Stephen Hayford

Cape Coral Living - - Cape Departments - BY JA­COB OGLES

Ac­tion fig­ures are dis­played the way ev­ery child of the 1970s and 1980s only wished they could have pulled off with the toys in their room. The fig­ures are not posed in some galaxy far, far away, but rather in the home of Cape Co­ral pho­tog­ra­pher Stephen Hayford, a pho­to­jour­nal­ist who de­cided in 2008 to hang up his press pass and in­stead spend life play­ing with toys. Since then he has pro­duced pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als for Lu­cas­film, Dis­ney, Lego and other clients who com­mis­sion Hayford to fo­cus his ef­forts on these painstak­ing dio­ra­mas. “I’ve al­ways been a big toy col­lec­tor since I was a kid,” Hayford says. “Now I found a way to turn my art into a ca­reer.” It’s a gig that started out as a way for Hayford to keep his mind off his work. As a pho­tog­ra­pher for the Sun-Sen­tinel in Fort Lauderdale in 1996, he spent much of his day at crime scenes and car crashes. “It was a lot to take home, and I just needed some­thing to give me lev­ity,” Hayford re­calls. He’d al­ways had a col­lec­tor’s mind­set, boast­ing an im­pres­sive as­sort­ment of Pez dis­pensers. But in those in­ter­net 1.0 days of web fo­rums and trad­ing sites, Hayford saw the early rise of a new re­tail mar­ket in cus­tom ac­tion fig­ures. Peo­ple work­ing with Super Sculpey and Poly­form from their lo­cal hobby shops started turn­ing widely avail­able ac­tion fig­ures into movie char­ac­ters so for­get­table that no ma­jor man­u­fac­turer would waste a mold to or­der into mass pro­duc­tion. Hayford quickly de­vel­oped a super-niche rep­u­ta­tion for those back­ground Star Wars char­ac­ters that the ca­sual fan might be sur­prised even had names. “I took the most joy in mak­ing the most ob­scure char­ac­ters and mak­ing them as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble,” he says.

Turn­ing artis­tic tal­ent into ac­tion fig­ures

A fa­vorite re­mains Nabrun Leids, a mouth­less alien you may re­mem­ber (but prob­a­bly don’t) from Star Wars: A New Hope in the Cantina bar scene. Of course, why sculpt all the aliens of Ta­tooine and not have a bar where they can share a death stick to­gether? Hayford soon found him­self cre­at­ing elab­o­rate sets. Real life con­tin­ued as well. Hayford would meet his wife, Pamela, at the news­pa­per, and the two even­tu­ally took jobs at The News-Press in Fort My­ers. But as he neared two decades in print

Hayford quickly de­vel­oped a super-niche rep­u­ta­tion for those back­ground Star Wars char­ac­ters that the ca­sual fan might be sur­prised even had names.

jour­nal­ism, Hayford dreamed of a time when this hobby might pay the bills. With two kids at home, he felt pres­sure to keep a steady pay­check, but then went on an as­sign­ment in Africa in 2008. There, he met fam­i­lies liv­ing in huts with no valu­able pos­ses­sions to their name, but they still seemed truly happy. “I re­al­ized a lot of the is­sues that were hold­ing me back were a prob­lem with my frame of ref­er­ence,” he says. Hayford’s first day back at the of­fice, he walked to Hu­man Re­sources to take the pa­per’s buy­out deal. In the next few months Hayford con­tacted Lu­cas­film, where many folks al­ready knew his work. The com­pany com­mis­sioned him for a se­ries of hol­i­day-themed images. His fa­vorite im­age re­mains the first one he did for the se­ries, a Thanks­giv­ing-themed pic­ture with Darth Vader carv­ing a turkey with a lightsaber while Luke Sky­walker glares at his (spoiler alert!) fa­ther. A cap­tion reads, “And you thought YOUR fam­ily was dys­func­tional.” His suc­cess also af­fords him some ad­vance knowl­edge of Star Wars films. For ex­am­ple, he re­ceived pack­ets of pro­duc­tion stills for The Force Awak­ens that in­cluded names of char­ac­ters but no story de­tails and was told to make posters guess­ing at the plot points. “I would sub­mit an idea for some­thing,” he re­calls, “and they would re­ject it and not tell me why it was wrong.” Hayford also does un­li­censed art. He’s been pleas­antly sur­prised that even when he sells posters at Stars Wars Cel­e­bra­tion and other con­ven­tions mar­ket­ing his work with Lu­cas­film, many con­sumers grav­i­tate to his “Greet­ings from Florida” se­ries. He de­picts en­vi­ron­ments sim­i­lar to South­west Florida with con­tem­po­rary fig­ures greet­ing char­ac­ters from across the hor­ror and sci-fi world. “Do­ing my orig­i­nal work is the most re­ward­ing,” he says. “I don’t have any restric­tions like I do for the li­censed prop­er­ties. I don’t have to worry about whether I put too much satire, or if this might of­fend the com­pany that owns the prop­erty or worry about the fans. All that can be a hin­drance on cre­ativ­ity. With my own work, it’s sim­ply my self-ex­pres­sion.”

Ja­cob Ogles is a pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist based in South­west Florida.

From Stephen Hayford’s “The Black Se­ries,” the artist recre­ates a fa­mous mo­ment from the orig­i­nal Star Wars film re­leased in 1977.

Stephen Hayford’s “Friends” dio­rama plays off a scene in Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens with char­ac­ters Baze Mal­bus and Chirrut Imwe.

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