Esther Skandunas has a keen eye when it comes to making your favorite action figures look sharp. Esther takes us through some of her history, inspiration and favorite items from a rewarding career as a prototype costume fabricator. Check out her amazing work.
Over to you, Esther!
In my mid-twenties, I worked in the Theatre Department of a community college as the Director of the Costume Shop. I managed all aspects of the Costume Shop, and I taught the theatre students how to sew and construct the costumes that were to be worn on stage.
During this time, I had a student in one of the classes that knew Kevin Ellis at Sideshow Collectibles. Kevin was the head of the 1:6 Scale Department at Sideshow at that time. The student told me that Kevin was always looking for talented pattern and costume makers, and she gave me Kevin’s contact information. That was the pivotal moment that I was introduced to my future career as a Prototype Costume Fabrication Artist.
I contacted Kevin, and at that time, San Diego Comic Con was nearing. He scheduled an interview with me at Comic Con. During the interview we talked, I showed him my portfolio, and a few weeks down the line he sent me a test figure to create the costume for so that he could see my skills. At that time, I had never worked in smaller scales, so that test figure was daunting, but very exciting.
Not only was it a test for him to see if I could translate my full-scale skills into smaller scales, but it was a test for me as well. Working on that sample took everything I knew about Costume Construction up to that point and turned it all upside down. To create clothing to fit a 1:6 scale figure, I had to completely approach the clothing construction differently.
I had to learn as I was creating. Most people would find that to be an overwhelming task, but I found it to be a very exciting challenge. Long story short, I passed the test!
I freelanced for the 1:6 scale department for Sideshow Collectibles for four years, and then Sideshow brought me on board full-time to work as the Prototype Costume Fabrication Artist in the Cut- And-Sew Department where I worked alongside Tim Hanson. That was my introduction to working in various scales and working on posed static figures (collectible statues).
Prototype Costume Fabrication is the creation of a product’s prototype clothing. It is the original iteration of the costume before it goes into production. This garment is what the product is photographed wearing and displayed in for industry conventions, shows, and marketing purposes.
It is the first phase in a product’s history. The prototype phase is when all the information about the garment is created which includes the research or rendering of the garment, the creation of the original garment patterns, and the sourcing of or custom creation of the materials and fabrics needed to complete the prototype costume.
Not only do I create the Prototype Costume that gets displayed during this phase, but I also create the Prototype Package that is sent to the factory.
This package consists of sewing samples of the Prototype Costume, digital and hard copies of the original patterns that I created to make the clothing, and a swatch packet that includes samples of all the fabrics and notions that I used when making the Prototype.
I am a Collector, though not a typical collector. I collect the figures that I have worked on. I love what I do, so collecting the figures that I work on is very special to me, and I get a lot of joy from them. Each figure carries its own behind the scenes story and memories. When I look at the pieces that I have collected, they bring back a flood of memories about the collaboration process with the other artists involved in the piece.
It makes me think of my coworkers and the fun times we had figuring out different solutions on how certain garments will get attached to the figures amongst other challenges. I am so grateful to be part of the process, and these figures are now a piece of my history. It’s so exciting, and besides, they make my house look really cool! (wink)
My inspiration comes from the team of artists involved in the creation of each figure. I get to work with some of the most talented artists in the toy and collectibles industry, and it is impossible to not get inspired by these individuals. Their talent pushes me to continually bring my best work to each figure. My job is to enhance the figure with my skills, and if I fall short and don’t put my all into a piece, the entire look of the piece suffers.
I don’t ever want my work to distract from the incredible sculpt, or beautiful paint work on a piece. I always strive for my work to compliment the overall aesthetic of the figure.
I don’t know that I have an individual style as a Prototype Costume Fabrication Artist. The reason I say that is because most of what I do is I make small scale clothing look like copies of the original costumes that were either worn on screen, seen in an animation or a comic book.
I typically work from 2D renderings that the Character Designers or Art Directors create for the figure, or I work from photos of movie stills to get all the visual information I need to create each piece. Creating copies of original garments is one of the biggest challenges for me personally.
I have a designer’s brain. If you have a highly creative brain, you will understand where I am coming from. I am most comfortable with creating original ideas and designs, so making my brain learn how to create and copy something that already exists and translate that to a smaller scale is such a challenge for me. But I love the challenge.
