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Interview and reveal of Sam Griffiths resin figure "JURA" from Planet Domu

The world of social media has opened up the door to so many opportunities for artists to express themselves, show off their work, and really make themselves know, over the past few months I have had the opportunity to follow the work of UK based artist and designer Sam Griffiths as he continued to build creatures from a fantasy homeworld called Planet Domu where today we are getting the first look at his latest creation... an amazing looking primate inspired figure Sam calls "JURA". We actually had a chance to interview Sam about his newest creation along with where he got his start in designer toy, what his background is, and we also get a glimpse at his workspace along with some of his other projects. So please if you would hit the jump for the full interview, and enjoy!
1. First and foremost... who is Sam Griffiths and what is the alias Planet Domu all about?
I am an ex engineer, turned graphic designer, illustrator, inventor, mural painter and now toy designer. I’ve found that a lot of work I have done in the past has been fuelled by ego (as I’m sure a lot of designers are guilty of) but toy design is something I’ve settled into as my ego has started to retreat, and I can truly love what I’m doing without worrying about showing off too much. I think that is the best way to create impressive things, no matter what the medium. Of course it is still nice to hear that people love what I’m doing.

Planet Domu came about through looking for a translation for the word ‘home’ to sit next to Planet. I knew I wanted to create toys under an alias that wasn’t too limited, so a whole planet seemed the perfect place to anchor everything to. Domu is actually an eastern European word, it could just have easily been Chinese, Indian, Spanish or any other language, I just liked the way Domu sounded and sat in a typographical sense.

2. How did you get involved with the designer toy scene, and what held your interest to not only collect but to create?
I first came across designer toys through my graphic design degree. It’s almost impossible to do graphic design and not bump into a Munny or a Dunny here and there. It wasn’t until a couple of years after my degree, when I was working on a sculpture, that it popped into my head that the methods I was using to sculpt could be used to create some of the characters that had been living in my head for years.

I then started to delve deeper into the toy scene and found resin was a huge part of it, so I churned out a few truly awful looking resin characters. They were almost an afterthought to populate my sculptures. At about the same time, I heard that a tea loving Lunartik called Matt Jones was touring with a brand new toy called ‘Lunartik in a cup of tea’. He was visiting a gallery near me on his tour, so I popped along to say hello and see what he thought of my efforts. He was very polite and really lovely about my work which inspired me to crack on and take the whole toy thing more seriously.

It wasn’t until I finally gave in to Twitter a few months ago and met people like yourself, Eric Nocella Diaz, Small Stuff Pepe, Cris Rose and a lot of other very talented designers and custom artists. They have been a huge catalyst and support during my first couple of proper toy designs. I think it’s very important (for me at least) to have other like minded people around to bounce ideas off, be it close by or internet based.

3. Looking at your most recent figure "JURA" what were your influences in the creation of this?
Cris Rose would have you believe that Scotch was my main influence for Jura, but the truth is I’ve always loved gorillas (when I was a kid I wanted to do the whole gorillas in the mist thing and live as a gorilla forever). I had actually written Jura into the back story of my first resin toy, Womo (pictured below on #5), but in the back story he was an evil enemy to Womo. As the sketching and sculpting progressed and I started to feel like I knew him better, I realized he could never be evil, so I rewrote his story to include his damaged circuitry.

4. I know most of you may not know this about me, but I used to be a HUGE gamer and Half-Life 2 was a game that changed my life, and I honestly can't help but notice "JURA" seems to share a little resemblance to the DOG figure in that game... Sam, was this game an influence to you as well or do you not have any idea what I am talking about :-)?
It’s funny you should say that, as I was also a huge fan of Half-Life 2. I didn’t start out with DOG in mind or during the 2D sketching stage, but as I got further into the actual sculpt, and his character started to reveal itself, I couldn’t help but think of DOG. Especially when I had finished the first rough sculpt and cocked his head to the side! I think that games have influenced my life more than most other forms of consumable media. I was always a bit of a loner as a kid, building contraptions and playing games in my room by myself.

5. So how big is this figure... from the images he looks rather larger?
Jura is actually only 5 inches tall, give or take half an inch depending how he’s standing. I wanted to make him in the same scale as Womo, which was only 3 inches tall, and I kind of like toys that fit in the palm of your hand. I also liked the challenge of sculpting some of the finer details, like his legs, on a really small scale. I have very loose scattered ideas of making a really big Jura one day, but not any time soon I’m afraid. Maybe a Jura hanging off the side of the Empire State building one day, haha.

6. WOW, he is only 5" tall... talk about an amazing amount of detail jammed into one small package! I can't help but wonder how many piece mold this is as it appears to be quite articulated, and what is the process to create just one figure?
Yeah I’ve had a lot of people surprised by his size. I think a lot of the detail was made easier by making him in parts, but then making a multi part resin is always a bit of a nightmare from a production point of view, double edged sword I suppose. He is actually a 12 part casting, including his eye. Apart from his eye, all the parts are articulated. Creating them has taken a lot of trial and error, working out an articulation method was a challenge, not helped by the fact that I prefer to work things like that out on my own. I’ve managed to find a method that I think I’m sure I will use a lot in the future. It’s worth mentioning that all the parts make a satisfying ‘click’ as they pop into place. I hope this will make it easy for people to customize without struggling to get him back into one piece.

