Looking at Kenner Star Wars in a Whole New Light with Brian Hickey

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Post by the89thchris on Sat Mar 14, 2020 7:59 pm

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In the 3 years that I’ve been running the Instagram account for the forum, I’ve seen a lot of toy photography, but nothing has quite compared to the artist that I’m featuring here. Brian Hickey has been sharing his unique brand toy photography on Instagram since 2013 but his style has evolved and refined over that time. Currently, his focus is shooting the Kenner Star Wars toys but featuring dynamic poses and lighting that are so striking that they just beg to be shared. I think the reason these images are so powerful is that: they fly against the grain of the original advertising and packaging that the toys are associated with, we're seeing these iconic pieces in a whole new light… literally.

Brian was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions and provide some high-res images for this interview. Since Instagram is the only platform he’s using at the moment, I've asked him to share some larger versions of the two photos he's decided to feature so we can really appreciate the attention to detail.

Brian's Instagram Page: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]


What compelled you to start shooting toy photography?

"I can’t pinpoint a single reason for it. It’s just something I’ve been drawn to. ┬áLike most people of my generation, I had lots of figures as a kid. Then as I got older and my interests changed, I gave up playing with toys. I moved out of my home to go to college and while I was there my parents moved house. They had this big clear out of stuff they didn’t what to bring with them to the new place, and as part of that, they threw all of my Star Wars and Action Force (G.I. Joe) toys in a dumpster. Around 2008/2009 I got back into collecting, and I guess the photography came about as a form of playing with the toys. My initial photographs weren’t very good (in my opinion), but as I got more into it and participated in many of the toy photography groups online, I worked harder to improve the shots and to get as much possible included ‘in camera’ - so there’s nothing added digitally in post-production."


What triggered you to shift over to mostly vintage Star Wars items as your subjects?

"I’ve always loved the Kenner action figures. When it comes to photographing them, I was initially attracted to the challenge of working with figures with only 5 points of articulation. Before that, I’d been setting up shots using modern era G.I. Joe figures. Some of these have 20+ points of articulation. This allows you to set up poses that are very realistic. The Kenner toys don’t have that, so you need to be more creative to put a shot together that looks believable.

I also had great memories of the toy catalogs and Star Wars packaging from the early 80s. The AT-AT box art shot by Kim Simmons, for example, is an image that blew me away as a kid, and even today I still think it’s a magnificent work of art. I wanted to see could I achieve something comparable to his work, using the same constraints that Kim had 40 years ago - so no digital collages or CGI enhancements in the images.

What I discovered very quickly, once I’d started shooting the Kenner figs, was that they were brilliantly designed and sculpted. When you look at a figure up close in a high-resolution image, you see details that are barely noticeable with the naked eye, so photographing them deepened my respect and love for these classic toys.

Once that happened, I set myself the goal of recreating every single scene from the original trilogy movies using only the Kenner figures and simple dios made from found objects and basic arts and crafts techniques. I have the first two films already shot and I’m about halfway through Return of the Jedi. Once that's finished I’m planning to release the entire collection as a book."


Did you have the Kenner Star Wars toys as a child? Do you remember the first time you saw the original 3 films?

"Yes and Yes!

With the toys, I had a nice collection as a kid, but it was far from complete. I only got Star Wars toys for Christmas and birthdays. It was the early 80s when I got my first ever Star Wars figure - it was Han Solo in Hoth Battle Gear. I also remember one Christmas getting the AT-AT, the Millennium Falcon and Salve 1. Occasionally, if there was a car boot sale in either the school or church hall, I’d go down with my pocket money and see what I could find. I got myself an X-Wing and a B-Wing that way for about 50p. They were missing every removable part of course, but that didn’t stop me having great fun with them.

The movies were amazing. I saw all three in the same theatre - The Ambassador in Dublin city. I can’t even put into words how amazing I thought they were. They made a very deep impression on me and gave me a love for Star Wars that i still have today.

The one memory that stands out the most for me is the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Not the reveal that Darth Vadar was Luke’s father, but that the film ended and nothing had been resolved. That shock I felt when the credits kicked in suddenly, and knowing in that moment, that I would have to wait years for any kind of conclusion, was like AAAAAAARRRRGHH - let’s just say, it was a lot for a 9-year-old to take in."

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Tell us about your process when it comes to composing an image, what kind of lighting techniques and practical effects do you employ?

"I have a small workspace set up at home where I take most of my shots. It’s large enough for me to set-up small dios and it can incorporate a couple of vehicles too. For bigger scenes, I’ve rented out space in the local community centre for a day.

The set-up at home is a DIY light tent effectively. I have a sheet draped over a frame that acts as a diffuser, with two desk lamps clamped to the sides of the workspace. They allow me to get a nice even light across the workspace when I need it. If I want something more dramatic, I use a few small torches that I can set-up within the scene.

I like to use a blend of ‘daylight’ and ‘tungsten light’ so that I can get that 'warm and cold' feel in some of the shots. George used this technique a lot in the movies - it’s very noticeable in Jabba’s palace for example. Ultimately, I try my best to get the light as true to the actual movies as possible.

