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How it all began...

Starting out building aircraft and tank models was the beginning of my hobby turned business. As an early teenager, I was given an F-14 Tomcat model and a tube of glue.  didn't know any better so I used the entire tube to build a 1/48th-scale fighter jet. Needless to say, I learned quickly that you don't use the entire tube on each model. I quickly advanced and learned that cleaning the sprue tabs of the parts helped them fit better. 

The details were the next major advancement in my skill level. Learning to scribe panel lines or super-detailing the interior of a tank from Squadron reference books taught me a lot. I loved the scale model building and it took me into a new place in my head where my imagination could run wild. But that only created more of a drive to add realism to these small-scale things. The figures were the next hurdle to cross over. 1/32" military figures to add to the vehicles became a new area to conquer. As you can imagine, faces at that scale are a nightmare. With the right tools and practicing what I was learning from smarter modelers, I got the hang of it. Military Modeler, Scale Modeler, and Fine Scale Modeler magazines were a huge help.

 

Then the next evolution came in adding weathering effects and painting details like camouflage, rust, and stains. This made the vehicles have more character. Adding diorama boards allowed me to display these vehicles, armor, and planes in their natural surroundings with people and other equipment. Making it look real was a thrill. That was how it started. Shepard Paine and Francois Verlinden were the masters I learned these amazing details from. Their work results were never easy to replicate, but practice makes a huge difference.

What came next?

As my model building skills increased, I tried a few local contests and won enough 1st place trophies and awards to believe in myself. My uncle Barry, who also loved to build fighter jet models, thought it would be a good idea to put them into a more nationally-recognized competition to see how they faired against other model-builders. Winning the International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS) Junior Outstanding Modeler Award ramped up the confidence to pursue more. From those local and national competitions, the word was getting out that I could do this and my father's teachers began commissioning me to build dioramas, armor, and naval ships to adorn their offices and private collections. A few needed props for their military teachings and I was the guy to make it happen.

 

A lot of research goes into making sure you have the details right, I learned quickly. It's not just about putting a model together; it has more to do with the details presented, the colors used, the markings shown, and the uniforms had to be correctly recognized from that era. One mistake and the project can fall apart. 

For years, I built scale models of all kinds. I dabbled in large-scale vinyl figures and saw the details that helped bring the characters to life. That's when I knew that it didn't matter what material the piece was made of, I wanted to do more, add more details, weather it, add rust, add grime, make dioramas to showcase the terrain it would be found in, create battle scenes with soldiers and armor or planes mixed together, and help build other collector's collections. So, I did that for years.  I had a hobby that I turned into a money-making business. And it kept me out of trouble. 

When my daughter was born, I learned first-hand that the saying, "When you have kids, all your hobbies are put on hold for at least the first two years." is so true. You're responsible for so much more and time to do hobbies takes a back burner. One day, I was able to dust off the work table and set up a studio in the house to work again. It was a blast having my daughter come up the stairs to see what I was working on. Then life can get in the way and your focus is on other things. At least that's how it happened for me.

I honed my scale model-building skills to be a customizer

They say you're a professional when you begin to get paid for your work. I did the occasional commission model and diorama work, but I didn't step into the professional world until a few years later when my work was beginning to show up in places like the Pentagon, the Naval War College, Valley Forge Military Academy, and private collections. 

As far as moving from models to figures happened many years later, I saw all of the gaming fans loving the merchandising of the games, but not everyone's character was made. They wanted what wasn't being mass-produced by the factories. It made sense. I began putting my modeling skills back to work creating special vehicles for figures, modifying figures to match variants of armor that weren't available, and making full-scale things that I liked.

In 2011, I made a promise to myself that I was going to enter the ranks of action figure customizers to give collectors the chance to have their character or favorite game or comic book superhero on their shelves. Yes, it came with challenges like where do you put yourself to get noticed. The easy answer was eBay. People found my customs on eBay and then on my website. They began asking for commission projects rather than buying my customs from eBay. It was a natural evolution of my business. Soon I had to start turning work away. I loved it and it kept me busy making fans happy with a one-of-a-kind collectible figure.  I had the skills, just in a different form. A new website, a few good descriptions, and a picture gallery were what it took to show the world, there is a place to get affordable, high-quality custom action figures and vehicles! Smart-Customs.com was born as a new place to hold my work examples, challenge my skill set, gain a reputation, and foster more happy clients.

New chapters happen naturally...

So what's next? I began having friends and clients talking to me about it all. One challenged me to make a custom figure at full-scale. You all know this as "cosplay." I had no idea about it yet, so I researched how to make full-scale Halo armor. With some guidance from Facebook and friends, I began my path down the EVA foam road to cosplay armor. Designing a custom Halo Reach armor was my goal. Speaking to many out there that have already blazed the trail helped me a lot during the frustration of a failed piece, bad scaling, or it not fitting over my body. You learn a lot making your first suit.

 

Attending Philly Comic-con and Dragon-con in my "Recon Assassin" Halo Reach concept armor opened many doors that led to becoming a deployed Tier 2 Halo Cosplayer in the 405th Halo Infantry Division. Those folks are the best family a cosplayer could ask for with amazingly-talented artists that love to offer helpful spirits. If you want to learn more about Halo cosplaying, they are the ones to help you make it happen. I've become the 405th's Assistant Graphics Officer and have applied my skills to Halo Outpost Discovery projects throughout the US. I even helped create special awards given to Steve Downes and Jen Tayor at the first HOD. Meeting each of them at HOD-Philly was a bucket-List moment in my S-102: "Recon Assassin" Halo Concept Armor and loved them both. I presented Steve with my custom H3 Masterchief PEZ dispenser too. 

Here we are at the present day. That's my story! I love to make custom stuff that brings characters to life.

If you want your own commissioned item, I'm here to help you. Sign up here with your project idea(s) and we'll talk soon.

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