After I reviewed the awesome new A Song of Ice and Fire busts, I was able to get in touch with the folks behind them at Valyrian Resin. Jed Haigh and Justice Joseph both have a great history in the collectibles industry and have started this new company up as their own venture, allowing them to work with licenses they love and have a passion for. Here’s my interview with them, which is a few days late going up due to my being at Dragon*Con last weekend.
Mechazilla: Prior to your work with Valyrian Resin, I know you’ve had considerable experience in the realm of collectibles. Can you tell me a bit about what projects you’ve worked on in the past and some of the companies and licenses you’ve worked with?
Jed Haigh: Well, I’ve been working in toys and collectibles for about seven years. I started at a company called Plastic Fantasy, which was the incorporated name for SOTA Toys. Plastic Fantasy made… ummm, well… action figures and statues based off adult film stars. Our main money maker was the Jenna Jameson action figure, as well as collectibles statues. We used laser scanning technology and scanned some 30-40 adult film stars in the three years we made those figures. That was actually the spring board for Viacom to approach us with the Tomb Raider license. They liked the fact that we had made attractive women figures and thought we’d be perfect for Tomb Raider. And that started the legitimate licenses for SOTA Toys. They went on to make figures for Capcom’s Street Fighter, The Chronicles of Riddick, Johnny Cash, Insane Clown Posse, Aliens, and so on. Those were some of the licenses that SOTA owned. They also prototyped for numerous companies such as Palisades, Jakks Pacific, Spinmaster, Plan B, and quite a few others. Most of the work was through Palisades, so we did a lot of Resident Evil action figures, Predator busts, and Aliens busts.
I worked at SOTA initially in the mold room. But because it was a small company I ended up wearing many hats and basically learned every aspect of the operation. While I did have some artistic background, I wasn’t proficient enough to be a sculptor, so I learned the business side. I basically went to school for six years at SOTA learning the ins and outs. I learned a great deal about the collectible industry from Jerry Macaluso, who recently sold SOTA Toys. I pretty much learned everything from that guy, simply by watching the way he ran SOTA. I also learned a great deal about dealing with the factories from the new owner Guang Yang. After the first run was done, he broke down a lot for me about dealing with the Chinese and dealing with factories. It was VERY helpful. So I give much thanks to both of these guys.
Justice Joseph: We’ve both been fortunate enough to work with a variety of licenses and companies over the last decade. I know for me, really, the most memorable license to work on was Lord of the Rings. I was working with Gentle Giant at the time, and Play Along released a line of army-men type figures for the movies. They really went overboard and beyond, throwing in every character in, or even mentioned in the movie. I’m sure I sculpted several Orc light technicians and Elven sound board ops that never made it on screen. Something about the size of the figures, and having grown up obsessed with Warhammer 40 K, propelled me through a year and a half of making Bilbo and company. In many ways, this was similar to working on A Song of Ice and Fire, as I had come to really enjoy the books and then was quite surprised / excited to get the opportunity to help peel the characters off the pages.
My experiences with working for companies as a full time employee have been very educational. Between Gentle Giant, SOTA, and Ramirez Studios, I’ve been extremely lucky to be surrounded by very talented people. And when you’re deep in a creative environment day after day, you almost can’t help but learn from the people around you. It was working in these types of studios that gave Jed and me the confidence, skills and know how to form our own company.
Mechazilla: What made you decide to branch out into your own company?
Justice: Mainly, Jed and I would meet for pints on the weekends, talk about work, and say, “wouldn’t it be cool if someone did this… or that…” After making toys for so many years, it became apparent to us that we had all the tools we needed to turn bar talk into something tangible. We investigated the possibilities, and it just seemed to snow ball and take on a life of its own.
Jed: Long story short? I realized I knew how to run a toy company and wanted to make my own money. So I teamed up with Justice. He’s the art, I’m the business.
Mechazilla: I know that starting up your own venture can be a very exciting project. What has it been like, running your own company and working for yourself, and how has it differed so far from what you’ve done in the past?
Jed: Well, for one, I only have one @$hole to answer to now, me. It’s extremely exciting. The biggest rush is actually creating something that people want to buy. When we started getting money in the bank account it was a surreal experience like “Wow, this is really working!” But it is also harrowing at times. Trying to make sure all the ducks are in a row, managing everything, keeping schedules, dealing with factories thousands of miles away, keeping everyone paid and happy. It’s tough. But it’s so rewarding to do, especially with a license that is so close to our hearts!
Justice: There’s something extremely satisfying about being fully responsible for your own success. As with any new companies in this economy, there are months in the black and months in the red, but to be able to produce our own product and control our destiny is a reward you can’t earn working for someone else. There’s a great many things one must think about when you run your own company. (Usually I make Jed do them) On my end, instead of the role of sculptor, I wear the title Art Director, because sculptor doesn’t cover the entirety of what I do now. I make design drawings, manage other sculptors, solicit and bid on projects, throw in my half ass graphic design skills, and e-mails. Lots and lots of e-mails. These are things you never think about working at a Gentle Giant or SOTA for the most part.
