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I was a lead-animator at Disney for several years and, one evening, after having a scene that I designed cut from 45 seconds down to less than 5 seconds (involving several gondolas that float by, and involving over 1,000 hand-drawn drawings), I wanted to quit! So, I went out and bought a large block of clay, and went home and just started sculpting. I started making the characters from the movies I was working on.
A few days later, I visited an animation gallery in Hollywood and noticed an animation cel (frame from an animated movie) hanging on the wall that looked very familiar. I asked the curator about the cel and realized that it had my initials on the back of the cel (all animators sign every drawing they do). The curator and I had a long conversation and she asked me what I was doing. When I told her that I had started sculpting, she requested that I do a show at her gallery. So four months later, on a Friday night in April 1993, I had an exhibit! Out of pure chance, the Vice President of Warner Bros. Studio Stores just happened to be waiting for his table at an Italian restaurant next door, and he decided to come into the gallery to see what the brouhaha was about. He took a liking to my sculptures and asked if I would be interested in designing sculptures for their stores and galleries. We met the following Monday and I was commissioned to make a chess set in an edition of 50.
The first chess set was themed to Cowboys and Indians and each chess set was hand-sculpted - all 1,600 pieces! The sets retailed for $700 and sold out in less than 45 minutes. Two weeks later Disney contacted me and commissioned me to make sculptures for their stores, galleries, and theme parks. Now, ten years later, those 50 Warner Bros. chess sets are now worth over $25,000. And all my subsequent sculptures have been sought after worldwide.
So, that's the story. I really don't have a long story of hardship and struggling. I have been lucky in that great things have happened to me. The joke in my family and friends is that I am the "Forrest Gump" of artists. Whenever something bad happens to me, I never notice because something great always comes along.
Now, if you would like the gruesome details to how I actually got my first big break into sculpting, here goes - in 1987 I was involved in an accident and had my legs severed below the knees (both were reattached and I am now cycling over 50 miles a day just to prove the doctors wrong!). While I was in the hospital, my mother found an ad in the local paper for a special effects artist to design and sculpt monsters for a movie being shot in the area. My mom called the company and told them of what happened to me. Well, to make a long story short, the movie was Pumpkinhead, and the company hiring was Stan Winston Studios. The word about me got out, and a friend of Stan contacted me (he was directing the next in the Friday the 13th series) and said they were looking for ways for "Jason" to kill people. They asked my permission if they could use the photos from my accident and have Jason kill someone with the tool that injured me! I was hired on the spot, and after college, moved to California and worked in the low-budget horror industry until I went to work for Disney.
Leigh asked David a few questions about his work, and here are his answers...
Have you ever taken photos of a piece as you were working on it? I think that would be fascinating!
I have a section on my web site with step-by-step directions on how to make a sculpture and will update it with a new Warner Bros character once a month.
How do you get your Muse for your pieces? Does Disney tell you what they want, or do you just see something in your head and then try to get it done?
No studios tell me what to sculpt or give me ideas. I just sculpt what's on my mind at that time. It was a long up-hill climb, but the studios learned that it is best to leave an artist to do what they do best - use their own imagination! For example, I was watching Ben Hur one afternoon and decided to create a series called Ben Hare, featuring all the Warner Bros. characters in a chariot race. If you peruse the Disney section of my web site, you will see that most of my sculptures are themed to some period of time that inspired me at the time.
I get my inspiration from my passion for period clothing, like medieval armor, Roman and Egyptian garb, medieval Japanese warriors, etc. I spend many hours a week sitting in various rooms of the Metropolitan Museum with my sketchbook, just sketching ideas. I also sit in the Degas sculpture room and stare at his studies of ballerinas. One thing sculptors need to know is that learning to sculpt is not always about sculpting, but more importantly, studying the masters. There is a reason why they are the masters!
I never make sketches. I just sculpt whatever is in my mind. The problem with sketches is that sometimes 2-dimensional images do not always convey the same once they are in 3D.
Do you use an armature, or are your pieces, at least the smaller ones, solid?
I never use armatures. After 10 years in the special effects industry, if I never see another armature, it will be to too soon! Hehehe... seriously though, I use Premo brand clay, and find that the clay has a wonderful memory. After kneading the clay, it gets soft, so for example, let's say I am sculpting "Daffy Duck" throwing a football. The arm throwing the ball would be sculpted sticking out, so I will sculpt the arm first, then leave it aside to cool off and harden. After sculpting the head and body, I attach the arm, and since it is hardened already, it will not droop. For your readers though, I would suggest using a thin wood dowel or toothpick inserted into the arm before attaching to the body.
What do you use to bake your pieces? And, do you ever burn your pieces, or have trouble with them not coming out the way you want after they are baked?
I bake all of my sculptures in a regular kitchen oven. I use a convection oven since a convection oven circulates the heat making the sculpture bake more uniformly.
As for burning the sculpture, if there was one question I receive more than all others it would be, "how do I keep my sculptures from burning?" Too many people have told me stories of how they labored for hours and days on a sculpture, only to have it sag or burn while baking. Well, there is no easy answer, but here goes...
I roll out thin sheets of clay and cover thinner parts of the sculpture. For example, if I was baking a sculpture of "Bugs Bunny" wearing a tuxedo, his body would be much thicker than his hands and ears and nose, so I would take small sheets of clay and cover his ears and hands (using the same color clay as the hands and ears respectively). For the nose, I would put a small dot of pink clay over the snout so that it will not discolor during baking. You will notice that while the sculpture is baking, the sheets of clay will turn brown and burn quickly. The sheets of clay absorb the heat, allowing the clay underneath (ears and hands and nose) to bake at the same rate as the thicker body and legs. This will take some time to figure out, but you need to be patient. The problem is that most people become so anxious after spending so much time sculpting that they want to see the finished product completed, and then rush through the baking process. What people need to understand is that baking is just as much a part of the sculpting process as the sculpting.
As for the sagging and drooping during baking, my suggestion is that if you think an area or part has the potential of sagging (or even if you dont think it will... think ahead!) use a 1/8" wooden dowel and create a crutch that you can prop under the section. Use a small piece of paper where the dowel touches the clay so that the dowel will not mar or dent the sculpture.
Okay, now that my carpal tunnel has set in, I'm off to read for a little while!
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
All images are owned by Kracov Creations
and either Disney or WB, where applicable