One of the most dynamic action sequences in Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 involves Iron Man and the Hulk. Spellbound by Scarlet Witch’s powers of telekinesis, the Hulk rampages through city streets before being stopped by Tony Stark in his Hulkbuster armour.
Amanda Slack-Smith, exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ speaks with Marc Klinnert, Studio Oxmox Pty Ltd about the process of making Marvel’s Hulkbuster, Hulk, Rocket and Groot statues, based on the characters seen in the films, currently installed in ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ until Sunday 3 September 2017.
Can you tell us a little about your background? What drew you to sculpting figures as depicted in film and video games?
I started as an illustrator, mainly cover illustrations for magazines, merchandise and cover art work for music bands. Always interested in movies and such I started sculpting; my first model was a one-off scale size Rancor with his keeper [character featured in Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi 1983]. Videogames grew more popular and I spent some time playing Tomb Raider. The main character, Lara Croft, seemed to be the right one for a life size statue so we decided to approach the publisher Eidos with some ideas, they were interested and that is how it started. Our first prototype of a Marvel figure was a full size Iron Man in 2008.
When did you know you could do this as a living?
I was always self-employed with my own business so to be honest everything that takes time of my work day is kind of work related. For example we used some self made props for some of the illustrations, so the sculpting process was already part of the business. When we started with the prototypes of videogame characters we invested a lot of time and money into developing a system to create the prototypes in that way that they are ready for serial production.
Can you talk a little about the process you go through from commissioning to creating the final sculpture? Are there a series of approval processes you need to go through?
It depends if the character is a videogame character or a movie character. With a videogame character you mainly get some images to start with and you can suggest a position or they like you to follow the cover artwork, for a movie character you start with a style guide provided by the license holder and there are some positions already in the style guide they like to go forward with but most of the time we provide some ideas how the character can be displayed. There are some rules when it comes to creating a prototype for serial production and there are some restrictions but it always depends on the particular character, the details, the reference material and special requests from the client. The approval process also depends on the particular character, for movie characters the approval is done in several stages via images, first the concept layout, images during the creation and turnaround images of the finished fully painted prototype.
Hulkbuster installed at GOMA
The show features four of your sculptures, Hulk, Hulkbuster, Rocket and Groot. Can you tell up a more about their creation?
We use different materials like for example clay, resin, polystyrene, fibreglass and of course 3D printing, it always comes down to the particular character, each one has different requirements and everything needs to be ready for serial production.
The Hulkbuster was the most complicated, all the details and mechanical parts and of course the all over height. The Hukbuster was 3D printed. We used a special powder print to catch most of the details. For the upper body we had about 260 different parts that we had to clean, sand and put in place, then we had to glue them all together, like a puzzle and then sand it all again and again, some parts we had to resculpt by hand. After that we had to remove all the undercuts to prepare the prototype for serial production. We prepared the upper body with head and arms and production prepared the lower body.
I always enjoy sculpting Hulk, because of his size and all the muscles, which are a challenge. Hulk was first carved in polystyrene, later we used clay to add all the muscles and details, same for the head. Clay is a very good medium if you have to change details during sculpting because you can change it by adding or subtracting material until you are happy with the result. We often take in-between pictures to get a better imagination of the overall look and if necessary we change again until it fits the reference material and to pass the approval.
Rocket was a lot of work because of the all over fur. The prototype for Rocket was created with a combination of sculpting and 3D printed parts, some parts had to be sculpted in clay first and then casted in resin. The fur was completely sculpted by hand in clay and then we made silicone mould to get a hard copy to use as the prototype. Hair or fur looks much better if sculpted by hand, you can decide the detail, flow and direction, and the strands have different looks and thickness, so it looks kind of natural and not uniform. Groot was also mostly sculpted by hand, which is more suitable when you have a more natural form, like a tree.
Hulk, Rocket and Groot statues installed at GOMA
What was the most challenging aspect of your work?
Time is always a challenging aspect. The time some materials need to dry or harden so you can move on, the time the client requires providing the right reference material, the time to finish the prototype, the time for approval and so on.
There is one situation I remember well, we were working on a mould for an upper body of Hulk (which was huge), time was very short and we had a lot of pressure, so after we poured in the liquid silicone into the mould it started to leak; we tried frantically to stop the silicone from running out of the mould, but had no luck and it was everywhere in the workshop, it was a total mess. But what will you do? The next day we cleaned up and started all over again.
Installation of the Hulkbuster statue at goma
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Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA
Feature image: Hulkbuster statue, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ GOMA 2017 / Fibreglass replica / Collection: Studio Oxmox Pty Ltd / Based on the character from Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 / © 2017 MARVEL