Saturday, December 29, 2012

Day 540

Day 540 Dec 30th

Minimates 10th Anniversary Interviews
Matt Cauley – Iron Cow Productions

  First off, please tell me and us a little bit about yourself, your interests, how you got into art and how you got to working on toys.

Hey, Jeff -

Thanks so much for approaching me about this interview. I really appreciate it!
Looking back, I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. My mother was an artist, and she encouraged me from an early age to express myself creatively. From the moment I could hold a crayon or marker, I would be scribbling over any surface I could find. One of my earliest surviving drawings is of Batman, Robin and Superman. I believe I was age 5 at the time it was created, but even then I was already obsessed with the characters; the vast majority of the drawings I would produce involved Batman in some fashion.

My interest in both Batman and drawing grew as I got older. Mom was always there providing encouragement, and by the time I got into high school I knew I wanted a career in the art field. I had long since been mimicking the artists working on the Batman and X-Men comic books, and comic book illustration felt like a natural direction to explore.

Batman: The Animated Series launched around the time I entered college. I still remember walking into a local Target and seeing all the action figures for the first time. Even though I hadn’t purchased an action figure in the better part of a decade, I was instantly hooked and grabbed all the Batman figures I saw. As the months went on, it began to gnaw at me that not all of the Batman characters were being produced as animated-style action figures. My good friend Cason shared similar interests with me, and a similar obsession not only with the Batman Animated figures, but the missing characters as well. After bouncing ideas back and forth, I began to experiment with making custom action figures in an attempt to flesh out the official line a bit.

What began as a part-time hobby quickly expanded into a full-on obsession, and I found myself customizing action figures as often as I was illustrating and painting. People began to notice, too, and I launched my website Iron-Cow Prod. to not only showcase my artwork, but to serve as an online portfolio for my custom figures, too. This proved to be an instant hit, and only further encouraged me to increasingly experiment with what was capable by customizing toys.

How did you first become involved with Minimates?

During the spring and summer of 2004, SubCultures Design teamed up with Art Asylum to offer the Minimate “Create-A-Mate” Design competition. This opened the doors for aspiring toy designers to create their own Minimate action figure, with their artwork being submitted to Art Asylum for consideration as well as the option to have their designs produced as custom prototypes. The response to the competition was fantastic, and Art Asylum took notice in particular of the work I submitted.

A few weeks later, I was tagging along with the Millionaire Playboy guys during one Toy Fair. I struck up conversation with Adam Unger of Art Asylum while I was photographing their recently unveiled items. When I introduced myself, his face lit up, and he said “You’re ‘Iron-Cow?!?!’” It was wild. He had been a fan of my custom toys for awhile, and he was genuinely impressed with the Create-A-Mate designs I had submitted. He immediately brought me around the studio, introducing me to the other designers there. Based on the strength of the work I had submitted, Adam offered to bring me in to try out my design skills for some upcoming Minimate projects.

The first designs I mocked up were that of the Adi Granov Iron Man suit as well as an Edward James Olmos “Commander Adama” design from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. My designs weren’t quite on-brand for the line, but it showed a lot of promise and a fresh approach to what was capable with the medium. The crew from Art Asylum agreed to have me submit official designs for the Battlestar Galactica line to see what else I could do.

What's your favourite Minimates line that you worked on, and why?  Is here one particular design that you are really fond of?

Well, being a life-long Batman fan, I would probably have to say that working on the DC Direct Minimate line was a dream come true. There were so many characters involved and the scope of the project was ridiculously ambitious. I tag-teamed with Art Asylum design guru Uriel – I designed the vast majority of the characters while he came in to contribute the face and chest artwork. This would ensure a style consistent with the other existing Minimate lines until I became more adept at mimicking the style.

That said, I have always had a soft spot for Bane, S.T.R.I.P.E., Brainiac-13, and Ares, which were a few of the projects I handled completely on my own, start to finish.

