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Interview With Zanarkand Sky Creations: Games, Amiibo, and Custom Modeling

by Carmine Red - August 30, 2016, 4:38 pm PDT
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What does it take to bring a custom-designed amiibo to life? Read on to find out!

Nintendo World Report is currently running a giveaway for a Custom True Form Midna Amiibo designed by Zanarkand Sky Creations. But what does it take to bring these special creations into being? To find out, we talked to Zanarkand Sky herself, Katharine Cheshire, to inquire about videogames, custom figures, and what it is that makes Amiibo so desirable. Read on for the answers, and don't forget to enter the giveaway before the end of August!

Nintendo World Report (NWR): What sorts of video games are you drawn to? What are you playing right now?

Katharine Cheshire (KC): My favourite types of video games are undoubtedly JRPGs. I love leveling up characters, and getting engrossed in the story. However, unfortunately, due to increasingly stressful carpal tunnel, I have not been able to play any video games as of late. I choose art over video games, currently, and tend to just watch others play them on Twitch. As for watching playthroughs of games, I've been watching 100% playthroughs of Final Fantasy X, and speedruns of various nostalgic SNES games.

NWR: What got you into making custom figures? And beyond that, what got you into customizing Amiibo specifically?

KC: I started with Amiibo, and had honestly never considered customizing any type of figurine, or making 3D art in general, until I started this. When Amiibo were released, I had no interest in them at all, until I heard there was going to be a Rosalina Amiibo. Upon searching to see if she was in stock at our local Target (not a chance), I stumbled upon a customized Totoro hoodie themed Pikachu Amiibo. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and dragged my husband to our GameStop, where I grabbed a Link Amiibo to try my hand at it.

NWR: What is it about Amiibo that you think makes people interested in collecting them, and then to go to such lengths to have custom ones to boot?

KC: In my opinion, people just love Nintendo. I mean, it's Nintendo, right? They appeal to every age group, from grandparents to small children — everyone knows Mario, Yoshi, Princess Zelda, Link, Mega Man... they're part of us. In the past, Nintendo has released very limited figures for collectors of their favorite characters, and then they dump these high quality, small figurines, that only cost $13? People are gonna jump on them like hotcakes! In addition to the official line, there are still several characters that people ADORE, and they've never been released officially as figurines. Some of the Nintendo fan base's favourites include Smash variants of their main fighter, Octolings from Splatoon, various Generation 1 Pokemon, Shadow Mario from Super Mario Sunshine, and Paper Mario characters. When the opportunity arises to have these figurines, I think people get very nostalgic to have these characters in their collection.

NWR: You work with Amiibo, FunkoPop, Nendoroids... are there any differences with working with the many different types of figures?

KC: There isn't much of a difference between Amiibo and FunkoPop, but Nendoroids have interchangeable parts. I've really only made one FunkoPop custom, and one Nendoroid, so I'm not the best at answering differences as far as packaging/shipping/etc., but the customization process isn't much different. I also create figures from scratch, using wire armatures and polymer clay, and that process is much more lengthy and time involving...but that goes without saying. :)

NWR: What sort of thing do you like in custom figures, whether the ones you make or others? What catches your eye?

KC: The things that catch my eye about any custom I see are line work, brush strokes/too thick of paint, and fingerprints being visible within any clay work. These three aspects are the most important for me to see in other's work, as I know how important it is to me, as an artist. As artists, we are our harshest judge, so it's important to be proud of your work. I also love original ideas, and super high detail work, which luckily the custom Amiibo community is full of!

NWR: How long do your custom Amiibo orders take to make? Are certain modifications more time consuming than others?

KC: This is a difficult question to answer, as it brings to light the cost/time ratio for me. Generally, a simple repaint can take 4 hours (yes, I paint slow haha), and a detailed repaint can take 8-10 hours. As for Amiibo with sculpting, this process is a lot longer...ranging between 20-32 hours for slicing/dicing the original Amiibo, adding joints, creating armatures, sculpting, dry time, and then painting. My most complex and time consuming Amiibo were Callie and Marie, before the official ones were released. This duo involved removing all but the torso, face, and legs of a female inkling Amiibo, and re-sculpting everything and additional attachments from scratch to create the transformation.... the duo taking easily 60-70 hours to complete.

NWR: How do you make custom designed boxes for the custom Amiibo too? And how do you seal them after you put the Amiibo in them?

KC: Mister Alex ( misteralex.deviantart.com ) released "base" Amiibo template boxes for the Smash, Super Mario Bros., and 3 Pack Amiibo line. They're saved as Photoshop files, with individual layers to modify to the artist's preferences, and really well made. I use these templates, along with various Photoshop design knowledge learned over the past 12 years, to create different designs. After printing the design on self-adhesive USPS labels and cleaning the original box, I use Mod Podge to seal them.

NWR: What does it take to ship these works of art? I assume extra care must be taken!

KC: I use air pockets, bubble wrap, small boxes to accommodate the side of the Amiibo box (without too much wiggle room to fly around), and Fragile stickers for the post office. Beyond these safety precautions, I have to just hope that the post office and delivery man are careful.

NWR: What's the single most difficult or trying thing about making these customs?

KC: Free time to spend with friends, without worrying about my queue. I love what I do, but I'm slow, and very harsh on myself. This creates very time consuming work, and several 12-16 hour work days. I don't think I've taken a single day off of "work", including when I worked full-time as well, in almost a year and a half. My vacations in October and January are going to be very weird for me, being away from any work!

NWR: What are the sorts of tools you need for this sort of thing? Is there anything really unique or can you simply head down to the local art store to get what you need?

KC: For basics, you need primer, paint, brushes, and a paint sealer. Once the advanced techniques come in, various types of clay (Super Sculpey Firm, 2-part Epoxy clay), clay tools, wire/wire cutters, and several different "miniatures/models" items will be needed to create different effects.

NWR: If somebody wanted to start making their own custom Amiibo, what sort of advice would you give them on getting started?

KC: Start with something simple, just begin with a repaint. Make sure you have a primer for your paints, or the whole process is going to be frustrating, and very tediously long. Buying $0.99 paint from Walmart, and cheap brushes is absolutely fine for beginning, as supplies can always advance in quality as you do. Don't try to paint or sculpt on a "rare" Amiibo that would land you in a position of shelling out $40-$50 to replace...start with a common, easy pallet one. The Super Mario Bros. line of Amiibo are all solid color, low detail, beginner friendly choices.

NWR: If Nintendo asked you to design a new Amiibo that they should make, what would you design for them?

KC: Ironically, making the True Form Midna for them would be awesome, but I've already made her, so I'd opt for something new. For something new, creating a fan favourite character from one of the classic NES or SNES titles would be great. I'd absolutely love to create a few of the Chrono Trigger characters to put into the roster for the next Smash Bros. title; and specifically Crono or Lucca would be amazing additions to Smash. If they added another Final Fantasy character into Smash 5, I think making Noctis from the upcoming FFXV, Lightning from FFXIII, or Noel from FFXIII-2 would be REALLY fun! I love high detail work.

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