This week, it's back to interviews with one of this industries top names. You've seen his work, now we get a chance to meet the man. Tim Miller is my guest this week. If that names sounds familiar to you regular readers, it's because Tim was the first industry professional to stretch out his hand and give me some solid advice and help in figuring out this whole commercial sculpture thing. And this year at Comic-Con, he was instrumental in helping me meet one of the owners of Sideshow and get my foot just a little further in that door. I owe Tim a great deal of appreciation and thanks and I hope you guys will appreciate his work and this little interview as well.
AP: We finally got a chance to meet face-to-face at this year’s SDCC. How did you enjoy your time in San Diego? Can you talk a little about conventions like SDCC and their importance for this industry?
TM: SDCC is always a great time. It’s fantastic catching up, face to face, with the guys from Sideshow, the fans are wonderful, the show is incredible.
I think the cross-pollination that goes on at conventions really helps drive the industry forward. People come because they might be into gaming, movies, whatever, and suddenly have their eyes opened to a collectibles. Sometimes they might see a level of work in collectibles that they didn’t know was available to them at a reasonable price-point.
AP: All the work you’ve done for Sideshow Collectibles in the Adam Hughes line of Comiqutte Statues has been exquisite. How did you end up doing so many of the sculpts in that series and how much fun did you have doing them?
TM: Thanks for the kind words.
I think the original plan for the line was to have each piece done by a different sculptor, sort of like each artists take on Adam’s work. Previous to my involvement in the line, I was seen predominantly as a portrait guy, so when I was given the chance to do an Adam Hughes’ piece I was thrilled. I really wanted to show people I can sculpt more than a pretty face. Adam’s great to work with, and the process on his pieces feels more collaborative. I suppose Sideshow saw that keeping just one sculptor on the line might benefit from a long term rapport between that sculptor and Adam. Right place at the right time I guess.
As far as fun? Well, it’s still work. It’s very rewarding to see a piece move along in the right direction, and it’s probably more so when you’ve been given the task of sculpting hot, flossy babes. Of course, the big payoff is when the fans’ chatter begins. I can’t wait to hear what people will say about the pieces currently on my desk!
AP: You’ve been one of McFarlane Toys’ top portrait guys for years. How long ago did you start there, and do they still hire you for portrait work?
TM: I began sculpting portraits for McFarlane Design in September of 2002. And yeah, I still get work from them. They’ve been fantastic for me, and I hope that we continue to have a long working relationship together.
AP: Aside from being a great portrait sculptor, you’re also one of the top female figure sculptors. I’d ask why you’re so good at it, but I imagine it’s because women are so much more fun to look at than big muscled guys… but seriously, how have you become so good at capturing dynamic and sexy female anatomy? What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to sculpting sexy females?
TM: Again, thanks so much for the very kind words. You know, most of the time I still feel like I’m fumbling through any given project, like a child learning to ride a bicycle. I’d say there are a few reasons each piece comes out looking the way they do. First of all, I work with some amazing people, I’ve got great designs and designers, like Adam, then there are some incredible art directors, that can gently push me in the right direction when I’ve gotten too close to a project to see what might be looking odd. As far as what I bring to the table? I guess you could say that I’ve studied women, a lot, but that’s only part of it. I use life models on everything I do now, and that’s a tremendous help. I’m also relentless in getting things right. I persistently pursue excellence in my work, and while I appreciate others appreciating my work, I feel as though I’ve still got a lot to improve upon.
My biggest challenge with sculpting a ‘hot flossy babe’ is actually knees. They kill me! There are certain subtleties with a finely shaped knee that I just really struggle with. Of course, breasts and butts are also a little stressful because if you don’t get those right, well, you don’t have a hot flossy babe.
AP: Let’s talk a little bit about portrait sculpting. How do you typically start a new portrait sculpting project?
