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Making It Real: Airmax

Posted by: Casimir at 3:49 am on Monday, November 14, 2011

Making It Real

It’s time for another edition of “Making It Real.” This time I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with fellow customizer (and source of inspiration) Airmax.  Let’s get right to it!

First, what’s your secret identity? What does Airmax do when he’s not customizing toys?

I actually work at a toy company – though not on the creative side so of things. I’m on the sales team. It’s been a great experience, getting to see how things work from an industry perspective after being a fan for so much of my life. It’s not quite as awesome as the movie “Big” made it out to be, but it’s not too far off.


Airmax: The Man, the Myth

Did you collect toys before you started customizing? Since when?

Oh man, yes. I loved toys as much as any kid did growing up – and growing up in the 80s there was no shortage of great new toys and ideas: GI. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats, MASK, etc. I played with toys and as I got older started collecting them without really meaning to. By the time I was in high school, I still liked toys, but wasn’t playing with them. I’d still buy a few figures here and there but keep them in the package. I took a break from toys around the time college started but was sucked back in first by the Star Wars relaunch in 95ish and then by McFarlane’s stuff, when he first started making toys, which were so far ahead of everyone else at the time. From there it was all downhill for my wallet.

When and how did you start creating customized figures? Who or what was an early influence?

I actually customized a little as a kid. I would cobble together parts from different GI Joe figures and create new characters. I did a little Secret Wars customizing (I think turning Secret Wars Captain America into Cyclops was one of my crowning achievements as a kid) and when the Toybiz DC line launched I remember making a Colossus out of Superman. But it wasn’t until after college that I really got into customizing as an art form (for lack of a better term). I was fresh out of art school, but not really enjoying the struggle of trying to make illustration a job. I hated “art as work” since art had always been my personal release and stress reliever. I found a couple of sites online where customizers were showing their work and it just blew me away. You, Bill Burns, Tung Nguyen, Iron Cow were all just amazing to me. It was just so cool to see these one of a kind pieces. At first I started buying customs from Ebay. I won a couple of Bill’s “animated” style figures. And really, at that point, I just wanted to collect them, I wasn’t thinking about customizing myself. But after a while, I just had to try it so I started to dabble in customizing – this was around 1999 I think. I enjoyed the process. It was different than drawing, but scratched the same creative itch. It was like all the great parts of drawing without any of the frustration. I started reaching out to other customizers who were great about just talking about the craft and sharing tips and stuff. A lot of those guys later became people that I am lucky to able to call friends.

Customizing was a different thing when I first started. There weren’t as many people into it as there are now. So it was much easier to feel like you were a part of something small and special. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing now, just that it felt more like a secret society back then.


You work in several different styles. I’ve seen Timm-verse stuff, G.I.Joe in various sizes, sometimes a character from one genre or style re-imagined in another. What motivates you to tackle a specific character in a specific style?

For the most part, it’s really just me wanting more of what I like. Whether it’s JLU or GI Joe or whatever, I just want as much stuff as I can get – or make – in a particular style/scale. It doesn’t matter if the characters are from the same universe (comic, cartoon, movie), I just like having characters I like as part of the same collection. So, most of the drive comes from that. Sometimes the parts end up dictating the style/scale. Every now and then I’ll see a figure that just begs to be made into something else – even if it doesn’t fit with anything that I like particularly. I did a Juggernaut custom a few years back that was like that. The resulting figure is a random 5in scale figure that fits with nothing else that I like or collect. But I couldn’t not make the figure, if that makes sense. The need to see it done outweighed the logic behind not making it. So… yeah, sometimes it gets a little weird.

I also tend toward the random I think. Certain character designs appeal to me and they aren’t necessarily cool characters or even well known characters. For instance, Grune the Destroyer was always my favorite Thundercats character. I love Mimic from the old X-Men comics. So, I find myself gravitating more to random designs than characters that might relate in any obvious sense. I don’t work in a linear fashion because I’m way too easily distracted. I don’t feel the need to finish teams or make character “x” who is always paired with character “y” – making only


Your creations often feature a fair amount of “Frankensteining” (the mixing of parts from different sources). Can you describe your creative process? What makes you say “Yes, that hand plus that arm will work for Character X!”?

