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  Prepare to drool.  Tom Spina has a totally awesome collection.  He's been working hard at it ever since he was bitten by the collecting bug.  An extensive background in puppetry sure helps  when Tom wants to create these familiar creatures that live in his house.  Tom's got a great sense of humor to boot, but don't ask him to loan you any of these beasts.  I did and now have a Wampa size bite across my captains quarters.
   
   
 

·       LMC: So what set your wheels into motion creating all this cool Star Wars and sci-fi/movie replicas?

TS:  Tough to say… I mean, as far back as I can recall I was making masks n stuff.  Obviously, the first time I saw Star Wars was a huge influence.  I was 5 and all my friends wanted to be Luke Skywalker.  I wanted to be Stuart Freeborn or Rick Baker.  Of course, I was 5 so I didn’t know who they were, but I knew that I wanted to make cool props and aliens.

LMC: Where you an artist before embarking on creating this cool stuff?  What’s your history?

TS: I’ve always been a bit of an artist. It started with drawing and sketching and gradually worked into 3d stuff.  I’m a huge Muppet fan and a puppeteer as well.  That started me on puppet building.  I guess it all sort of evolved.  When I was real young I was always making masks from paper bags.  Not by painting a face on them, but by cutting them into strips and taping them together into real shapes.  I wish I had some pics of em!  I was about 14 or 15 when I got Tom Savini’s first book - that was huge for me.  I got that and just went nuts.  Got very into gore and masks n stuff.  Made all sorts of “experiments” in my parents’ basement.   My friends and I did a haunted house for the church fair.  We made it pretty gruesome and couldn’t understand why we weren’t asked back the next year. :)  After that, college and puppets took over for a while.  I interned on Sesame Street, then started my own puppet company (Sleight of Hand Productions, Inc) and did puppets for (of all things) home shopping!  Over the last 10 years, I’ve been getting into the mask thing again.  The internet has been invaluable in finding resources and information and has really contributed to my passion.  
 

   
  LMC: Talk about Sleight of Hand Production?  How successful was it and why isn’t it still around (or is it?)                                   

TS: For a time it was fairly successful.  It was started by myself, Steve Kalomeris (a friend from college), Tony Limoli (a leg-breaker I knew in high school…who loves ya TOE KNEE?) and Victor Yerrid, a puppeteer I met at Sesame (we were both interns at the time.)  Of all things, we had our most success with home shopping!  We created a character for  a show on Q2 (QVC’s second network at the time) selling children’s toys n such.  The hosts loved us and we had a gas.  Lots of great improvised bits and we worked out way onto a lot of the other shows as well. Q2 eventually tanked, and to pay the bills, we all gradually took on “real jobs”.  Well, I guess you know how that goes… tho actually, Victor’s managed to keep on puppeting, working quite regularly on some great shows.  I hadn’t seen him in some years and then ran into him on the set of “Book of Pooh” one day.  The puppeteer’s world is a small one indeed.

 

LMC: Where do you display it?

TS: For now, I’ve got the top floor of a house with several rooms.  Just about every inch of usable wall space is covered with shelves.  I’m doing the house hunt now and a nice big display space is key!

   
  LMC: Do you have access and friends in high places that have helped your collection along the way, or have helped you get originals?


TS: Well, they’re not in high places, but I certainly have friends who look out for me.  We all know what we each collect and keep our eyes peeled for pieces for each other. Most of the originals I have were purchased at auction, though some have come my way via trade.  It’s getting much tougher lately because there seems to be a surge in the demand for film props these days. 

LMC: How much does budget play a factor?  Do you spend more than you should, or are you pretty disciplined?          

TS:  I’m actually pretty disciplined, though every once in a while it gets away from me.  Usually, the big stuff I’m ok with, but I’ll have a month where I buy a few smaller masks or something and it adds up quicker than I expect.

LMC: Do you buy pieces from others for your collection?

Sure, I’m always on the lookout for new stuff.

LMC: Have you met a lot of people with your same interest?  Anyone rival your collection?     

TS: Oh boy… yeah, I’ve met so many people online into this stuff.  There’s people I know out there that put my collection to shame!  Some people do it in volume, others in quality…some have great replicas, others great originals.  I guess I try to balance all of those.                                             

LMC: How long have you been creating your collection?

