Toys. Action figures. Sculptures. Call them what you will, they can be things of beauty adored by collectors. As a child I have fond memories of playing with my X-Men toys. For some reason the main way I played with them was to go into the back garden, throw them in the air as high as I could until the hit the ground in silent agony. It wasn’t long before the “laser vision” Cyclops stopped working and the “action kick” feature Gambit had was left constantly sprung. No matter what cartoon, movie or video game franchise you follow, chances are there is a generous assortment of merchandise available for it. I must admit, as a collector of all things Resident Evil; action figures are one area which my collection is lacking in.
I’ve often admired many of the action figures available and have been envious of many collections, but I just haven’t taken the plunge and started to collect them seriously myself. There’s a mixture of reasons for this: Figures take up space, and if you want to keep them boxed that’s more space taken up. When I first started collecting Resident Evil goodies, I didn’t have much room at all, and now many years down the road, I have even less! Then there is the conflict going on in my mind. As a collector, I want everything mint (this can be a real challenge) that means new and sealed in box, no dents, folds, creases. As a fan of the work put in to these sorts of things, I want them out the box so I can see all the detail and appreciate the work gone into them, really display them nicely. I hope you see my predicament here; short of buying two of each item and having one sealed and one loose, I’m stuck between a rock (or boulder as favoured by the RE games) and a hard place. Then after all that there is the cost factor, some of these figures can cost a considerable amount of money these days, some so much it may even arouse the suspicion of my wife looking at our bank account... Also the “where to start” issue, there are so many figures out there from so many different companies Toy Biz, Hot Toys, Palisades, Neca and so on, it’s hard to even contemplate which collection to start with. As well as all that, I know what I’m like, I wouldn’t be happy with “just” all of the above; I’d be trying to hunt down some of the prototypes out there or artist samples that surface from time to time. It’s one of the few areas of collecting I don’t focus a great deal on...yet.
This isn’t to say I don’t have any figures; I have a modest collection of some of the cheaper figures out there and have a mixture of unboxed and sealed items. In recent years I’ve strived to add unique or more unusual items to my collection, trying to hunt down the items that may not be expensive, but just had to actually find. For the most part, I’m happy with the small amount of figures in my collection, but like any collector, I’m always after my next fix.
My lack of figures myself by no means suggests that I don’t appreciate the items or the collectors who hunt them down. Being someone who has attempted to create my own figures over the years, I appreciate how much time and work must go into some of these items, not just the production but the planning, research, variations. There really is so much work that goes into them.
Despite not being the biggest collector of action figures I stumbled across an interesting magazine with a really cool Resident Evil front cover. This was an issue of ToyFare. It’s not a magazine I had seen before but it immediately grabbed my attention and really had my curiosity. I purchased the item for somewhere in the region of about £8 brand new and still in its original poly bag. Inside was a wealth of figures and toys including a rather large interview with Paul Rameriz, the sculptor behind many of the Toy Biz figures from Resident Evil 1 and 2.
The interview mainly discusses Ramirez’ process and projects he’s worked on but does have some interesting information in it regarding the Resident Evil figures he has worked on. Below I have scanned in the relevant pages from the magazine and also typed up the full article and other information from the magazine regarding the resident evil figures.
I really enjoyed the article, and it did give me a further appreciation for these miniature works of art. Although a good chunk of the article was generally non Resident Evil specific, I still found it interesting to see the process behind these items and to read what little titbits of information there was on the series in there. There’s a section where Ramirez talks about working from concept art sent over by Capcom, I can only hope that one day some of these could get shown to the public if they haven’t already (some may have already been released, all be it as smaller images in books such as Archives etc.)The article as mentioned focuses on the work of Ramirez for his Toy Biz figures which were based on characters from Resident Evil 1 and 2. The article doesn’t cover any of the toys from other companies Moby Dick, Hot Toys etc.; I’ll leave that article for another time perhaps.
