Ace lensman Andre Blais came on board just a few weeks after I signed the contract for Gladworks to design my book, and part of the appeal was that he was (and is) in-house there. So in one room there’s designer Liz Sousa at a Mac, and in another is Andre, with a cyc, pro lights and diffusion, tripods, and more. (And a Mac.) I’ll interview him soon for a future blog post.
The general idea for these photos came from the toy photography of Brian Malloy and Erik Hildebrandt in John Michlig‘s G.I. Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action. (Regular readers will recognize that book as one of the two main inspirations for A Real American Book.) There are only four “fantasy” shots in Michlig, where the reader point of view is in scale with the 12-inch Joes, but the toys themselves are set against the scale of the man-made world. Rather than product shots, like a catalog displaying toys on a table top (even if the table top is a dressed set), I wanted story moments, like movie stills.
This was also practical. I don’t want to reproduce too many visuals that are commonly available. My book aims to continually show and tell unrevealed facts, anecdotes, and imagery. But whole sections tell the history of people talking and making decisions, but people weren’t taking candid photos of co-workers at the office in 1982. (Which may seem odd compared to today when every cell phone and music player is also a high resolution camera.) If an interviewee recalls making the Snake-Eyes figure, an obvious pairing would be a photo of that figure, or a scan of a concept sketch. But what if there’s no obvious pairing? To break up stretches of history that have no clearly analogous visuals, the solution was to sprinkle in dramatic diorama-style toy photos.
For this photoshoot, I had only a vague idea of where (or why) an image of Duke and Spirit would go. Maybe Chapter 4, when the narrative gets to the second and third waves of toys? Sadly, nothing from this shoot made the final cut. There are two reasons for that: First, I had forgotten to bring Spirit’s belt. I was worried that hardcore fans would dismiss the photo for not being fully accessorized, so I asked Andre to crop above Spirit’s waist, which really limited the composition. Second, the chapter where this photo would go ultimately didn’t need a photo of two action figures in a “fantasy” setting, even if it’s a great photo.
Note the difference in these two — how the golden light from the left adds dimension and warmth to Spirit’s hair, gun-holding arm, and torso. It’s not in the first shot. Here they are together for comparison:
A few weeks later we tried this shoot again, this time with the belt, but the magic was too difficult to recapture.