Comic-Con 2014: Sideshow Collectibles’ 20 years of genre artistry

July 26, 2014 | 8:30 a.m.
lobby 1 Comic Con 2014: Sideshow Collectibles 20 years of genre artistry

The lobby at Sideshow Collectibles' Thousand Oaks headquarters. (Sideshow Collectibles)

lobby 2 Comic Con 2014: Sideshow Collectibles 20 years of genre artistry

The lobby at Sideshow Collectibles' Thousand Oaks headquarters. (Sideshow Collectibles)

Re-creating characters for a niche audience is always a slippery slope, and doing it for a cadre of collecting superfans is an even more daunting endeavor. But for 20 years, Sideshow Collectibles has been making detailed, scaled-down versions of monsters, heroes, comic book characters, movie icons, television legends and original creations.

Located in Thousand Oaks, Sideshow sells sculptures – some of them are poseable figures but most are not – to discerning collectors through its website, through comic book and collectible stores, and through conventions like San Diego’s Comic-Con International. The pieces are made by committees of conceptual artists, sculptors, painters and more, and are not particularly mass-produced, averaging about 200 per order, so that they are coveted pieces of art.

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“We produce everything from 12-inch figures, retailing at $125, through to life-size figures, which retail for $5,000 to $7,000. The costs depend on size, materials, character/license, electronics, specialty accessories, etc. Our average sale is $300,” says Greg Anzalone, president of Sideshow. “From the stunning Legacy Effects’ Alien Queen bust, recast from the original molds by the actual project artist, to replicas of the Battle Damaged Predator’s Mask, taken from the original KNB EFX archive master, our unique collaborations allow collectors to own a piece of Hollywood film history created in part by the original artists and effects houses that worked on them.”

Sideshow began as a production company offshoot in 1994 that was commissioned by set and creature designers to create scale models for use in filming and conceptual work for movies and television projects. Starting off as a group of five people working out of a pool house/garage in Woodland Hills, many of the people now at Sideshow also worked with the greats like Stan Winston, Rick Baker and more. Guillermo del Toro is such a fan of the company and the product that he wrote the foreword for “Capturing Archetypes: Twenty Years of Sideshow Collectibles Art,” a book of detailed images of many of the company’s creations.

A Han Solo in Carbonite. The life-size figure is part of a giveaway at the Sideshow Collectables booth. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A Han Solo in Carbonite. The life-size figure is part of a giveaway at the Sideshow Collectibles booth. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“We were a motley mix of sculptors, a painter, a designer and a smart guy great with numbers. To pay the bills we took on sculpture work for commercials, video games and special effects in films before CGI. However, in the evenings we worked creating model kits, busts and figures for others like ourselves who wanted to capture moments from films that inspired them,” says Robin Selvaggi, vice president of e-commerce.

The Sideshow booth at Comic-Con is usually one of the busiest at the event. The group spends months planning the booth — from the architecture and layout of the area to which figures to bring or unveil. It’s not only a physical undertaking, but also a virtual one.

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“In addition, we have an online Comic-Con event that runs simultaneously to the physical show so that the hundreds of thousands of people from around the world that cannot attend the show can still experience it from home through our site. Our interactive designers work on virtual booth tours, videos and live feeds for our audience at home. It takes an incredible amount of time when you consider we do not really sell any product on the show floor. Our SDCC appearance is focused on connecting to the collectors, where we not only share our products with them but they share their experiences with us. Sideshow staffers also take the opportunity to meet with new sculptors, emerging comic book artists and writers, our licensors, distribution partners, and our friends in film at the show,” says Anzalone.

The lobby at Sideshow Collectibles' Thousand Oaks' headquarters. (Courtesy of Sideshow Collectibles)

The lobby at Sideshow Collectibles’ Thousand Oaks’ headquarters. (Sideshow Collectibles)

The company has created products for “Star Wars,” Marvel, DC Comics, Disney, “Terminator,” “The Lord of the Rings,” G.I. Joe, “Avatar,” Halo and many more. No longer operating out of a pool house, it has a 40,000-square foot facility housing dozens of artists. The figures themselves are strikingly intricate, and often incorporate specific identifying movements or poses. Finding that right look is as much a creative endeavor as creating the figure.

“The key is generally a pose and composition that helps to communicate an action or attitude that the final piece is looking to convey. We are generally trying to tell a story in a single static piece, and so the correct pose is essential,” says Jason Eastman, vice president of design and development.

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“While we definitely look for iconic moments, the challenge is to find a design that also works as a three-dimensional piece. We try to strike the balance of evoking that scene while delivering the narrative in a single pose. It is similar to trying to encapsulate an entire film in a single movie poster image.”

With the breadth of characters they’ve covered, and projects like a life-sized Darth Vader in the planning stages, the company is now branching out to original character creations with its “Court of the Dead” line. The story line behind the series: “‘Court of the Dead’ is about a war between heaven and hell with the underworld stuck in the middle. The leader of the underworld, Death, has assembled his own army with the goal of defending mankind and ending the war,” says art director Dave Igo.

Men are reflected in a glass case as they look over a Superman figure. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Comic-Con attendees’ faces are reflected in a glass case holding a Superman figure. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

There have been some characters released from the line, with many more planned, but the draw to the booth and the company for now is their renditions of established characters like Superman. Patrons and passersby at the booth all have their favorites, but the creators are fans, too, and came together to discuss a general favorite in sifting through thousands of their creations.

“Our collective creative team is proud of the results of our original Dr. Doom premium format figure. This figure was also met with tremendous fan appreciation. It was one of our first opportunities that we had the privilege of re-imagining such an iconic character while staying true to what fans have grown to love about Dr. Doom. All the key character features are still there, but our interpretation of him created a great presence and attitude through pose and composition, a new costume look, and a detailed throne setting,” says Igo.

Though Weta Digital, the New Zealand-based production company associated with Peter Jackson and the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, also has a Comic-Con booth with similar types of offerings, a world-conquering genius like Doom would seem to be a good fit given Sideshow’s premium place in the industry.

– Jevon Phillips | @storiz | | @LATHeroComplex

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