One of the biggest impacts Star Wars has had on the world, is its influence in the arts community. Some of the greatest works of art in the fan community has come in the form of customized figures, which enables fans to own and create characters that have never been produced, or build more screen accurate costumes or versions of characters that haven’t been released.
Stephen Ward is a Texas-based customizer who caught our attention with some absolutely stunning Boba Fett figures. While the Boba Fett 6-inch is one of the highest praised figures from the new Black Series line, Ward has not only created more screen accurate versions of the bounty hunter – but has pumped out a small squadron of armor variants – ranging from the Holiday Special, to Droids and Boba Fett’s Prototype Armor.
We got the chance to talk to Ward about his custom work, how he got into the hobby and what projects he has planned in the future.
How long have you been a Star Wars collector? Do you have any specific collecting focus?
My Star Wars story started early. I started collecting Star Wars toys as a little kid; it was 1989 and I was 5 years old. One of my first childhood memories was at KB Toys and my mom buying a Han in Carbonite from the Power of the Force line. I wasn’t really into Star Wars yet, but as I understand it, the last figures KB had were on steep discount sale for 50 cents or so – even in 1989, that was pretty cheap. It was a few more years until I got really into the movies and subsequently going to antique malls and flea markets with my mom, picking up vintage figures. My favorite character was – of course – Boba Fett.
It was the POTF2 line’s introduction which had me super stoked upon its release and I bought up everything I could get my hands on with lawn mowing money. Once I got to high school I was ‘too cool’ for Star Wars toys and everything I owned went into boxes and I didn’t get back into collecting until after I got out of the Army years later.
As an adult, I collect vintage figures loose and on-card. Occasionally I have to pick up a modern Boba Fett item like the Black Series figure or the new Saga Legends figure.
When did you learn about customizing figures? What prompted you to first try your hand at it?
Customizing figures was a natural extension of my ‘original’ hobby, which is sculpting and painting historical/military miniatures. As a kid I loved painting the figures which came with plane and tank models – more than I enjoyed the scale models themselves. That grew into converting existing figures and eventually sculpting my own, mostly in 1:32 scale, with each figure only being about as tall as my pinky finger. I’m a literature and art nerd so I’ve done pieces of Hemingway (my favorite writer) and stuff like a piece based on old German woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger. I’ve done quite a few pieces about the Iraq War in recent years as well since that’s within my wheelhouse, having served there in combat over 10 years ago.
What was the first character you ever customized? How did the project turn out and what important lessons did you learn from the experience?
The first Star Wars figure I ever customized was the new Black Series 6” Boba Fett; I wanted to improve the stock Hasbro paint apps. I was pretty happy with how it turned out actually. The biggest lesson I learned? Probably that a lot more hours went into a 6-inch figure than I ever would have expected.
What goes into customizing a figure? What’s a basic way to customize a figure, compared to more advance methods? What are the tools of the trade?
Customizing a figure is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Keep in mind that I jumped into doing custom stuff without any real experience with action figures specifically. All my experience was starting from a wire armature and using putty and some stock parts to build miniature figures. Much of my work with customs has been modifications of the existing figures with some putty, a couple coats of primer and then acrylic paints made for the gaming and miniature hobbies. Swapping and heavily modifying parts from different figures as well as the scratch building of accessories for a figure are definitely more complex applications.
Tools for customs are fairly simple – a good Xacto knife, files, putty, some handmade lathed brass rods for sculpting, and steel wool & polishing pads are essential to making the figure into its final form. Brite Touch automotive primer, Vallejo and Reaper acrylic paints, and some good Winsor &Newton Miniature Series 7 brushes are what I use to prime and paint each figure. Good brushes are absolutely essential; Series 7 brushes aren’t cheap but they are the best brushes for any artist working in miniature. All the talent and the best supplies can’t save a figure painted using a cheap brush which won’t hold a sharp point.
When Hasbro announced its 6-inch line, did you immediately begin thinking about opportunities to customize? Is customizing this scale of figure more or less challenging than the smaller scale figures?
To be honest, I didn’t really think about customizing any of the 6-inch stuff at all. I had thought previously about reworking some of the existing 3.75-inch stuff and repainting it the way I would paint a scratch built figure, with highlights, shadows, mid-tones, all placed to replicate light and shadow in scale.
