Well statuefourm members this month’s interview is with the sculptor Ruben Procopio of Masked Avenger Studios (www.maskedavenger.com)
Some of you may ask why Ruben? His work is just now being seen by more and more folks. Has he really worked enough as a sculptor to warrant an interview? Well let us just say YES!
Ruben is what I would almost call an old school sculptor. He has been in the animation industry for over 25 years, having received scholarships for both the Cal-Arts and the Art Center he learned a lot during his school years. One of the biggest influences though I would think was his Father Adolfo Procopio who worked for Disney’s Imagineering for 35 years. (Adolfo is now working with Masked Avenger Studios with his son.)
With this type of background it was not hard to see a young Ruben starting at Disney Animation years ago. Ruben was able to work under one of the Disney legendary “nine old men”, Eric Larson. Learning from talent such as this and his own incredible skills lead Ruben to work on no less than 16 of Disney’s animated features, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Lion King.
Even more recently The Smithsonian Institute picked Ruben's Ursula maquette from Disney's 1989 movie “The Little Mermaid” to be a part of their permanent collection and display. This is an incredible achievement for ones career. Ruben’s work is also displayed at Disneyland’s California Adventure at the animation area.
Ruben has recently done for Bowen Designs The Lockjaw mini bust, Taskmaster and Union Jack. He is currently working on many projects that include work for Electric Tiki. For Electric Tiki he has already done many fine pieces, including Zorro, Flash Gordon and Hellboy to name a few.
On top of sculpting Ruben is also a hell of a 2-d animator, he does character design, concept presentation art, comic book & comic strip art as well as caricatures, storyboards and illustrations. Recently he had one of his Batman pin-ups printed in the comic adaptation of Batman Begins.
Ruben is one of the most personal able people I’ve had to deal with, he was a gentleman when he meet my daughters at this years SDCC. They thought he was a pretty cool guy and where really impressed with that he once worked at Disney.
Well enough of the bio, now for the questions:
StatueForum (SF): Ruben, thank you very much for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview with statueforum. I hope that the questions are not to wild or strange. Lol
SF: Ruben seeing that you are truly a second generation sculptor did you know as a kid that this would be the path/career you would take?
First of all, thank you, Charles, for the invitation to do this interview, much appreciated… I knew my future would be something to do with the arts. I actually wanted to be a comic book artist; I was a big fan-boy as a kid. My Dad saw the inclination and started guiding me at a young age, like copying anatomy books and giving me assignments both in drawing and sculpting. I was very fortunate in that respect. The comic book idea fell by the way-side as I got more and more into animation and the opportunities were too good to pass up. At 18, I showed my portfolio to Disney Studios and was invited to join the training program they had at the time. It was a good time to do it, as Don Bluth had just left Disney with a core group of animators and the team that was left behind was very small, just under a hundred that included artists like John Lasseter and Tim Burton. Half of the nine old men were still there. Two of them, Frank and Ollie, were making their legendary “Illusion of Life” book. One day while visiting the studio archives, I was amazed to see the wonderful sculpture models (as they called them back then) done for films like Fantasia and Dumbo. I realized that they had stopped doing them years earlier, so I started sculpting them on my own. When the directors and producers saw my sculptures, they started asking me to do one after another, and well the rest, as they say, is history. Producing sculptures of the characters ended up becoming a regular part of the process again. My first sculpts were for Fox and the Hound. When Publicity asked me what these sculpts were called, I remembered my Dad - who had sculpted everything from Toto to Humphrey Bogart at Disney Imagineering - referring to the smaller-scale sculpts they produced before they sculpted the final audioanimatronic figures for the Parks as maquettes. So I said lets call them “maquettes,” it stuck, and that’s what they’ve been called ever since! That, in a nutshell, is how I ended up being a chip of the old block.
SF: Now that one of your sculptures is going to be part of the permanent collection for the Smithsonian how does that make you feel?
Its an amazing feeling. I just think about how my Dad immigrated to America with a dream to one day work at Disney, and then years later, the whole family ends up working there. In fact, my sister Vivian works over at the ARL (Disney’s Animation Research Library). So for this to happen, getting a piece into the collection of America’s history, well it’s like coming full circle.
SF: Ok this question is due to you being an “old man” in sculpting. (no offence) In the 25+ years that you have been sculpting professionally how have the materials you use changed? Or have they changed? If you have changed from one material to another why?
Well, I’m sure my paisan Tony Cipriano is laughing right now because you called me an “old man.” I get that from him all the time. “ Fossil” is another one he uses – thanks, Charles, for encouraging him! I still mainly use Sculpey. Back when I started, it came only in the white color and actually had a better consistency; it’s too much like cream cheese nowadays, and used mostly for school kids as a craft medium. I did all the maquettes at Disney with that. As many know, they have now formulated a grey compound - we have Jeff over at midwestclay.com to thank for that. I visited the Polyform Products manufacturing facilities in Chicago about a year ago and had the opportunity to talk directly with the chemist who invented the original sculpey years ago. I shared with him - and Jim, as well - some ideas and needs from a sculptor’s point of view, mainly that it would be nice to have different hardness. I know many colleagues have been asking for a harder version for years as well, so they’ve recently come out with a harder one that tends be good for details and such, so I’ve switched to that. As far as wax goes, I think my good friends, Maestro Tim Bruckner and Karen Palinko each have a wonderful formula which I’ve since tried, and neither is like any other I’ve come across for doing intricate details and such.
SF: When a client contacts you for a commission piece what steps do you go through to ensure the client is happy with the finished product and that you the sculptor are happy with the final product as well? I see on your site that you do a good amount of concept sketching for each sculpt. Do you do these (concept sketches) only after you get the “job” or in order to get the “job”?
