I’m quite certain that the name Cason Pilliod or Casimir (as he is known online) is no mystery to both the action figure collector and the avid fan of Bruce Timm’s work on the DC animated series. Cason is known to most of us as the man who makes his own action figures based on characters from the DCAU, such as Batman: the Animated Series, Superman: the Animated Series, Batman Beyond and Justice League Unlimited. If the toy franchise based on any of these series hasn’t produced an action figure of its more popular (and sometimes even obscure) characters, it is very likely that Cason will make one just to add to his personal collection. And in some cases when toy companies do produce certain characters but doesn’t get them quite right, expect Cason to fix things and make them more show-accurate.
It may have been noticeable lately that Cason has been less visible online. His web site, Inanimate Objects, has not been updated in almost half a year. Fanboys (myself included) have come to expect something new posted there at least once every month. So a long hiatus like this leaves many of us wondering – has he hung up the Dremel and gone into retirement?
Well, I have just been so privileged to be granted an interview by the “man of mystery” himself. I’m very pleased to share with everyone an update on Casimir and a slice of his life as he answers some old and new questions for us.
Oh, and just to side-track for a second here, Cason has also granted us the first exclusive look at his new collection set up in his very new home. You can check them out in the Gallery section later.
Now let’s get on with the questions…
1. What is your “real” job? Is it in any way related to toys?
Currently, I’m a Production Artist, meaning I perform layout work for publications and advertising media. It’s not really related to toys, except that I tend to have access to the best art and layout programs available, and I tend to use those in all my projects, toy-related or otherwise.
2. Do you have a favorite toy from childhood? Which one is it?
I doubt I could narrow it down to one, and if I did it would likely change with my mood. Most people know about my old Sesame Street Grover doll that still hangs around. He likes to travel the world and get his picture taken in far away lands. Action figure-wise, I’m still fond of the original Millennium Falcon playset. Who isn’t? The more I look at the vintage Star Wars ships, the more I appreciate the skill and talent that was required to scale these down to an affordable size and still make them visually identifiable. As for others… I sometimes wish I still had a full set of Dinobots. I think those would look swell on my desk.
3. How/When did you get into customizing action figures?
Well, there’s two answers to that question. On one hand, I’ve been modifying my toys to meet my expectations since I was a wee lad. For example, I thought the trash compactor on the Death Star playset was too small and weak, so I built a larger one that could really mash the figures together. (And it still fit under the playset.) I recall He-Man use used to fly around in a boxy blue ship on the MOTU cartoon. Since there was never a toy made of that ship, I made my own from cardboard. Lest we forget, I also had my own “expansion squad” of Dreaknoks made from swapping G.I. Joe parts. These were just some of many childhood projects.
As an adult, I started creating “customs,” as most of us think of them now, during college. I’d seen an animated Harley Quinn done by the incredibly talented Scooter (http://www.scooterscustomworks.com) in a toy collectors’ magazine. Given that Harley is my favorite, and there was no figure of her at the time, I thought “I could do that.” Little did I know I was taking the first step down a long but delightful road. This was in 1994, maybe 1995. (As a side note, Scooter’s Harley custom that inspired me now hangs on my wall. The guy is pure class!)
4. Who has had the greatest influence on your work?
I suppose the obvious answer is Bruce Timm, as most of my figures are created in his “style.” I’ve always enjoyed visual techniques that can convey great amounts of information using as few elements as possible. In my eyes, it’s a more satisfying challenge to convey a character or story element through simple lines and color. Anybody can create art using messy techniques. It’s easy to hide errors. But a simple style can be unforgiving. It’s all or nothing. Thus my appreciation for the talents of artists like Timm, Ragnar, Cal Slayton, Eric Wight, Shane Glines, Darwyn Cooke, the old masters of animation and so many others.
On a more immediate level, I’m a product of my parents. My dad is quite the craftsman with tools, and my mom can paint, sew and cook like nobody’s business.
5. Your customs seem to revolve mainly around DCAU characters. Why is that so?
As I said above, I’m a big fan of the show’s visual style. I’m also a big fan of good script writing. When BTAS appeared on the air, I hadn’t followed any DC characters for several years. The show’s visual style and lean writing pulled me back in. Like Timm’s simplified designs, the scripts managed to collect sixty years of great stories and characters and boil them down to the most basic essence. The end result was something stronger and cleaner than had come before. Aside from a few stinkers (“Christmas with the Joker” comes to mind), the practice of reducing elements to their most basic premise endured through to the end of JLU. Good writing is the foundation of any good show, be it movie, television or stage. Regardless, the DCAU shows are certainly more enduring than most of the competing super hero programs over the years.
6. How many figures/toys have you customized? Of those, which one is your favorite and why?
How many? Oh dear. I lost count ages ago. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t count them all now. Some have been recycled for parts, and others now live on other continents. Certainly several hundred by now. I probably could have made more over the last ten years, but I prefer to take my time. Quality over quantity.
As to my favorite, that’s like picking your favorite child. There are some that I hold dear because they required a great deal of original sculpting, like Mxyzptlk or Clayface, while others are just silly fun, like Dagobah Artoo. (It’s just dirty brown paint. Took about thirty seconds. What’s not fun about that?)
7. What would you say is the hardest part about doing customs?
I’m going to give you two answers again. First, I find selecting projects of an appropriate skill level can be tough. (I doubt that’s something many people would admit, but I suspect it’s common.) What I mean is, sometimes I’ll start a project that’s effectively more than I can chew. As my skills grow, I always want to try projects that will present a challenge, but sometimes I’ll start a project and realize it’s not yet within my reach. It will get moved to the back burner until my skills catch up with my vision. I can’t tell you how many times I started a Clayface. It was years before I got that one right.
