Every good toy or collectible statue begins with a great sculpt, though with the toy market under financial strain, that’s becoming less and less true, as lines start to rely more and more on shared body parts and canny repaints. That’s why it’s a pleasure to meet a guy like Hector Arce, a sculptor inspired by some of our favorite toy lines to make custom pieces on commission. It’s a gig that’s made him fans online, and has caught the eyes of folks in high places; as we spoke to him, he was preparing to do some movie design work. Until that hits, he’s available to make you some cool collectibles of your own, and has even paid it forward by creating a web series that teaches the basics of what he does. We sat down to speak with Hector over coffee, and found him to be just as much of a fanboy as we are.
Luke Y. Thompson: Tell me what you do.
Hector Arce: I am a sculptor and a designer/painter. That’s what I do. I mainly sculpt figures and post-production maquettes for movies, when I get the gig.
LYT: When you say figures, are we talking toys?
HA: We’re talking more maquettes, collectible statues. None of my stuff is poseable at all; it’s more along those lines. I do a lot of comic book stuff, a lot of fantasy dragons.
LYT: Any Sideshow statutes? What kind of stuff have you put out?
HA: Actually, I haven’t. All my stuff is – it’s all my own things; I’ve never done anything for Sideshow or anything. I mean, Sideshow is amazing! I wish I could at some point be at the quality of Sideshow, but right now it’s just me selling my own stuff, like figures I’ve done.
LYT: So you’ve just done unique stuff?
HA: Yeah, just one-of-a-kind things, and if someone wants – usually what I will do is someone will contact me or come to me and say “Hey, I have this design. How much do you charge to sculpt it?” I usually just do commissions for people like that, and I like to keep it at a low cost so that when you’re a starving artist, and you want to get something out there, like something to show, a figure or something like that, it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg. I’m trying to keep it fairly low, considering what it is.
LYT: Are there issues regarding what you can and can’t sculpt? Like if someone wanted Spawn, could you do that, without getting in trouble from McFarlane?
HA: I’m not going to say that I haven’t done stuff like that before, but for the most part, I keep those very, very, very low. I hardly do stuff like that. If someone asked me to make them a Spiderman, or something like that, I’d probably say “You could just go buy a figure; you don’t have to hire me to sculpt one.” I usually do stuff that’s more like someone has their own comic book line coming out or something like that, or they have their own designs and they want to do a presentation or a pitch, a movie pitch or something, I’ll sculpt their designs for them.
LYT: You mentioned movie stuff. Are there movies that are out there that you’ve done work for?
HA: Not at the moment, no. Everything’s in production or post-production.
LYT: It’s kind of top-secret right now?
HA: Yeah, I can’t say. It’s mainly stuff with Legendary Pictures. I can say that, but their herd of ninjas will not let me talk about what I’ve worked on with them.
LYT: Well, “herd of ninjas” sounds like a good starting point.
HA: Right? I’ve always wanted to do this whole thing with ninjas, just the scenery, like an old Japanese building, and have a herd of ninjas flying at this one dude, capturing the moment, and him slicing some guy’s head off. That’d be cool!
LYT: I always thought the problems with ninja sculptures is trying to capture a mid-air pose. The Spawn vs. Cy-Gor, when they were in mid-air, when the peg on that finally broke, I was so unhappy.
HA: I remember that! I had that. I still have, probably, 50 Spawn figures in a box, because there’s no room for it in my new apartment. I used to collect. That was the main thing that inspired me to get started.
LYT: That was in The 40-Year Old Virgin.
HA: Yeah, it was, I remember – it was in the background. Yeah, he had a lot of McFarlane stuff in the background.
LYT: I thought “That’s uncharacteristic. That isn’t what he would collect.” Some monsters and the Six Million Dollar Man – OK. But he didn’t seem like a McFarlane guy.
HA: I know. I think someone just thought it looked cool and stuck it in the background, like “Oh, this looks pretty sweet!” But that was a cool figure; I had it.
LYT: What were the first figures that you ever collected?
HA: The first figures that I collected were Ninja Turtles. My mom bought me my first Leonardo; it was one of those big ones, the 20-inch ones, the rubber/vinyl ones, whatever they were made out of. And then from there I just got everything. I had the sewer system, I had the Technodrome, I had the van, the blimp; I had everything! And then from there, I just went off. Ghostbusters was next; G.I. Joe, Transformers, you name it. Power Rangers! I still have all of my swords.
LYT: Where do you keep them?
HA: They’re in storage now.
LYT: My room is overflowing with stuff.
HA: I try to keep mine separate. I could totally do – what’s that show called? The toy show where that guy goes around and looks at your toys and goes “I’m going to buy this off of you!” Toy Hunter, or something like that? He could look in my storage room and be like “WHOA!”
LYT: Mine are all loose. They’re worth almost nothing to anyone, except someone who wants to play with them. I used to, every year, just give a box of toys to charity.