I’ve always really liked when I would look at another customizer’s finished custom and have no idea what parts were used. So, I think that was always in the back of my head. Not that I was consciously trying to find obscure parts to work with, but that thought process would trickle in and push me toward parts that might not necessarily be obvious choices. So, if I’m making a large character, I’m immediately thinking his hands and forearms should be oversized. Or if I’m making a lanky character, maybe the limbs are a little elongated. I get the idea of the finished custom in my head then start working backward for the parts that fit that vision. Then I’m digging through the fodder for parts that work with what I have in mind. Or, like I said before, I’ll be walking through a store and see a random bit that ends up driving the entire custom. So those customs are entirely built around one part that I happen to like, or a random idea that I think will make a neat looking figure.


What is your favorite aspect of customizing? Least favorite?

My friend and I were just talking about this, and we both agreed that the R&D is the most fun – the research and development before the customizing even starts. Thinking about the end custom is awesome. Thinking about what parts to use, then hunting down parts. That’s the best part for me. It get less and less enjoyable as the project goes along cuz I’m moving away from it being a product of imagination and closer to the physical end result.

Painting is probably my least favorite just because it’s the very last step and involves no imagination or creativity on my part. At that point, I know exactly how it’s going to end and there’s no excitement in that.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I’ve got dozens of zip-lock bags full of in-progress customs. I start way more projects then I’ll ever finish.

What is your preferred sculpting medium?

I’ve always used Magic Sculpt, not because I think it’s the best thing ever, but because I’m so familiar with it I don’t feel the need to experiment. My customizing tool box is pretty sparse: Dremel, Magic Sculpt, Styrene, vinyl sheet, X-Acto blade, crazy glue. That’s about the extent of it.

What is your preferred paint?

Right now I’m using Citadel paints from Games Workshop. I like the variety of colors and the consistency. I’m not particular about the paints I use really. I’m in the habit of using Citadel now, but before this it was Liquitex (which were a hold over from art school). I tried Tamiya paints once. Several people told me that they were great, and they were, but I found the smell overwhelming and have gotten a little safety paranoid in recent years. I assumed the heavy chemical smell probably wasn’t good for anyone in my apartment.

I think one of the best bits of advice I can give about customizing – not just in terms of paint, but overall – is to find what you’re comfortable with. It may not be what everyone else likes, but if you’re comfortable with it, the resulting work will reflect that. That goes for most art forms I imagine. There’s no wrong way to be creative.


I know you recently brought a lovely baby girl into this world. Has her presence altered your time spent with customs or other activities? (Careful how you answer this. Your wife might be reading!)

Ha, thanks! Yeah, my Daughter is a little over three now. I was never the most consistent customizer in terms of output even before being a parent, being a dad has only made me that much worse. It’s hard to find free time, especially free time that involves sharp knives, dremels and crazy glue – three things that just don’t go well with kids. So, large chunks of time for customizing are almost nonexistent these days unfortunately. I do try every now and then to dedicate a little bit of time to it after getting home from work, after Zoe’s in bed and my Wife and I have eaten dinner. But, at best that’s an hour here and there. It’s a fair trade though, all things considered. Fatherhood is amazing.


You’ve been around long enough to see changes in the hobby (personnel, attitudes, technology). What changes have you perceived?

Oh, things have really changed completely. When I first started customizing, fairly straight forward repaints were an accepted norm – everyone did the mandatory Batman to Space Ghost mod for example. It was like a right of passage. Then things evolved to include part swapping. From there it was frankensteining parts together. Now dudes are just sculpting the parts they need from scratch. Some are even sculpting entire figures from scratch and/or casting them in color correct plastics. The level of skill in the customizing pool today could put the 80s toy industry to shame. I can’t believe how far things have come. It’s incredible, and I’m just happy that customizing has gotten as big as it has. I’m glad that I got to be a small part of it. I feel like an old man in my Model T watching these young whipper snappers blazing past me in their McLarens.

