Last week, Mike Schramm introduced Abotu (Emerald Dream-US) and his to-die-for custom Troll Rogue action figure. Abotu has been sculpting custom figures as long as he can remember. "When I was little, if there was a toy I wanted that I didn't have, I'd try to make it myself out of modeling clay or construction paper," he remembers. He's done exactly that here by creating Abotu, his own World of Warcraft figure – puts Figureprints to shame, doesn't it?
15 Minutes of Fame visited with Aboto this week, not only to find out more about the player behind the talent but also to get inside scoop on exactly what went into making his Abotu custom. Our two-part look at Abotu the sculptor, the making of Abotu the action figure, plus photo galleries of the Abotu figure and other creations from this talented player ... after the break.
Main character Abotu, naturally
Server Emerald Dream-US (Horde, RP-PvP)
15 Minutes of Fame: Abotu, your custom shows that you're obviously drawing on a rich vein of creativity and background. How long have you been into gaming?
Abotu: I've never been a huge video gamer, but I enjoyed the old Warcraft strategy games and I liked old-school pen-and-paper RPGs, so I figured I'd like WoW -- and so I did. I think I started in 2006. I was sold on it when I found out I could play as a Troll!
I'm a very casual player, actually. I've yet to make it to a level cap before it gets raised. I've tried a few other MMOs that I wasn't too crazy about. Age of Conan was fun for a while.
What was the first action figure you modified?
My first serious custom figure was a superhero that I created when I was a kid, and I later decided to make a real action figure of him. I bought some random toy biz superhero figure, did a little carving on his hair, repainted him, added a cape. It wasn't perfect work, but I was pretty thrilled at the time. I was probably around 16.
Tell us about your first made-from-scratch custom.
I made a little cartoony guy out of FIMO that had a couple moving parts. I really wasn't good at that kind of thing yet. I wasn't used to the materials I was working with, and there were structural problems. It was a learning experience.
You say you went through a phase of trying to do "serious art." What became of that?
I went to a university to study art for two semesters, took a ton of studio art classes. I got good grades and did a few cool pieces, but it wasn't a satisfying experience, so I left. I think to a certain extent being an artist is not something that can be taught in a school, and it's not exactly a path to fame and fortune in most cases, either. Most people with degrees in art end up doing something else for money.
I got pretty disillusioned. I decided to follow my own path and get deeper into this goofy genre stuff, which is what I actually love.
At what point did other people begin to take your action figure work seriously?
My family was not thrilled when I dropped out of college, and people around me didn't really see the connection between toys and art -- you know, clearly it was a waste of my time. It wasn't until I made a miniature portrait of a friend as a gift that people around me realized that actual talent went into this. Everybody was like, "It looks just like him!" and I was kinda like, "Yeah, this is what I do..."
What's been the most difficult project you've undertaken?
That would be Abotu the Troll Rogue, no question. I used a lot of materials and techniques that I hadn't fully explored before, and I pushed the level of detail to new extremes. I figured as long as I'm gonna be enough of a geek to make a Warcraft action figure, I might as well make it my best work ever!
It was also tough when I designed a prototype a couple years ago, because it was totally from scratch and I had to consider it from sort of an engineering perspective and make all the little pieces fit together. But the sculpting part of that was pretty straight-forward.
What are your sculpting materials of choice?
I mostly use Sculpey polymer clays. There are a lot of different kinds, with different properties. Some are more durable, some hold fine details better. I typically mix two or three kinds together to get the effect I want. I'm not shy about baking it right onto a store-bought figure, but that's risky, because sometimes they do melt in the oven! Epoxy putty is a much less risky way to do this kind of thing, but I haven't given it a fair chance yet.
As far as tools go, I make a lot of them myself out of whatever is lying around: nails, sticks, etc. I'm pretty low-tech! A good sharp X-Acto knife is absolutely vital, though.
Is there anyone in the customs/modding world whose work you especially admire or emulate?
I've really never been involved in the online custom scene. I've always just done my own thing. In the early days, I drew a lot of inspiration from the "homemade heroes" section in Wizard magazine, but I pay more attention to what the pros are doing, the figures that actually end up in the toy stores.
McFarlane toys deserves a lot of credit for raising the bar in the '90s. Nowadays, I really idolize the team at Mezco, especially for their work on the Hellboy comic book figures. Translating Mike Mignola's art into a 3-D sculpting style is no easy feat (I have tried), but they just killed it, and the articulation is so subtle and effective. All their figures have so much personality! They have amazing sculptors working there.
What's the most you've sold a figure for?
I got $3,000 for the prototype figure I built a couple years ago, which is the only "professional" work I've done. It didn't go into production, unfortunately. They told me they were getting a bargain hiring me, though. I guess that's cheap for a prototype.
The Abotu figure took roughly twice as much time! I'm not kidding when I say a figure like that would be in the four-digit price range.