On a more physical level… Sanding. Sanding can be the bane of my existence. It’s the difference between a good custom and a great custom. (Actually, that’s true of any art that requires sanding, like woodwork.) I can certainly do it, and it gets done. I just get tired of it quickly.
8. What is your least favorite part/thing to do when working on a project?
There’s the sanding, but I won’t go on about that again. I also wish I could speed things up. Between waiting for the epoxies to dry, and just finding the time to work while living a full and real life, sometimes it can take months to finish a simple project. That’s not always a bad thing, but it can wear on one’s enthusiasm.
9. What would you create/customize if you had unlimited time and resources?
Eventually, the entire DCAU! Okay, I’m kidding. Partially. Seriously, though if I had unlimited time and resources, I would likely concentrate less on customs per se and more on developing my sculpting skills, plus become more adept at the art of molding and casting.
10. Next to you, who would you consider to be the best customizer? To paraphrase, who is your favorite fellow customizer? Please pick only one and tell us what makes him/her stand out.
Well, first off, there is no “best” customizer. There are lots of talented custom toy-making artists out there, working in numerous styles and mediums. Comparing them, even those who work in the same style, is like comparing apples to oranges. Besides, some days everybody knocks one out of the park, and other days we strike out. As for picking one, I can’t do that. It’s just too hard! Some of my current favorites include Mike Danza, Tyke, Faithfulbutler, Crushinaguy, Doubledealer, Bill Burns, Batlaw, Sami, Airmax, Bottleimp, Chip’d ‘n Stone, Scott Rogers, Glorbes, Scooter, Charlie Jackham, Lars, the always amazing Les Walker, and that’s just a partial list from a fuzzy memory. There are many more, working in many styles.
11. What is the toughest project you’ve had to tackle?
Hmmmm… Generally speaking, I’d say my recent Clayface. Like all Timm designs, the simplicity of the line and shape left no room for error, and that was tough to pull off. I won’t say I managed it 100%, but I feel I got pretty close. He was also 90% an original sculpt, which is just tough to begin with.
12. What is your proudest achievement to date?
Custom-wise, it’s just maintaining a level of quality I’m happy with over the years, plus improvements in skill level. When I look at my customs from ten years ago compared to this year, I can easily see how far I’ve come, and that makes me proud.
13. What is your opinion about toy companies’ gimmicks like “exclusives” and “short-packs”?
Hate ’em. I understand there’s a financial element driving these decisions, but I have yet to read any proof that either tactic actually improves sales. Personally, if I have to run into Target everyday in the hopes of finding an exclusive before the scalpers get to it and then it’s gone, I’m not likely to be in a spending mood and stop for toothpaste. I know that to be a common sentiment. Short-packs make sense in focus groups, but no matter how a pack-out is determined, there will always be some peg-warmers. The solution is to fix a greater problem, and that is distribution and how retailers are able to order. Selling mixed cases may be easier for the accountants, but it ultimately hurts sales when a line dies because of unintended peg warmers. Allowing retailers to order more specialized product would go a long way to extending sales. They could order various quantities of specific characters. True, that requires retailers to actually know the product and what sells, but I never said it would be an easy solution. Also, tying in to that, there’s no reason toys can’t have a specific release date like books and music. (Toys do have specific release dates in Japan.) The only reason it isn’t done is “that’s the way it’s always been done.” It’s time for change. Toys as we know them are losing ground to electronic gizmos every year. An industry that can’t adapt will fade away.
14. Speaking of exclusives, have you made your own rendition of the JLU Hal Jordan? If yes, when will we see him? If not, why not?
Ha! I haven’t yet, but I will eventually. I’d like to obtain a casting of a Hal head, but if not it won’t be a big deal to make my own version. I’ll get around to it eventually.
15. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A comedian. A model-building FX guy. A puppeteer. Depends on the day, I guess.
16. As of this writing, you haven’t posted any updates on your web site. Have you gone into retirement? If not (and I hope), when can fans expect to see your new stuff?
I have most certainly not gone into retirement! This last year has been fairly dramatic for my family and me, and real life always takes precedence over toy making. I am chomping at the bit to start several new projects. I can’t say for sure when I’ll have anything ready, but I’ll be back in the swing of things before too long.
17. What does your better half have say about your hobby?
The Violist is a great supporter of my little hobby. Being a collector herself, she has an appreciation for such things. Of course, we try our best to maintain a balanced life, so toys are just a part of our lives.
18. What advice do you give beginners who are just getting into this craft/hobby?
I’m asked this question often, and the answer is always “start small.” Don’t jump in head first and expect to make the world’s ultimate, end-all, be-all Batman figure. Chances are you’ll end up disappointed with the results and not want to try any more. Instead, make a realistic assessment of your skills and start there. If you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, than start with some simple repaints. The vast majority of toys made today are almost always missing a color application somewhere. Take some paint to those Joker eyes or Two-Face lips and see how much the figure is improved. Then try painting a whole figure. From there you can move on to head swaps, and then sculpting. Stretch your skills without over reaching, and you’ll find the hobby to be a very satisfying experience. The good news is, in this day and age of the internet, there’s no limit to the inspiration and instruction available.
19. In 10-15 years, do you foresee yourself still doing customs, or would you have gotten tired of all this already?
A lot can change in 10 years, and sometimes things change in real life that can affect one’s hobbies. However, all things being equal, I expect I’ll always be crafting something or other. I enjoy shaping, painting and generally using my hands to create. Of course, if you’d ask me this question 10 years ago, I’d probably have said I couldn’t see me doing this still. Clearly, I’m not much of a fortune teller.
20. If you can describe yourself in one word, what would that be?
*** End of interview ***
Casimir’s custom figures focus primarily on Bruce Timm’s creations including:
Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures
Superman: The Animated Series
Justice League and Justice League Unlimited
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