Toy Biz released figures for both Resident Evil 1 and Resident evil 2, both sets hitting store shelves in 1998. In Total there were 12 different packages available to buy with many of the packages containing sets of toys such as “Claire and Zombie Cop” and “Leon and Licker”. The figures from what I have seen appear to be made to a good standard and bear a very accurate resemblance to the characters they represent. I imagine that it must have been difficult to transfer pixels on screen to a three dimensional figure, but Ramirez and co seemed to work it out and look to have done a great job. Many of the sets come with “special actions” and accessories such as shotguns, knives, Crossbows etc. The figures released for the first game were:
Chris Redfield and Cerberus
Hunter and Chimera
Jill Valentine and Web Spinner
Zombie and Forest Speyer
And for Resident Evil 2 the figures released were:
Claire Redfield / Zombie Cop
William G-3 / G4
Leon Kennedy and Licker
Ada Wong and Ivy (Platinum)
Tyrant / Mr.X (Platinum)
Hunk and Zombie (Platinum)
William Birkin and Sherry (Platinum)
The Toy Biz figures are held in plastic packaging on card backings. The front of the packaging at the top would indicate which series it was from, stating the title of the series. It also would have had either had the “Resident Evil Eye & First Zombie” on top, with a green misty colour or it had the Resident evil 2 “Peeking Zombie” with logo that is most often seen on the North American (and PAL German) releases of the game. The figures released for the second game were also split into two categories; Basic and Platinum. Besides the Platinum figures statin “Platinum” on the box, it is hard to see any other noticeable differences between them. I could speculate these were produced in lower numbers but this would just be a guess In all honesty.
Each figure was trapped inside a plastic casing attached to a card backing. The figures appear to be set over a background still from the accompanying game. The figures from Resident Evil 1 seem to be set over a still image from the Mansion Main Hall. It looks to me to be camera angle pointing at the doors into the Dining Room, nothing else in the image, no characters etc. The figures from Resident Evil 2 however, appear to be set over an image from the start of game. The “Arukas” store front can be clearly seen as well as the burning flames of the city. Interestingly on the Resident Evil 2 backings it was decided to include in the image Leon and two zombies. This looks to have been taken directly from the game rather than from art assets and backgrounds that may have been available. It’s also worth noting the packaging age rating suggest for “Ages 8 and up”, something not found on toys from Adult video games these days.
Below images taken from Figures.com approx. 8”x13”
The figures also all carry the series title at the top “Video Game Super Stars”. Toy Biz made figures for several video game franchises under this banner including Tomb Raider, X-Men Vs Street Fighter, Marvel Vs Capcom, and The Legend of Zelda OOT, Mario Kart 64 as well as others.
The Resident Evil figures all have the names of what is included in the box on the front as well as a small high res image of the characters inside the packaging on a green looking grid, reminiscing to me of the Dino Crisis 2 Battle Colosseum.
The rear of the packaging has some nice details too. On the back of the card a brief outline of the video game the figures are based on is included along with some information on the figures included in the package. There’s some nice artwork on the back as well as some instructions on the figures special actions, these are done in a black and white illustration and are pretty accurate to the content. There’s is also the examples of other figures available in the series on the back of the packaging, all set up in lovely looking mock up scenes ( I must admit, whoever has the job of photographing these sorts of things for any toy series really has a great job!) It is also of interest (to me at least) that the figures from Resident Evil 2 also seem to have an advert for the S.D. Perry novels from Pocket Books on the back. Many thanks to @Kowai_Guy for these images.
Weather you collect these figures or not, if you’re a fan of the series I would suggest reading the article from ToyFare below, it really opened my eyes to the process of making figures and gave me another interest in the series to pursue, and, at the very least, the magazine is a nice little curiosity to have in my collection!
Below you will find scans of the magazine article pages. Below these scans you will also see that I have also re-typed the whole article to the best of my ability so that any non-English readers can translate them a bit easier if needed. All credit goes to ToyFare and the articles author Matthew Brady for the content. If you do use the content of this article elsewhere all I ask is that you credit RESIDENTEVILCENTER.NET as the reference for the material and not promote it as your own
Getting personal with Toy Biz’s Best-kept secret By Matthew Brady
In the multi-billion dollar world of boy’s toys, his is the ultimate Cinderella story.
