Most Impressive Fans is a feature highlighting the amazing inventiveness of
devotees, from cosplay to props. If there’s a fearless and inventive fan out at that place, nosotros’ll highlight them here.
While some collectors labor over whether or not to remove an activeness effigy from its pristine packaging, the approach of Johnny Wu — a.thou.a. @sgtbananas on Instagram — is decidedly more Tarkin-esque.
His collection hierarchy is broken down by which figures he doesn’t mind melting as he sets off small explosives and fireworks nearby. This is part of the rigorous practical furnishings that have accidentally customized some figures by burn or resulted in other lost limbs as the toy lensman manically snapped away with his digital camera. The battle scars are all for the beloved of art, as Wu captures hyper-realistic
scenes for his Instagram followers or promotional images for the likes of Hasbro and Sideshow.
“The realness, the rawness of that actual explosion. Information technology would be very, very difficult to recreate that in Photoshop,” Wu says.
With ingenious hacks — like subbing in flour for freshly fallen snow — and utilizing the natural elements near his northern California home, similar a young Jyn Erso sending Stormy on adventures through Lah’mu, Wu crafts creative storylines, battle sequences, and ballsy quests for his menagerie of plastic soldiers.
He recognizes not every collector would be comfortable with his arroyo. “A lot of toy collectors…once they read that that’s not Photoshop and that those figures are actually getting water on them? And flour? And now they’re going to hear most the fireworks? They’re going to cringe…’oh no, I could never do that with my effigy!’”
But in the mode of the model makers who first brought
to the screen, Wu prefers practical effects over CGI with minimal affect-ups to add the glow of a lightsaber to his images or omit a wire that needed to be in place to keep a figure in mid-air during the hours-long photo shoot. “Everything else that you encounter in the photo is actually happening through the camera,” he says.
That tangibility adds to the feeling that the toys are real people in real situations. “Even as nerdy and dorky as it might sound to some people…I wish I could become to Tatooine,” Wu says. “I wish I could go to Mos Eisley. I wish those worlds were real. I desire to get to space and I want to hang out with these people.”
Telephone call to action
Wu, 31, has had a lifelong love of action figures, although he admits there was a bespeak in his immature adult years that he thought he’d outgrown the children’s toys. “Growing up, I’ve e’er been fascinated by toys, action figures. And that never stopped.”
Just 3 years agone, after rediscovering collecting characters from his favorite films and TV shows, Wu had an idea. He set up a cardboard box as a mini-studio infinite, then propped a few Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures inside — haphazardly taping a Mondo Gecko figure into identify doing a skateboarding move while other characters cheered — and took a few shots with his iPhone. “Information technology was so bad…” he says now.
It wasn’t long earlier Wu’southward girlfriend, Crystal Nuccio, handed him a higher-powered Canon camera and taught him how to utilise it, spurring his new hobby. “It’s like a loophole to playing with toys even though you’re an developed,” he says. “I’d get everyday. It’s all I think about. It was like the two things clicked similar a perfect storm.”
Although he has a collection including vintage figures from the Power of the Force era, Wu primarily shoots the multi-jointed six-inch-tall figures from the newer Black Series line or the incredibly detailed 6th scale versions from Hot Toys. The one-time are best for battle sequences, their poseable limbs giving them flexibility akin to a real soldier in gainsay, although he prefers the latter, immaculately painted with precision downwards to the tiniest freckle, for quieter moments and the finish of a zoom lens.
“I’ll do a lot of closeups of their faces,” Wu says. “I thing is those are like shooting fish in a barrel to make wait similar they’re really people. I had one photograph with a Hot Toys shoretrooper on a embankment and I’chiliad not tooting my own horn but it looks real. The weathering on the suit…it does look like a real person.” (See above — it’due south difficult to argue.)
Their craftsmanship and $200+ price tag doesn’t always proceed them out of the line of fire. “I’ve used fireworks with some of them,” Wu says. “When I exercise I try to exist very careful.”
Like a legion of disposable clones, Wu typically leaves the dirtier work to his Black Series figures and, as many a
hero has learned the hard way, sometimes that means losing a mitt. “I’m more lenient with what I’ll put them through,” he says. “I have like a drawer full of troopers from the Blackness Serial.”