Given that you work primarily in “vintage” styles, do you maintain a supply of appropriate parts?

I do, although I’m also very fond of collecting random bits of fodder. I think it’s kind of like DJs collecting vinyl. The more obscure you can get, the more unique your customs can be. I’ll also accumulate parts as I get into a particular style of custom – JLU, GI Joe, etc. If I find myself consistently working in one particular style, I’ll try to grab deals when I can or buy a bunch of figures on clearance, just so I have a lot of parts available to me. Inevitably though, for most projects, I’ll get one particular piece in mind that I don’t own which I then have to track down… but again, the whole R&D part is my favorite so I get a kick out of that.

What challenges, if any, do you want to tackle in regards to customs? (Techniques? Characters? Styles? Etc.)

I don’t know if I’m still trying to challenge myself, honestly… I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are so many areas in which I can still improve and there are so many things I flat out can’t do, but I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I’m getting what I want from my finished customs. They make me happy, and learning a new skill wouldn’t really make me like the customs more you know? In fact, I think the learning curve would just frustrate me, which is not something I want for a hobby that’s for the most part relaxing. I’m so… scared almost, of having what happened to my love of drawing happen with customizing.

If anything, and I don’t know if this is a personal challenge, but I really enjoyed the couple of times I made limited run JLU carded customs. I would love to do more of that kind of stuff. Low run multiple packaged customs. I like creating things that can pass as parts of “official” lines.


Do you have a dedicated workspace? What’s it like?

I’ve never really had a dedicated workspace. It just used to be easier to justify making a corner of my coffee table my work area. These days I just can’t get away with that. So, I still work on my coffee table, but everything gets cleaned up after an hour or so. Which makes finishing customs even more difficult because everything goes back into a zip-lock and I’m fighting a losing battle against the whole “out of sight, out of mind” thing.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests you’d care to admit to? (Tell us about the shoes, man!)

Ha! Yeah, I love sneakers. I’ve been a major sneaker head since late in high school. I have around 50 pairs these days, but I don’t think of myself as a “collector” of shoes in the same way that people who have a lot of dress shirts aren’t collectors of shirts. I wear them all and I just really like sneaker design/fashion. It’s part of a wardrobe more than it’s a collection.

Other than that, I don’t have much time or money for other hobbies. I like video games. I watch a ridiculous amount of TV. I like biking when the weather is nice. I’m a serial procrastinator, and like any artist, I’m a little crazy. That about sums me up.


Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I just want to say thank you. Thanks to the folks out there who were wondering what I was up to, and thanks especially to you Cason for taking the time to reach out. It is very nice to know that people remember my work.


About the Author: Casimir
Not satisfied with the limited options available at retail, award-winning customizer Cason Pilliod has been crafting his own toys since he was a child. His passion for toys merges with his background as a theatrical prop designer, allowing him to find unique customizing solutions, which he shares with the ever-growing customizing community via Inanimate Objects. Cason is also an armchair pop-culture historian, Swing dancer, DJ, daddy, and was once a Muppet wrangler, so he's got a unique spin on life. He also worked for Microsoft once, but let's just keep that a secret.




  • Zach says:

    Airmax!! This was great to see what Pierre is up to. His work is a huge source of inspiration. I still have his site bookmarked and will occasionally check for a long awaited update 8^) Fantastic interview!

  • Anubis8 says:

    I was HUGE fan of Pierre’s stuff when he first started customizing and was always blown away by his attention to detail and love of the characters. All these years later I am very fortunate to not only own an Airmax custom, but also can call Pierre friend!

    Thanks for the interview.

  • Dusty says:

    Thanks Cas and Airmax, you guys were two of the biggest inspirations for me to start customizing back in the golden days, lol. Thanks for sharing your story Airmax and thanks to both of you for being such awesome people and customizers, ;)

    Kal. (aka Dusty)

  • CantinaDan says:

    Great interview. Thanks to both of you for pulling it together! Found the bits about Frankensteining super-interesting. Pierre, you are an amazing artist and a credit to our crazy little community of “little plastic people” lovers!

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