery mak­ers to metal work­ers – to pick up new ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques. “It’s a great time to get in­volved in this field. If I were start­ing out, I’d gather sam­ples of a lot of these ma­te­ri­als and play with them. Have some fun with no pres­sure or com­mit­ment; see what suits your ideas.”

John Fleskes, Spec­trum art di­rec­tor, edi­tor and pub­lisher, isn’t re­ally in­ter­ested in

Di­men­sional work will thrill and sur­prise us for the fore­see­able fu­ture

the ma­te­ri­als used by sculp­tors, but rather how the artists have ex­pressed them­selves through their me­dia. John says: “When it comes to Spec­trum sub­mis­sions in the di­men­sional cat­e­gory, we en­cour­age works that are cre­ated us­ing clay, ce­ramic, wood, props, paper, cast resin, epoxy, fi­bre­glass… any­thing that can be used to ex­press the artist's vi­sion and best res­onate with an au­di­ence.

“This year we had life-sized cre­ations by Joel Har­low in­cluded in Spec­trum, which are made with sil­i­cone, acrylic – flesh, blood and bone! Di­men­sional work, I ex­pect, will con­tinue to thrill and sur­prise us for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

Tim Bruck­ner’s 40-year ca­reer has seen him work on ev­ery­thing from al­bum cov­ers to spe­cial ef­fects. But sculp­ture is his spe­cial­ity, and al­ways has been. For those hop­ing to make a liv­ing from the art form, he has some sage ad­vice: be strong in voice and shrewd in busi­ness.

“I ad­mire artists like the Broth­ers Shi­flett and For­est Rogers. Their voice is so strong and in­di­vid­ual and the qual­ity of craft is in­spir­ing. If you’re mak­ing art for fun – that’s one thing. But if you hope to make a liv­ing from it, you have to learn the busi­ness of art. Ask ad­vice from pro­fes­sion­als. Learn the pro­cesses of other sculp­tors. Learn how to mould, to cast, to fin­ish, to paint.

“Ex­plore dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als. Know what they can do; know what they can’t do. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to ac­com­plish. You may not use half of the stuff you learn, but know­ing gives you the op­tion of not us­ing it. Not know­ing it can make you vul­ner­a­ble and can nar­row your vi­sion. And steal from re­ally good dead guys: some­one in­fin­itely bet­ter that you’ll ever be has al­ready solved ev­ery de­sign or com­po­si­tional prob­lem you’ll face.”

The leg­endary Slavic witch Baba Yaga comes to life in the hands of

For­est Rogers.

Deal With the Devil by the Shi­flett broth­ers, who John Howe de­scribes as the “Frank Frazetta” of sculpt­ing. Spring Fairy shows how For­est Rogers de­vel­ops a “con­ver­sa­tion” be­tween her and the ma­te­ri­als.

J Anthony Kosar at Spec­trum Fan­tas­tic Art Live’s col­lab­o­ra­tive project Scult-O-Rama, which was co-or­gan­ised by John Fleskes.

The Shi­flett’s Ko­modo King was turned into a painted model and a limited edi­tion bronze sculp­ture. He Who Laughs Last by Tim Bruck­ner, who feels most at home work­ing in three di­men­sions.

Tim’s Mar­ley is an ex­am­ple of the “strong voice” he says is cru­cial to suc­cess­ful sculp­ture. East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a clay piece in­dulging For­est’s love of folk­lore.

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