Don’t panic and at all times carry a suitcase full of action figures
Any photographer volition tell you, getting the perfect shot isn’t always as effortless equally the final piece suggests. “People merely don’t know how long this stuff takes,” Wu says. “Sometimes it literally took a minute and information technology comes out absurd, merely other times I really have a hard fourth dimension. I’ll accept as many photos as it takes to get the shot.”
Merely to get the right angle and lighting on a shut-up of a stormtrooper carrying Jyn’s Stormy doll required 100 different takes, he says.
About 95 per centum of his shoots are outdoors, leaving his craft and his collection to the mercy of the elements, which he recognizes makes some collectors wince. “And I don’t arraign you in that,” Wu says. “Hot Toys are works of art. That’south their grail. The highlight of their collection. Why would they ever take it outside and spray h2o on it?”
On a trip to Hawaii, a Black Series sandtrooper lost an arm when the plastic snapped in the sweltering rut. “I had two other sandtroopers with me so that was okay. I brought far more toys than was necessary.”
But the mistake also immune Wu some artistic license, spawning the #SadTrooper series with several incomparably non-canonical shots of the soldier trudging effectually head downwards, carrying his own appendage. “Since I’k doing a battle scene, I’ll simply make information technology and then his arm broke off,” Wu figured.
Another series with Chewbacca showing off his karate moves? Also not sanctioned by the Lucasfilm Story Group.
Wu’s quest for the perfect backdrop has too complicated his travels. “When I’m going somewhere far, like a holiday or something…I try to bring as much equally I tin because I never know if I’ll encounter an environment that’southward perfect for whatever character I want to be able to capitalize. I bring so many toys.”
Trial and mistake
Closer to habitation, the introverted Wu tries to fourth dimension his shoots for days when the beaches are less crowded, since a man painstakingly posing action figures in the sand is bound to attract some attention. “Unremarkably they’ll walk upward, put their caput down, squint a little fleck like they’re trying to effigy out what exactly I’m doing. They look…they await and they look and then they merely continue going.”
Occasionally a fellow fan will stop to chat. “Information technology’due south cool but I’m pretty shy in real life,” he says.
And like a Jedi Primary, Wu won’t disclose all of his techniques or camera settings even to other aspiring toy photographers. “Yous’ll appreciate information technology style more when you have to sit down there and figure information technology out. If I give you lot the answers to the test, you don’t learn anything. What’southward that proverb? Information technology’s nigh the journeying, not the destination.”
And so much of Wu’due south success has come from trial and error, he stresses.
He travels with a spray canteen to make information technology rain, and has learned to utilise a dusting of flour to make information technology appear similar his figures are trekking through snowy Hoth.
“I usually take different perspectives. I’ll move effectually the figure like 360…the calorie-free comes from a unlike management and it hits the figure.” His initial concept isn’t always what turns out best in execution. “Sometimes I end upwards finding that a dissimilar bending is way more interesting.”
Wu used to conscript a team of friends to help with the shoots, but with the assist of a wireless remote shutter and a tripod, he can accept the picture while besides alighting the special effects. It’s meliorate than trying to explain his vision to a friend, he says. “Okay, can you kick sand over hither or can you sprinkle some flour…or tin y’all light this firework? When it’s my thought, I know exactly what I want. When I accept full command over the photo, that’south the best for me.”
And Wu is constantly challenging himself to superlative his all-time work.
“I’m very competitive with myself. I’m always searching my next favorite photo. So if I accept a photograph today and I similar it, if you were to inquire me a week afterward if I like that photo, I’d probably say no. I feel like a lot of artists can relate to that. They’re their worst critic.”
The Almost Impressive Fans Q&A
Who is your favorite
film ranks highest on your list?
The Empire Strikes Back.
What’s your start
My first memory is just sitting at domicile watching it on TV with my dad. I didn’t know what information technology was. But I think all
fans tin can agree there was something captivating most information technology right away.
Do you have a favorite scene?
The famous Tatooine sunset with Luke.
If yous had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?
Definitely the rebels!
For more on @sgtbananas, check out StarWars.com’s previous interview with Johnny Wu!
Kristin Baver is a writer and accommodating sci-fi nerd who e’er has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Follow her on Twitter