Mechazilla: Being in charge of your own collectibles company, you get to see the whole procedure a collectible goes through, from concept to final release. Can you give me an idea of the steps it takes to get a piece from the initial design phase through the final release?
Jed: Oh man. Yeah, well it’s actually only a few steps with many mini steps.
We basically do a bunch of rough sketches to get a feel for the pose. We do not go for character likeness in our sketches. They are more for the action of the pose, and the elements that will be included. Once we have worked out a pose we move to sculpt.
We rough out the pose and get that approved. Then we really start to fill in the detail. At this point we already have decided on what elements will be in the bust (chianmail, breast plate, furs etc). As we progress we send pics to the licensor for approvals and comments. This whole process can take from 3-6 weeks depending on how nitpicky the licensor is. Once we have the final approved sculpt we mold it.
3-Molding and casting
We mold the sculpture in silicone and cast up 2-3 copies in resin. One unpainted copy is for the factory to copy, and one painted copy is for the factory to copy the paint scheme. We also need to get the paint scheme approved by the licensor at this point as well.
Once we have the approved painted copy we send that along with the unpainted “tooling pattern” to the factory. They then duplicate it and send us back a counter sample. This is basically an example of what the production pieces will look like.
Once the counter is approved we send them the packaging design. Then it’s about 90 days from manufacturing to delivery at the port. Then distribution.
There are a million other little things along the way like solicitation, making sure all the insurance is set up, advertising, and everything like that. But above are the basic steps from design to delivery.
Justice: With A Song of Ice and Fire we had one of the best spring boards you can have when trying to create a character for collectibles. Martin’s writing is so detailed, so gritty, and as of yet still uncast, it really allows you to create almost a fully fleshed out person in your mind. So the first thing we did was copy down descriptions of each character we wanted to do. Different descriptions would describe their chronological place in the story. One might be able to know exactly which chapter we pulled Daenerys from just by looking at her dress. After deciding which period best explored the essence of that character, we settled on the description associated with that chapter in the book.
Then I get to fleshing out just what that looks like. I start designing the feel of the garb and outfit before I settle on a pose. The pose usually changes quite a lot during the sculpting phase, but it’s a bad idea to change design elements by then. So a lot of drawings were produced for the first line until George gave us approval.
The sculpting is the longest part of the process usually, and each sculptor works at his or her pace. We had three sculptors on the first line, with three different sculpting habits. Matt Aylward, who sculpted Eddard Stark, is probably one of the best and fastest sculptors I know, with the almost eerie ability to show you a lump of wax one day and an amazing completed piece the next. He is also strangely apathetic and aloof about his sculpting genius, and you cannot speak human to him.
Whitney Mitchell is very methodical and plans her sculptural steps extremely clearly. Her work is clean, elegant, and always spot on. Her attention to detail, texture, and the flowing lines of fabric are by far some of the best executed. She can show you a piece of resin and convince you it’s made of felt curtain material by her use of weight, texture and flow. Of course, giving her Daenarys made a lot of sense.
Personally, I’m probably not as good as these two, but I did get to do one of the all time coolest characters ever from anything. So you almost can’t go wrong. I’m great with realistic stuff, monster, scifi, etc. But I’m lazy. And I don’t smell good. Really though, my style leans towards the realistic (even when I don’t want it to, and that can be bad) so it worked well for the Hound. After doing research on various historical outfits, armors, and weapons from the imagined time period, I knew I had to have him in very loose chainmail with little else but sircoat and cloak. The design elements were easy to put together, but I did end up changing the pose several times.
Jed then gets the pieces and molds them up (somehow), a feat I still find fascinating and mysterious, due to my near lack of knowledge of the practice. He’s a champ because Jed can pour you an extra Hound Helmet while at the same time e-mailing Diamond and talking to our liaison in China. We would be nothing without his ability to manage all the little business ends. When we finished, our fantastic painter Kat Sapene brought all three pieces to life where her amazing skills. She can basically paint anything from flat cartoony to this highly detailed, highly intricate type of realism. After the prototypes are completely done and we get Martin’s final approval, they’re sent to the factories in China for samples. If they nail the sample and come back to us with a decent production price like they did with this project, we go into production, and the Hound eventually ends up on your desk threatening you with violence and a burnt grimace.
Mechazilla: The Song of Ice and Fire series is an awesome license to have. How did you get in touch with George R. R. Martin, and what was the process of getting the license like?
