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.


GeorgeGaspar said...

I'd love to know more about the reference books. Even a shot of them on the shelf would be cool. I love seeing artists book collections!

Thanks for all the great photos and insight so far!

Bebop Designs said...

I agree with George! I think after you are all settled back a home, you should do a book or PDF guide, so glad your doing this, if you want I can share my videos e photo footage from my trip to vinyl and paint factories .
Great work keep it up

krakit said...

I'm totally enjoying your photos
as they supplement what you're
writing. I clicked on the photo
with the white vinyl cat lady
and I could see the hair lines
on the vinyl.

Sunguts suggestion for you to
sculpt some heads that would
fit on his bodies was really
cool. What a great homework

Evham said...

This is really so great. I'll be following this very closely. This is so rad. Your first post has already been such an awesome resource.

sergeySafonov said...

Enjoyed every word of this post.
Have a great time in Japan, looking forward to your updates.

Shane Haddy said...


Will do! I want to write down the names of a few of them so I can track them down. Many of them are Shigeru Mizuki / Kitaro books.

@Bebop Keith
Planing to do a magazine styled book 'mook' when I get back that will also include my exhibition. I am hitting up some vinyl and paint workshops but it might be good to have more images at a later point. Thanks!


Fantastic! I was worried it would be too hard to see. I only have my iPhone with me, nothing too fancy.

Yeah, best homework ever! Working on a body that I think will work well with some of his designs too.


Thanks! I hope to detail as much as I can along my journey.

Shane Haddy said...


Thanks Sergey for the kind words! Tokyo can be a very lonely city but I'm having a great time! Look forward to continue posting!