Here’s the fairy tale version: For years, Phil Ramirez worked as an honorary scrub in a sculpting studio. One day, his bosses asked if he wanted to take a shot at sculpting an action figure. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Ramirez gave it a shot. Once the final touches were applied, Ramirez presented the sculpt to his bosses, and jaws dropped in amazement. And his first work landed him a solid job as one of the industry’s premier figure sculptors.
Welcome to the world of ubersculptor Phil Ramirez. Never heard of him? A trip to any toy store should reveal a small portion of Ramirez’s resume. Since his dynamic entrance into the world of action figures six years ago, Ramirez has sculpted toys from such diverse franchises as Beauty and the Beast for McDonald’s Happy Meals to Spawn II, WildC.A.T.s and Youngblood, along with a few Star Trek icons, too. But Ramirez is probably best known in the industry for his dead-on uncanny likenesses of the X-Men for Toy Biz, as well as the Hulk…and Spider-Man, Lara Croft? Been there, done that. These days, he’s busy as can be, knee deep in maggots sculpting Toy Biz’s Resident Evil nasties and even finding the time to recreate the monster that ate Japan, Godzilla.
How’s he do it? That’s what ToyFare aimed to find out…so we tracked Ramirez to his California Studio, complete with a stuffed cat for inspiration, and begged him to reveal the secret to action figure success.
In Toy Biz’s Marvel Universe, sculptor Phil Ramirez is a gains, towering over a few of his creations in his Arcadia, Calif., studio.
ToyFare: Okay, Phil, we’ve heard the legends. How did you really get your start sculpting?
Ramirez: It was pure luck. Absolute pure luck. I was working at Varner Studios, which does a lot of the Star Trek toys for Playmates. I used to clean and pour hard copies, the polyurethane prototypes, along with a little painting. One day, they let me try sculpting, and I did all right, so they had me continue. It was absolute luck. It’s something I still have trouble believing.
Is sculpting action figures something that you pictured yourself doing when you were a kid?
Not in a million years. I always loved toys as a kid, but as a kid I didn’t even know this profession existed. I just figured that some magical entity dropped toys from the sky, and they ended up in my lap. I’m the luckiest guy around as far as I’m concerned.
What were your favourite toys as a kid?
I liked He-Man and the Shogun Warriors a lot… and any kind of monster. I never bought the human characters; I’d just go and pick through toy lines until I found the monsters. In fact, the two all-time greatest toys ever made in my mind were two monsters: S-S-Slithe from the Thundercats line, and the original Hammerhead from [Kenner’s] Star Wars. They were just the greatest things ever done.
Once you got your start in sculpting at Varner, how long did it take for your work to get noticed?
I worked at Varner beginning when I was 18, and started sculpting around age 19. I did a lot of stuff there, but I was too young and never really took the job very seriously. So for about three years, I did basically nothing with my sculpting- I was just too busy hanging out and having a good time. Then Varner got [Playmates’] WildC.A.T.s line which was my first opportunity to sculpt really cool superhero stuff. I got to do most of the rough clays for that line, and that got me more interested in sculpting figures as a real job. WildC.A.T.s comes out pretty well, and Todd [McFarlane] liked the look, so I left Varner and went freelance for McFarlane Toys. Immediately after working for McFarlane, I started freelancing for ToyBiz, and have been working for them ever since. They keep me pretty busy.
What was the first complete figure you sculpted?
Start to finish, it was the Daemonite from WildC.A.T.s.
Tell us about your creative process. How do things work with Toy Biz?
I’ve worked with Toy Biz long enough that we have a really good understanding of each other. They’ll call me and ask what characters I really want to do and tell me what characters they’d like to do, and we go from there. Next, they’ll send me control art, which I use just for articulation points. For the actual sculpting, I find references everywhere, from comic books to animation to videos. Anything, really. For a specific figure, I’ll try to find an artist that I like and use his stuff as [reference] and then sculpt out from there, [adding] all the extras I can, like small details and facial expressions.
Who are some of the comic book artists you’ve used for reference?
For [Toy Biz’s] Spider-Man villains, I used a lot of Erik Larsen’s stuff, along with some of Art Adams’ work. I’ve also used Joe Madureira and done a few things in his style. His art is really cool, and has a nice mix of Japanese and American influences that translate really well as figures.