A lot of people would probably have asked for advice about the articulation, but part of the process I love is solving these types of problems on my own. In fact the reason I chose to make him articulated is because I didn’t have a clue how I was going to do it!

From start to finish, creating the figure has taken about two months. Sketching him out, doing lots of testing of articulation methods and finally making and pouring the moulds has been a huge challenge. The process is not all that different to making a one piece resin, I just had to do 12 of those at the same time! A lot of the toy designers I know who are creating resin toys have said I’m crazy, but I like to challenge myself in order to learn the limits of my medium and to push my own limits forward.

I’m sorry, I’m not sure I answered the process part of that question very well, but I’m not sure I fully remember all of it myself at this point, haha.

7. You answered it perfectly :-) That seems like quite the time consuming process... are you going to release "JURA" in a series? If so how many are you going to release and do you have plans on any painted versions?
I’m planning to release 20 DIY Jura’s and 5 hand painted. I like to design my toys with custom artists in mind. Nothing beats seeing someone else’s ideas mingled in with my own. I think the 5 hand painted will be the same design, but there may be future one off Jura’s coming along some time.

8.For such an awesome figure do you have plans on special packaging for it... or is it going to be generic?
I have what I think is a very subtle but striking effect planned for the packaging. I don’t want to say too much at the moment, but they will be hand made from scratch and feature a hand-made stamp of the Jura logo. I guess the people opening the packaging will cast the final judgement there anyway, I am almost as excited about the packaging as I am about Jura himself. Maybe you can throw a few images up when you get yours in the post!

9. On a more technical note, what kind of supplies do you use to cast the figure, what about sculpting tools, and do you have any tips or tricks you would like to share?
As far as technical sculpting goes, not really anything out of the ordinary, I don’t own any sculpting specific tools yet, just a scalpel and some task specific tools I’ve hand-made as and when I need them. I use Super Sculpey to sculpt the main parts, and buy in parts like acrylic rod etc for when I need a perfect shape. I think the main thing to remember when sculpting with casting in mind is, nobody is going to care what the sculpt looks like. I use Smooth-Cast 300 for casting because it is perfectly white and ready to go as a DIY piece.

Tips I can give relating to using Super Sculpey, post baking, are; use Milliput for filling any big, unwanted gaps, and PVA glue for tiny cracks. There’s nothing worse than making the sculpt, pouring all the moulds and casting the first piece only to find hairline cracks and scratches in your piece! Also, it sounds simple, but really counts in terms of time saving..... Sand, sand and sand again the sculpt before pouring the moulds!

10. Being a customizer myself I love seeing others workspaces, can you give us a glimpse of what you're working environment is like?
I have a studio setup in the cellar of my house at the moment. As you can see from the picture, my work space is fairly basic. I have a corner desk that I do all my casting and ‘messy’ work on. Then another desk for ‘clean’ work such as sculpting, sketching and computer based work. Finishing pieces (sanding, scraping etc) gets done away from both usually all over whatever I’m wearing at the time!

11. So now that you have created this awesome piece... you must have your sights set on a new project, any WIP sketches or mock-ups you would like to share with us?
I’ve included a couple of illustrations here that I hope one day to turn into full 3D pieces. Also some very early concept sketches of the next Planet Domu character.

12. What does the future hold for Planet Domu, and more importantly what can we come to expect from you this year?
I actually have about five projects that I’m currently letting simmer away in my brain. I have something pretty special coming up with Small Stuff Pepe this year, and the next Planet Domu character is on its way, as per the really early sketches mentioned above. I also would like to create ‘Planet Domu’ some-time this year as a larger, one off sculpture piece, maybe for a show. There are a couple of other things that I wish I could talk more about, but not really sure they’re going to happen yet, so don’t want to get any hopes up. I’m really excited about all the projects I have lined up, I just hope I can find time to get everything done that I want to.

13. Any closing remarks, and if someone was to ask you for any advice on creating their own figure what would you tell them?
I think I’d just like to say thank you to all my twitter friends for their support and inspiration! If someone asked me for advice about creating their own character, I would say; just throw yourself at it and anything you don’t know or can’t figure out, don’t worry, there are many friendly toy designers out there who are happy to help and what might first look like a big hurdle, will seem like a tiny step in the distance behind you!

Thank you very much for writing those questions John, I really enjoyed answering them. It’s been a pleasure talking to you!
My pleasure man, and keep on creating such amazing pieces!
Sam would also like to note that since we did this interview some tragic events happened in Japan with the earthquake and Tsunami and he has agreed to not only donate one of these amazing "JURA" figures, but he is planing on creating a one-off custom piece as well for the 'Kaiju For Japan' fund where 100% of the profits go to help in aid! For more info on how you can bid on these items... visit HERE!

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