TS: Wow, I guess since 1980 when I got my C-3PO Don Post mask from the local magic shop where I grew up, though it wasn’t till about 1990 or so that I started really getting into film props and quality replicas.  Before that, it was just a lot of halloween masks and spruced up toys. 

   
  LMC: Do you still have that C-3PO mask?                                         

TS: Actually, I don’t!  But it’s in the very good hands of a close friend. 

LMC: Is it a non-stop process? 

TS: Absolutely!  It grows and shrinks and evolves all the time.

LMC: Do you ever find it a drag or tedious, or does each character get your adrenaline pumping?
   

TS:  New characters always get me going.  There’s times where I’m sculpting something for a friend and at first, I’m not at all into it but once I get started, it’s hard not to be excited as it comes to life. 

LMC: Do friends and family think you are nuts?

TS: You know, if they do, they don’t say it to my face.  In fact, they treat it as being decidedly NORMAL.  Kinda like the way the police treat someone with hostages.  I guess I should worry, eh?

LMC: :) Nah, I think most of our families find us the same way.

   
  LMC:  How meticulous are you on the accuracy of the piece?

TS: Most times I tend to be fairly meticulous. I find it’s the flaws and asymmetry in an original prop mask that make it really have that “screen-used look”.  When sculpting a character, I try to concern myself mainly with the overall “feel” first, then go in and try to match the details as closely as possible. 

LMC: Do you have any advice or tips you have learned over the years to improve that process?

TS:  Step back.  It’s the best advice I could ever give.  I used to really have to force myself to do it, but now I don’t even think about it.  Every 10-15 mins or so, take about 5 or 6 steps back and just look at the sculpt.  Really helps in that “feel” department to get a solid look at the whole.


Second best?  Find a friend who’s into it too.  I lucked out with Mike Thomas (from www.KreationX.com)   We worked together in retail years ago and realized we were into making the same stuff.  It worked out well, cuz he had a ton of airbrush experience (I’m still floored by what he can do with that thing!) and I had the latex and molding experience.  We learned a lot from each other and have picked up even more as we’ve worked on stuff. 

LMC: How do you go about creating a creature from concept to finish?

TS: Well, I guess it’s nothing special.  Decide on a scale or size, gather reference shots if it’s a re-creation.  Work out an armature and then just get at the clay.  Getting started can be the toughest part.  Going from research to sculpting.  I never feel like I’ve got enough reference shots!  Molding and casting are pretty standard. I tend to spend a lot of time mixing colors to get the right look.  It’s so important to “nailing” a character.  After that, airbrush, sponge paint, hand paint… whatever it needs.

LMC: What is your paint formula for latex?  How do you layer paint (read process)?

TS: I mainly use Createx brand paints.  It carried over from Mike’s t-shirt painting days. He had some lying around… we messed with it and it took.  Sometimes we’ll mix in some latex base or prosaid for a little extra stick.

I usually work as simply as possible with paint.  Light basecoat, sponge or wash, shade. I don’t like to add a highlight color as that always looks a little fake to me.  I guess it all depends on what the character needs.  I found it’s very easy to overdo airbrushing.   I really love using the airbrush, but I really hate it too!  Sometimes I’m sure that thing’s haunted.

  

   
  LMC: What about components on the creature that are hard to come by (take the Tusken Raider for example)?  Do you create everything or as much as possible?

TS: Actually, it’s a matter of creating as LITTLE as possible.  In fact, for most Star Wars (original trilogy) props (not creatures, but props and costumes) the majority of the stuff is made from “found items”.  Tracking down those items really helps in authenticity. Check out www.partsofsw.com if you’re into this stuff.  It’s a great resource for Star Wars prop parts!

LMC: What are the typical materials you use to make them, or does it vary widely between pieces?

TS: It varies for sure.  My favorite is still the good ole latex mask.  On lifesize characters with costumes, it varies a lot.  For the Raider and the Jawas, the bandoliers are old military issue.  The Gaffi stick is actually made from an old Fijian war-club.  Matching fabric was also key.  I spent a LOT of time hunting down that jawa fabric.  When I finally did find it, Ralph Lauren released a blanket with the same weave LOL.  I make the mannequins myself, usually from wood and foam with thick wire in the arms and fingers for poseability.

 

   
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