So once you’ve got the inspiration, what’s your actual sculpting process like?
Like all figure-making, I start off with the armature-the plastic joints that you have to make or rip out of existing figures. From there, I wire all the joints together to form a skeleton in the rough pose that I want. Then, I use a hybrid of clay and was, and just begin sculpting from there. While I’m sculpting, I listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of videos.
So are you pulling a Mozart here, using something to distract part of your mind so it frees the other part up to sculpt inhibited?
Yeah, that makes it sound good [Laughs]. You have to keep yourself busy and look at something, otherwise, your mind will wander as you sculpt, and that will come out in your work. I know it sounds weird, but you need all kinds of stimuli to keep yourself grounded and focused on the work. For music, it’s the Residents, Pussy Galore, every punk band you can imagine and some hard-core rap. Mostly, I like punk. That’s what I’ve been listening to since I was 13. As far as movies go, you name it. The worse movie, the better the chance I’ve watched it while I’m sculpting. I love bad horror movies like “Blackenstein,” “Dr.Black and Mr. Hyde”-those really horribly made ‘60s and ‘70s [cult-favourite] movies.
What do you see as the overall theme of your work?
I’m supposed to have a theme? [Laughs]. Well, it really depends on who the character is. I try to make a good guy look powerful and good…and make a bad guy look powerful and bad. It really just depends on the character. You just take each, read about who they are, and you try to put a personality to it and just go with it. Hopefully, it looks all right when you’re done.
From your viewpoint, is Toy Biz moving toward cooler figures?
I think so, yeah. Some of the earlier Toy Biz sculpts were fairly static, Just recently, I had to get some references and went and found old Toy Biz catalogues. You could easily see that the figures just didn’t have the energy that ones have today. Toy Biz has some really good product managers who encourage [freelancers] to go as far as we can with our designs, and luckily, I’ve been able to keep up. I’ve always wanted to go all the way with my sculptures, and make them mine but giving them tons of detail and doing more to them. Before you had to stick to control art quite a bit. As I’ve worked more with these guys, they’ve really let me go and explore what I can do, concept-wise.
Speaking of making figures “yours,” what are your signature designs on a figure?
The faces. I try to put a lot of expression in my faces. I do anatomy a little bit differently, too, but I’d say that you can always tell my stuff by the faces. For example, I like to think that my sculpts for the Bride of Venom, Absorbing Man, Rhino and the Secret Weapons Beast all have real expressions on their faces that set them apart from other figures out there and hopefully give them distinct personalities.
Do you think today’s dynamic, personality-filled sculpts are a trend Kick-started by McFarlane Toys?
While I give Todd [McFarlane} credit for starting his own toy company, a huge about of credit should go to Eric Treadaway, his sculptor. He is THE MAN as far I’m Concerned. When he started at McFarlane Toys, he had no background in action figures, and he came in and over-detailed everything. In the beginning, I was always told that you couldn’t use much detail because it wouldn’t show up on the finished figure. You had to make everything really smooth and flat. Eric didn’t do that. I don’t think he was even aware of the amount of detail in his work, toys have gotten better. Eric’s work set a standard that everyone now works toward.
So along with Eric Treadaway, whose work do you personally look to for inspiration?
In terms of art, my biggest classical influences are Michelangelo, Rodan and Donatello. In terms of guys who are still around today, I think Ken Milton and Robert Williams are just incredible, along with Robert Crumb. Plus, there’re a lot of guys who are my age now, [and] I’m really looking forward to their stuff as they get older and their art becomes more refined. The Shiflett Brothers are awesome as is Eric, [Art Asylum’s] Digger Mensch, and Cleet Moffett whose work is not generally known, are really great. And of course, with figure sculpting, you just can’t beat Clayburn Moore.
What characters would you love to sculpt into action figures?
I’d love to do a Darkstalkers line, based on the Capcom video game. It has all the move monsters in it, drawn in that Capcom “manga” style. That would be a lot of fun. In terms of singular Marvel comic’s character, I want to sculpt the Toad. He’s one of my all-time favourite characters. He’d stand in either a standing or crouched position, maybe with a jump feature. I’d also like to take a shot at either Arcade or do a really good version of The Thing..
