Beyond Toys: Who's the Master of Asia's Anime Figures?
For Dio Wong, every product has a prototype.
Meet master modeler Dio Wong, who specializes in making prototypes of “figures”—wildly popular Japanese anime figurines.
He tells Joanne Lee about sculpting the perfect figure and turning art into engineering.
HK Magazine: What was your first figure?
Dio Wong: I bought a few [manga] figures such as from “Urusei Yatsura” and “Fist of the North Star.” At the time there were very few human figures—only robots were available. I found them in a magazine and thought they were fascinating.
HK: What exactly does a master modeler do?
DW: Every product has a prototype. Master modelers are like product designers—we design and sculpt 3D figures from 2D comics. Master modelers and figurine sculptors are different—it’s like the difference between interior designers and renovators. Master modelers need to have a background knowledge of art as well as the production procedure. We teach ourselves.
HK: Why become a master modeler?
DW: I love making figures. I started studying it in Form 1. My family had a factory—not a toy one, but they knew about manufacturing. My mother said the figures I had bought were made of silicon. She told me there were many chemical stores on Bonham Strand, and to ask them about materials and molding.
HK: What kind of figures do you enjoy making the most?
DW: I do not limit my interests to specific figuring—I like making figures that have great capacity for creativity. People who ask me to design a figure should expect something new. I don’t like working under too many restrictions. It makes me feel I’m a figure sculptor instead of a master modeler.
HK: What are you up to right now?
DW: We are working on Hong Kong comic figures. This year is the 20th anniversary of [Fung Chi-ming’s 23rd comic] Ba Dou (霸刀) so I am sculpting some figures for it. I sculpted its characters 20 years ago, but I have not modelled their grown-up versions. I am also currently working on the Street Fighter series.
HK: What is the hardest part of your job?
DW: Master modelers need to have a balance of both the art and engineering knowledge. In the past, Hong Kong’s toy industry was mainly a process industry as figures sculpted in foreign countries couldn’t be produced directly, and local engineers needed to break down figure parts during the manufacturing process. They didn’t have an art background so they didn’t know what could and couldn’t be omitted. Since most figures I design are for mass production, I need to come up with art pieces that can actually be produced—it turns from a matter of art to a matter of engineering.
HK: What’s it like to work in the Japanese figure market?
DW: Model kits dominated the industry at first, but now mass-produced PVC figures have taken over. Trendy characters and epic characters are popular among figure lovers. There are more restrictions because of copyright issues in the Hong Kong figure market. The Hong Kong market mainly produces “Q-version” [cute mini] figures while the situation in the Japanese market is better—we can work more on figures made according to the body proportions.
HK: Which piece of work are you most proud of?
DW: My work involves a wide variety of figures, so it’s hard to decide which one I am most proud of. But I think my early work, like the Ba Dou series, is quite good.
Check out www.dio.hk to find out more about Dio Wong’s work.