Gremlins in the Garage!

Interview with Steve West of
Cellar Cast
by Denis Bohm
Conducted in 1996

DB: Tell us about your art background, Steve.

SW: I started out with drawing and painting which is what I was really interested in. The sculpting was kind of by accident. I was just messing around with clay. I wasn't really setting out to be a sculptor. It just sort of happened. And I really liked it. I have kind of gotten away from the drawing and painting. Kits are taking up all of my time now. I do everything from the sculpting, then the mold making, the casting, and the packaging.

DB: Are you a kit collector?

SW: That's what got me started. My first kit was the Horizon Wolverine, their first vinyl one. Then my first resin kit was GEOmetrics Fright Night Amy kit.

Then I started working on these sculptures and I took them to a friend who told me I had to make these into kits. The first one was the Conan bust. At that time I had the Swamp Thing almost done. The first person I contacted was Mark Kaelin. He lives in Oregon so we set up a meeting and drove down there with those two sculptures. He was "From the Ground Up". He kind of got us started, showed us the right materials to use. Then he got out of it for a while and gave us some of the bases that we are selling.

DB: What other sculptors do you like the most?

SW: I think my favorite would be Thomas Kuntz, because I think that he captures likenesses the best. Also Taishiro Kiya who did a lot for Horizon. I like his work with anatomy. And Takayuki Takeya does the greatest details and textures. There are many good people out there for lots of different reasons.

DB: How long has Cellar Cast been around?

SW: My first sculpture I did in '92. We have only been an official business for a little over a year, but we were using the name before that. Up here in Seattle there aren't really many people into figure kits so it's hard to get feedback on my stuff.

DB: How many kits have you sculpted?

SW: I have done about 6 or 7 commissioned works. And about 10 for myself.

DB: What type of things do you like best? Fantasy, horror, sci-fi?

SW: Artistically my biggest influence was fantasy. Like Frazetta. Bernie Wrightson is probably one of my all-time favorites. And of course Boris.

I was just doing the Boris piece, Primevil Princess, for myself. I wasn't planning on making it a kit. Then a friend of mine who knows Boris's agent said I should contact them about doing a kit. I sent them some pictures and they liked it. Then they showed Boris and he liked it to.

DB: What other companies have you sculpted for?

SW: Shawn McLaughlin from Death, Inc.

I did the Johnny Quest characters for The Shape Of Things. That was kind of a nightmare. That project took so long. It wasn't really Matts fault. Hanna Barbaras licensing department would approve something then come back later and ask for changes. Matt originally wanted to do the '60s characters. But Hanna Barbara liked what they were doing now with the new Johnny Quest. They kept wanting me to do changes that totally changed the look of the old characters.

The greatest thing that I have found working with Boris is that a lot of the input that I have goes a long way. A lot of the other projects every thing is planned with what you are supposed to do. Working with Boris has been really great. The sculptures that I have done, all you see from the painting is a front view so the back has been totally made up.

I usually take videos and send them to get feedback on the sculpture. With video you can rotate the kit so you can see it from all angles. The angle can change the way the kit looks so that works out really well. You don't have to wait for the film to be developed, etc.

DB: How long does it take you to sculpt a kit?

SW: Usually about 2 months. It depends because I don't spend all of my time sculpting. I'll sculpt a little, do something else, then come back to the sculpture. Most of my time I spend casting.

DB: How do you build up the sculpture?

SW: I start with a wire armature then go over it with epoxy putty to make it stronger. Then use Super Sculpey for the rest. Because a lot of times, Super Sculpey will crack even when it's baked. The epoxy putty kind of limits the cracking. That makes it kind of hard to make a change when you have something half way sculpted, but it makes it a lot more durable.

Sometimes I'll use steel bearings for eyes, like on the Boris kit for the beast I did that. Sometimes I use plaster for parts of a base. Whatever I find that works good.

DB: Do you use any special tools for sculpting?

SW: I have a fine metal dental type spoon that I like a lot. And two wood tools that I made myself. I have all types of tools that I have picked up to see how they work. I try everything. I tried magnifying things, but they make my eyes feel weird.

DB: Do you sculpt parts of the kit separately?

SW: Sometimes I'll sculpt the head separately. For the licensed pieces I usually sculpt the head first then get that approved. For the Zealot from Wildcats I sculpted the head first. Then they needed some changes so I changed it, then got it approved. Then I did the body.

DB: What part do you like the best?

SW: I like the sculpting the best. I like the mold making and casting, but only to get the first pieces out. After the first ten kits it gets kind of boring, but that's when it seems like you get the most orders. Painting that first one is really great.

DB: Are you going to stay with the casting?

