Every little boy dreams of having a room filled with their favorite toys. As we grow older, that dream doesn’t necessarily disappear. In the last decade, the market for derivative toys has exploded in China. From horror flicks to sci-fi films, movie-themed figurines have long been one of the most sought-after categories of toys for collectors and hobbyists. Subsequently, a majority of the collectible figurines in the past were based solely off of characters from American and Japanese pop culture. In China, a few individuals began asking “Why have we never seen action figures based on Chinese culture?” This culminated in their decision to try and create a premium collection of high-quality collectible figurines that are culturally relevant to China. And so, Infinity Studio was born. We recently dropped by their Shanghai studio space and spoke to Dayu, one of the co-founders of Infinity Studio, to find out what goes into each one of their detailed creations.
Neocha: It’s impressive how you guys are leading the charge in producing action figures relevant to Chinese culture, but how do you decide on the stories or subjects that you want to tackle?
Da Yu: In the past, we didn’t put much thought into it and we just made what we personally liked. Going forward, we’d like to toss this question to other hobbyists and collectors. They can decide what sort of action figures they’d like to see. If we face the problem of copyright, we’ll do everything we can to acquire licensing rights and make it happen. We just want passionate collectors to be able to own the action figures they want the most.
Neocha: Your creations are digitally designed and 3D printed. What would you say the differences are between using modern technology versus traditional handcrafted techniques?
Da Yu: Regardless if it’s handmade or 3D, the inherent nature of the creation doesn’t change – they both require a keen sense of aesthetics and an accurate grasp of anatomical proportions. The creation method is different, but the advantage with using 3D printing is that we can quickly make changes and adjustments. We also aren’t limited by our workspace, and it’s easy to collaborate together on ideas. We also like the hand-sculpted stuff, but many of the talented artistans who have switched to 3D printing still produce amazing work.
Neocha: The details of your creations are mesmerizing, especially the eyes and the hands. What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome to reach this level of detail?
Da Yu: 3D printing is a new technology that’s only been widespread in recent years. Naturally, there will be many things that we’re still figuring out. In the beginning, we wasted pounds after pounds of raw printing material that cost us 50RMB a gram; we didn’t install proper installation systems, so we unknowingly inhaled lungfuls of the hardener fumes, until we were on the verge of passing out; and when using the spray paint gun, a draft of air sent all of the paint into our mouths. These challenges didn’t matter to us. We were perseverant and willing to do anything if it meant we were a step closer to making our dreams happen.
Neocha: In China, how has the action figure and toy figurine scene developed over the years?
Da Yu: A decade ago, the high-end market for action figures was quite niche and completely dominated by overseas brands. In the last two years, domestic brands have started to emerge. Us Chinese people aren’t exactly behind when stacked up against other overseas competitors. In terms of progress, I feel like standardizing regulations, proper licensing, and branding is king.
Neocha: Recently, you guys got the licensing rights for Naruto. Do you feel like this is a deviation from your original goals? Will the products from your Naruto collection be sized the same as your Three Kingdoms figurines?
Da Yu: We plan to establish a separate brand that creates derivative work from anime like Naruto and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Eventually, we hope to turn Infinity into a collective of brands rather than a single brand. Everyone has their own preferences, so we want to satisfy toy figure enthusiasts of all types. We’re still waiting for the production committee before we begin on working on any Naruto merchandise, but we definitely won’t make them as big as our Three Kingdom figurines. They’re too big and difficult for collectors to store them. Our mentality is to make toys that all collectors can easily afford and easily display.
Neocha: Certain Western large brands are creating their own original designs aside from their licensed derivative products, such as the Court of the Dead collection made by SIDESHOW. Do you guys have plans of doing something similar?
Da Yu: We’re already creating original work, but they won’t just be figurines. The plan is to extend our ideas into different types of content, such as a comic. I feel like different creative fields are all interconnected, so we want to enrich our content through the use of different mediums. We definitely want our creations to be immersive and impactful. But the most important thing of all is to tell a great story.