I want to know what makes that particular character I’m about to sculpt tick before I even pick up a piece of clay. I try to immerse myself in the spirit of that character. I do a lot of research up-front. I buy as much reading and visual material on the character as I can and see what’s been done before. Depending on the client, I will either follow a sketch or something they have in mind. For example, my dear friend Tracy Lee at Electric Tiki, who is a fantastic artist in his own right and who is someone I’ve known from our days at Disney, will come up with a beautifully-rendered, inspiring pose. Or I will be asked to come up with ideas and sketches like the Lockjaw I did for Randy Bowen. I try my best to make the client feel as comfortable as possible so they know that I’ve given the piece all the proper attention needed. In the end, you try to do your best and learn something about the character in the process
SF: What to date has been your favorite character to sculpt? Who did you sculpt this for? Why this character?
Well, that’s a hard one to pick because I guess I have several that come to mind. The first one would have to be the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast.” I have special memories of doing that piece. After spending a couple of weeks on the sculpt trying to decipher from exploratory drawings that I had of the preproduction art, some with a long muzzles, some with a short muzzles, etc, I sat in a room with Directing Animator Glen Keane for about two days time. He was the eyes, I was the hands, so to speak , and we collaborated until we came up with the final look of the Beast as you know him today. In the end, our reaction was, “Let’s not touch it anymore - that’s the Beast!” and we decided to leave it in its rough, blocked-out form. The other one has to be the Mighty Mouse I did for Tracy. We were fortunate that they let us use the classic model sheet by animator Connie Rasinski. As with all the pieces, Tracy and I try to do a definitive sculpt of all the characters produced by Electric Tiki, but that one just plainly came out cute and sold out right away. And then there is a recent piece that I also did for Tracy, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. I felt like I was “in the zone” while sculpting that one. It holds a special meaning as well, because Mike came to us after seeing the Lone Ranger I had done and asked if we would like do his character! Well, as you can imagine, that was quite a compliment.
SF: After leaving Disney what was your first paying job?
The Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi maquettes for Cartoon Network. It was primarily for Renegade Studios, who produced the TV series, and licensees to use as reference for toys, etc. They decided to mass produce them as well, which should be coming out shortly the rough DC Direct.
SF: Do you have any new sculpts for Bowen Designs coming out soon? Do not tell us what just let us know yes or no and make the masses wonder. Lol
Nope, Randy was kind enough to call me years ago after a San Diego Comic Con where we first met. At the time, I was still at Disney and was too busy to do anything for him. After leaving Disney, though, he lined me up with several sculpts which were fun to do. At first, he gave me a choice of three different characters, a couple of which I had never heard of. The one I picked that looked interesting was the Taskmaster. I was too embarrassed to ask who he was, so I wrote my buddy, comic book artist George Pérez (whom I had befriended when I lived out in Florida). George wrote me back and told me that not only did he know the character, he actually created him! So that was funny. Randy’s a great guy to work with. Needless to say, I think he has done an absolutely beautiful job with the Marvel line.
SF: Do you have anything new for Electric Tiki that Tracy will allow you to show pictures of or perhaps talk about?
It’s a pleasure working with Tracy and his line at Electric Tiki. It’s a small yet amazing company, producing a unique style and brand all its own. He continues to get amazing properties and has been growing steadily throughout the years, focused on producing quality work. I just finished a Dick Tracy sculpt for the Classic Heroes line and will be doing three Woody Woodpeckers next that show the character’s style progression throughout the years. Another piece I just finished is a toned-up version of Herman Munster designed by Tracy that I did in conjunction with Gentle Giant Studios. I’m really excited about the Classic Heroes line – it’s been a passion of mine because I’m a big fan of the old heroes of yesteryear. That’s how the Masked Avenger Studios name came about. I’m really grateful to Tracy for agreeing to start that up. There are a couple of characters and childhood heroes whom I can’t discuss yet, because we’re currently in the process of finalizing the deals. I promise, though, that they are exciting and ones that fans have been requesting for years. Check out electrictiki.com for those announcements coming soon.
SF: Do you have any words of wisdom for folks just getting started in the industry?
Have a pleasant attitude - clients like to work with sculptors they can communicate with and count on. Accept changes and corrections gracefully. Meet deadlines. Remember in a sense you are a problem-solver; you’re delivering a solution to the idea they’ve presented to you. Take pictures of your pieces and create a portfolio. As much as you want to do this, always remember and keep in mind that ultimately the one group you want to please is the fans. Be versatile - at first, you may have to do something that is not a statue or a bust. Eventually, you’ll have a body of work that will open doors. In the meantime, get out there and knock on doors.
Oh, and have fun with it. After all, it’s a sculpture!
SF: is there any tidbits of knowledge that you would like to let new sculptors in on??????
As with anything, you learn by doing, so don’t be so hard on yourself. In time, you will see progression and growth. We’re all at different levels of talent and development. Learn the basics like anatomy, study past and current sculptures, and learn to draw in the process. One compliments the other. Sculpting requires a lot of concentration, so try to center yourself and focus as much as possible. Although tools and material are helpful, remember it’s the person behind the tool that accomplishes a good job, so do your research and give it the proper thought process before starting a sculpt. You’ll be grateful in the end.
Lastly, I can’t tell you where to buy this, but if you can find it, get a bucket o’ patience!
SF: Ruben is there anything you can give us a picture of that you have recently completed and will be released soon?.
Ruben: These are “The Incredibles” sculpts I did of Elastigirl and Edna mode for Enesco’s Walt Disney Classics Collection, coming out soon…
And also here are the Disney Heroes action figures I designed for the Disney Stores. They were sculpted by Gentle Giant, and will be released this month.