Thursday, December 20, 2012

Project Mentor: TOUMA

Touma wearing his Knuckle Bear mask

Another mentor introduction and another big player, I would like to introduce you to Touma. Touma is an illustrator that has been involved in character design for over 20 years.

I first came aware of Touma in 2008 through his Ultraman collaboration. As a fan of Ultra Daikaiju,  his stylised versions made me interested to discover who the artist was, once again, it turned out I had already known his iconic work for a few years.

Ultra Seven Gashapon for a 2009 Gashapon project.

Knuckle Bear by Touma

Bold and full of energy, Touma has a strong style that is easily recognisable. Something that I would like to develop in my own work. I highly respect the work of Touma and to spend any time with him is an incredible opportunity, I will take all his lessons seriously and apply it to my work instantly.
TOUMA worked as a character designer for a major video game company for 10, leaving in 2001 to become a freelance illustrator and character designer. In 2003 he released his most famous character 'Knuckle Bear' at Design Festa #14. In 2005, he established his company TOUMART Inc. Since then he has designed various original designer toys and collaborated on licensed property designs from Ultraman, Godzilla, Star Wars, Alien vs Predator, Transformers, Powerpuff Girls, and countless others. 
3 daily sessions have been scheduled with Touma. In our short time, I hope to focus on my artistic methodology and further develop myself as an artist.

Monday, December 17, 2012


The exciting day is here! Day 1 with my first sofubi mentor Sunguts! If you have ever been to the Sunguts Character Factory, you would know it is a bit far out. Nothing extreme but an hour or so via train then local bus. I was to meet up with Teresa and Sunguts at 1pm but I head out there early to ensure I would be on time. I tend to have the misfortune of taking the wrong train or getting on an express that passes the stop required. I think this curse is lifted as I managed to do it correctly the first time.

I had about an hour to spend around the station, so I had a bit of a wonder. What always astonishes me in Japan is how each area is almost completely self contained. They are almost carbon copies too, not in the layout but they all have the same style stores. In comparison to my home town of Adelaide, just the area around Kashiwa station had more shops than our CBD. I know, 'it's Japan' but it doesn't stop my wonder.

At 1pm I met up with Sunguts and Teresa. Teresa will accompany me to many mentor visits as translation support. I know a very small level of Japanese, very broken and disjointed. Through gestures and understanding a base level, I am able to take in knowledge but if I need to ask questions, I am totally stumped. I have translation apps and guides that work quite well for everyday situations but tricky design related questions don't translate well.

Sunguts met up with us to show us the way to his studio. Number 6 bus from the station and 3rd stop after the tunnel. I noticed there was a giant 'book off' store before the stop, I will use that as my landmark from now on.

Sunguts leading the way after the bus

Once off the bus, it was just a small walk along the bridge in the above photo. When we entered, it was hard to contain myself! So many awesome toys, I wanted to play with them all. I didn't take many photos of the shop setup, I may take more next time. If you are interested in seeing the work by Sunguts, Andy over at Kaiju Korner has some excellent coverage -

Please note that many items have fallen over in the photos due to an earthquake that happened the previous day.

Day 1 was scheduled to be a day of sculpting. For the first hour or so we spent time getting to know each other while I had a mini 'museum' tour of the shop.

To explain aspects of sculpting there was lots of back and forth between sculpts and final products. I will try and keep my blog report in one straight line but there will be a bit of back and forth. Furthermore, I may gloss over many aspects of the design process. If you would like a further explanation, please write in the comments section. There may be instances that I may hold back certain information in respect for my mentors but I would be happy to answer to the best of my abilities.


Every artist has their own style and methodology and this doesn't exclude Sunguts. Through being mentored by Sunguts, I will try to the best of my ability to follow his methodology.

Process steps from basic sculpted shape to vinyl.

Sunguts uses air dry clay; currently Fando. First, he will create the basic shape of the figure with his hands and let it dry for a week. After leaving for a week to dry, he will chip, carve and sand to the desired shape. Adding extra clay where required.

Some of Sunguts tools

By applying some water to the dried clay, Sunguts adds fresh clay for a nose.

Using tools to sculpt a tongue.

With added details, it will sit to dry for another day or two.

Once the shape is sculpted, sanded and ready. The final stages will be to coat with grey primer. I didn't take a picture but I believe Mr.Hobby branded primer was used. I will confirm this next time. More sanding is required and then a polish. All ready for a silicone mould to be made. 