HA: Yeah, I mean, when I was a kid, I opened most of my toys and I played with them. Not a lot of mine are in boxes, except the first Spawn that I ever got. That’s still in its box. But I don’t know how much that’s worth. (laughs)
LYT: Do you still collect? Are you going to buy the Ninja Turtles Lego sets?
HA: No. Those Lego sets are cool! I want The Lord of the Rings one. Those are sweet! And the Marvel ones, and the DC stuff they did are cool. But now I don’t really collect. If I ever want something, I just make it! I’ll be like, “Oh, I kind of like this Spider-Man fighting the lizard. Let me just sculpt it.” I’ll keep it in my room – that’s mine! (laughs)
LYT: How long does something like that take?
HA: It depends on the piece. If someone says, “You have a week to finish a 3 foot statute,” then I’ll make it happen somehow. Normally, it takes about a month to get something done. You know – if you want it molded and cast in plastic, and all that stuff.
LYT: When did you decide after collecting all these toys that making them was what you wanted to do? Did your parents encourage or discourage that pursuit?
HA: My mom was always encouraging, to the point where she was saying “Oh, you’re a great artist, that’s OK, but are you going to be a doctor, are you going to be a lawyer, an accountant, an architect?” Something of societal value, I guess. But I started doing it, because it was pretty much a prerequisite to take. I was an art major, and I took it, and then I was like “OH! This is awesome!” I just kind of fell into it. I was already collecting toys all my life; I might as well just make my own toys, my own figures, instead of spending money on it. And then they’re unique. And one day, I was at my school, and they put my stuff on display, and people started buying it. And then I was like, “OK. I guess I could maybe make money off of this?” And then I made a site, and it just kind of went from there.
LYT: Do you make a comfortable living now?
HA: I wouldn’t say that. It is what it is. I still have a day job. But I’m hoping at one point that it will become a comfortable living!
LYT: How long have you been doing this professionally?
HA: About 2 years. So I’ve got a ways to go, I suppose. Still paying my dues! But I was lucky enough to have some people at Legendary recognize my work.
LYT: How did they recognize it?
HA: They saw my stuff on Deviant Art, I think, or some people had been posting my things on message boards – I wasn’t exactly sure how they came into contact with it – but a secretary sent me an e-mail, and it was like “Come in, and we’re going to work on these movies,” and it was cool
LYT: What are your favorite kinds of things to sculpt?
HA: It depends on my mood. Right now, I really want to sculpt – you remember Dino Riders?
HA: I want to sculpt the T-Rex, with all the weapons, and I forget the bad guy’s name, but I want to do that; I don’t know why, but it just hit me. “Dino Riders – I want to sculpt that!” So that’s probably what I’m going to do next. (laughs) It depends on my mood. There will be days where I’m like, “I kinda want to sculpt. I’ll just sculpt Venom,” or, “I want to make a new dragon,” or something. I’ve made a few dragons of my own designs.
LYT: What about something like a dad sitting at his desk at work – would that still be fun, or would it be less interesting?
HA: It would be less interesting, I suppose, but it would be a challenge, because I don’t normally do that sort of stuff. All of my stuff is fantasy. It’s all toys, sci-fi stuff, so when I get into something serious like that, or something that has to be done accurately, to match the anatomy and stuff, that’s a little more tedious, but I’m open to it. Let’s get it done.
LYT: Do you get a lot of requests for custom likenesses, like “Do me as a superhero”?
HA: I’ve gotten a few of those, and I’ve done that. I’ve gotten people who’ve designed random things. When I first started, all of my clients were from Europe, and Japan, and there was one guy who wanted this weird creature sculpted that kind of looked like him, but it was a cross between him and a Digimon and a really buff man. It was really strange, and he specifically wanted everything accurate to his body, and I was like “OK, let’s get it done!”
LYT: There’s probably going to be readers out here who are saying “I’d like to get that done,” so what would you charge somebody for something like that?
HA: It depends on the size of the piece, and the complexity, and that sort of stuff. But usually what I charge, starting rate for a 12” inch figure, I would say from $500 to $1,000.
LYT: Is that based on size, regardless of complexity?
HA: The complexity would then increase from $500 to $1,000, and we’d go from there. So the size is how much material I’m using, and when it gets to complexity, it’s about how many hours I’m putting into making this.
LYT: Have you ever wanted to design toys as well?
HA: Yeah, of course, I’ve always wanted to do that kind of stuff. For me, it’s more like I wanted to do some stuff with having my own line of toys at some point, my own collectible figures. I’ve been so busy with doing other people’s work that have had to put that aside. But I eventually want to do that. I definitely want to put out a line, maybe of dragons; something that I really love making.
LYT: Do you have any sculpting influences? You’ve mentioned McFarlane, so presumably that would be like Kyle Windrix and the Four Horsemen, but is there anybody else?
