Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sillof's Workshop

Toys come in all shapes and sizes. For boys. For girls. Heck, even for moms and dads. But, not all toys come in stores. Some of them out there are one of a kind, hand made treasures that are a labor of love, and a visual gift to the world. Spawned from the minds and creative talents of individuals who do it for the sole purpose of "fun."

Some of the best custom figure we've ever seen in our lifetime come from the man known to the internet world simply as Sillof's Workshop - Jamie to his friends. For over a decade, Sillof's Workshop (previously known as The Wook's Workshop) has been producing one of a kind custom figures, dioramas, and props that you won't find anywhere else. Not for financial gain, but rather for the pure love and enjoyment of the hobby.

We recently had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Jamie about his creations, his website, and his future plans.

THE TOY BOX: Thank you for taking the time to “sit down” with us. It’s a real pleasure to help spread the word of your amazing work. We’ve been fans since your earlier works on the website, The Wook’s Workshop.

SILLOF: Thanks for talking to me I am glad you like my stuff. I can’t believe it has been 13 years since that Compuserve hosted website.

THE TOY BOX: First and foremost, where did the name Sillof’s Workshop come from? What is a Sillof?

SILLOF: Sillof is me, it is just a name that one of my students created in a game in my class. It is an play on words of my last name. So I used it as my alter ego online so when my students Google my real last name they don’t find thousands of pictures of action figures. That used to happen until I switched the names.

THE TOY BOX: How long have you been designing your own toys? Is this something that began in your childhood as you mixed and matched pieces of your favorite toys?

SILLOF: Definitely. I had very creative and supporting parents. My mom was kind of crafty and my father was an amazing wood worker. So we made toy weapons and playsets. Eventually I started swapping things around. I guess the first thing would have been when I was a kid in the 80’s and I chopped off Bespin Luke’s hand drilled a hole in his arm and made it re-attachable. I also swapped a regular Luke head onto the X-wing Luke body. Although I really did not realize the potential of the hobby until I met Alex “Plovo241” Newborn whose wife was my wife’s cousin at the time.

THE TOY BOX: What was Mr. Newborn’s role that you didn’t realize the potential in the hobby until meeting him?

SILOFF: Alex’s influence was huge, it was like opening a door in the hobby for me. I had made a few figures but he had made hundreds. Characters from the background, characters from books and comics, vehicles, animals, and completely original stuff that just looked Star Wars-y. It may sound silly now in the internet age with thousands of sites for the hobby but this was a long time ago and after seeing his collection in person it was just such a logical direction. It was like I had always wanted to do that but had not really thought about it in that way or seen the possibilities.

THE TOY BOX: Do you favor any specific brand of tools or other products to create your works?

SILLOF: My paints are a closely guarded secret but I used to use super Sculpey until I upgraded about 6 years ago to Aves Apoxie. I can do more with Sculpey but Apoxie is so much more durable and I have gotten better with it as time has passed.

THE TOY BOX: If we may ask, what is the average cost for each project?

SILLOF: That really varies and is almost impossible to tell. I have two huge Ikea toy organizers full of parts and pieces. So I may use parts of a figure on ten other projects. Also some figures are one hundred percent original sculpting and one time a figure had parts from forty different figures.

THE TOY BOX: You have an amazing craft for designing toys. But, how does each project begin?

SILLOF: I have a lot of hobbies so I bounce from filmmaking, to writing, to props, to toys. I will have some weird idea after I see a movie, read a book or whatever and then I just get this initial idea. Like what would a cowboy Boba Fett look like? Then I just think about it for while. Many projects don’t make it out of that phase. I usually only do a line if it all really makes sense and clicks on all levels -themes, colors, names, and for 10 or more characters that really work. I like to do whole lines.

THE TOY BOX: What is the average length of time a project takes?

SILLOF: From initial idea to finish it can take months but that includes planning, prepping, collecting a few base figures, sculpting, painting etc. When I really get going though, I can do a figure in a day or two. It used to takes weeks for just 1.

THE TOY BOX: Take us through an average project from concept to final design. Where and how do you start/approach each project, and what steps does each one entail?

SILLOF: I kind of answered that already. But other than that I usually don’t sketch it is all just in my head. I am a history and film teacher so I have a wide range of reference images in my head. I just try to find similar elements that make logical transitions from original character to my design. The process is hard to nail down because it is so disjointed. I may be sculpting one figure and as the material hardens I am painting another and as that paint dries I am weathering a third.

THE TOY BOX: We see a lot of Star Wars based projects on your site, is it a safe assumption to say that Star Wars has been a major influence in your life, and work?

