Toys are incredibly important to us when we are children. They are one of the ways we begin to understand the world around us.
They help develop our imaginations, improve our dexterity, they help us to understand concepts like right and wrong through the heroes and villains we play with. We act out our hopes, dreams and goals through toys.
As we grow older, we learn new ways to play – with music, art, sport, cooking, dancing; any and all forms of creativity are forms of play. We remember our favourite toys as much as we remember our favourite teachers.
I was very lucky to have some fantastic toys growing up. I had Star Wars and Ghostbusters action figures, vehicles from real and fantastical worlds, a few Lego sets which opened up possibilities for new creations. It didn’t stop where my toy box ended though - I remember, still being very young, making spaceships out of toilet paper rolls and sellotape, remember making a version of the DeLorean from Back to the Future by scraping the paint off of another toy car and sticking some paper fins on it as stand ins for the vents on the back.
It didn’t occur to me that making toys could be a career until I studied model making at University and I took some work experience into the field. Everything clicked; this was it, this was what I was meant to do! Many of my classmates were studying to enter the film industry, and I can see their names in the credits for amazing movies these days. I realised I wasn’t satisfied with that.
I want people to hold my work in their hands; to see it from all angles, to play with it.
My dream is that one day there’ll be children out there who are as inspired by the toys
I make as I was by the toys I had when I was young!
What I make now aren’t technically toys – the materials aren’t suitable for children. But when I design them, I treat them as if they were. Most toys these days are licensed representations of something which exists in another form – movies, cartoons, video games. Like for many toy fans, that’s where my collection started as well, with toys of things I already loved from pop culture. My collection – and taste – evolved over the time. I started buying toys I liked the look of even if I hadn’t heard of the IP, then toys with incredible engineering. Now I buy toys which are simply great at being toys, and that’s what I aim for when I make my own – that whatever they are, they’re fun, full of character, and they make you want to pick them up and play with them!
I’ve made toys of all kinds, but find myself returning to robots a lot. Robots are great – they can be cute, menacing, humanoid, completely bonkers – they’re super versatile.
In knowing what a robot is designed for, you also get a sense of the world they exist in and of the entity that created them, so there’s a depth that comes with them that I really enjoy. I’ve designed ancient guardians of forbidden knowledge, kooky brawlers built for robot wrestling matches, giant defenders of humanity… and then I’ve also done other, more cute pieces like the Boos – little spirits who just want to be left alone, so they make scary masks to keep us away.
When I make a toy, I usually sketch out some ideas. Sometimes the concept comes first, other times it’s a look, or a combination of shapes that feel interesting.
Very occasionally, the idea comes into my mind fully formed, and sketching it out feels like a formality. It usually helps, though my sketches tend to be very loose, giving only the merest suggestion of something which in my mind is very clear.
I think in 3D, and often find sketching has its limitations for me – either I can’t get across on paper what I’m thinking in my head, or more often I’ll put something down that looks fine in 2D but which doesn’t translate at all once the third dimension is taken into the account. I keep coming back to the sketchbook when I work on the 3D model and that helps to work through some parts of the design which may have not been fully formed when I started.
I get to the modelling stage pretty quickly, and the process can be similar to how you’d model
with a physical medium. I block out rough shapes, getting proportions right, and I tend
to put in approximations of the engineering (if there is any) fairly early.
It helps to know what I need to have in certain places – for example, if I’m including any articulation, I need to know where that’s going, how it’s constructed, how it’s fixed into the model, and are there any issues where parts clash when you move them – things like that. Putting in the ‘must haves’ is like building a tennis court and putting in the net – it lets you know where the play area is! I can then go around refining the shapes, adding details in, improving the engineering where I only had placeholders. Much as with physical modelling, it’s important to keep taking a step back by zooming out, to look at the overall piece and make sure elements are consistent across the whole thing – it’s really easy to get bogged down in a tiny area when you can zoom in infinitely close!
Once the model is finished, I’ll 3D print it, sand off any build marks, prime it, make a silicone mould, and pour resin casts which I then usually paint.
As I sell my work, it’s better to make polyurethane resin copies than just 3D printing multiples – casts are more durable and take less time overall to clean up and make them ready to sell.
These days, I use digital modelling almost exclusively over physical modelling. There are a few reasons for that – primarily, it’s because I’m coming at it from an industrial point of view. Because of the speed needed in the industry, digital tools tend to be the medium of choice as it allow