HA: Honestly, I could go back to when I was a kid, and I saw art work by Bernini, in the Baroque period – his stuff was so dramatic and, it was so different from the Renaissance artists, who were just focused on anatomy, and capturing the perfect human body, whereas when the Baroque period came around, everything was turned around, and they were like “Let’s take everything that we’ve learned from the Renaissance, and capture a moment in time.” They had all these pieces where there was tension, there was drama, there was movement – that inspired me to pursue art, in general. Now when I do my sculptures, I try to capture movement, I try to make it something that’s not just a static figure, I try to make stuff that looks like it was captured in a moment, like a photograph.
LYT: It seems like we’re coming to an end of a movement, but there was a moving to things that are simpler, things that look more like anime. Is that a sculpting style you’re interested in, or are you more interested in detailed work?
HA: I have nothing against the simpler stuff, it’s fine. It requires – you would think it would take less time to do a simpler thing, but capturing those smooth angles and everything takes time. I would still prefer a more detailed approach, because that’s just how I am, but you can’t go wrong with those little Mini-Mates; those things are cool.
LYT: I always felt like, in the ’80s, they made the toy first, and then the cartoon. Now they make the cartoon first, and the toys look like a cartoon. In the old days, the Transformers toys were way more detailed than the cartoon, but now it’s just not as cool.
HA: No, it’s not. The difference – I remember back then, I had Optimus Prime, or Grimlock, or something like that, it was like “Whoa, this is cool!” And then the cartoon was just like blocks – super simplified. They didn’t look as cool as they did as a toy. But now, you’re right – if you look at Transformers Prime now, the toys look just like the show. There’s no difference, and I guess as a kid you don’t care, but as an adult, it’s like, “Ah, well. It looks like what it is.” There’s nothing special about it, really.
LYT: I always cared, even as a kid. I always preferred the more realistic movie-style rendition of any character, rather than the comic book style.
HA: Yeah. I mean, they’re harder to do, and they require a different level of skill to capture that, but when I grew up, all I was collecting when I was in high school, I was just collecting Spawn figures. For me it was like, I fell in love with the detail and how dirty they looked, and all the little tiny things. I studied the figures. You can see tiny little scales on top of other little scales on top of other little scales – it’s crazy what they did with those.
LYT: Have you worked with laser scanning?
HA: No, I have not. I have actually not even touched the 3D computer medium at all, which is something that I should probably do! (laughs)
LYT: When you start working on movies, that’ll probably come into play, because they’ll scan the props.
HA: Yeah, I mean I did do work for this company that did knives, and they also did rings, and they had me sculpt a dragon skull, and then they scanned it, and then they shrunk it down into a little ring. That’s as far as I’ve gone with scanning or lasers or anything like that, and I didn’t even do any of that – they did it for me. I sculpted a skull that was probably 12 inches big, and they just shrunk it down and made it the size of a ring.
LYT: That has to have made for very fine detail.
HA: It does. It retained every detail.
LYT: So what would your advice be to a kid who may want to get into the same line of work?
HA: My best advice would be to be patient. Do what you’re doing, and believe in what you’re doing, and as long as you are patient with it, and keep plugging – use the social media, that’s what really helps! That is what has gotten me more noticed throughout the years, is using Facebook – I don’t use Twitter, but (laughs) – using Deviant Art, using whatever you like, just get your work out there, and eventually someone will take notice.
LYT: I almost feel like we’re getting to a saturation point with social media.
HA: Yeah, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s really helpful, but at the same time it’s kind of getting this weird stigma now, where it’s uncool to use it, or to even go by it anymore, but it still helps. Most of the people still use it, most people still notice it.
LYT: It’s better than before – as a writer, I remember doing zines and just handing out photocopies, before there were blogs…
HA: Yeah, exactly. I mean, as an artist, back in the day, there was no way of me even showing myself, really, other than actually going somewhere and physically showing them my sculptures or my pictures, but now I can just throw everything on line, and say “This is what I do. If you want to look at it, great. If you don’t, I don’t care. If you like it, cool! If you don’t, it is what it is.”
LYT: If you could be commissioned to sculpt any character in all of fiction, or even real life, what would it be?
HA: That’s a tough question. There are so many things I would do. I would love to do…(thinking)… I don’t know…maybe Predator fighting Gremlins. It’s a fantasy! I’ve always loved Gremlins, I love Predator, and why not?
LYT: Who wins?
HA: The Gremlins. There’s so many! (laughs) It would be caught in the moment where so many are attacking him that he’s about to set off his little bomb. Like, that’s it – everyone loses!
For more on Hector Arce, catch up with him at Facebook (all featured images above and more can be found there) and Instagram (he does not Tweet). This will be the last Figures & Speech column from me, as I’m moving onward to a new job – keep up with me on Twitter at @LYTrules for further info.
NOTE: Nerdist Industries is owned by Legendary Pictures, but retains editorial independence.