I love making my brain work in a way that is not comfortable or natural because I feel it helps enhance my creative problem-solving skills.
My medium is fabric. I use very specific fabrics for each project. I must search for and use materials that are significantly thinner and lighter in weight than what is typically used for full-scale clothing and accessories. The catch is that the fabrics I use must look like they have the correct textures, weaves, and weight as a full-scale piece.
The translation of my small-scale fabrics and materials must create the correct looking folds and wrinkles, and they must hang or drape on the small scale figure the same way a full-scale garment does on a human figure.
On average, my work on a figure’s prototype clothing package takes about a month from start to finish. It is not the case for every project. Some projects require more time for research and development than others.
For example, a project that requires more time usually needs custom printed fabric, or a very specific treatment such as an embroidered motif or patch.
I would say that the first half of my time spent on a project is used sourcing materials for the clothing and accessories, creating the patterns for the clothing and making mockups to test the fit of the clothing on the figure to perfect the patterns before cutting into prototype fabrics and materials. The first stages of the project are crucial, especially when working with posed, static figures (statues).
I have so many favorite figures that I have worked on, but I will narrow my choices down to three. The Star Wars Premium Format Figure (1:4 scale) of Jyn Erso for Sideshow Collectibles is my top favorite piece. She is my favorite because her clothing and accessories are very detailed. There is a lot of great stitching details in every piece she is wearing, and her jacket was a blast to figure out how to pattern. So many great challenges for me in that piece!
My second favorite figure is Batman Red Son. This is also a Premium Format Figure for Sideshow Collectibles. I love this interpretation of Batman because his clothing is not the typical form fitting Bat Suit, instead he is dressed in a cold weather military inspired suit. It is so refreshing to see him in something so completely different. It was also a fun project to work on!
Last and not least is Premium Collectibles Studio (PCS) 1:3 scale figure of Apollo Creed in his Stars and Stripes costume. There were so many great challenges to this piece, most of which occurred during the research and development phase. Such a great example of custom printed fabric and design configuration. I love that figure!
The first figure I worked on was the 1:6 scale figure of Deadpool for Sideshow Collectibles. That was such a great project and a great introduction into the world of small-scale costume fabrication. Everything about that figure was a fun challenge for me. Being my first 1:6 scale figure for the toy and collectibles industry, the small details were daunting but exciting to figure out.
I loved the quilted panels in his jumpsuit. I loved learning how to make the details look more believable by scaling down my sewing stitch lengths. It was also my first time ever using a micro zipper. There were so many firsts for me in that project. I will forever love that piece!
I love everything about my craft. Each new project that I work on has its own unique challenges to tackle. If you haven’t noticed, I do love a good challenge. I love testing out and learning new techniques. Each new project is like a new puzzle, and working through it to get to the final finished product is the most rewarding experience!
My advice for anyone that is seriously interested in becoming a Prototype Costume Fabrication Artist for the Toy and Collectible Industry is learn traditional hand drafted pattern making. Learn it, use it daily, and get comfortable with it.
Do not start with computer patternmaking software,
I almost never use it. By becoming fluent in the hand drafted pattern method, you train your brain to solve complex problems in a very short amount of time.
You will create a massive library of technical information in the problem-solving bank in your brain, and you will use it on every single project you do, trust me on that. This knowledge will prove to be priceless when solving pattern drafting issues when working with static posed figures (statues).
When working in the toy and collectible industry, most of the figures you will be working with will have very exaggerated anatomy, areas of the body will have extremely large muscle masses.
The extreme difference in proportions between major muscle groups and the joint areas such as the knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles will challenge your pattern making skills. You will need to figure out how to tackle these clothing patterns as creatively as possible. In my opinion, the only way to do that is to be well versed in hand drafting patterns.
Another very important piece of advice is to learn how to make menswear. Menswear is far more technical than womenswear in most cases which means it is more challenging to create. Most of the characters that I work on are male characters. It is very important to be familiar and comfortable with menswear construction as well as tailoring techniques. I find that menswear is far more exciting and if you love a good challenge like I do, I think you just might fall in love with it as much as I have.
Wow wow wow! Thanks for sharing!
So cool! 👏👏
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