Larger scale means you can load the figure up with tons of small details – but some of the stuff like base coating sections of a figure with a specific color feel much more like a chore because of the size.
Your custom Boba Fett is astounding. What inspired you to start this project, how did you go about planning what you needed to complete the figure?
I’ve been humbled by the feedback I’ve received from these custom figures. Like I said earlier, I never really had any intentions of working on the 6-inch Black Series. But I have always been a huge Boba Fett fan, and the paint apps on the Hasbro figure were pretty lacking in my opinion. I received two of the Black Series figures around the holidays so one I kept in the box for the collection, and one became fodder for a more accurate version.
I scoured the best reference for Boba on the Internet – thedentedhelmet.com – for tons of pictures of the original costume to get small details right, especially the helmet. Using hundreds of pictures from the times the ‘hero’ helmet from Empire was on tour and displayed (plus HD screen grabs, production shots, and behind-the-scenes stills) I was able to get a great library of reference.
I tried to make the colors match better, make every scratch and scrape and paint chip accurate, and bring the Hasbro figure to a new level. Obviously some small modifications were made such as replacing the rangefinder stalk, shortening the cape, and replacing the Wookie braids were done to add some more accuracy and depth to the figure itself.
Did you have any trouble locating 6-inch Boba Fetts for these projects, since some fans have reported trouble finding the figure? What type of costs goes into the average custom project?
As far as projects for other folks go, the Fetts themselves have been provided but I have had to get a few on my own from third party sources in order to complete some orders for figures. Personally, I can’t easily find extra figures at retail for MY own projects I wanna do, so I feel the pain of the fans who are unsuccessfully hunting them down. I’m like you guys, and have to resort to sourcing them from the secondary market sometimes, too.
How long did you work on the customized versions of Boba Fett? How did you go about customizing these figures and which was more challenging?
Planning, planning, planning is key. If you are gonna customize anything, research and reference pictures are the most important part of the process. I could have winged it with my Empire figure, but I took the time to gather hundreds of pictures first because it makes all the difference when you have the right stuff to compare the work in progress to.
The most challenging version, believe it or not, is the Super Trooper. Filling the helmet dent and the dings in the armor of the stock figure are a bit more difficult than they originally seemed on the first one I made. The whole kicker is that it’s gotta look seamless in the transition between the original plastic of the figure and the epoxy putty used to fill it in. Lots of careful sanding and polishing was needed to make it happen – and I’ll admit that the first attempt at wasn’t 100 percent successful.
How did you approach customizing the accessories for these figures? Also, what goes into the added step of customizing packaging for these projects?
Accessories aren’t much different than the figure itself. They may require some primer and paint to bring them up to par. The Super Trooper version I did first actually had a simple scratch built laser pistol; it was made from Evergreen styrene rod and tube plus good ol’ superglue.
I haven’t really done much custom packaging. That’s a whole other realm that folks with the talent for need to do. I did see some really great work on a Super Trooper custom which included a white with black accents box for it. Awesome stuff.
Do you have any plans to customize other versions of Boba Fett or other Mandalorians?
So far I’ve done quite a few versions of Boba: Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Droids, the Holiday Special, and of course the prototype Super Trooper.
I have a few others that are in the works soon- the pre-production version 2 (based on the version painted by the talented Sandy Dhuyvetter and subsequently photographed for the original Kenner figure cardback), a version based on the Mythos statue by Sideshow Collectibles, and a Jodo Kast, of course.
I’m about to start a vintage 3.75-inch Luke as well for my friend Shane, which will be painted in the same style as my miniature work – with light and shade to make the face and hands seem more alive than just an old figure with wide eyes and generic flesh tone paint.
I always thought that most of the Star Wars figures were pretty damn good sculpts beneath their simple paintwork, and that one could improve the classic sculpts with serious paintwork if they tried. The 3.75-inch stuff is more my speed since it’s smaller and more comfortable to paint and I’m looking forward to many more projects in this scale.
That’s what’s so great about the hobby and about custom work with Star Wars figures, there’s more subject matter than any one person could have time for which leaves the possibilities wide open.
Do you have any other comments about customizing in general? Also, have you considered doing commission work?