Silicone mould to create a wax cast used to make the iron tooling for sofubi production.
Currently, Sunguts didn't have any pieces in the wax stage of production but we will be doing it at a later date. 
Maser sculpt with spout.

Another area I will cover in more detail at a later date is the spouts. Just briefly, these spouts are used for multiple reasons: easier to pour and pull the vinyl from the tool, allows air bubbles to escape and allows pieces to fit together.

More and more examples were added to the table as we talked about the process.
Master sculpts with the final vinyl (white)
Once in the wax stage, Sunguts adds extra details too. Depending on the sculpt, it is easier to add details in wax he says. You may need to click on the above image to clearly see but you will notice the master sculpts are smooth and the final vinyl has hair lines. These lines were added at the wax stage.

Painting examples.

There are other interesting things I learnt about the vinyl process but I didn't take any images, I will take more photos and cover it in a later post leading up to vinyl production. Jumping into painting, Sunguts displayed a few variations of painted vinyl. Free spray with an airbrush, hand painted and when you require precise detail, airbrushed with a paint mask.

 Paint masks are very expensive but required for precision.

Having fun with a paint mask.
I love adding a sense of playfulness to all of my work, it is clear that Sunguts enjoys this too. One piece that I really enjoyed playing with in the studio was a 3 faced squid called 'Queen Yulysis'.
As you turn the body, the face changes internally. It may seem simple but it is still rare to see this in vinyl production.

Video in action.

Another piece that has always intrigued me is the movable tongue of Uraname. I gathered it was a separate piece glued into place but I was wrong! It is part of the body spout! The mouth gets cut and the tongue sticks through.  
 Even though it gets cut out, I love the smiley face.
These small things are what I really enjoy, pushing the limited boundaries of the manufacturing process. I had discussed a few vinyl ideas that I had in regards to 'pushing the boundaries' but Sunguts mentioned that sometimes the factories don't accept difficult vinyl productions. I guess that is why it is rarely seen. 
Another fantastic aspect of the day was to look through lots of reference material Sunguts had in his studio, especially all the yokai material. Fantastic books, I need to track some down myself. The fun part was looking at a vinyl and seeing the artwork that inspired it. 
At the end, we discussed what I would like to do as a vinyl. We had previously discussed I wanted to do a two part. Perhaps create a single body and a few different heads. Sunguts suggested something amazing, to which I am still floating while I'm writing about it. At the time, I was already in awe and his suggestion almost made me completely speechless. 
Sunguts suggested that I use his master spouts, that way I can create heads and bodies that are interchangeable with majority of his character work! AMAZING! We talked about what I would do for my exhibition on return from Japan and Sunguts thinks it would be best to show my work on lots of his bodies. Fantastic!  
My homework kit.
The plan for the day was to start my sculpts but the day had ended, so I was given a homework kit. This kit contained some Fando, one spout for the head, one spout for the body and a master sculpt for reference. I was so nervous taking the master sculpt, I'm so afraid I might break it!
 Sunguts and I talking shop!
The day had ended and Sunguts kindly drove Teresa and I back to the station where we parted ways. What a fantastic day, my jaw is still hurting from smiling so much! Even though I felt like I was invading Sunguts space, I believe he had a really fun day too.

Well, I will leave it at that. Thank you for reading, I'm just telling my story and I hope it was worth a read. Like I said before, if you would like to ask any questions about something I glossed over or may have missed, please ask in the comments.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Project Mentor: Sunguts

Baby Sunguts, already a lover of sofubi.

The next mentor I would like to introduce you to is Tadayoshi Ichimiya, also known as Sunguts. To many, Sunguts doesn't require an introduction. He is one of the big players and has been deeply involved in many aspects of the Sofubi world for over a decade.

Just like discovering a few great songs on the radio were by the same band, I had come across Sunguts work sporadically in Japanese toy magazine Hyper Hobby. As I can't read Japanese, I tend to only look at the images but I eventually discovered many pieces I enjoyed were all made by Sunguts.

SUIKO original character by Sunguts

Dogu-Chan, licensed character by Sunguts

I closely identify my direction of 'what I want to do and where I want to be' to be 'Sunguts style'. He has lent his skills to many toy projects and has a vast library of original character and licensed work. To have the opportunity to meet him was fantastic and to be mentored by him is truly a dream.

Through initial arrangements, I was excited to learn Sunguts was developing new works for Wonder Fest early next year. I was invited to see the whole process; from character design, sculpt, wax, vinyl production and painting.

