Better known in the urban art community as NVC, toy customizing team Spive and Dr. Bao have been pushing plastic for a hot minute now. With a passion for ninjas and Asian culture, their models have been featured around the world at prestigious events such as the Taipei Toy Festival and Gee Whizz in London, UK. They have even received props from Wu-tang members Buddha Monk and DJ Mathematics for their Wu-Tang Clan inspired designs. Read on and find out why dentistry and toy creation go hand in hand.
Format: How did you guys get started with customizing?
Dr.Bao: Because of my background in graffiti and urban art, I read a lot of art mags. One day, I put my hands on an issue with the Tag The System Show, now better known as All City Style show. I was amazed by all these trains; it reminded me the good old days of graffiti on the NYC Subway. So, inspired by Klim’s show, I decided to organize a custom train show straight in my own dental clinic! But instead of using the NYC subway trains, I decided to go with the HO scale trains. Theyâ€™re much smaller than Klim’s trains but they can roll if pulled by a locomotive. Since Iâ€™m from the first generation of writers in Montreal, I invited almost all of them. This is where Spive, who was my old friend at the time and now my now partner, showed up. He brought this amazing hand sculpted robot riding a train!
Spive: Well at first it wasn’t really about customizing toys. I remembered one day I had this idea about sculpting articulated robots in clay. I used radio knobs potentiometers to make the articulations. What was special about those robots was that every part was an audio gear, for example the chest was a boom box, the feet were guitar pedals, the shoulder was a moog keyboard — well that was the main idea about it. So we did our first custom for the Gee Wiz Show. This was the birth of Nakamura, the red samurai with a skull face. The response to it was great. It was even sold at the show. For a first piece, I think was a good start.
Format: What is your background in the hip-hop scene?
Dr.Bao: I started doing graffiti in 1993-94, pretty much at the beginning of graffiti in Montreal. My good friend Back 175 and I created the NBC crew which became probably one of the most respected crews in Montreal since we we’re doing big productions murals. I stopped painting murals in 2000-2001, the year I graduated as a dentist. Today, I still go to b-boy and graffiti jams and am still watching b-boy DVDs and reading graff mags. It’s really part of me.
Format: Can you tell us how you got involved in the Taipei International Toy Festival (2006), one of the biggest toy festivals in Asia?
Dr.Bao: Well it’s kind of weird, because one day I just e-mailed to Andy from Wookieweb for some info on a blank toy platform that he was doing. After seeing what we were doing, he told me he could send us some blanks and you can do something for us, and that it would be exhibited at the Taipei Toy Festival. I was a little surprised but at the same time, pretty happy. Because we knew that our custom will be seen by a lot of people, we just give our best.
Format: Where do you see vinyl toy culture going? Some people think it’s just a fad that will die off.
Dr.Bao: Well I think it will depend if the toy companies are able to follow up with the interests of the fans. That’s why I liked vinyl toys in the first place, because some of them were hip-hop oriented, which conventional action figures are not. So I think it will depend if the vinyl culture will be able to blend with other cultures, like hip-hop, cartoons and movies for example and create a synergy to reach other markets. That way you can reach different types of persons with different kind of interests with the same medium. A good example would be our Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang project. With that project, we received emails from people that didnâ€™t know who we were; don’t know anything about vinyl toys but they want to buy the customs that we did because they are fans of Wu Tang Clan; others because they like the movie. We reach people that normally would not buy or even know vinyl toys but our product. To me the vinyl toy market will die if companies tends too much to stay in the same concept again and again and stop being creative.
Format: What goes in to the production of your models?
Dr. Bao: First we start with a vinyl toyâ€”blank or not we don’t really careâ€”just so we get a base to start with. Most of the time, we use polymer clay, Fimo or Sculpey, and start sculpting directly on the toy. Sometimes we use other things from other toy parts, to jewels pieces, and even toothpicks, to add to the clay, so we have different textures and materials in our work.
We also work with a lot of layers. We start from the bottom and from there we built up slowly to the top layer; what you see first. What we usually do is we try to bring our productâ€™s sculpting to its basic geometric form and then we start to shape it to what we want to do. You have to be patient and learn how to work with the instruments that you got.
Format: How has being a dentist helped you with the art?
Dr.Bao: To me, the artistic sense it really important when you’re a dentist because you have to choose and match the right color of your fillings to the patient’s tooth, you have to give the good shapes to your fillings and stuff like that. I think that being a dentist helps me a lot in my sculpting techniques with toys. Since we have sculpting class in dentistry, everything that I learned on wax I now apply it to polymer clay. The other thing that helped me a lot with being a dentist is to get used to work small. Teeth are so small, so working on a 3” toy is really big compare to them. People in the toy industry often asked us how we work with such details on small toys. Being a dentist and having some dentist tools are the answers!
Format: How much of an impact does hip-hop have on your work?
Spive: I would say about 50% of the time we are influenced by hip-hop, but like I said earlier, we try to include the most influences as possible, so we don’t repeat ourselves too much.
Dr.Bao: I would say that we’re known for mixing a lot of styles together. I mean, we can make an ancient Asian projects but we will add some hip-hop touch to it, so it’s not totally 100% hip-hop or Asian. A good example would be our Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang project. We wanted to do some ninjas but we didn’t want to wear them as traditional ninjas, because we want people make connections between these ninjas and the Wu-Tang, so we added some hip hop elements in the gear, like ninja masks where we put ninja style folded bandana around his head. On another one, we put a toque with a ski mask, so it’s like hip-hop fashion on an ancient warrior.
Format: Have any members of the Wu-tang, seen/heard of your work?
Dr.Bao: Well I think all of the original nine members of Wu-Tang Clan saw them since I sent to them emails explaining what I was going about to do before I started the project and once the two we’re finished, I sent them the pics. We received feedbacks from DJ Mathematics and Buddha Monk and they’re so down with the project, but our Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang project is not finished yet. We released our project with the first two because we wanted to be the first to do it and we wanted people in the toy industry know that we got the idea first and already started the project, that way, it will be a kind of signature project for us.
Format: Whatâ€™s up with future projects?
Dr.Bao: We’re already booked for shows until June. But one the biggest events for us this year is the Vinyl Element show in March. The show will feature 40 of the best toys customizers in the world, all selected by vinylpulse.com.
Spive: We are also looking forward to having our own series of toy produced by a company. We haven’t decided yet which character we will do but itâ€™s because we don’t want to rush things too much in that matter. Another thing we would like to do is to produce some custom works in collaboration with hip-hop artists or other cool personalities like Madlib or MF Doom.
More Info: http://www.drbao-nvc.blogspot.com/