I recently had the pleasure of having access to some of the awesome custom Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures created by the uber talented Emma – @orokukarai – Mayle. Along with this she was so good as to give Exclu a glimpse into her workings, processes, and what the future holds in a full interview! So we’ll begin with the interview where Emma discusses her materials, inspirations and whats lined up next on her work bench then I’ll be reviewing some of her work…
How did you get into customising toys and what was your first custom?
I saw some repainted versions of the 2014 movie TMNT toys by Playmates online and felt inspired to try it for myself. It soon became apparent that the figures were well sculpted, but that this attention to detail was hidden beneath limited paint apps. After learning the basics of black washing and dry brushing I painted the 11” Leonardo you see here. I really enjoyed transforming him from a basic looking toy into a much more detailed and realistic looking figure. This, along with the encouraging response from others, motivated me to complete the whole team of ninja brothers.
You’re obviously a huge fan of the TMNT, what about them appeals to you so much?
As an 80’s kid I loved their unusual weapons and whimsical sense of fun, I even remember peering down the drain hoping to catch a glimpse of them! As an adult the nostalgia is heartfelt, yet having explored the franchise further through various films, cartoons and comics, I’ve come to appreciate there is much more to TMNT than pizza, skateboarding and shouting “Cowabunga!”. I love the east meets west fusion of different cultures, linking feudal Japan and martial arts to the contemporary urban bustle of New York City. The grittiness of night-time street crime is balanced well by light-hearted and often sarcastic humour. There is a fantastic mix of interesting yet relatable characters, my favourite of which is Master Splinter for all his calm words of wisdom and spontaneous dry wit. But above all is the constant theme of family. There are plenty of hero team ups out there, but the dynamics between these four brothers and their dependency on each other is what sets them apart from the rest.
What materials and paints do you prefer to use?
I would definitely recommend Citadel paints, they produce a wide range of colours in various consistencies, and their brushes are very soft and nicely shaped. I use Humbrol acrylic spray for sealing the paintwork, in either Matt or Satin depending on the intended look I’m aiming for. Milliput is great for sculpting extra details onto existing figures, and I have recently started experimenting with Super Sculpy for larger scale pieces.
So you’ve got your materials laid out, your brushes and paints at the ready – Do you prefer customising existing figures or scratch builds?
There are pros and cons to both. Articulation is the most notable difference during the painting process. Moveable limbs are handy for reaching various parts of the body, however static figures avoid any prep to prevent frustrating paint rub issues on the joints. The benefit of painting existing figures is that others can see the potential in the toys they already own, whilst creating a unique one-off piece is very satisfying and I would like to thank both @artist_nar and @whereschappell for sending me their amazingly sculpted creations to paint.
What’s the piece you’re most proud of?
Probably my 1990 movie turtle repaints, as they garnered such a massive response and launched a string of commission orders that have been keeping me busy now for over a year. I think these figures are what prompted me to up my game regards the subtle layering and blending of different hues, to create more depth whilst still maintaining a natural look.
Those 1990 figures are incredible! Which was the trickiest custom job you’ve ever completed?
As the majority of my work so far has been primarily repaints rather than technical adaptations, none so far have been particularly tricky. That said, swapping the masks between Leo and Raph can be a chore when an excessive amount of glue has been used in production. Sometimes no amount of boiling their heads in a saucepan will work! On occasion I’ve resorted to using a scalpel and mini drill to free their masks from their faces. One commission that stands apart in my mind is the Casey Jones figure from the 2012 Nickelodeon series. He has an interesting look with lots of accessories and multi-coloured paint splatters on him, so that figure required new painting techniques which were a lot of fun to try out.
So what’s next?