Later, I was to discover that the schedule was not only for me to observe the development of a new Sunguts work but to mentor me directly in the process of developing my own sofubi from sketch to production. I can't even fathom the words required to describe my excitement, deep gratitude and respect.  
Born in Hyogo-Ken in 1969, Tadayoshi Ichimiya, entered college in 1987. In collage he made a name for himself by producing various self-directed films. In 1991, he was hired as a director by a well known advertisement firm in Tokyo. While he worked as a director, he also designed many characters for the TV commercials. In 2000, he started producing his own soft vinyl figures and in 2003, he became a freelance director and character designer under the studio Sunguts. Ever since he has been producing various original and licensed character works.
I have scheduled 10 days over the next two months, with 'homework' requirements in between. The journey has just begun!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


 'IDOL'S IDOL' by Shane Haddy

I was invited to be part of the 4th Annual Blamo Toys exhibition held at Toy Art Gallery. I really love the work by Blamo Toys and have remotely viewed their exhibitions each year. I am excited to be participating!

Recap video of the Blamo Toys custom show last year.

45mm tall Hug sits in my hand

This year, the piece chosen to be the main attraction is a 45mm resin Hug figure. Hug is small, he is very small; It is the smallest piece I have ever customised. You would think being smaller would make it easier but in many ways, it was harder than a 'normal' 4-7" piece to customise.

I had sketched on paper many ideas, I had chosen one but in the end I didn't follow through. I pulled out some clay and made a 3D sketch model, I think this is becoming my favourite way to work.

I wish I had more WIP images to show you, poor form on my behalf. Yet, I am happy with how he turned out. Here he is~~
custom Hug by Shane Haddy

You may recognise the golden 'cat head'. It is a Meowf, a really neat original sculpt by TOVI. Sadly the Meowf project has been put aside but it was really nice to use Meowf for this custom. I also had a bit of fun trying get the Meowf head to look like roughly cast 'ancient statue' gold.

I am really happy with the final result, I feel the form worked out really well. 

Toy Art Gallery
7571 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90046

Opening reception:
7-10pm 15th of December.

15th of December through to the 30th of January.

To idolise, to be idolised.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Project Mentor: Teresa Chiba

傾乙女 "Yaegaki" by Teresa Chiba

The first mentor I would like to introduce you to is Teresa Chiba. A more appropriate title would be 'mentor and manager', she has organised so much and helped me beyond expectations. I am truly grateful and honoured by her assistance and friendship. I was so excited when Teresa agreed to be part of my project! 

I first came across Teresa's work in the Max Toy exhibition titled 'Beauty & the Kaiju' in 2010. At the time, I wasn't an artwork collector but I loved her piece and purchased it. From there, I continued to followed her work and slowly got to know her personally. We had some common ground to relate, Teresa lived in Australia during her final years of study and she also teaches design students.

Kaiju Tripus by Teresa Chiba

At the beginning of 2012, I traveled to Japan for a family holiday to visit my brother with my parents. I also took a small side trip to Tokyo to meet and greet various people in early stages of my project preparation. The side trip was very last minute but I was excited to organise time to meet Teresa in person. It was a great night and even though it was a casual meet up, I learnt so much about design and illustration in Japan in the short time we were together. Teresa is very knowledgeable and explains things so well!

At the end of May, I was excited to learn Teresa was part of a TV production called 'Collaboration Culture' for BBC World News. Teresa was partnered with British artist David Shrigley. I thought this would be the best way to introduce her work to you all. Please watch!

Teresa Chiba and David Shrigley for Collaboration Culture

Artist Introduction video:
Episode video:

Born in Kanagawa, Japan and undertaking High School and College in Sydney, Australia, Teresa Chiba is a tireless artist who has been working under the studio name of Production_Genmu based in Tokyo, Japan.

She has released her artworks in numerous mediums such as YUKATA (kimono for summer), fashion accessories, graphic designs, packaging designs, art direction and live performance.

Many of Teresa's artworks have been inspired in the motif of KABUKI (Classical Japanese dance-drama). She calls herself a KABUKI-OTOME-ESHI (Kabuki girls illustrator) who express the romance of a girl's inner strength, weakness and determination.
Currently Teresa is also working as a freelance artist and illustrator and teaches digital illustration at the Tokyo Design Academy (Harajuku, Tokyo).
Teresa and I just wrapped up the final schedule for the next two months, it is action packed! If you have any questions, please post in the comments section!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Project: Arrived in Japan

Hello from Japan!

