Painting Yourself Into a Corner

Today’s toys have risen in quality in leaps and bounds over the toys of my youth. The sculpting is better, the molding is better, the packaging…can be better at times, and the articulation is in a whole other league. And for the most part, the painting is better. Well, sometimes, that is. For companies like McFarlane Toys and NECA, the paint applications is just wonderful most of the time. But for most of the mainstream majors, like Hasbro, Playmates, and Mattel (now that Toy Biz is out of the game) it seems like an afterthought.

wolvpaintIn the late 90s Toy Biz was really one of the first major players to step up to the plate and deliver very detailed paint applications on their figures and more sophisticated paint washes to bring out the heightened sculpting details. Sure, the smaller guys were also experimenting with paint, but nothing like the leap Toy Biz made (even with their smaller figures), thanks to guys like Eddie Wires doing the paint masters (and also doing them for Palisades and Diamond, among others). For companies like McFarlane and DC Direct you had the Four Horsemen and Tim Bruckner really raising the bar with their painting prowess.

But for some reason, we hadn’t seen this trickle down to Hasbro, Playmates, Bandai or Mattel in their superhero lines. Sure, Mattel is now using some paint washes on the DCUC line, but as the Red Tornado can tell you, this is all still very much a work in progress (and one they are laboring hard to fix, I might add). Actually, the reason is quite clear: money. The time it takes to oversee every aspect of production costs money. The added paint operations cost money. The extra rounds of approvals to hash out a detailed process cost money. And for the big companies, this is not a cost that they want to bear. Which is sad.

Because they work and skill that go into making the toys is being sabotaged at the final step. Most folks think that painting is just slapping on some solid colors that matches the comics. Well, that match a style guide, at least. For some reason, most style guides don’t match the comics or animation very well, so the toys suffer right off the bat. But it’s not just filling in the lines with color. A good paint job can transform a sculpt like you wouldn’t believe, and a bad paint job can really mask the artistry of the sculptor. How many times do we see figures of famous actors and think the sculptor got the details wrong? More times than not, I wager. But it many cases, the sculpt is actually perfect. You just can’t tell because it’s covered in shoddy work.

tobeyHere are some really good examples of what paint can do: I found these across the web and I hope you go follow the links back to these artists’ work. It really is amazing. First up is Noel Cruz, who goes by Noeling. He repaints existing dolls as celebrities and original works. He treats each one as a 3D canvas, and what he does with the run of the mill dolls and paint is very good, but what he does with a specifically sculpted doll, like the Tonner ones, is nothing short of phenomenal. The pic to the right is a before and after of the same doll- a Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. No sculpting is involved. Can you imagine if this was a production piece, even a high end one? Go check out his galleries to be even more amazed. The guy is seriously talented.

But sure, you’re saying. Those are expensive dolls, not production figures at 6 inches. True, true. But smaller figures can always use help, like Hasbro’s IronMonger figure from the new Iron Man movie line.  MeguiarsEM on the Spawn Forums took this basically unpainted figure and gave it a quick dry brushed metal look that raises the bar considerably. It went from looking like a toy to a high end collectible. With only an easy paint job!


And there are examples like this all across the web (and I think it would be cool for everyone to submit links to other great repaints in the comments section) like Jin Saotome’s killer Dr. Doom repaint, or his custom Transformers Wreckage repaint. And speaking of customs, there are tons of amazing customizers out there whose works blow most production houses out of the water, like Doubledealer (update: Fred did indeed go on to make awesome toys for lots of lines, and is now part of the great Boss Fight Studio!) or CollectibleKid or Glorbes. Why no company has snatched these guys up to work in-house like Art Asylum did with Iron-Cow is beyond me.

In the meantime, these mini masterpieces have inspired me to try a few repaints of my own. Starting with the “great sculpts, bad paint” fiasco that is the upcoming Indiana Jones line.


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    Great article, and the sideburns aren’t too bad either ;]

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    That was a good read, though I think it’s unfair to expect mass market toys to measure up to stuff like Jin Saotome’s work. Leaving many of these toys essentially unpainted also reduces the risk of the paint getting marred through play/posing, which is also desirable in my opinion. (I admit that I’m new to painting action figures, but I’ve had little success keeping the paint from chipping even after sanding down areas and using various sealers and whatnot. It frustrates me to no end.)

    You’re right that the paint jobs could be better — I just wonder if improving them would effectively move the toys into the collectible category. After all, costs would rise (we’re already paying $10 for mass market “toys” versus $15 for specialty market figures, with price increases for the former category looming on the horizon). And, with more extensive paint coverage, the likelihood of the figures being chipped during play would probably increase quite a bit. Hm.

  • […] sculpting is better, the molding is better, the packaging??can be better at times, and the articu – Doll Sculptors – is an eclectic, investment-grade collection […]

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