Because I work mostly in a small space at home, I like to use Kenner’s Micro Collection and Diecast toys combined with the 3 and 3/4 inch toys to create a forced perspective and the give the illusion that the scene is bigger than it really is. I’ll build set pieces for the dioramas as I need them, usually working with junk pulled out of the recycle bin, and cool looking objects that I might discover on my travels. For example, I found a filter from a large format inkjet printer. I used that as a ceiling for the interiors of Echo Base and then later spray painted it and used it as a stairs for the Bespin freezing chamber. I’m always repurposing assets wherever I can.

I’ve made some explosion effects with chicken wire and cotton wool. I have about 4 different models at different sizes. I place a small light inside them and they come to life in the shot. I use straws as laser blasts. I like to shoot on a long exposure, this allows me to move the straws slightly, and the subsequent motion make the straw look at lot like a blaster bolt."

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Has toy photography caused you to collect these pieces or were you already doing that beforehand?

"I was already collecting beforehand, but once I committed to the idea of a book, recreating all three movies, then that focused my collecting habits. I don’t have the budget to collect everything I need, so from time to time I have to call on a few good friends who are able to lend me some select pieces that I need to complete a shot."


Would you select two of your images that are personal favorites and tell us a bit about each one?

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The Emperor’s Arrival

"This is one of the most ambitious shots I’ve taken. This set up was too big to shoot at home, so I hired a room in the local community centre that had all the space I needed to set up. I put a lot of time into planning the shot, and built all the set pieces I needed prior to the shoot. But the biggest challenge was sourcing an imperial army. I had to reach out to a friend of mine, Ken Costello, who is highly respected in the Vintage SW collector community in Ireland. He was able to reach out to a number of collectors and ask them if they would be kind enough to loan me their imperial troop builders for this image. They all very enthusiastically said yes!

So there are figures from 4 different collections in this image. To make sure we didn't mix up anyone's figures, we marked the sole of each foot with a tiny piece of tape, using a different colour for each collection.

I feel really grateful to the collector community for being so trusting and supportive and enabling me to create one of the hero shots of the book."


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The Falcon in the Asteroid Field

"This is an example of the kind of images I love to shoot in my studio at home. There is no digital enhancement of any kind in this image. The asteroids are all rocks that I’ve collected and are suspended with fishing line, except for the big one at the bottom. The motion blur on the asteroids is caused by shooting on a long exposure while they gently swing back and forth. This creates the illusion of asteroids hurtling through space while also disguising the wires. The Falcon is propped up on a stand that is hidden in the shadow of the vehicle.

For the star background, I’ve copied a technique used by both George Lucas and Stanly Kubrick. I’ve punched holes in a black background and placed lights behind that. The light shining through the pinholes creates the stars."

Thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer some of my questions for this post, if you like what you see, check out his Instagram at the link below and give him a follow over there!

Brian's Instagram Page: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
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Post by Commander Clint on Sat Mar 14, 2020 9:05 pm

That was a fantastic read.

Thanks for posting it. I'll have to check out Brian's work. cheers
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Post by grinchy on Sat Mar 14, 2020 10:45 pm

Very interesting, he does great work, thanks for sharing
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Post by the89thchris on Sat Mar 14, 2020 11:26 pm

Glad you liked it, I could see his page really taking off down the road. He has around 1000 followers now, but that's pretty low for the type of images he's putting together.
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Post by Dr Dengar on Sun Mar 15, 2020 3:19 pm



Impressing photography having the right Kenner feeling.
Seeing this makes me happy. Thank you for sharing, Chris. cheers
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Post by ourchickenshack on Sun Mar 15, 2020 5:45 pm

Very cool pics yay
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Post by the89thchris on Tue Mar 17, 2020 2:25 pm

Hey! Lets welcome [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] to the forum! cheers

Thanks again for the interview, we've had good engagement on social media over it and the article has a good number of views for only being up a few days. popcorn
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Post by Commander Clint on Tue Mar 17, 2020 3:54 pm

welcome on board Brian.

That's a lot of great photo's. Keep up the great work. clapping
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Post by firstjedi on Thu Mar 19, 2020 3:10 am

Beautiful work! Please provide book ordering details when it becomes available.

Great job Chris.
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Post by the89thchris on Thu Mar 26, 2020 3:44 pm

Check out Brian's most recent shot:

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He live-streamed the setup process on Instagram, pretty fun stuff.
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Post by Commander Clint on Thu Mar 26, 2020 5:40 pm

That's a great new shot. clapping
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Post by Nico on Thu Mar 26, 2020 11:49 pm

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:Check out Brian's most recent shot:

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[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] That's a beauty mate, thanks for sharing bro rockon
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Post by Dr Dengar on Sat Apr 11, 2020 5:00 pm


Wow, great shot, great atmosphere, Love it. clapping
It is also a cool scene with C-3PO telling about their recent adventures mimicking the sounds of AT ATs, TIE Fighters etc.
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Post by the89thchris on Sat Apr 11, 2020 6:46 pm

Yeah, it was fascinating seeing him set it up. It wasn't immediately obvious what scene it was supposed to be as the structure behind them is huge lol

Here's another recent one from Brian's IG page:
popcorn

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