Jed: Well, when we decided we wanted to do it we started to try and just email George. He’s really great about answering emails, so he said “talk to Testors.” Yeah, at that time Testors had the master license for collectibles. So we started talking to Michael Butterworth at Testors. Michael, like us, was a huge fan and saw the worth of the license. The problem was the Testors big wigs didn’t get it. So the license sat. I think they made a Ruby Ford diorama that broke a lot. Then, one day we get an email from Michael that said something to the effect of, “Dude, you have to meet with George at San Diego Comic Con.” So we did. Justice and I sat with George, and he explained that he was about to let the Testors license expire. We convinced him of our skills and our abilities, worked out a deal, and got the license!
Justice: This is a very fortuitous story, because when we first investigated the license, we found out Testers had the Master License to do all things Ice and Fire. Only, Testers is mainly a paint and model company, and though they released one figure or so in the time they had the license, I don’t believe they had the correct company model to do the license justice. So it turns out just as we were investigating it, the license was coming up for review. After tracking down his schedule, we were granted a meeting with George Martin at San Diego Comic-con. We were able to show him a great variety of projects that me and Jed had worked on, some projects he was already quite aware of. He confessed he owned the entire line of Play Along Lord of the Rings army men. After chuckling about HBO’s Rome and Deadwood, I think we earned his liking. And once he realized I sculpted all those little orcs on his shelves, I think we earned his confidence. And that was that.
Mechazilla: The craftmanship evident in the first line of Ice and Fire busts makes it obvious that you are big fans of the books. How closely do you work with Mr. Martin, and what’s it like getting input from the creator of this fantastic universe?
Justice: George (Yeah, I can call him George, it’s like that.) is an amazingly talented man in all regards and was very easy to work with. He directed us to various source material, fan art, and Ice and Fire groups that even had every single sigil from the books categorized. There are certain very detailed descriptions which he provided for us to work with, so there wasn’t much vague guess work in compiling them into a full person. This makes the process that much easier. His art creates this being in your mind, defined down to the details on a broach. When you have that quality of author, you don’t have to do much backing and forthing.
Jed: Well George has final approval on all things. He doesn’t really art direct so much as point us in the right direction and then tells us yes or no. It is important to us that George has approval. This is the first time these characters have appeared in 3-d at such a large and detailed scale, and we wanted to be able to say that they are as close as possible to what George envisioned the characters looking like as possible!
Mechazilla: The premiere line of busts features Daenerys, Ned Stark, and The Hound. What other characters do you have lined up for bust releases in the future?
Justice: We’re currently working on Arya Stark, Jaime, and Cersei Lannister. Possibly to be adding Jon Snow and Ghost as well. Ayra with be a full figure statue in a water dancing pose. Jamie and Cersei will be busts that can be but up back to back.
Jed: The next line will be Arya, Jaimie and Cersei. We also have a Jon Snow and Ghost full sized statue planned. All these (fingers crossed ) should be coming out early next year.
Mechazilla: I read on George R. R. Martin’s website that your Ice and Fire license extends beyond the busts to allow you to make other types of collectibles as well. Can you tell me about some of the non-bust pieces we can expect to see?
Jed: Well, we have statues (which differ from busts in that it’s a full figure and Chess Sets. We have a great idea for a chess set, but we wanted to put out a few statues before we move forward with that.
Justice: We’re thinking chess sets, more full statues and maybe a 1/6 scale battle scene. We’ll have to wait to see how the second line is received.
Mechazilla: All three of the busts in the first series feature variant editions that seem very appropriate and logical for the characters featured. Will every piece released have a variant like these, and can you tell me about any variant ideas you have for upcoming releases?
Justice: For the Jaime, he might get an alternate hand, the gold hand he received later in the story, and as well another head to reflect this time period. Cersei might come with a different dress color and different crown as well. One, most likely a tiara befitting her station as a Lannister. The other, the Crown which was made for Geoffrey her son. Arya will come with either the Hound’s dirk or Needle in her water dancing pose.
Mechazilla: Will you be pursuing any additional licenses or making additional releases through Haute Products, or is your focus entirely on A Song of Ice and Fire?
Justice: We’ve already begun working on new product of our own as well as talking to other companies about developing either books, video games, or comics into collectibles. Though we’re not ready to talk about them as of yet.
Jed: Haute Products is the parent company and Valyrian Resin is the collectible company dedicated to putting out collectible based off sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. We are starting to chase down some other book licenses and have also been in talks with a few independent artists. Nothing in stone so I don’t wanna say too much.
Mechazilla: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
Jed: We’re shipping out the pre-orders as quickly as possible! Thanks to all the fans for their patience! And we should be releasing rough sculpts of Arya, Jaime, and Cersei soon, as well as the Jon Snow and Ghost sculpt.
Justice: I’d like to thank you for giving us this exposure and digging our stuff mainly. This license is really for the fans. People either have no clue what it is, or are completely over the top into A Song of Ice and Fire. There no middle ground with Martin’s fans. We approached this license as fans ourselves, and it’s been an honor to work on something like this.
Mechazilla: Thanks again for taking the time to do the interview. I look forward to hearing from you in the future, and I’m excited to see what else you have in store!