Ever bought a dinosaur toy but were super bummed it looked nothing like the scientific reconstructions? Are you done with pronated hands on commercial theropod figures? Have you had it with that Papo T. rex plastered everywhere on the Internet?
Well, have we got a toy designer for you.
Based in New Jersey, David Silva is a toy designer and founder of Creative Beast Studio. A graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, he has spent almost two decades designing toys for properties such as Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Pacific Rim, Terminator 2, and others. When not at his job at National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) as an in-house sculptor, Silva works on bringing realistic dinosaurs back to life with his Beasts of the Mesozoic figures. Starting from a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, Beasts of the Mesozoic has transformed into one of the premier lines of dinosaur figures on the market today.
We had a chance to chat with Silva a while back (I’m personally very sorry it took so long to get this interview up) about his process, the inspiration for his dinosaur models, and what’s up next in the world of Beasts of the Mesozoic.
How long have you been making dinosaur figures–model kits, action figures, and otherwise?
Back in the fall of 2009, I produced my first dinosaur model kit: Dilophosaurus. Much of this I sculpted while working at Hasbro in 2008 and 2009, which ultimately led to me working on the Jurassic Park toy line. I went on to sculpt many other dinosaur model kits up until several years ago when my focus switched to developing dinosaur action figures for Beasts of the Mesozoic. There were a few other instances of me working professionally on dinosaur action figures, but those were never released and never shown publicly. Outside of that it’s all been for Beasts of the Mesozoic.
What got you into it?
Like many kids, I was really into dinosaurs from a very young age. It kicked up a notch for me when Dino Riders came out in 1987 (I was eight at the time). I would draw them and play with them quite a bit. I also had the dinosaurs from the Masters of the Universe line. As a teen however, I became interested in other things like superheroes, video games, and Star Wars , but when I began working on the McFarlane Dragon’s line in 2003 as a designer, my interest in dinosaurs became relevant again as I drew a lot of inspiration from dinosaur fossils and anatomy. This would lead to me working on the Dragons line as a sculptor, but it also revived an old interest in dinosaurs in general that hasn’t slowed down since.
What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
During the week, I work in my studio on ‘Creative Beast’ projects from about 7:30am to 10:30am, then after some exercise I’ll head to work at NECA around 12:30pm and sculpt all day there. After getting home and having dinner, I’ll try to get in another hour or two of CB work in. Then, I may or may not squeeze in a little retro gaming before bed.
What’s your process for developing a new figure?
I develop figures as a series so that I can maximize the parts that will be used. Since it’s so costly to produce action figures, it’s never about designing a single figure, but several at once. I try to maintain a balance of accuracy and part efficiency so as to maximize the use of each piece. One of the great advantages of developing an action figure line is that by having articulation points, there are a lot of parts that can be interchanged and reused across various figures–but only if it makes sense to. The Raptor series, for example, represents many closely-related Dromaeosaurs of around 6 feet in length. So having all of them with the same or similar body type makes total sense. Still, the part sharing is well balanced with many optional parts, such as unique heads and a variety of different tails, arms, and legs. The same approach was used for the Ceratopsian Series, but it’s much more varied with sizes and body types.
What was the inspiration for Beasts of the Mesozoic?
Since working in the toy business, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of attention given to realistic dinosaurs and animal action figures in general. A non-licensed dinosaur action figure line always seemed like a no-brainer to me and the idea had come up on various occasions, but it would always get shut down at one stage or another. After being disappointed one time too many, I decided to take a shot at it myself and thus the ‘Raptor Series’ was born.
What drove you to seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter? And were you surprised at the response you received?
Inspired by the success of indie toy companies such as Four Horsemen and Boss Fight on Kickstarter for crowd funding their own action figure lines, I thought I’d give it a try and see if the interest was there for dinosaurs. Luckily it was. I’d been friends with those guys for some time leading up to my first Kickstarter and after receiving their helpful advice, I really felt there was no excuse for me to not give it a try myself. I created three raptor prototypes and gave it a go. The response was really overwhelming and stretch goal after stretch goal was unlocked until there were 25 Raptor Series items funded. Man, I had a lot of sculpting to do after that campaign ended!
With your new Ceratopsian line, did you have any trouble developing figures when there’s still debate over speciation versus ontogeny (i.e. the Triceratops/Torosaurus issue)?
