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Making It Real: Crushin’ a Guy

Posted by: Casimir at 7:31 pm on Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Making It Real: The Artistic Insight

For many years now, I’ve had the honor of knowing Crushinaguy, otherwise known as Dan Gates. We’ve collaborated on some projects, and he continues to be a source of creative inspiration to me. I should also mention than many of the opinions and tips he shares below are so like my own, I feel like I could have written them! So, without further ado, I give you… Dan Gates!

Dan Gates

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

The field I work in is called Special Makeup Effects. I’ve worked on films, TV, commercials, and stage shows. Mostly I glue rubber to actors faces for a living. Today you can find me at “The Happiest Place on Earth” where I apply Darth Maul’s makeup for their daily Star Wars themed show or the Genie for their Aladdin stage musical.

What a typical day at the office looks like for Crushinaguy.

Do some of your career skills apply to the creation of customs? Seems to me you’re pretty good at molding and casting.

Absolutely. I was making silicone molds long before I took up customizing. Sculpting, molding, casting and painting are all processes in my profession – so there are many crossover skills. I made the prototype for the George Clooney Batman that was sold in Sharper Image stores way back when. So I guess that was a one-to-one scale custom.

How long have you been collecting toys?

I started seriously around 1992. That was the year that both Batman Returns and Batman the Animated Series came out. It was the best of times. It’s no secret that I am a complete Bat-nut – so that was a good year for me.


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

I didn’t even know what customs were until I saw a booth at San Diego Comic Con one year. It belonged to Charlie Jackam (aka The Charlie Man) one of the pioneers of customizing. Some time later I had a chance meeting with Larry Snelly (aka Lars). Larry is an incredible artist of many mediums and custom figures just happens to be one of them. He showed me the mechanics of the craft and I was bitten. I’m proud to say we’ve stayed friends since. Iron Cow, Bill Burns, DoubleDealer, and of course Inanimate Objects were some of the sites I poured over when first learning the craft.

You work in several different styles. What motivates you to tackle a specific character in a specific style?

It could be different things. I could see a figure on the store shelf and be compelled to turn it into something else and it doesn’t matter what style it is to begin with. Mostly though it’s about filling voids. If a character doesn’t exist in plastic, it’s fun to create one and fill that void.

Casimir note: Two of my favorite customs, in one of my favorite photos of customs. I want this framed on my wall. Or better yet, the customs on my shelf.

Do you prefer sculpting/shaping/assembling a figure, or painting? Why?

Each aspect is rewarding to me. Sculpting is the most challenging. I would add to that list Presentation because having a website to showcase your figures requires some knowledge of the visual medium. I didn’t know a lick about photography when I stared my site (and still don’t know much) but I like it when figures are presented in an entertaining way. My least favorite, I have to admit, is detail painting. I dread the triple 0 brush and the magnifier, painting pupils in eyes, or fine lines.

What is your preferred sculpting medium?

I’ve tried so many. Apoxie Sculpt is my current medium of choice. It smooths with water and dries to a sandable consistency. Magic Sculpt is good too.

What is your preferred paint?

I was just asked this recently. Mostly I use acrylic based tole paints from the craft store (Ceramcoat, FolkArt, Apple Barrel) whatever is on sale. That way I don’t have to mix a lot and the color stays consistent. I use Krylon flat white as a primer and apply with an airbrush as much as possible in order to avoid brushstrokes. I can’t stress enough the importance of a good primer coat. It will hides nicks from sculpting and the white undercoat makes your colors more brilliant. Hobby stores have acrylic based sprays that also work well.

Cell Vinyl (Cartoon Color) is another favorite paint of mine. Used to pint animation cells, it’s formulated to go on smooth and apply to flexible surfaces so I use it on capes especially. I’ve heard that toy prototypers use it and I’ve been using it a lot more lately.

Do you keep a supply of parts and “fodder” on hand?

Tons. I have bins of figures and tackle boxes of you-name-it. I have weapons, stands, body parts, etc. And since I do castings, I have multiples of stuff. If I like a certain head or pair of hands for instance, I’ll cast up a bunch to have on hand. So yeah….tons.

