+1T: Don’t toss those action figures on eBay

Fernando and Hans Weise working on the Trajan Column set.
Fernando and Hans Weise working on the Trajan Column set.

Fernando Baptista is a child of the 70s, which among other things meant sci-fi, summer blockbusters and action figures. He grew up on Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, King Kong. His mother would get him comic books and he’d spend hours sketching into the book’s margins. He’d get a Star Wars figure customize its outfit, making it look more Han Solo and less plastic. He’d add his own custom weapons. It was all professional training.

A lot of kids lost track of their action figures long ago. Not Baptista. His live on (insofar as plastic can) and have recently found a new role: they now star in recent (and highly entertaining) stop-action shorts Baptista, now 50, has collaborated on with Hans Weise at National Geographic.

Baptista spoke about these works at +1T Design Days in Istanbul recently and described the sculpting and 3D modeling he creates to inform his infographics work. In short, he builds sets, infuses them with life, then draws. And when the infographic includes humans, he’s found that 4″ action figures can be extremely useful. I had a chance to toss him a few questions afterward.

Have you always used action figures in your work?
I’ve always had a collection of action figures, I loved Star Wars, Planet of the Apes.
When I’m sketching people sometimes I use the action figures, for the composition or to determine the light sources — it’s very helpful. I’ll compose a set, then I will play with the light. I can do it in five minutes, then with my iPhone I can make some videos and pictures and try different angles to find the best point of view. It helps make the scene more realistic while finding the most dramatic light source.

When Hans Weise, the video producer, and I started to think about making stop-action animations we thought what would be useful. The first idea was to sculpt all the figurines but that would have been too time-consuming. In the end we found some wresting figurines. I customized the heads and painted them. We did two stop-action animations, one for the Easter Island short and one for Trajan’s Column in Rome and we used the same figurines, I repainted them and sculpted new heads.

A motley crew of plastic hangs out in Fernando's office.
A motley crew of plastic hangs out in Fernando’s office.

What is your home collection like?
I’ve kept some of the action figures from when I was 12. Whenever I travel I go to comic stores and see what I can find. I have tons of figurines: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Godzilla, King Kong, Frankenstein, Tim Burton movie figures, all kinds of them.

What are the best figures for doing what you do?
We found the (WWE) wrestling ones the best. They’re 4-5 inches tall. They have a lot of movement. You need a range of articulation, especially in the arms, wrists, elbows. We couldn’t find more of the wrestling ones, we tried to on Amazon. The thing we need to keep in mind is the scale. The figurine determines the size of the set. If the figure is too big the scale of the rest of the set gets blown out.

You use live props as well, yes?
Oh yes, I’d had (wife) Begoña pose several times, her sister, my nephew and my niece, lots of people. They all show up in my work. Pretty much everyone in the office. And I’ve posed – one time I was a mummy. I was researching a tomb in Panama. Begoña wrapped me, with the blankets and clothes, we took some pictures for reference to see the wrinkles of the clothes, and the lighting.

Did you ever think of selling your action figures on eBay?
No, never! They’re my treasure, I have a glass case with shelves to keep them all safe. My little cousins come to my house, and they want to play with them but it’s not allowed!

About Stephen Komives

Previously served as Executive Director of the Society for News Design, from 2009–2019.

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