Ever wonder why figures catch our eyes and fascinate us? Welcome back to the art of figure making, our interview series where we examine Japanese figure manufacturers and the different roles involved in creating the figures we adore! We headed to figure giant VERTEX and asked veteran figure sculptor HiROOM! about his career, sculpting, Super Sonico, and more!
—Could you tell us a little about yourself and your work history?
HiROOM!: My name is HiROOM! (pronounced Hi-Room). I taught myself how to make figures when I was about 16 years old, and I’ve been sculpting figures as a professional for the past 13 years. As far as hobbies, I started playing airsoft back when I was 13 years old and I still play today. I also love video games and have recently been playing first-person shooters.
—Excuse me for asking such a basic question, but could you explain a professional figure sculptor’s job and some of the tasks associated with it?
HiROOM!: A figure sculptor handles everything up until the molds are made…but only saying that is a little hard to understand, so allow me to explain in detail.
First, I craft the figure’s image or pose using paper mache. While I use paper mache, a variety of materials can be used. It just depends on the sculptor. Paper mache dries naturally, but it takes time which isn’t efficient for work. So we speed up the process and use a toaster oven to take the moisture out of the paper mache. I mainly use my hands and a tool called the spatula to shape the paper mache.
Then, I make a rough pose out of paper mache and have the license holder look it over before moving on to the next phase. I’m one of the few sculptors who allows the publisher to confirm the figure in such a rough shape during the early development phase. It’s more common for sculptors to show a figure that’s closer to the final shape.
Afterward, I submit it to the publisher and original artist for evaluation. The parts are then separated, covered with a glaze, encased in a block of silicon to shape the mold, and then the mold is reproduced. This is the usual work process.
—Thanks for explaining that. You began making figures when you were 16 years old, were there any particular reasons that made you decide to join the industry?
HiROOM!: Video games were really popular when I was 15 or 16 years old, and actually, I wanted to join the game industry. Around that time, game companies were posting jobs for “modelers” and it caught my interest enough that I began looking into it. I started off by creating my favorite robots and selling them at exhibition events.
They sold very well and were even featured in magazines. I was so happy that I completely forgot about joining the game industry (laughs). I was probably really glad that someone was even paying attention to my work, up until then I had a really simple lifestyle.
So I felt confident enough to decide I could make a living as a figure sculptor. After becoming a professional, I usually complete 2 figure projects a year from beginning to end, but the number of projects that I’m involved with as a producer is far more. If I think of all the projects I’ve helped with, I’m not sure how many figures I have released into the world (laughs).
—I see. Do you remember what your first event was like?
HiROOM!: I remember it clearly because it was the first time I had to produce a lot of garage kits. So while it was pretty hectic, I had a real sense of satisfaction.
*Garage kits come with the figure’s parts separated, so you must assemble it yourself.
—I’m sure even now you feel a similar sense of satisfaction. After having become a professional, what’s the #1 moment that makes you feel satisfied?
HiROOM!: It’s definitely when the figure has sold really well. Figures aren’t necessities, they’re non-essentials, you know? Figure prices continue going up, so it means a lot that people sacrifice their blood, sweat, and tears at work to save up and buy one. Of course, money is also important, and when people choose to buy a figure, a want, I think it’s the real evaluation of my work.
—On the other hand, are there any tough moments?
HiROOM!: Plastic models were fun as a child, and I would think the same while I was making garage kits. However, it’s different when it becomes your job. There are honestly a lot of times when it gets painful. For instance, comparing myself what my rivals are doing, customer perception, sales, and etc…but I can’t just quit, right?
To people outside looking at the otaku industry and may not understand it, they say it must be nice to work with what you love. However, it’s because it’s what you love that there are so many tough times and having overcome them is what makes the job enjoyable and worthwhile. People that can understand this are probably otakus of something (laughs).
—I’m sure there have been a lot of figures to come from those hardships, what do you consider your best work?
