5 Weeks with a True Master,
SpiderZero aka Simon Lee

“There are no happy accidents. It is our intention to go what feels right to create something better.”

I wanted to be better and fast, so I made 4 more, 6" maquettes for the 1st week assignment. Each maquette are better than the other, so I can understand how to form the muscle groups in clay. I had fun posing them. It was as if I have action figures. Then played with them to pose into the story I imagined.

Early this year 2015, I’m one of the 10+ students to be part of the February Concept Sculpting and Design Online Core Class, taught by Simon Lee AKA Spider Zero. Guilermo del Toro describes him (Director of Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) “Simon Lee is in a category all by himself. His sense of drama and raw power make him the Frazetta of monster sculpting and the elegance and specificity of his designs give his creations gravity and realism. A true master!”
In this 5 week online course, Simon shares his process, the tools he use and demonstrate in action on how he would build one of his maquettes. He also shares his knowledge and the principles of what draw’s audiences into his dynamic clay sculptures.

This is just sick! The BEST!!

Every week, he post up video recordings of him explaining his thought process, the reasons behind building the underlying structure for our humanoid maquette. He breaks his process into chunks so it could be understood. Simon evolves his way of teaching, because every week we hand in our weekly assignments to learn the process hands-on. He understands our level of understanding and the knowledge on how we go about building our clay model. He post ideas and examples when he shares his constructive critiques of our work. Most of the ideas he wants us to understand is to give a sense of life, a sense of believability that only we can communicate. This is through a clear sense of body language. This I think this is the key to be original, our unique way of seeing the world and how we present those ideas in clay.

Yup, my 1st head clay sculpture. Looking at it now, there there are so many areas that feels off. Will study the human skull.

Each of us students are in a different backgrounds of profession or on different levels of artistic skills. I myself have no previous clay sculpture experience. But Simon, a self-taught sculpture artist, demonstrate efficient ways to build our 12 inch maquette. He explained the process and the principles and the reason why or how we use the tools to help us form the shapes to build a clay humanoid form. What’s great about his teaching style, he doesn’t tell us directly but he encourages us to think for ourselves. To solve and experiment the ideas that he presents. I choose to experiment his ideas since I have only a certain amount of time because of work and limited resources to bring this clay figure idea of mine, real.

I used recycled paper towel and a plastic bag. This will form the base shape for my head sculpture. Normally you use an aluminum foil. But it worked. Downside is, when I first applied the clay, it was squishy to work with.

It’s fun, it’s like I get to play using the tools around me. Being resourceful and doing things efficient is a skill that can be applied to overcome any obstacles. Like focusing the creation of bringing director’s vision to life. I was a little impatient in the 1st week of class, because I wanted to create a cool finish looking SpiderZero character from the gecko. Then I can see why Simon breaks his process and explaining the reasons why building the underlying structure in the begining, is the key in creating believable characters. This was something exciting to learn something new everyday and fast. I would make a lot of mistakes, right before my eyes. So then I learn on what to improve and focus my research for materials to get answers. Just at my own pace, I build my skill and understanding to communicate my ideas better in clay sculpture.

It’s the 4th week, waaaaa!

As the week progress and being able to talk to Simon every weekend. An hour of Question and Answer session with him online. Is an invaluable opportunity to learn and dig deeper into the process. The sky is the limit and my fellow classmates ask questions to such topics on Simon’s workflow and process on how he presents his ideas to a director. He would present thumbnail miniature sculptures for the director to choose from. Getting feedback on the shapes and forms that got picked, he would then build the idea further in a bigger scale model. He would then explain insightful ways to see or observe things of the world around us. That humans and animals and every living thing have similar structures that can be combine to create a new and belivable character designs. I notice this or had this idea in the back of my head, but now, I can explore these ideas further. One Q&A session, I saw how he connected a piece of wire onto the broken sculpture’s knees. It’s like how surgeon would fix broken bones but in clay sculpture.

My 5th & 6th miniature skulls. Don’t get how the lower jaw connects. Gonna look it up, or watch Simon how he does it. The temple or the top of the skull is short. What’s up with the sides?…gonna practice more.

It seems different fields of study can be applied in sculpture. Like how plastic surgeons found ways to make a beautiful face. Science plays a role in sculpting too. The thought that I understand on how to draw weight or create the illusion of weight in 2 dimensional drawing, Simon explains that gravity affects how the character sculpture will hold or pose. In turn, creating it’s own gesture. We observe all this happening in our lifetime. For example, how we sit eating cereal for breakfast or how we stand waiting in line to pay for groceries. To me, it makes sense that all things, animals, insects, bacteria, water, rock, wind, matter, planets, stars, space, even sub-atomic particles are affected by gravity. Creating patterns that makes up its form and shape or gesture. Recreating these ideas in clay is one step further for inspiration to tell a new kind of story.

photo by Michael Gakuran

One time, I asked him where does he get his inspirations. Is there a place or a museum or an event that he recommends to go and observe works of objects that we can use as reference for future projects? “No joke,” he said, “I just go to the park.” He get’s his inspiration from tree branches, how it bends, the gesture that he can use to his next sculpture.

back view of my character piece sculpture

Best thing about the online QandA sessions, you will get a chance to see sculptures that hasn’t been posted online. When he was explaining on how to pose an Alien character, using animals as a reference. He paused, then reached out of frame to bring back an Alien clay sculpture. I asked him how to sculpt a bug, since they don’t have bones etc. While he was explaining that you can capture a bug in clay by studying it’s gesture, it’s form. I was geekin’ out as he sculpted this small thumb size clay spider in minutes. Then quickly cut a short, thin piece of wire, attaching it on the spider’s abdomen. Creating the illusion that the clay spider is coming down from a web. It came alive.

Week 5. At last, the finished piece and it sucks!. The head is flat, the form of the head is way off, proportions are just blah! Going to study and practice more.
Simon’s process has help me confirmed that I can visualize my storyboard illustrations in clay. Especially conveying an emotion. Which I think are what audiences are drawn into the story. Simon mentioned in the Q&A session, there are no happy accidents. It is our intention to go what feels right to create something better.

Simon is the real deal. A true master of our time. He gave me new insights on how to translate the world around me, being able to communicate the ideas further in clay. This insight on how to experiment and improve, can be applied to any fields of study. It’s like the clay is a metaphor for life. We learned to understand it’s properties by experience. Then have the ability to form and shape the things we need to communicate an idea. Making it happen. Asking why, making mistakes and be smart to come of with solutions to any obstacles. Able to resonate the emotions and energy to better communicate the ideas for others to pass on.

“There are no happy accidents. It is our intention to go what feels right to create something better.”

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