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Dreaming in Three Dimensions: An Interview with Dave Cortes

Dreaming in Three Dimensions: An Interview with Dave Cortes

By Tim Beedle Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Earlier this month we gave you an early look at our upcoming The Sandman: Overture Statue as part of Vertigo’s “25 Days of Sandman.” Produced by DC Collectibles and due in 2014, the statue is based off of the art of J.H. Williams III and is sculpted by Dave Cortes.

Well, the minute we saw it, we had a few questions for Mr. Cortes, starting with how we could get our Dream-obsessed hands on it earlier than 2014. Unfortunately, as you can see in the image above, it’s still a work-in-progress, but Dave was kind enough to answer a few other questions we had about the statue, as well as the work that goes into adapting 2D art into a one-of-a-kind 3D collectible like this.

What was your reaction when you were first approached about sculpting a statue based on the new Sandman miniseries? Are you a big fan? 

Getting an opportunity to work on a character like this doesn’t come too often in the toy industry. Don't get me wrong, sculpting a Batman figure is hard to top, but being able to loosen up on a project like this is pretty cool. It's definitely an honor to be a part of Neil's work, even if it's just a sculptor's realization of an illustrator’s interpretation.

What are the challenges that come with adapting a two-dimensional drawing and design into three dimensions?

One challenge is that usually the illustration is cut-off somewhere as this one was. You also have to make up the profile and back of the character. For that I usually take reference photos, but being that I didn't have a funky 70's robe laying around I decided to just make it up. In this case, making it up might have been the better choice to maintain the dreamy quality of the illustration and not spoiling it with realistic folds and wrinkles. Hopefully, I've captured the essence of the illustration that was awesome to begin with.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with the process of sculpting a collectible like this, can you give us a quick rundown? How does it generally work?

When starting a new project, I’m first given artwork, either concept or control art depending on whether it is a statue or articulated figure. I usually take reference photos for the projects, which means I'll be dressing up one of my friends to shoot 360 images of them in a pose to get clothing detail and wrinkles which will make the whole modeling process go quicker.  Then at some point I deviate from all reference and just do my own thing. About three weeks later we have something that everyone is happy with, then the model is prepped for 3D printing and the rest is out of my hands.

Do you miss sculpting traditionally or have you completely adapted to the digital medium?

I do miss traditional, but still get to do some here and there. I teach a traditional clay class as well as digital sculpting at SVA (School of Visual Arts), so I at least get to sculpt every fall with the students. Digital modeling is a great tool for the professional industry. There are many benefits to working digitally, so I will always suggest doing projects digitally for the companies I work for. At this point, I also favor the medium for my own work. I can work much quicker. But I do feel that my sixteen years sculpting in clay made the transition to digital easier, so I suggest some clay sculpting for every digital sculptor.

What are some of the other statues you’ve sculpted for DC Collectibles? Anything in particular you’re proud of?

I've done quite a bit for DC Collectibles now, so I'll just mention some of the most recent. Bane and Catwoman from The Dark Knight Rises, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City Batman, statues and articulated figures, and the Arkham City Joker statue. Of course when Morpheus is done that'll be high on the list!

So now that you’ve tackled Morpheus, are there any other Sandman characters you’d like to sculpt?

I'd like to sculpt them all, but that's not up to me, unfortunately.

And here’s the big question, how hard is it to sculpt that hair?! It seems like you could spend days on that alone!

Yes! The hair was tricky, but I quickly came up with a system. What's going to be tough is separating the different parts for tooling. That I'm not looking forward to.

Look for The Sandman: Overture #1 to hit stores on October 30, 2013. Of course, if even that wait seems too far away, be sure to visit for more “25 Days of Sandman” features—all month long!