There’s some cool work being done in the customs hobby today, a lot of creative artists turning some decent figures into really neat original work. Man, as far as my stuff goes, I’m just a guy from Texas doing what I love to do. I am enjoying working on Star Wars stuff as much as miniature stuff I’ve done, and probably a bit more so. Star Wars has been a constant since I was a kid and it’s taken on a deeper meaning now that I have two daughters, one who is 8 and one who is about 9 months. My oldest has a lot of my childhood POTF2 stuff still on the card displayed proudly, and my little one likes to use old beater vintage figures as playthings. Seeing it all as a parent makes me love Star Wars that much more.
As far as commission work, every single figure I have done with the exception of my initial Empire version has been a commission thus far actually. I am always open to more commission work, and not just Boba Fett stuff (although he’s a lot of fun), so if there’s something anyone has in mind feel free to drop me a line.
Thanks for taking the time to talk and showcase the work. I owe a lot to good friends in the collecting hobby, Frank, Jav, Shane, for being good friends in general and for encouraging the work I’m doing. It’s grown into something all its own now which keeps me constantly busy and continues to become much bigger than just one single figure I made for myself.
When the new line of 6-inch Black Series figures was announced last year, it grabbed my interest. I’ve been eager to get my hands on the Boba Fett and Greedo figures in its second wave, and was nervous about distribution.
The first wave was plentiful on store shelves, but it’s common nowadays to miss new waves due to stores being back stocked on initial orders.
I spotted the first batch of wave two figures in my area at Target earlier today. They had about a dozen figures available on the sales floor, the majority of those being Slave Leia. I lucked out, though, and found a single Boba Fett and Greedo.
Whenever Boba Fett is featured in a line, they disappear fast. You could argue this is because Hasbro intentionally distributes lower quantities of Boba Fett, they’re snatched up quickly by fans or scalpers hoard them to flip on third-party websites – I imagine it’s a mix of all three. I wasn’t taking any chances though and picked up the bounty hunters.
The packaging on the 6-inch figures should be commended. The design is sleek and elegant, and featuring headshots of each character with the Star Wars logo gives the package a high-end feel – along with the stylistic back, which features a brief summary of the character’s role in the films and one of their well-known quotes.
The best part of its packaging is it can be easily opened without compromising the box. It’s nice to be able to take the figure out, appreciate the craftsmanship and have the option to slip it back in the box to display like new.
The Boba Fett figure is nearly flawless. The 6-inch scale allows for detail you just can’t get in smaller scale. The paintjob is clean and gives the appearance of being well worn and subtle touches of battle scars. With about 15 points of articulation, he can be posed in any number of iconic stances and stands well balanced – with or without his jetpack.
The Boba Fett sculpt is the exact mold fans saw in the exclusive San Diego Comic Con and Celebration Europe Boba Fett with Han Solo In Carbonite. He comes accessorized with a rifle, small blaster and his jetpack. My only problem with this figure is the blasters are a little difficult to get into his hands – primarily the blaster rifle.
Boba Fett’s helmet does not come off, which is a compliment to the film mythology of the character. It’s also nice to see at this scale that Hasbro can sculpt and paint more detail into weapons. The blasters are firm, so there’s less chances for barrels to get bent, twisted and mangled when removing from the packaging – always hated displaying an action figure who’s pointing a bent blaster into the air.
These figures are well worth the $20 price tag and are even more stunning in person than what you’ve seen in pictures online. Has Wave 2 hit store shelves in your area yet? Are you seeing a fair amount of quantities of all figures?
After nearly a year without new toys on the shelves, Star Wars collectors are seeing the first waves of new products. However, the introduction of 6-inch figures, a schism in 3.75-inch figure lines and the debut of interactive Angry Birds toys have led to speculation on what the future holds for Star Wars collectors.
We spoke with John a.k.a. EngineerNerd from the Action Figure Blues Podcast about his collecting habits and insights into how Hasbro’s changing approach to Star Wars toy production might affect Star Wars collecting and the industry, itself.
Boba Bounty: How did you got started in collecting Star Wars? If you began with the vintage Kenner figures, what kept you going when the line reemerged in the 90’s?