Is there any one minimate that you would consider to be a favourite?

It’s so hard to choose a favourite, so how about one that I consider perhaps the most important?  In that case, it would definitely be the Daggit/Muffit Minimate from the Classic Battlestar Galactica line. 

I remember meeting with Robert Yee, the Art Asylum Product Manager. He wanted to discuss some of the early plans for the fledgling Battlestar line. I had mentioned that I’d love to take on the Cylons of course, but I also wanted to try my hands at a Daggit design. Robert frowned a bit, saying they probably didn’t have the budget to tool a Daggit as an accessory. I clarified myself, saying I actually wanted to design a full-on Daggit Minimate. Robert still felt there would be too much custom tooling involved, though, and it would be too difficult to create a torso capable of supporting 4-legs, at least for this project.

I responded by saying “Wait a sec…” and went over to their showcase wall. On display were several blank Minimates. I grabbed a few of these and simply swapped out the arms of one figure and added an extra set of legs instead. Within seconds I had whipped up a rough proof-of-concept for the Daggit figure. Robert was noticeably impressed, and it was enough to convince him to pitch it to Universal for the line.

A 4-legged Minimate had never been done before, and I would like to think that this out of the box thinking was what paved the way for the recent Lockjaw Minimate as well as the Terror Dogs from the Ghostbusters line.

If you could have any character from any property as a minimate who would it be and why?

That’s a tough one, considering that the DC Direct and Battlestar lines were all dreams come true for me. I wish the Doctor Who line would have been given the greenlight, as I had worked on some designs for that as well.

If I had a dream property that hasn’t yet been produced, it would have to be a boxed set for either Fight Club or a Clockwork Orange. Both of these properties have a huge cult following, and I would love to see either translated into plastic. SE7EN could be darkly fun as well.

Do you still collect Minimates/stay current in what is being released?  If so is there anything in particular in the new releases that have you excited?

Most of my toy collecting has tailored off these days as I focus more on my portrait painting (and that my studio is already crammed with toys as it is). I still pick up any 1980s X-Men character, so the Nimrod and the reworked Nightcrawler Minimates were fun additions. The New Mutants were also a must-own for me, and I have even customized some additional characters to go with that series.

Notice the 'floating' angled feet of this design!

LOVE the lightning effects on this design, would have been great to see them in production!

A cyclone type base designed for the Red Tornado...I believe this was one of the first times a base was designed to be added, something that is very common now.

I do love the Max Elite Heroes line. This one features fire fighters, police officers and others. I feel it is important to have a line of “real world” heroes in addition to all of the licensed properties that otherwise dominate toy lines today. I get a big thrill whenever I see a new set of those hanging on the pegs. The NYCC Spider-Man/Fire Fighter 2-pack was brilliant, and a nice tribute to everyday heroes.

When you look at the Minimate line how does it make you feel to see that it is still going after 10 years and that you had a hand in this property?

Oh, I feel it’s fantastic, but truthfully I was just one contributor on a team of several talented individuals. The Minimates were a success long before I came along, and they have continued strong long after my projects wrapped up. I still get nostalgic for those design days though, and I email Robert every now and then to see what he and the crew up to. The work I contributed for the lines definitely fills me with pride, and I am extremely fortunate enough to have been given that opportunity. I can’t wait to see what’s in the works for future Minimate waves.

What does your current job entail?

I’m currently celebrating my 15th year as a graphic designer at Bloomberg LP. I began as a designer of on-air news graphics and over the years I have worked on Premium Design, Print Collateral, Web Design, Interactive Media, Display Booths and Signage, among other projects. I am currently a member of their Internal Agency within the Marketing group, and we continue to expand the scope of our design work. The specifics of the day-to-day work may have changed here and there over the years, but the job itself has always been creatively rewarding. I am surrounded by a strong team of talented individuals.

In addition, I continue to take on freelance illustration and painting projects, and am currently producing work for a solo art exhibition later this year.