TM: The first is always the reference and establishing a good expression. I’ll get into researching the individual a bit, pull up as much good photo reference as I can. It always amazes me when I hear people trying to get into sculpting (or illustrating for that matter) that think it’s somehow not important to use reference material. My desk is always surrounded by photos and illustrations. I’ll also have a straight-on photo of the person scaled to the exact size the sculpture needs to be. This way I can measure certain specific dimensions, such as eye width. As I begin sculpting a portrait, I’ll start with a ‘buck’ or generic head, that’s about the size I need the finished piece to be. Not always, and I do get a kick out of starting with just a lump of clay sometimes. Then it’s a matter of just sitting in THAT chair and making it happen.
AP: Is there any particular part of doing a portrait that you regularly have trouble with? If so, how do keep that in check?
TM: I wouldn’t say there’s any one thing that’s consistently an issue. Each face is different, so each brings its own challenges. Symmetry is often a problem for some sculptors, and if I think it’s a problem on a given piece, I’ll hold the head upside down or look at it in a mirror. These techniques help you see past a face and see the sculpture.
AP: What are some common mistakes you see in a beginner’s work? And what are some ways to avoid those mistakes?
TM: Well, we’ve covered the reference issue as well as symmetry. These both end up being the biggest issues I think. Having a scaled photo or illustration is also good for maintaining proper proportions. Keep calipers handy and use them frequently. I’d say I’m exceptionally good at eyeballing things now, and I still rely on measuring things regularly. I also see people wanting to jump right into wax. Take your time in regular clays first. Train your eyes and your hands before you get into a very unforgiving, time-consuming, and expensive material to work with.
AP: On average (if you can figure out such a thing), how long does it take you to complete a portrait?
TM: Again, because each face brings its own challenges, a portrait may take me five hours, or two days.
AP: Have you ever sculpted a self-portrait? If so, how did it turn out? If you haven’t sculpted one, why not?
TM: I’ve not. I’m probably too narcissistic, you know, not wanting to confront the reality.
AP: Is there a likeness you’ve wanted to sculpt but haven’t gotten around to it? If so, who is it?
TM: Oh, there’s a bunch of people I’d like to sculpt! Eastwood from the Man with No Name series, Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. There’s the short list.
AP: How many portraits do you think you’ve sculpted in your time as a professional sculptor?
TM: I’ve sculpted on something like eight hundred and fifty some-odd portraits.
AP: It must be cool to have fans of what you do. I know there’s always the darker side of that equation (and we’ve spoken about that before), but what about all the positive feedback and genuine love for what you do; it has to feel pretty good to have fans come up to you and say hi at conventions.
TM: It’s always fantastic!
AP: Aside from all the portrait work at McFarlane, and the really cool stuff you’ve done for Sideshow, you’ve also recently finished a few pieces for Bowen Designs. Have you done stuff for Randy in the past? How do you enjoy working for him?
TM: Last year I began doing a few projects here and there for him, as my schedule with Sideshow and McFarlane allowed, and yeah, Randy’s great to work with! We’ve also got some exciting things coming soon!
AP: I typically start these interviews with these questions, but I think this time we’ll end with them. Were you always interested in art, or did you have a different career in mind when you were growing up?
TM: I was always drawing, but never thought I’d end up in a career as an artist. In fact, I didn’t take an art class beyond seventh grade. I have a B.S. in Biology and thought I was going to pursue a career in medicine. Perhaps one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make was not applying to medical school.
AP: When did you start sculpting? What were some of your early inspirations?
TM: I picked up a piece of clay my senior year of college. The rest is kind of a long story, so I’ll save it for another time. Early inspirations were Brian Froud and Jim Henson, the talented group of individuals at ILM, Rick Baker, mostly FX guys.
AP: What was your first big break in this industry?
TM: About a year after college, I got a part-time job at an FX and sculpting company in Sonoma. It was a small company, so everybody had to know how to do everything, molding, casting, illustration, design, animatronics design. They brought me on full time after six months, and I absorbed any information they gave. It was an amazing place to grow.
AP: What advice would you give to young sculptors trying to get into this industry?
TM: Work harder than you ever thought possible, and learn to take direction and criticism.
AP: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, I hope you enjoyed yourself. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
TM: Thanks to those with the very kind words, and special thanks to those with the very harsh words.