SILLOF: For sure. I used to have other stuff on my site but had to remove when certain companies told me I had to, even though I was not selling it or making any money. But, yes Star Wars has been a huge influence on my interests, hobbies, and life. It dominated my childhood, I wrote papers on it in college, I have been lucky enough to travel and work at the Star Wars celebrations and meet so many great people, it was even my wife and I’s first date after she told me and a group of friends she had never seen it I asked her over to watch it on a date. So I guess it has changed my life multiple times.

THE TOY BOX: What other influences carry over to your work?

SILLOF: Definitely film - I am influenced my numerous directors. I love comics - my favorite character has always been Daredevil. Books – I love science fiction, Dune is my favorite book of all time.

THE TOY BOX: Not only do you design great figures, but you also have produced a fair amount of incredibly detailed dioramas, and fantastic props. Which type would you say you enjoy working on the most?

SILLOF: Props are fun they were really born out of some great memories with my dad who was a tool and die maker and helped me make many of them when I was younger. Dioramas are great fun and have presented me with some great opportunities namely having my work displayed at all the Star Wars celebrations and helping Frank D’Iorio run the Diorama Workshop at CII-CV. But they are so time consuming and so large and I have no real place to display them. Figures are by far my bread and butter. They are a great creative outlet, not too large to display, don’t take months to do, and I really enjoy making them.

THE TOY BOX: In the past you have sold some of your one of a kind works. Do you ever miss not having those pieces?

SILLOF: I usually only sell things as I need to make room in my collection. I currently have a few pieces up for sale. I have always kept my favorite pieces and there are some I would never sell. At one point I would have never imagined selling anything. It is just something I like to do for my own enjoyment not to get rich and famous. But a friend of mine, Bill McKenna, who is an artist, sells everything he makes. After talking to him I sold a few things and I kind of liked it. I like that I have pieces all over the world - I have shipped my stuff to 32 countries. Those pieces end up being very valued and cherished possessions to those who buy them. So I don’t really miss them, I mean how cool is it that some guy has a figure of mine in Indonesia in a glass case or that they are in a museum in Poland?

THE TOY BOX: Have you ever approached a toy manufacturer with your own designs?

SILLOF: I have been approached by a few companies to do sculpts and I have talked to a few about my designs. Basically even though the designs are my own and I use my own names it is a tricky area. I was also told that companies like Lucasfilm don’t like alternate versions of trademarked characters as it dilutes the brand and makes controlling the intellectual property tougher.

THE TOY BOX: What would your ultimate dream project be?

SILLOF: Working a movie, any movie at all - period. But the big dream would be that I would love to work for Pixar, Lucasfilm, or Disney. I would love to design characters costumes, and props for films. Working for Guilermo Del Toro, Lucas, Burton, Gilliam, Spielberg or on the new Dune movie would be awesome. But really anything creative - TV, comics, and especially films.

THE TOY BOX: You seem to have a strong following of loyal fans, some who even contribute artwork which has been inspired by your work to your website. Have you ever participated in toy/comic book conventions and actually met some of these folks?

SILLOF: I have met a few of them at cons, I have made a lot of really great people online and would love to meet them at Star Wars Celebration 6, I also might be at San Diego next year and would love to connect with fans and peers. I really love the artwork. I have a wall in my studio where I proudly display some of the pieces people have done.

THE TOY BOX: What does the future hold for Sillof’s Workshop? What special projects do you have planned for 2012?

SILLOF: More figures on my site, I may do sequels to old lines and I have a lot of original creations and more dioramas as Celebration six. But two new cool and totally different things are coming down the pike. First I created an original character and wrote a comic a year ago. The original plan was that Bruce “Glorbes” Ross and “Gentleman” Josh Izzo, my two favorite fellow customizers, were going to draw and ink it. Bruce could not finish so I am in the market for an artist who could draw the three initial issues. I am going to be doing a few more of the stop motion TOY WARS movies with my daughter this summer. Also I was contacted by a TV director about making some original figures for a new TV show. I can’t say too much contractually but basically a professional pilot is being shot in LA as we speak. I was also contacted by a major motion picture to make some figures for the film, but they are 1 of kinds and won’t be available for purchase.

THE TOY BOX: Thank you once again for taking the time to talk to us. We look forward to seeing all the amazing work you produce in the future.

SILLOF: Great, thanks for the opportunity to talk about my work I am just thrilled that people like what I do, I hope you enjoy what I have coming down the pike.

There you have it. The man, they myth, the legend. To see more of Jamie's amazing work, and to stay up to date on future projects, visit his website, Siloff's Workshop.

All photographs and logos used in this article are the property of Sillof's Workshop. Used with permission.

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1 comment:

  1. These are amazing! I would have never known about this website if you hadn't posted it here.


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