Having worked from nearly every genre, from comics to animation to computer games, what’s your favourite source material?
I like them all, but from a practical side, I really like doing the animated stuff, because it’s such a quick turnaround. I can do those pieces really fast. I recently sculpted Eric Cartman [from “South Park”] for fun. Overall, I like everything pretty much equally. Whatever I’m working on at the moment, I really get into.
Is it the coolest thing in the world to walk into a Toys R Us and see your work lined up all over Aisle 7?
Actually, whenever I go into toy stores, my ego is shattered. I can always guarantee that some 27-year-old guy will be pointing out how badly my figures suck to his wife or friend. I really don’t want to have anybody come up to me and tell me to my face that my stuff sucks, but overhearing it really helps keep your ego in check. There’s no room for ego in this business.
Last Question, Phil. Where do you see yourself in five years? Will you still be making toys, or will you move on to other arenas?
I’d like to be doing design and maquette work for film. I do some stop-motion animation for fun, and it would be nice get into something like that. But that’s really not all too feasible since there are a bunch of really good animators out there that I just couldn’t compete with. I’ve done a few test movies, and it’s a lot of really hard work to do it right. I don’t know where I’ll be. I hope to do something somewhat meaningful. We’ll just have to wait and see. TF
In his youth, freelance writer Matthew Brady tried his hand a sculpting spam.
Other sections from the magazine relating to Resident Evil:
With nearly 70 figures on his Resident Evil [Toy Biz] resume to date, you’d think a guy like Phil wouldn’t play favourites. Wrong. Sometimes a creation just has a special place in its creators heart (Just ask Dr. Frankenstein). Being a good creator Phil has a few favourites that he’s sculpted over the years. The mummified cat (at left) however, is real.
“It’s one of my all-time favourites of mine because I got to do most of that line. I did everything except for the bodies on Jill, Chris and the doctor Zombie. And of course, I did the monsters, which was a lot of fun”
“I’ve been a Godzilla fan since I was a Kid. Godzilla is the reason that I started getting into drawing monsters and all of that. He’s the ultimate representation of all kids’ dinosaur fantasies, and I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever be sculpting him”
“I got to work from Art Adams artwork on the Absorbing Man. And I also got to go off on my own and pose texture and point him all by myself. I was really happy with how he turned out.”
Where do you go for reference when you’re charged with sculpting the most horrific action figures ever? That’s the quandary Ramirez was faced with when he landed the sculpting gig for Toy Biz’s Resident Evil line, based on the best-selling Capcom video game where decaying zombies and exploding dogs were the rule.
“I’ve seen so many bad things that a lot of it was straight off the top of my head” Ramirez chuckles madly. “We also had a lot of dermatology books which showed what certain nasty skin conditions look like up close. And of course, we rented all the zombie films we could get.”
For the skinned dog, Cerberus, Ramirez didn’t have to look much farther than his own studio. “I actually have a mummified can named Fluffy on my wall that helped out with Cerberus.” Ramirez says, “Basically, I guess it came down to us referencing everything we could think of. While we ended up using a lot of medical texts, Capcom’s original concept drawings were excellent. For a lot of the designing, I just followed those and, and they translated into figures really well.”
While Ramirez made the monsters as high on the creep-O-meter as he could, he had to tone things down a little for Chris and Jill, the human investigators who fight all the nasties. “The humans in the line are a little more cartoony in appearance,” Ramirez says, “That’s just thanks to the wat they were designed in the game, so they wouldn’t be confused with the monsters.”
But for the really nasty stuff, Ramirez notes that a good sculptor….uh….improvises.
“When it was all said and done, I used whatever I could get hold of”, Ramirez says. “It was usually legal, but sometimes…well. You just gotta use what you gotta use. MB.
TOYFARE SPECIAL REPORT
American International Toy Fair 1998!
RESIDENT EVIL II
Toy Biz’s Video Game superstars Resident Evil line-up spawns a sequel, just like the mega-popular video game, with Claire Redfield with Zombie Cop, Leon Kennedy with the Licker and William Birkin joining the Evil dead! Hey, if you’re interested in the Sculptor behind Resident Evil and other Toy Biz Figures, just turn to page 36!