EngineerNerd: I think I’m in the same boat as a number of older collectors. I was around 6 when the first film came out and it really captured my imagination. My first two figures were the 12-back Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. Star Wars was “the thing” I was interested in until the dreaded “girl years” so many of us experienced. I didn’t have all the vehicles and playsets, but as a kid, my Darth Vader Collectors case was overflowing with all the figures up to the 2nd wave of Return of the Jedi.
Like most folks who reconnected with toys in the 90’s, I think the POTF2 figures came along at just the right time. Folks were nostalgic for Star Wars and guys like me now had disposable income. At the time they came out, I had been picking up the odd Playmates Star Trek figure here and there, but Star Wars would soon take over collecting for me. I was trying to hunt down every figure for a long time. I’m a loose collector, so I didn’t care about package variants. However, I really wanted to build as much of the Star Wars Universe line as I could.
BB: The AFB podcast provides a platform to discuss upcoming toys. Has this affected the way you look at action figure lines? Do you look at/for different things than before you reviewed them in a podcast?
EN: If anything, I’m more open to other lines than I was before. I’ve always dabbled, but I’ve really gained an appreciation of different things.
We’ve been fortunate to talk to a number of different guests from the toy and statue world. Each of those guests has taught me something new about the industry. I’ve noticed I’m a lot more forgiving than I used to be when I write a review for TVandFilmToys.com now. I think this stems from getting to know that behind each toy on the shelf, there are people who worked hard to bring it to market. It might not be what they intended, have all the features they wanted or paint applications, but they worked hard to make us happy. Each of these people works hard to try and make us happy, and for the most part, their efforts go unrecognized.
I think putting names and face with the folks behind the toys really does humanize the whole process. I know I don’t like it when folks criticize my work when it’s the best I can do with what I’m given to work with. I think all of us need to keep that in mind before we speak ill of an action figure or statue.
BB: Does podcasting on toy collecting results in a greater awareness in trends or patterns in the toy industry? Do action figures seem to be headed in any predictable direction, whether it’s how they’re articulated, sculpted, scaled or inspired from?
EN: The thing I’ve noticed myself getting hooked on is blind boxed/blind bagged mini figures. It’s odd, but when I see the news for a new line of these kind of things, I’m instantly fascinated. I’m not sure if its cuteness or size, but I just dig that stuff.
I think Funko’s Pop Vinyl series has managed to tap into that. They really are looking for niches to fill in that line. Where they may not make every character, their sheer number of licenses means there’s something from them for everyone. I think folks also look at those types of items as acceptable desktop items at work. Keep a Luke on Taun Taun action figure on your desk, and you’re the weird guy in the office. Pop Vinyl of Ghost Rider? Nobody even notices. I really think if Hasbro were doing Muggs now, it would be more successful.
Most people talk about the focus being between kids and collectors, but I think the minifigures and small urban vinyl type items service a third group I’m going to call “casual adult collectors.” This is a group that wants to collect something that isn’t so kid oriented it’s obvious, nor do they want to pay out the nose for a decent representation of their favorite characters. I think this is the group we are going to lose to other interests.
The thing I don’t get is the lowered articulation for “kids” toys. I don’t know if we’ll see it reversed, but if you listen to folks who collected GI Joes as a kid, you’ll hear one thing. They liked them better than Star Wars figures because they moved better. Hasbro can say it’s what kids want, I think we all now it’s a cost thing.
BB: For a while, collector’s didn’t have much new to look forward to in stores. How do you think this affected the hobby? Do you think this drought was felt the same by U.S. collectors versus the International fan base?
EN: Without a doubt it affected U.S. collectors. You never used to hear about folks ordering cases before did you?
I very rarely buy online. I want to go hunt down action figures. It’s just the kind of collector I am.
Unfortunately, this is probably what caused my interest to wane in Star Wars collecting. Some waves you could only buy online or were barely shipped. There were a number of figures I was really interested in that I never saw. The Gamorrean Guard, for example. I would’ve snapped him up in heartbeat. And this isn’t a new problem. The red space suited alien from Episode 1? Why can’t I remember his name? I didn’t see him and don’t have him. Cripsy Anakin? Only saw him once at a comic store and a kid was buying him.
After a while of not finding figures I was interested in and only finding “new” versions of one I already had, it became harder and harder to stay interested in Star Wars collecting.