Deiedrich Bader approves of his Crushinaguy-modified (i.e. accurate) alter ego.

How do you mange your time between customizing and “real life?”

Well that’s the trick isn’t it? When I first started customizing, it was more of passion than a hobby. As I look back, I wonder how I’ve been able to find the time to do as many figures as I have. When you have the desire, you make the time. My wife became very ill right about the same time my website started and she’s been my priority.

Storm, Dan's wife's alter ego.

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

I’ve seen a lot more people doing it and that’s encouraging. It’s brought so much joy to me and I love to see others picking it up and bringing their contributions to the table. I’ve also seen the impact it’s had on the manufacturers. It seems to me that a lot of those voids I mentioned are being filled by the toy manufacturers themselves. I firmly believe that the toy companies realize there is a market for characters that once could only be found on custom sites. They’ve filled a lot of those voids and that makes it more of a challenge for us. But I remember a time when only the most popular characters of a line were produced.

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

I want to do more sculpting and building from the ground up. My molding/casting process can be further exploited as well. I experimented once with a generic, fully cast, articulated figure. I might revisit that. The big challenge for me has always been to achieve that store-bought, manufactured look. When I can stand one of my custom figures next to a store-bought figure and fool someone, that’s always been the goal.

The "Generic Man" project.

Is there a “typical” process for figure creation for you, from idea to finished product? Or is any such process too organic to be defined?

Organic is a good descriptive word for the process. Almost anything can trigger the initial idea. Probably my favorite part of the process is when that light bulb first comes on. You can see the figure coming together in your head before you’ve even picked up the Exacto. Then sometimes it’ll snowball into a scene or a group and instead of one action figure you’ve got this whole diorama. Some of my favorite projects have developed that way (i.e. Judgment at Krypton, the Flying Graysons).

Judgment at Krypton

The Flying Graysons

What do your friends and family make of your collection and customizing?

Well they know I’m insane anyway. I usually get some odd looks when I mention action figure customizing. I’m usually quick to point out that there’s a whole sub-culture devoted to it. Then I’m seen as a little less crazy for some reason. After they’ve seen some of the things that can be accomplished and my genuine zeal for it, they kinda get caught up into it.

How did crushinaguy.com come about? For that matter, how did you get such a unique moniker?

It’s a long story – Oddly enough, it all started with the fertility idol from the Raiders of the Lost Ark. There was a casting that someone had brought into work and I had never seen it up close. There are a lot of replicas out there now. I looked at the casting and noticed for the first time that the idol graphically depicts a woman in the act of childbirth. This one guy announced, “He’s crushin’ a guy.” We all fell out at the idea that this idiot could so grossly misinterpret the thing. That was also a time when domain names were being joked about and everyone was putting “dot com” after everything and anything for a laugh. So Crushinaguy.com evolved from that, I just liked the sound of it and proclaimed that if I ever had a website, I would name it that.

The origin of Crushinaguy.

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

Yes. I have a garage that serves as a dedicated workspace for many projects. It’s downstairs from our apartment so my wife Sheila dubbed it “the Batcave” appropriately. It has cable, DVD player, air compressor, and even a min-fridge so I can stay down there for hours on end.

Casimir note: Another personal favorite.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests you’d care to admit to?

I’m a cinephile, It works out nicely living where I do (Los Angeles). If I didn’t love movies and the art of film making, I wouldn’t be here. I’m also a huge basketball fan. I grew up in Indiana where my father played pro so I guess it’s in my blood. That also worked out geographically for me.

The backdrop is as impressive as the custom.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

It’s an honor and a pleasure to chat in this forum. There was a time when f/x makeup artists shared their techniques in order to further the art. Sadly, that field has become more secretive and guarded. It’s refreshing to find that kind of camaraderie in this field where recipes are shared and everyone is so giving. I encourage anyone who’s ever thought of trying customizing to give it a shot. Anything is possible. (Philippians 4:13)


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.



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