HiROOM!: It has to be Super Sonico if I think about it. I think it became a piece that had all of the right features of a cute figure. The feature or part I want to emphasize changes depending on the figure I’m making. Take Super Sonico for example. I showcase her feminine features most, and because of that, I think I succeeded in showing off what makes her as a character so fascinating.
—I can also tell just by looking that this Super Sonico figure is pretty high quality. What is the hardest part of making a figure?
HiROOM!: It’s very difficult translating a 2D drawing into a 3D figure, but…I’d have to say it’s definitely the face. Every sculptor interprets it differently, and even the way shadows fall on the face can change a figure’s appearance depending on the angle you’re looking at it. So I really try my best to make figures that attract the customer’s eye in once glance and draw them in.
—That’s really important. Actually, I’d like to change the topic for a moment to the figure industry. What problems do you think the current industry faces?
HiROOM!: Figure prices keep on rising and that’s made it very tough. Of course, as quality rises, prices rise as well, but there are other external factors like the exchange rate associated with manufacturing costs in China that are also problems.
Japan is still our main market and battleground, and that hasn’t changed from back in the day. However, figure prices have continued rising while Japan’s wages haven’t. I think that’s the industry’s problem.
—How long would it take you to make your dream figure if you could preserve quality and not have to think about the industry’s problems like time and money?
HiROOM!: My best figure would most likely take about 1 year to make, and I suppose it would retail for around $200 dollars. If given free reign at that time, I would like to make a 12-inch tall robot because I love them so much. A lot of poseable, action figure like robots are available now, so I’d like try to pursue making one that showcases how cool a non-poseable robot figure can be.
—We would love to see it some day! You’ve created many wonderful figures yourself, but is there a figure sculptor you respect?
HiROOM!: I respect a sculptor by the name of Woshirisu (ヲシリス). Actually, we have the same teacher and that’s how we became rivals. Woshirisu is really good at making male characters and creatures, whereas I’m good at making beautiful girls. We really respect each other’s strong points as sculptors.
—Is there anything you’d like to try doing in the future?
HiROOM!: I’d like to try sculpting a figure using the computer…but it’s a little scary because you can add as many details as you like and easily correct your mistakes. I could see myself endlessly using the extra time to add more quality. That could make it a little frightening, but I think sculpting on computer and sculpting by hand both have their good points. Maybe my production will even shift toward using computers.
—Thanks for answering everything so far. Last, I have a few questions from our TOM fans that I would like to ask. First, could a soft material be used for certain parts of the figure?
HiROOM!: I think it’s really important how we decide to express beauty and the illusion of softness in a hard object or figure. Actually, there was a period of time before where figures used soft materials, but it wasn’t really popular with makers and creators in the industry. Now, my impression is that customers who like soft materials have moved on to making and purchasing dolls.
—Oh, that’s pretty interesting those figures actually existed. Our next fan asks, do you make figures as your hobby?
HiROOM!: Yes, I still make robot figures as one of my hobbies.
—Finally, do you have any advice for TOM fans who may want to become a figure sculptor?
HiROOM!: 3D software is becoming more common these days, so I think it would be good to start there. Also, you don’t have to worry about getting your hands dirty (laughs). Just making a small mascot out of paper mache can even be interesting.
You know, first just find something around you and try making it. There’s nothing like making something you enjoy. Quality comes later (laughs). There’s been a lack of figure sculptors in recent years and if you’re interested in becoming one of us, then I hope you’ll try it!
Thank you HiROOM! for a great interview! It’s amazing that he began with the simple joy of creating figures he loved, and now he’s a professional figure sculptor. We hope this interview inspired you, our readers, to pick up a spatula and paper mache and try to create something for yourself or for/with your friends.
Super Sonico fans will appreciate the detail, respect, and care HiROOM! put into crafting this Super Sonico Xmas Ver. 1/7 scale figure, and it’s available for pre-order now on the Tokyo Otaku Mode Shop!
Super Sonico Xmas Ver. 1/7 Scale Figure Available Now!
Check out the rest of the gallery from our trip to VERTEX below!
This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.
Interview by Adrian Morris, Hiwatashi
Photography by Tetsuya Hara.