BB: What are your thoughts on the Black Series? Has your opinion evolved from its first announcement, to now that they’re finding their way to collectors?
EN: LOL, this is a setup right? I was pretty outspoken on the idea I didn’t like the 6-inch series from when it was announced. I said so on the podcast, it was interesting because four of us were on that episode and two liked and two didn’t. On episode 82, Ben and Scott are reviewing the first four figures. I was asking questions; maybe it changed my thoughts about the line, but not my desire to collect it.
I will say they’re good looking figures. I think they are a shade off from being called great. For folks like Ben and Scott, who collect other 6-inch lines, I think it’s great. Folks have wanted this for years, so it’s good to see people getting something they wanted. I would imagine that some lapsed Star Wars collectors were stirred up by it as well.
For me however, I just can’t stray from the smaller universe I’ve been building for 30+ years. With the small army of figures I have, I could put together a display of almost any scene in any of the films. It would take me years to get to that level with the 6-inch line.
Also, they are going to look like oddities in my displays. I don’t generally collect 6-inch figures, so a few are going to stand out as odd balls.
As for the 3.75-inch side of the Black Series, I haven’t seen anything that has just blown me away. It’s just a continuation of what was out there. Sure it’s renamed. But I don’t see anything special making me want to purchase any of them.
BB: Do you think Hasbro is consciously catering to both, adult collectors and casual consumer, by focusing one line on super articulation and the other, according to Hasbro, focusing on sculpts and limiting articulation? Would this be a good move for both Hasbro and collectors?
EN: Personally? I think it’s a mistake. If you look at a number of previous lines that have tried to do this, they never seem to be really successful at doing both. Look at Pirates of the Caribbean, Dark Knight Rises, Green Lantern. It just really divides folks up into what they collect. I fear with this division, the collectors will only scoop up the higher end stuff and leave all the kid stuff.
We’ve heard the margins aren’t as good on the high end figures nor do they sell in line sustaining quantities. The kids are going to look at the lower end stuff and know that it’s “meh” and pass it by. Stores will be stuck with kids’ Star Wars toys clogging shelves and not want to order either.
When I think about all the stories I’ve heard over the years of kids and parents enjoying Star Wars collecting together, it makes me sad to see the split happening this way.
BB: What direction would you predict Star Wars toys going once the sequel trilogy debuts?
EN: Folks aren’t going to like my guess. Fewer of what we term action figures. A few to keep collectors interested, maybe double the Black line numbers for one year. Few if any kids’ figures.
Instead, I think you are going to see lower end non-articulated figures that are interactive in the way the new Angry Birds Telepods are. I’m really guessing they are using that as a test bed for the technology. I’m basing that on the release of the birds, Disney Infinity and the success of Skylanders.
When Hasbro announced it would be releasing an exclusive Boba Fett 6-inch Black Series figure, accessorized by Han Solo in Carbonite, fans pondered whether that meant they’d see Boba Fett in the regular numbered series. Inside sources said we would.
Yesterday, according to Flyguy.net, this speculation and rumor were confirmed – we will see Boba Fett featured in the next wave of the 6-inch line. It has been reported the next wave will also include Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Greedo, Bespin Luke, Slave Leia, Han Solo and a Stormtrooper.
This is exciting news for Boba Fett fans. For those who cannot attend this years’s Comic Con or Celebration Europe II, the secondary market would have been steep – taking into mind the set is costing nearly $50 at Comic Con and Celebration.
Therefore, knowing we can get Boba Fett for the retail price of around $20 is good news. This is assuming retailers order the figures in fair numbers and variety. The bad news is if you want to get your hands on the Han Solo in Carbonite, you’ll still be looking at a pretty penny on eBay or online stores.
Personally, I’m also eager to see the sculpt for Greedo. Most of the comments I’ve read online point to fans cherry picking this line based on their interests, be that Jedi, droids, bounty hunters, etc.
Flyguy.net also reports this may not be a complete list of the next wave of new figures, but more characters may be announced. If you’re targeting bounty hunters then it would be safe to assume the next couple figures in this category will be Dengar, Zuckuss, IG-88, 4-LOM and Bossk (Now that should be a gnarly sculpt.)
These figures will be released throughout the next year.