We speak to established toy designer Jason Freeny ahead of his guest appearance at this year’s edition of the Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention.
If you’ve come across sculptures of cartoon and pop culture characters with cutaways that reveal the anatomy within, chances are they’re made by Jason Freeny. The award-winning designer from Long Beach, New York, tells us more.
How long have you been an artist?
I have been a “professional” artist since 2002, when I began creating illustrations for magazine editorials.
What’s your earliest memory of creating your own art?
Perhaps when I was nine years old. I remember being fascinated with roller coasters and drawing giant, crazy roller coasters. I would draw them so huge that I would put people flying out of their seats.
How did the idea of turning your illustrations into toy sculptures come about?
I have always been a sculptor but never had the proper space to sculpt, especially living in a tiny New York City apartment. I am a trained industrial designer and have been sculpting in college since the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until around 2009, when I moved into a larger space, that I began making anatomical toy sculptures.
What inspired you to create anatomical toy sculptures – something not commonly seen in the industry?
I had been utilizing balloon dogs in my illustrations, imagining them as actual living creatures walking the Earth. Sometime around 2007 I illustrated an anatomical schematic of what a veterinarian would have hanging on his wall if a balloon dog was alive. The toys were a natural progression as I was already working in the industry as a toy inventor.
How imaginative do you get when designing the anatomy of a fictional character?
That all depends on the character. Most are usually exaggerated humans or animals that have been modified into an upright human form. Also, almost all mammals have the same skeletal structure, they are just shaped differently through evolution. When the character has an upright human posture I tend to base the skeletal structure on the human anatomy. Skulls are usually the exception as most characters keep the shape of the animal in which they are based on. When a character keeps its form close to the original animal, I will use the skeletal structure of that animal. A lot of the characters end up being a fusion of humans, animals and cartoons.
Till date, which has been the most difficult character to turn into a dissected toy sculpture?
That would be Spongebob Squarepants, who has made it all the way to the prototype stage but is on hold as we figure out the best way to proceed.
You work closely with our pals at the Mighty Jaxx team. How did this relationship first come about?
They originally approached me with the idea to do a collaboration with another artist. Although that never came to fruition, we spoke about working together after that and made our first collaborative toy, which was the “Skull Bomb”.
What is most challenging about being an illustrator and toy maker?
Illustration is not my strongest suit. It is work and at times forced, that is why I’m happy that my more natural ability to sculpt has taken center stage.
Your work has taken you to a number of countries. Have these travels influenced your work?
Travel is hands down the most mind-expanding experience one can have. I can’t say that there is any one individual toy that has been directly influenced because of travel, but it is these trips that open my mind to think differently than I normally do.
We’re looking forward to meeting you at STGCC. Before we go, what’s next for you in the months ahead?
After taking almost two years off from dissecting toys, I’m excited to get back to it and try new directions. Since the toy production has begun to be embraced with my designs, I will be sculpting toys with the intent of making them into production runs. I’m also excited to try new visuals utilizing toys and anatomy.
This interview with Jason Freeny has been edited and condensed.