From mid-September I will have a lot more time to dedicate to toy customising and all things creative in general, which I am very excited about. Using different characters as a base will help to improve my painting skills and I have a queue of commissions of various characters lined up in the studio, including Caesar from Planet of the Apes, vintage He-man and Skeletor figures, and a large baby Groot, all of which I’m looking forward to painting. I’m really keen to experiment with sculpting and would love to create some TMNT characters that have never been manufactured, such as Old Hob and the Rat King from the IDW comics, and a 2003 SAINW Michelangelo. I’ve always been interested in the more fantastical creatures (I’m a big fan of the current Mythic Legions line by the Four Horsemen) and the various artistic interpretations of mutants, particularly the human/animal hybrid kind, and so creating original designs of my own from scratch is another possible venture that I’m eager to explore.
Wow! Thats something we can’t wait to see and certainly sounds like you’re going to be busy! How can people get in touch?
The best way to keep up to date with my work is via my instagram @orokukarai and any enquiries can be sent via DM. Alternatively my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and I have recently registered orokukarai.bigcartel.com as a platform from which to start selling my work.
Two reviews for the price of one today! First up we have Emma’s custom 11″ 2014 Turtles. These guys are insane! Just so much work has gone into these figures, they just pop with vibrancy and texture – especially when compared to the base figure Emma was working with from the beginning. The original figures were from Playmates which I totally understand is what I’d call a ‘high-street’ brand, aimed at children and meant to be played with and generally smashed against each other and the original price point of these and figures like them reflect this. Your are never going to get Hot Toys or ThreeZero quality detail on a high-street brand figure. FACT. This just makes these even more awesome in my opinion. As above with Leo, Emma allowed me to borrow Donatelllo from her son’s collection of pre-custom figures as a comparison.
Mind blown, right?! And just check out the detail on the face and head…
With any figure it is as it is in reality – its the imperfections that create perfection. When something is too smooth or clean, it looks false and manufactured. By adding weathering, dirt and general wear and tear to a figure a customiser is able to breath life into a figure. Just think how many custom Stormtroopers you’ve seen over on IG that look as though they have been through the Normandy Landings!
Emma has put so much time and attention to detail into these figures that they stand – in this reviewer’s opinion – along side the 2014 Movie Ninja Turtles figures released by ThreeZero when photographed. There – I bloody said it!
So, we move onto the 1990 Movie figures. I was born in 1984, so when the movie came out I was already waist deep in TMNT merchandise – or should I say TMHT as in the UK they were rebranded as the Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles for the ’80s cartoon as the BBC saw the word ‘Ninja’ as having overly violent connotations. More tea anyone? The movie blew me away (not that I saw it at the cinema of course – my Dad knew a bloke at work and came home with a hooky VHS on the week of its release. Obviously.) I watched that tape literally until it ran out, loving that the cartoon heroes I loved were now real, or as real as they could be to a six year old! These figures are for all intense purposes representations of my Turtles. So excuse me if this review is a little biased…
THESE ARE INCREDIBLE!!! The same level of detail has been applied to these as with the 2014 movie versions above, but due to the materials used – be they from the original piece customised or from the added elements which Emma has created herself like the heads (yes – those heads are custom builds!) the finish is a much more matt one, giving even more realism and depth. Lighting these guys is a joy!
These guys are obviously much smaller, standing at around 6″ and fitting in with most 1/12th scale figures. This is something that once again means that I find them even more impressive. The intricacy of the work that has gone into these astonished me when I first held them in my hands, but once I got them infant of the camera – thats when I was really blown away by how lifelike they are. Its the subtle things for me and with all figures, as with people, the first thing we tend to look at and focus one when photographing is the eyes. Emma has put a lot of work into creating realistic eyes with light points and colour gradation. Emma mentioned to me when I picked these up for the shoot that there was no Donatello in the mix for these figures. The reason is simply that she hasn’t had the time to make one for herself – what with being so busy making them for other people!
In conclusion then, these figures are a beautiful representation of someone with not only a passion for her craft, but for the thing which she is creating. As mentioned in the interview, Emma is a huge TMNT fan and this shines through in all these figures. Although I think the ’90s ones are my personal favourites, that has to be put down to personal nostalgia as both sets are out of this world in terms of care, attention to detail and skill.
What else can I say? Awesome! Righteous! Bossa Nova!….Chevy Nova?… EXCELLENT!!
Last modified: November 10, 2017