SW: I can't see hiring someone else to do the casting. Since my name is on there I want to be in charge of everything.

DB: Do you have any help?

SW: Melinda paints about half of the kits. She does all the office work and shipping.

DB: Do you do casting for other companies?

SW: I'm doing the Beach Blanket Beastie for Jim Groman, in fact I was out there casting those today. I did the Shadow Hawk for GEOmetric, that was a limited run type thing. I did this Jester for Fantasy World Studios. I have done some other odds and ends.

DB: Are you planning on doing more of the bases?

SW: In fact I'm working on two new ones. Hopefully they should be ready for the Wonderfest show. One is made for Frankenstein the scene where he is stepping through the door. It will be the two walls on either side and the door he is stepping through. And then the other will be a city type base with craters on the sidewalk where there has been explosions and then the wall will have a big hole with bullet holes all around. A lot of the kits, like the Horizon ones, don't have bases and are really easy to knock over. To me, I love the figure kits with bases. Because it sets a mood for the kit. When you see a figure kit with the base it adds so much more to it.

DB: Are you going to do more of the name plates?

SW: Oh, yeah. I have like ten or twelve more that I haven't molded yet. Then I plan on doing some more. They are doing well.

DB: How do you feel about original designs versus licencesed characters?

SW: I like the original stuff, but it seems like it doesn't sell as well. If they see something original they may think it's cool, but they don't buy it. So you are kind of limited if you do something original. But it does cost a lot more for something licensed. Because you have to pay so much up front, then each kit you sell you have to pay a percentage of.

DB: What comes with the kits?

SW: The bases are poly bagged with a card. The kits come boxed with color copy box art taken from a painted kit. The older kits just had general instructions. The newer kits, especially the Boris ones, have everything including painting directions for that kit.

DB: How do you feel about retail versus direct sales?

SW: I like selling direct the best. But, the retail people we have been going through have been really good. The direct sales aren't that steady, and the retail places make up for that. It seems like every couple of months or so our steady customers will call up and order some. It seems like we get most of our orders after a show. Every once in a while someone will call and they say they saw a piece in a magazine. That's because we try to get our new stuff ready before a show.

DB: Is there anything you want to say to the modelers out there?

SW: I'd like to thank everyone who has bought my kits. I'm still amazed that so many people want to buy what I've done!

The Steve West Time Line

 Date   Sculpture   Reference 
 08/92   Barbarian   Conan-movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger 
 10/92   Swamp Creature   Swap Thing-comic 
 12/92   Split Demon   Split Second-movie 
 02/93   Deadly Invitation   original design 
 05/93   Renwolf & Stimpystein   Ren & Stimpy-cartoon 
 07/93   Werebitch   original design 
 10/93   Worm Face   Squirm-movie 
 10/93   Deforned 01GR   Ghost Rider-comic 
 10/93   Deformed 02V   Venom-comic 
 03/94   Bone Yard   original design 
 03/94   Dungeon Floor   original design 
 04/95   Primeval Princess   Boris Vallejo-painting 
 04/95   Deformed 03P   Punisher-comic 
 10/95   Amazon's Pet   Boris Vallejo-painting 
 05/93   Red Sonja   Red Sonja-movie, Brigette Nilson
 for Attic Images 
 10/93   Snake Plissken   Escape From New York-movie, Kurt Russell
 for Death, Inc. 
 11/93   Jonny Quest   Jonny Quest-cartoon
 for The Shape of Things 
 01/94   Cyclops   Lost In Space-TV series
 for Lunar 
 03/94   Cyborg   Cyborg-movie, Jean Claude Van Damme
 for Attic Images 
 06/94   Magnum Enforcer   Dirty Harry-movie, Clint Eastwood
 for Death, Inc. 
 07/94   Hadji   Jonny Quest-cartoon
 for The Shape of Things 
 10/94   Race Bannon   Jonny Quest-cartoon
 for The Shape of Things
 (12/95 changes requested) 
 08/95   Gon   Japanese Comic Character
 for Dyna-Search 
 10/95   Scarface   Scarface-movie, Al Pacino
 for Death, Inc. 
 11/95   Dr. Quest   Jonny Quest-cartoon
 for The Shape of Things 
 03/96   Predator Trophy Head   Predator-movie
 for Lil Monsters 
 ??/96   Zealot   Wildcats-comic
 for Poly Data 

Steve West can be contacted at:

Cellar Cast
9621-54th Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98118
(206) 723-6801
Don't forget to tell Steve a gremlin sent you!

The Gremlins in the Garage webzine is a production of Firefly Design. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch.

Copyright 1994-1997 Firefly Design.