An Interview w/ Sketchbot Creator Steve Talkowski

Sketchbot Variants
Sketchbot Variants

As I mentioned the other day, animator and toy designer Steve Talkowski is over at the SDCC this weekend plugging his new line of Sketchbot custom toys. You can say hello to him at the Dragtomi booth (3848) at Comic-Con on Saturday at 11AM or follow him on Twitter (@SteveTalkowski) or over at his blog, Check out my interview with Steve below.

Bumpershine: How did you come up with the idea for the Sketchbot character?

Steve Talkowski: I wanted to start a blog and begin showcasing my own work online. I was trying to come up with something original and eye-catching, and thought about what would best convey my love for drawing combined with my obsession for robots, and Sketchbot was born. I doodled a quick sketch of a silhouetted robot with a single eye, and that became the basis for the character.

Bumpershine: Who are some of your favorite comic book characters?

ST: If we’re talking Superhero comics, it would be Spider-Man and Iron Man. Those were the two I first got hooked reading when I got into comics in the mid 70’s. I also loved the early Judge Dredd stuff that A.D. 2000 put out.

Bumpershine: Does Sketchbot have a backstory?

ST: Not yet. The character was more a creation of what I envisioned a retro-style robot might look like, but wielding art creation tools vs a destructive nature.

Bumpershine: Your background (and current day job) is in animation, how did you get interested in making custom toys?

ST: Well, I have a soft spot for collecting robots – Gigantor being the main character I’ve been obsessed with for quite some time. As I refined the Sketchbot design, I had the constant notion of how I might go about turning it into a physical sculpture. A toy seemed to be the logical result.

Bumpershine: I know you experimented a lot at home with creating your own molds for the Sketchbot prototypes, how many prototypes did you create before settling on one you liked and how long did that process take?

ST: You can track back and see the evolution of the character on my blog. I initially hand sculpted the first version and pulled five resin casts, painting up two to show at comic con in 2008. It was a worthy experiment that I learned a lot from, and the main thing I discovered was that I wanted a more polished “production” feel to the piece, so I went back to the drawing board, further refining the shape and details, and eventually modeling it in 3d on the computer.

Bumpershine: What were some of the most important thing you learned while making your own prototypes?

ST: How to create molds and pour resin was a big deal during the first hand sculpted version. I attempted to do a 2-part mold for a solid, single piece character that in hindsight, was totally the wrong way to approach it. I did learn quite a few tips from making contact with other artists on Flickr that would post process pictures of their own experiences with sculpting, mold-making and casting.

Bumpershine: How long did it take you to go from prototype to production model?

ST: Once I had the 3d model created, it was simply a matter of getting a 3d printout produced that I could then send to the factory for tooling and molding. That process was a few months, as they would send samples for me to comment on. We went thru three iterations before I signed off on the final. With the time difference and delivery distance factored in, it was around 5 months.

Bumpershine: What was the production run of each Sketchbot?

ST: I have 500 pieces of variant 1 and the DIY blank versions, and 300 pieces of the remaining 5 variants for a total run of 2,500 pieces.

Bumpershine: What were some of the steps involved in getting a toy actually manufactured on your own and how did you figure all this stuff out?

ST: Talking to a ton of artists at Comic Con that already had a toy out was extremely educational. I decided to work with Solid Industries as my manufacturing partner because Jeremy Madl (MAD) already had a great working relationship with the factories in China. Online research, asking lots of questions, and advice from fellow artists that had a few toys already produced was another logical step.

Bumpershine: You had a Sketchbot custom show at My Plastic Heart in NYC in that ran during March and April of this year, can you tell me a little about that?

ST: People who saw the design liked the shape of the figure and the topic of whether or not I was going to offer a DIY (do-it-yourself) version often popped up. I never set out with the notion of turning Sketchbot into a “platform” toy, but always planned on doing multiple colourways. It made sense economically to produce a run of blanks within the production run, and that led to me having product to release to artists to customize for a show. People who I formed online relationships with had been following my progress via the blog and my Flickr stream, and it was simply a matter of inviting those whose work I admired and was a fan of to be part of my custom show.

Bumpershine: The first Sketchbot you’ve released is the classic orange character, I know you’re also planning on releasing some variants on that design, can you tell me a little about your future release plans? What happens when you sell out of everything?

ST: His is another aspect of releasing a toy that I’m learning as I go along. My distributor, DKE Toys, has great advice on how best to introduce new versions and the appropriate timeframe to do so to avoid flooding the market too early, for example. I was wisely encouraged to use the exposure of San Diego Comic Con to unveil the next two colourways, which shows potential customers that this is part of an ongoing series. This also creates buzz amongst my growing fan base. If/when we sell out the entire run, I get to design new variants and make more!

Bumpershine: Do you have any other characters up your sleeve that you would like to make? Perhaps some additions to the SB universe?

ST: Absolutely! I have plans for a series of artBots, in addition to other bot-related characters that could live in the same design universe. I’d also like to do some other characters that are in no way related to Sketchbot.

Bumpershine: My son would love to see a Sketchbot cartoon, are you planning on making any animated Sketchbot videos? If so, would you make them in 2D or 3D?

ST: Yes, yes, and yes! It’s simply a matter of finding time to get the projects started. I’m working on short animated vignettes (in 3d) to introduce the different Sketchbot variants. This could also lead into a children’s book at some point. Ideally, I’d love to create a series of animated shorts that could find their way into, say, interstitials for someone like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. Stay tuned to over the coming months for further information and you just may get a glimpse at some animation tests!