I did a lot of research for each species on my product list and in cases such as that, I simply made a judgment call. In the example you mentioned, it seemed like there was enough evidence to conclude that the Tororsaurus and Triceratops could be two different species. Of course this won’t sit well with everyone, but I’d say that about 99% of my audience seemed fine with my decision. Overall though there was very little debate about the appearance of the Ceratopsian Series aside from a few people preferring the more neutral look of the Jurassic Park/ World ceratopsians.
Do you draw upon the work of any paleoartists when creating your figures? Are there any paleoartists you look up to or admire?
Greg Paul, David Krentz, John Sibbick, James Gurney, and Scot Hartman–just to name a few–have all been very big influences for me . As a kid, I remember having a calendar of John Sibbick’s dinosaur art. It was probably the first time they seemed real to me and I have a vivid memory of how inspired I felt by that.
When developing new dinosaur figures, how do you go about the process of ensuring they’re scientifically accurate? Do you read the latest research, collaborate with paleontologists, etc.?
I keep a pretty decent library of reference on the subject of dinosaurs, but I’m also working with artists who specialize in realistic dinosaurs such as Jake Baardse, RJ Palmer and Raul Ramos, which has been a tremendous benefit. I also had the pleasure of getting advice about the Ceratopsian Series from paleontologist Michael Ryan who has worked extensively on the subject. Most of the general data is pretty easy enough to obtain via the internet as long as you know what to look for, but I always like to run more specific details by those that know more about the subject than myself whenever possible. There have also been instances where well-informed fans have helped with feedback as well.
How do you approach coloration? When do you decide to draw inspiration from extant species versus taking more of a creative license?
For the colors, I like to begin by researching the type of environment that the animal inhabited as well as noting its original geographic location. I’ll then see what relevant animals fill that ecological niche today and from there decide on a focal point for the basis of the color design. For the raptors, this process was fairly straightforward as many fans can name which birds the Raptor Series colors were based on. Since the raptors were already so bird-like with similar body shapes, it was easy to adapt the colors accordingly. However with the ceratospians, we really have nothing quite like them in our time, so playing off them being reptiles and preferring to look to more colorful species, I mostly used lizards, and some amphibians, as the basis for the color schemes. The design process however was a bit more involved, and the final look is further removed from its inspiration in most cases than it was for the raptor. But I think it worked well to give each one its own distinctive look while still looking natural and appropriate for its environment.
What’s been your favorite project/figure to work on so far?
I really enjoyed developing the Velociraptor mongoliensis action figure sculpt. It was quite gratifying to find a solution to how to introduce people to Beasts of the Mesozoic and it took many attempts to develop the proper look and movement, but I’m very pleased with the result to this day. It will always be a very significant figure to me.
How long have you been a dinosaur enthusiast? What is your favorite dinosaur/Mesozoic beast?
As I’d mentioned, I’ve been a fan of dinosaurs since a very young age, too young to remember really. I’m not even sure how it began. But I do know that somewhere in my Dad’s house I have a folder or really old dinosaur drawings! My favorite all-time dinosaur is the Acrocanthosaurus–such a beautiful beast with a very unique skeletal design. I’ve sculpted it twice now as a model kit, and hopefully we’ll get to see one in the Beasts of the Mesozoic line at some point.
What group of dinosaurs do you think you’ll focus on making figures for next?
I’m currently developing a plan for the Tyrannosaur Series and that will be my focus for the next year or so of development. After that I haven’t decided what’s next, but I do think Stegosaurs would be cool to tackle. I’d be really excited to make a Kentrosaurus action figure.
Are there any non-dinosaur Mesozoic beasts you want to develop figures for?
Sharks. I’m not sure how I’d approach the articulation yet, but I’d love to do a series of prehistoric sharks.
Do you have any advice for younger paleoartists looking to improve and expand their work?
Take advantage of your resources, because no matter who you are you likely have access to many (books, internet, access to professionals via social media, etc.). Ask plenty of questions and learn what questions are most useful to ask. Stay curious and humble- don’t try to impress people with what you know, instead always be aware of what you have yet to learn and look forward to improving your knowledge. Stay genuine in your motivations and always do the best work that you can.
Finally, what does your “paleoart future” look like?
I plan to continue to redefine the standards of dinosaur action figures and I hope to introduce these amazing creatures to people who otherwise may not have known about them. I look to share my fascination and enthusiasm for the subject with others with not only the Beasts of the Mesozoic line, but also through my own narratives and story lines. There is much planned across a variety of media in the coming years- dinosaur action figures are just the beginning!
A big thanks to David for his patience and cooperation in putting this together. You can find him at:
@Beast_SculptKit on Twitter