How to carve out a career in model making

We may live in a digital age, but fantasy sculpture is proving more popular than ever: meet the artists leading the charge.

He Who Laughs Last by Tim Bruckner, who feels most at home working in three dimensions

Jarrod and Brandon Shiflett's hugely successful careers as sculptors began with just one book: Creature Core by Yasushi Nirasawa.

Yasushi and his contemporaries were the Japanese sculptors who plucked characters from the pages of the Shifletts' favourite comic books and brought them to 3D life.

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Their work had a profound influence on the young brothers. But more than this, it showed sculpture – specifically sculpture tied to comics and video games – could be a serious and credible artistic endeavour.

"We still look up to those guys as masters of the craft, and a couple of pieces were hugely influential to us," reveals Jarrod. "They were an Incredible Hulk sculpture by the late Japanese sculpting icon Moto Hata, and Venom, from Spider-Man, sculpted by the great Taishiro Kiya.

"Then we came across Creature Core, which included sculpts from Yuji Oniki and Takayuki Takeya, and it was a revelation to us. It drove home the point that what we were doing could be a great art form."

The legendary Slavic witch Baba Yaga comes to life in the hands of Forest Rogers

Early days

When the brothers began working in wire and clay, the current commercial statue market didn't exist. They recall going to San Diego Comic-Con in the early 90s and seeing very few mass-produced models.

There were "a couple of years of gruelling trial and error" between the early figures they created and the Marvel characters that eventually cemented the Shiflett's reputation as industry leaders.

But they still use the same materials: "Super Sculpey Firm clay, aluminium alloy wire, floral wire to hold it all together, and a whole lot of super glue."

It's with these materials that Jarrod and Brandon took gold in the dimensional art category at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 for their piece The Vertical Man-Tank, 1892.

Deal With the Devil by the Shiflett brothers, who John Howe describes as the "Frank Frazetta" of sculpting

Passion is key

"The Shiflett Brothers are to sculpting what Frank Frazetta is to painting," said John Howe, concept designer on The Lord of The Rings trilogy. So how do they do it? The key is to sculpt what you love.

"We love comics and sci-fi and fantasy stuff," Brandon says, "so that's what we sculpt." The brothers' top tip, for novice sculptors, centres on anatomy reference: you can't have enough of it. Use fitness magazines to study how muscles look and move under the skin.

For creature anatomy – real or otherwise – use biological animal forms. As Brandon puts it: "Once you start faking anatomy, it becomes immediately obvious."

Perhaps surprisingly, the Shifletts say they're not particularly proficient at drawing and painting. If a client asks for a rough sketch of prospective work, they prefer to create and present a smaller model showing how the final piece will look.

J Anthony Kosar at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live's collaborative project Scult-O-Rama, which was co-organised by John Fleskes

Next page: more secrets to becoming a master sculptor