Musings from creators on what ‘immersive’ means to them, to inspire brand builders everywhere.
Every day each of us connects with the world at large. From emotive design to technological experiences, new dimensions impact us, changing our connections and taking us on a journey in different directions.
Which is why at Coley Porter Bell, we are talking to people at the forefront of creating and designing immersive experiences for a range of sectors and audiences.
This series of interviews will unpack how these creators build distinctive, intelligent ways to engage audiences and share how brands can tap into immersive experiences to create better relationships with their consumers.
Nick Whitmore, Toy Sculptor
Nick Whitmore is a visionary in the realm of toy sculpting, boasting a remarkable career that includes stints at LEGO and the BBC. He has worked with iconic brands such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Ghostbusters.
As our latest guest in the series, we embark on a journey through the intersection of creativity, play, and immersive experiences with Nick. He shares insights into his creative process and his passion for making toys that not only entertain but also leave a lasting impression, intending to evoke cherished childhood memories for years to come.
Watch or read the full interview with Nick below, where he expresses the joy of bringing imaginative worlds to life through his work and recounts the most unusual request he’s received.
Stay tuned for more conversations with makers as our series continue to unfold.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a toy maker, a sculptor, occasionally an illustrator. I have worked in various different industries over the years, making collectibles, action figures, statues and toys. My career teacher said I would be police diver because they didn’t really know what to do with an artist.
How did you become a toy sculptor?
I studied animation at college because I just wanted to make monsters. I then got into movie special effects because I just wanted to make monsters. I then saw a job advertisement sculpting Lord of the Rings and Marvel and DC characters. This was at a tiny little place down in Worplesdon, in a little wooden cabin on the side of the train tracks. We would sculpt things out of paraffin wax called castilene. So you’d sculpt it out of wax, you’d make a silicone mould. You would then remove the wax model from the silicone and then you’d pour resin into it, make multiple copies, clean those up and then post them to the factory.
How has gaming changed the world of toys?
The video game market has changed the toy industry so much in great ways, but also in negative ways, because children aren’t immersing themselves in their own imaginary worlds anymore. They can just boot up a game and the entire thing is laid out for them. Which, in some ways is fantastic because it allows other storytellers to have people come into their world and experience amazing things they’ve never imagined. But at the same time, it’s stopping children imagining things for themselves. Which I think is a bit of a shame.
How do you approach making toys for kids?
With every toy, with every collectible I work on, I’m given an idea of whether it’s going to be for kids or adults that collect stuff. If you’re making something for kids, the best thing to do is to make it have the facial aesthetics of a child. So larger eyes, smaller mouth, the bigger head, to make something look friendly, because the smaller the eyes are, the scarier something looks. So you want to make something that doesn’t terrify a child.
A child’s mind is able to go to places that an adult’s mind can’t. Children’s play is so immersive that you need to really look at what you’re making and try to imagine how a child would play with it.
There have been times where I’ve been working a toy and the people I’m working for, I go, can we just make that bit split off so that that little can be a separate monster and his head will sprout legs and they go, oh, we hadn’t thought about that. That’s kind of cool because there’s a part of me that still just if I see a cool toy, I still have that urge to be like UURWHOOOOOO…
What I want to do is make a great toy that gives a child amazing memories. And 20 to 30 years from now, they’re trying to find one on eBay because they’re like, this was my favorite toy of my entire childhood.
What was your favorite toy growing up?
I’m such a toy nerd. It’s He-Man. Star Wars. Ninja Turtles. G.I. Joe. They were all my favorite toys. Which has become a large problem because I keep buying up old toys off of eBay for ridiculous amounts of money.
What is the most unusual toy you’ve made?
Someone asked me to make a dinosaur that ate doughnuts. The problem being that the doughnut feeding part is very simple and understandable. Dinosaur opens its mouth, in goes the doughnut. The problem was where the doughnuts came out. And how we could make it look as inorganic as possible…
Talk to us about your prop making for TV.
Prop making is a very different creative process to making toys, because when you make a toy, you make it from scratch. You will start with a piece of clay or on your laptop and you’ll make something from nothing. Whereas with prop making, it tends to be taking something else and appropriating it and changing it to be what the script needs.
I made quite a lot of dead bodies for the BBC quite a while ago. I was given pre-made plastic skeletons and I just had to make all the juicy bits on top of it. It was brilliant. I mean, made better by the fact that I’d see someone that I went to school with and they’d be like, what are you doing these days? And I’d be like, I make dead bodies for TV programs. They’d go, yeah, you always were a bit like that at school.
What’s been your favorite brief?
I’ve been really lucky over my career to work on a lot of amazing brands. Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Doctor Who. I mean, I’ve been able to just add little figures that I’ve made to this pantheon of amazing licenses. Ghostbusters has been a favorite of mine.
I think that the thing that I am most proud of working on has been an action figure series that is coming out this winter called Savage Crucible and it is a series of knights and barbarians and lizard men and fish people and shark monsters. I was given a very loose brief. One of the greatest briefs you can have as a creative person is when someone just goes. You make something. You have free rein to do whatever you want. Just make something cool.