The Tokusatsu Network is very happy to feature artist and designer, David White, whom we first met at Pasadena’s Designer Con this past November. David specializes in drawing and designing robots and mechanical objects, such as toys.
His 3D printed custom action figures, Mechanauts and Predanauts, are available to purchase online and conventions. Fans can also purchase David’s detailed designs as prints, stickers, and phone cases at Redbubble.
Where did you grow up and what inspired you to pursue the arts?
Hey, how’s it going? The weather is a bit chilly here in Western Massachusetts where I’ve lived for 19 years. Before that? I was born and raised in the mid-west. I called Boonville, Indiana home until I was 17.
I was really into toys and cartoons like most kids my age. I was inspired by the package art and of course the toys themselves. I tried to draw the characters I saw in the related cartoons and I think it’s those two sources that really inspired me to get into art. I also got a good bit of inspiration from comic books like the Micronauts and Dynamo Joe.
Where did your love for robots and toys stem from?
My first robot toy was C3P0 from Star Wars. I got him while on a family trip when I was 4. I still remember seeing him on the store shelf and totally spazzing out. I saw the Shogun Warriors cartoons not long after that: the Force Five series with Dragun, Grendizer, and Danguard Ace. That’s when my real passion for giant robots was ignited.
BOOM! Like a supernova– the flames still burn bright in my heart.
Did you attend an art school and would you recommend it as a path to an art career?
I did attend art college. I have a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio. It was a transformative experience for me and I do highly recommend it. I actually recommend college to everyone, art or otherwise. You gain more than just book knowledge from your interactions with a variety of people and cultures. You learn how to interact, explore, and imagine. You will make bonds with people that will last a lifetime.
My major was illustration with a minor in animation. I always wanted to be an animator. My dream is still to make exciting sci-fi themed animated adventures. I prefer 2D hand-drawn animation but a fusion of 2D and 3D can work very successfully with today’s technology.
Can you tell us how you got to working for clients such as LEGO?
Being a freelancer is all about networking. Who you know really makes a difference. I had been making computer and video games for 9 years when I got my first freelance comic job with LEGO by way of a recommendation.
A friend of mine who draws comics and did work for LEGO told them about me. I had to do an art test and go in for an interview. That was a bit nerve-wracking at the time, but well worth the effort. I illustrated comics for the LEGO Magazine for about 9 years. I don’t do it anymore, but I still get to draw some LEGO Star Wars characters for Scholastic books.
Since you work with both 3D and 2D art, do you have a favorite medium to work with?
A tough question! Both media are just ways to realize the ideas in my head. I think they both work well together in a synergistic way. I draw sketches of my ideas and then make 3D models of them. I guess in my heart, I like to draw more than doing the 3D work. I especially love working with markers.
I participate in a couple of annual drawing events on Instagram called, March of Robots (in March) and Inktober (in October). I make a new sketch each day during these events… usually of a robot or spaceship. I have fun. My fans have fun. It’s a win-win scenario.
What inspired you to create your Mechanauts line?
Remember when I said I loved toys as a kid? That love never went away. There were several toy lines that really inspired me with their visual designs, packaging, and storytelling. Those included Micronauts, Diaclone (Diakron), Transformers, Godaikin, G.I. Joe, He-Man, and Starriors.
Yeah, that’s a lot of toys but the 70’s and 80’s were overflowing with imagination, and let’s be honest, commercialization.
I had just bought my first 3D printer in 2013 and the Mechanauts started as an homage toy to Micronauts and Diaclones. The first figure was pretty much a 50/50 mashup of those two toy lines. I was just getting into 3D printing and the V1 Mechanaut was the perfect way to learn about the process and have some fun.
I have tried to take the Mechanauts in a more original direction since then. Of course, I think you will always see a certain flair in my design aesthetic that gives a nod to all those incredibly fun toys from my childhood.
Can you walk us through when creating a piece, especially your 3D printed models?
The key to making anything good is iteration. Come up with an idea and refine it until it shines. I do a lot of sketches to get my ideas fully realized in 2D. I explore different ways to make the joints work while retaining as much of the character and details of my design as possible. The 3D printers I use have certain limitations like any other tool or process. I have to keep those limitations in mind while designing my toys. Once I have a solid design, I start the 3D modeling process. I make test prints of the parts as I proceed. I usually go through about 3 iterations of every part before I get it just right. The joints and articulation of the figures are what take the most effort and refining.
It takes about 9 hours to print all the parts for an average action figure. I have around 30 different colors of plastic so I can make some interesting color combinations. There’s a lot of cleanup and post printing work needed to make the toys look good. After the parts are printed, I need to remove any support material (and there’s a lot!). I print with ABS plastic so I can use an acetone vapor treatment to smooth the surface of the parts. The acetone also makes the parts stronger and super shiny.
Finally, I assemble the parts and paint any parts that need it. The cleanup and assembly usually takes about 2 hours.
At Designer Con, you mentioned that a lot of your fans find you mostly through Instagram. How has social media helped or shaped you as an artist?
Social media is a great way for people to discover your work. It’s a two-way street where I also discover other artist and am inspired by their artwork. Instagram is by far my favorite place to interact with my fans. Unlike Facebook, Instagram delivers every single update to people who follow you. That means they don’t miss out on any pictures or important information such as dates for my toy releases.
I like the interaction that occurs on social media. My fans can instantly tell me what they do or don’t like about my sketches and designs so I can improve the designs before I do a release.
Do you have any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?
I have some releases planned for 2016 that I think are exciting. The first is the Predanaut Commantis (bad guy!) who will be released in January. April will see the release of my all-new Mechanaut Explorer, which has a completely overhauled joint system. And finally, my much-anticipated Military Mecha will be released in June or July. I’m going to be really tired after all that!
I also want to make a new version of my bad guys, the Predanauts. I’m going to wait and see how the new Mechanaut Explorer articulation is received before I proceed with the design and modeling. I definitely have some ideas about how a new Predanaut should look and I am excited to do some concept sketches. REALLY excited!
Designer Con is an annual art and design convention held at the Pasadena Convention Center in November and features over 300 vendors, art and custom shows, live demonstrations and more.