Behind the Scenes with Toy Photographer, Manny Torres
Q: What was it that got you interested in action figure photography?
A: Being a fan of action figures my whole life, I would always go back in time to when I was growing up as a kid in the early 90’s. I remember seeing so many product images of various toy lines where these figures would be placed in a beautifully crafted, created environment to make any scenery come to life. Most noticeably, GI Joe was famous for doing this as seeing a variety of battlefield portraits which looked as if it jumped straight out of the cartoon. Fast forward many years later and I’m practicing all sorts of things with learning my camera. I discovered someone named Matthew K from The Fwoosh and his action figure photography of visual storytelling really ignited this fire in me of wanting to do this. He would take pictures of figures in custom created dioramas to help sell the illusion and it reminded me back when I used to see product images like that growing up as I mentioned earlier.
Then I discovered this Facebook group called ACBA (Articulated Comic Book Art) that specializes in helping upcoming photographers to develop the skills necessary to capture action figure photography without using photoshop and creating fully tangible pics using sources of materials, lights, props, etc. to create all sorts of effects, bubble speeches and more. This really intrigued me to want to learn more and take my photography to another level which I’m so happy I did by joining the group. With that, it inspired me to enhance my visual storytelling for every picture I take and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.
Q: You recently photographed the Marvel’s Logan and Charles Xavier action figure 2-pack from the Marvel Legends series. Can you give our readers some details about your approach to that project?
A: When Hasbro reached out to me to photograph that Marvel Legends 2-pack of Logan and Charles Xavier, I automatically knew that I wanted to approach this by trying create an environment from the movie and replicate that into my photos. So with the help of my lovely Wife Justine, she started crafting a diorama and built this incredibly detailed desert warehouse exterior with all sorts of handmade props like using crates, pallets, cages, rubbles, etc. This allowed me to work the figures into the environment and wanting to capture.... what I wanted you to feel, were personal moments between Logan and Charles so that I can bring you in close as if you were watching the Logan movie. I’m very thankful for Hasbro to give me such a wonderful opportunity to work on this project. I had tons of fun!
Q: As an artist, what are some of the things you draw inspiration from?
A: My inspiration comes from many media platforms such as comic books, video games, animation, TV, or movies. There’s always this cinematography to those mediums that leave me awe inspired. If I see anything that jumps at me, I go right ahead and try to recreate a scene that I loved. If I’m creating something new (which is most of the time) I like to approach things as if I was a director in a movie. Again, it goes back to the cinematography aspect of the presentation and playing with all sorts of lighting, different angles, positioning and keeping everything contained in frame. So therefore I keep my respects to those elements. My biggest mental approach is to make every figure(s) and it’s environment come to life in every photo by telling a visual story.
Q: In your opinion, what is the most important element of a great action figure photograph?
A: For me, it always comes down to posing. You need to draw something to keep the viewers eye traveling through the picture. Eye traveling is the one key thing I learned in photography class. Posing helps achieve that, as it is the main fundamental that needs to be perfected. Always play posing to the scenarios surrounding the environment you’re setting up. Example; If the figures are in a calm setting, try not to make them look stiff or tense. Instead, pose the figures to look relaxed whether they’re sitting, laying, or standing and do it with finesse. If it’s an action packed setting that you’re feeling ambitious to pull off, definitely pose the figures making them look flexible as possible by taking advantage of all the range in articulation. Sometimes you have to go back and make some tweaks as you go along. These are just some examples of posing that are elemental to every action figure photograph and when you achieve that, it makes the eyes travel smoothly through the fluidity of the portrait which helps catch all the details from big to small.
Q: Any advice for aspiring action figure photographers? What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you when you started out?
A: The big key advice is to be consistent and have patience. These skills will not magically appear overnight. It takes a lot of time, dedication and practice. As I mentioned some examples from the last question I answered, it took me awhile to learn that as patience is something that I always struggled with in life. Action figure photography has helped me and taught me to be a patient person. Practice leads to patience and both of these equal consistency. It certainly pays off when you put the work in.
The one thing I wished someone told me when I started out would be about the Articulated Comic Book (ACBA) Facebook group. There are tons of advice for photography to give that I can’t limit to just one advice, you know? This group helps elevate beginners and gives all kinds of feedback to set you up for success. There is so much to learn and when you have the drive and dedication to learn, you just want to consume it all at once. It’s great that there is a platform made for those who want to seek out plenty of advice to learn from the ACBA Facebook group. That’s where I learned so much of what I know and made me strive in this platform to be where I’m at today. I owe Kendal Grey aka Boog Nice and the industry he pioneered, a big thank you for everything that I’ve learned with their guidance. I didn’t know about this group until maybe 4 or 5 years later after I started and I struggled those years, therefore I wished someone told me about ACBA sooner. I highly recommend joining them to learn all that you can from various artists. I love seeing aspiring action figure photographers grow and develop. It takes me back to when I first started. It’s worth every step of the way.