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Will Harbottle – SOTA sculptor

Welcome to Impartial Interrogations, the official Fwooshnet interviews of industry veterans by aspiring professionals. This month Pablolobo ( wannabe sculptor ) will be interviewing Will Harbottle ( professional sculptor ) who calls the sunny Van Nuy’s based studio of SOTA his home.

Pablolobo (turns on Microphone) Testing 1, 2, 3


Pablolobo: Can you state your name

Will Harbottle

Pablolobo: Can you state your age

Will: Uh…38, but people tell me I look 39.

Pablolobo: How many Years have you been a toy sculptor?

Will: 5-6 as a full time profession. However, there were a few years in there where “professional” meant living illegally in my studio. I had this setup that was somewhere between a James Bond villain‘s hideout, and a Little Rascals clubhouse. It was in an old warehouse, and part of the space was about three stories high, sticking above the regular roof. I built two upper floors up there with a trap door and collapsible stairs. The studio ceiling had fake electrical conduits and fake sprinklers and stuff, so when I closed the trap door, it looked like I just had the one legitimate floor. It was pretty cool, but times were tough there for awhile.

Pablolobo: How did you get started?

Will: Dumb luck. I was a glassblower for about ten years, but that had started to run its course. A mutual friend hooked me up with a toy prototyping place. They didn’t really need my help, but I sorta hung around for a few months, messing around. I made a few things on my own just for fun, and I knew right away that sculpting toys was the love of my life. Eventually the guys I was working with threw me a little paying job, and then another.

Pablolobo: What is your educational background?

Will: I started off at Parson’s School of Design in New York studying fine art. But I wanted to learn everything at once, Philosophy, Literature,…everything…so I talked my way into something called a BA/BFA where you get two degrees at once. Chyah. I could handle that load for about a year before I dropped the BFA part and graduated with a degree in creative writing. Which really isn’t so different from sculpting toys. I guess. If you look at it a certain way. I’ll have to get back to you on that. Wait, what was the question again?

Pablolobo: Why did you choose SOTA toys?

Will: My passion is articulation. I love to sculpt figures that move. The more the better. My dream is to one day sculpt a Sumo Wrestler that can do yoga. Unfortunately, there really aren’t that many companies right now making real action figures, so most of us end up doing a little of this and a little of that. But when I saw SOTA‘s Lara Croft figure, I was blown away, and I knew there was another player emerging. During my first conversation with Jerry he said he was a HUGE McFarlane and Toy Biz fan, like me, and that he wanted to try to make toys with the best aspects of both. In other words, the best action figures ever made. That’s the sort of thing that gets your attention. Good enough for me. And besides, name another toy company owned by a sculptor who still SCULPTS?!! I packed up and moved to Cali about two months later.

Pablolobo: What figures have you worked on for SOTA?

Will: Jeez, let’s see…A lot now that I think about it. I did the Nightmare Demon from Now Playing, the Undead Mage from Warcraft, pieces and parts of a bunch of other things, but mainly I work on the action figures: Street Fighter, Micronauts, Charmed, Darkstalkers. If there’s something that went wrong or something you don’t like sculpturally with any of the figures from those lines, well, ultimately, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s Jerry’s fault. But you can blame me.

Pablolobo: As a sculptor what are your major influences?

Will: I’ve got a tattoo of a Bernini sculpture on my arm. But I got that when I was drunk. He was pretty much a hack really. As far as toys go, I envy the talents of Jean St. Jean and Dave Cortez. Those two, Tankman, the Four Horseman…the bar is pretty high right now. These are good times for toy collectors. WooHoo!

Pablolobo: When you sculpt do you sculpt over an armature or do you sculpt the subject first and then add the articulation?

Will: Paul. This is a trick question designed to make me crazy. And I’m not taking the bait. You know I build fully articulated armatures. Next question. I mean, I could go on for twenty pages about the benefits of building your articulation before “sculpting”, how really the most important part of sculpting an ACTION figure is that it MOVES well, how it is insane to think that it can be added after the fact to a statue and look nearly as cool as is would if you built the muscles and wrinkles and details while constantly bending the joint back and forth to make sure it looks good in every position, how not only do you need to build an armature, but each joint needs to be customized to the perfect diameter and thickness to fit each specific character, how one day the human race will advance to a state of pure POSEABILITY, where all mankind can…uh, nevermind.

Pablolobo: Do you make your own articulation or do you all have someone that supplies the armatures?

Will: I make them.

Pablolobo: What is you favorite tool to sculpt with? Did you buy it or machine it yourself?

Will: My favorite tools are an x-acto with a rounded blade that I dulled, and a mini version of the same shape. I work with castilene that I keep at this perfect buttery temperature, and these tools let me smooth on layers kind of like spackling. I fill little depressions while scraping down the ridges at the same time, if that makes any sense. I found I can work nearly twice as fast with this technique, with much less time sanding or smoothing after the fact. Basically I’m building up fairly smooth areas as I go. But the most important tool is a waxer. I can’t stress how crucial a waxer is for anyone using castilene. Jerry, for example, probably does half his sculpting with a waxer (set to some infernal temperature at all times), but everyone I know uses them a lot. A waxer is the best way to get monster textures, too.

Pablolobo: Do you like Green Castilene or Pink? Soft, Medium, or Hard?

(lots of giggling)

Will: I’m all about the hard green, baby. That’s it. Maybe a glass of wine, but otherwise, straight out of the bag.

Pablolobo: Do you only sculpt the figure or are you responsible for molding and casting as well?

Will: I started out molding most of my own stuff. Partly because I didn’t trust anyone else. But it really helped in the long run, because it got me thinking about how things were going to be molded before it was too late. You want to be thinking about how you are going to mold something from the very beginning. I don’t know if its related, but most of the best sculptors I know started off in the mold room. I’d recommend to anyone who wants to get into this business: get a job in the mold room. If it’s like every one I’ve ever seen, a crunch will hit and you’ll be asked to sculpt something in the first three months. The rest is up to you.

Pablolobo: Do you paint any of your works or is that shipped off to some South Asian sweat shop?

Will: I’m not a big fan of painting. Luckily SOTA has the best prototype painter in the business, Kat Sapene. Which reminds me, the second thing I’d recommend to future toy folks is to paint model kits. I know they are expensive and are becoming hard to find, but every toy company I know goes through periods of desperation for experienced painters. This is another great way to get inside.

Pablolobo: Are you living your dream?

Will: I really am. I can honestly say I have the best job in the world.

Pablolobo: Final Question for this session, what is your favorite food?

Will: Steak on the grill and tater tots. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of the Fwoosh. Peace

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