As I mentioned in my last post, I have spent the first week in Okayama visiting my brother, it was fantastic! I am currently in Tokyo for my second night and I am almost settled in. Time to recap my first week!
Adventure to Japan

I had a great flight, even with the annoying transfers. I started in Adelaide with a brief stop in Melbourne. then a 3 hour stopover in Hong Kong, followed by a 3 hour flight to Tokyo. The plane had very cool HD touch screens but sadly I had seen 90% of the films on the system. I did however enjoy watching  'Painted Skin 2 : the Resurrection'. The hardest thing about the flight was the HK transfer at midnight, flying back out at 4am. This is prime sleeping time! I planed ahead and had a good sleep between 7-11pm.

I made it to Tokyo

I arrived at Narita airport at 6am in the morning. Got all my belongings and made it through customs. First thing was to have a shower! I love public showers in Japan, so clean and nice. I have to say though, the shower facilities at Osaka airport are much nicer. Showed, clean and in fresh clothes, I made my way to meet up with César Zanardi.

I was only in Tokyo for a few hours before catching the Shinkansen to Okayama, so I was really happy we managed to meet up! Not having much time, César suggested we go to Asakusa. I haven't been there so thought it would be fun. 
First time seeing Sensōj, it was packed with tourists!

Waniphant with the Sky Tree and the Asahi 'golden poo' by Philippe Starck

I have always held back calling Waniphant a 'kaiju' directly but when an old drunk Japanese man walks by and yells out 'AHHHH KAIIIIIJUUUU' I think it is safe to say Waniphant is a kaiju.
We did take some photos of Cerrito and Waniphant together but it was of a special Cerrito that César will reveal later. Lucky for us, TOVI did a really cool sketch to celebrate Waniphant and Cerrito meeting.

Yeeehaaaa ~~ Love this sketch by TOVI

After taking some photos, it was lunch time! This was an important occasion as it will be my first meal in Japan! With so many choices, it is always hard to decide. It doesn't help that I am shocking when it comes to deciding where to eat. Interestingly, for my first meal in Japan, I had Indian curry!!!
Look at that spread! It was really yummy!
Toy shopping

After lunch we went to Ueno to check out Yamashiroya, a single toy store with the lot! With not much time before I had to leave, it was a perfect choice. It was my first time there and seeing so many toys was overwhelming but I loved it. 
 "6 levels of happiness" - César Zanardi
 The store is amazing! Full of big licensed series, character merchandise and independent sofubi makers. Trying to keep my budget in check, I only got myself one toy. Originally I wasn't going to get any but I have to thank César for the little 'push'

"Shocker is the organization that spred of world allu with the clique and very fierce and horrible. Their evil purpose what to change the humanbeing and subordinate mankind to them and conquer the world." - word for word Engrish text on the box.

Time to head to Okayama

3 handsome gentlemen; César, Wanihpant and Shane. 
With my time up, I had to say goodbye. César is a great guy and we had a great time, especially talking about Australian rock music! Tired and exhausted, I still wanted a photo to remember the occasion. 

Considering I have only covered the first few hours of my time in Japan, I will leave it there for tonight and continue the story next time. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Project: Leaving Wednesday!

Hello all!!

Well, I'm almost fully packed and ready to start my 3 month adventure in Japan. I am very excited and nervous at the same time!

I will arrive in Tokyo on the 22nd, to which I will have a quick meet with toy friend César Zanardi from Argentina. He is the creator of CERRITO and was in Japan for Design Festa and a joint exhibition with Monster Factory. Sadly I missed the show but look forward to meeting César on Thursday. I really wanted to check out the event but I wasn't able to arrive in Japan sooner. Lucky for me, I was able to check out some cool coverage of the event by Andy from Kaiju Korner:

After handing out with César in Akihabara, I will be taking the shinkansen down to Okayama to stay with my brother for a few days. He has lived in Japan since 2009, so it is always great to catch up with him. We will check out some Bizen-yaki and hang out in some izakaya, generally take it easy before I start working hard. I really like the whole area Chūgoku region, I would say it's my favourite area in Japan.

Then on the 28th I will be moving into my new home in Tokyo! Without jumping too far ahead, I will leave it at that but keep an eye out for posts starting in December as the ball will be rolling!

Thanks for reading :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Store: Sparkle Sparkle

I was a bit sneaky and added a new Waniphant to my webstore~

Made from high quality Japanese clear vinyl and packed full of glittery goodness, this special release was produced for personal gifts I would give on special occasions. Only 3 left and I thought I would make them publicly available. 

Waniphant 'Sparkle Sparkle' heavy glitter edition