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An Interview with Kaiju Maker, Bill Gudmundson

Bilal El Amin tracked down the amazing Bill Gudmundson and got these insights into arguably America's best kaiju sculptor.

When CreatureScape’s editor was soliciting ideas for the Kaiju issue, I knew it would be a great opportunity to do an interview with Kaiju modeler and sculptor, Bill Gudmundson. Bill lives in Chicago and works professionally as a graphics designer and sculptor. He is also a partner in a garage kit company called Resin Chief Team Ukeke, which produces amazing and affordable Kaiju kits. If you’ve ever talked with Bill or attended one of his seminars at G-Fest, you can tell immediately how much of a fan of the genre he is. I’ve been a big fan of Bill’s every since I ran across pictures of his dioramas and sculpts on the web years ago. So it’s with great appreciation that I present this interview:

Bilal: Bill, thanks for agreeing to take time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.

Bill: No problem.

Bilal:  What are your top three favorite kaiju films? 

Bill:  GODZILLA VS THE THING
         GODZILLA (1954)
         GAMERA 3

Bilal: Who is your favorite kaiju hero character? Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, etc?

Bill: I’d have to say the 90’s Gamera . . . only because I like to think of Godzilla as a villain.

Bilal: Who’s your favorite kaiju villain character? King Ghidorah, Gyaos, Godzilla, etc?

Bill: Well, I guess it would have to be Godzilla, although King Ghidorah is a close second.

Bilal:  What’s your favorite Godzilla suit? 

Bill:  1964, from GODZILLA VS THE THING

Bilal:  How did you get interested in kaiju modeling? 

Bill:  I’ve always been interested in modeling, since I was a kid building up the Aurora monster models. When I was a teenager, I was making stop-motion animation puppets of Japanese monsters. So my current output is an outgrowth of my past.

Bilal:  What’s your favorite kaiju kit of all time? 

Bill:  Hard to answer.  The Asai King Ghidorah would be way up there, although I have not built it yet.  For value and accuracy, the Billikin MechaGodzilla II kit is a favorite.  I recently got Asai’s Godzilla vs Mothra kits, and that looks like it will build up nicely.   

Models build by Bill Gudmundson--yeah, he's freakin' incredible!

Bilal:  What kit do you have in your “stash” that you can’t wait to build?

Bill:  There’s an old Kaiyodo kit from 1985 of the Cybot Godzilla that I keep thinking about… Don’t ask me why.

Bilal:  What advice would you give to us modelers who what to improve and get better results?

Bill:  Take your time.  Learn about modeling techniques.  And not just monster model techniques.  A lot of skills used in making aircraft and tanks can be applied to kaiju modeling.  I first started using washes after seeing them done on aircraft. All modeling is interrelated.

Bilal:  How long have you been sculpting kaiju kits? 

Bill:  I started with the Flying Hedorah in 2001.  I felt it was best to start with something simple, and work my way up. 

Bilal:  What was your first sculpt that ended up as a kit? How did it feel when you saw it built and painted by someone else? 

Bill:  The first one was the flying Hedorah. Although I can’t think of someone else’s paint job on this particular kit, it is always a thrill to see how others interpret my work.

Bilal:  The name of the company that produces your kits is Resin Chief Team Ukeke.  How did that get started?  What can we expect in the future from RCTU? 

Bill:  Resin Chef Team Ukeke came about by a rather twisted combination of events.  I had started making kits under the name “Bill’s Kitchen” when I met with my partner, Greg.  Greg had met a group of people in Japan who were a group of friends that (I believe) had met through the internet.  For some reason, they referred to themselves as “Team Ukeke” (“Ukeke” I was told is a way of writing laughter in manga…sort of a “HA HA” kind of thing).

Team Ukeke, Greg and I merged to form Resin Chef Team Ukeke. The Resin Chef part comes out of the Bill’s Kitchen origins.  In addition to the kits that I have sculpted, Greg has contracted Yukifusa Shibata to sculpt several monsters (1965 Rodan, Flying Varan, Gigan, etc.)  Shibata has also sculpted a few kits on his own for the group, like the giant octopus and Bostang, the giant manta ray from ULTRA Q. Another of our group, Toru Kawajiri, has made a few pieces as well, like the Kilaak Queen.

As for the future, I plan on doing a Godzilla 1966 next, and Shibata has done a large 1962 Godzilla for Greg. Release dates are yet to be determined.

Bilal:  I’m not sure if it would be fair to peg you as a kaiju sculptor as you have done a few vehicle and mecha kits as well.  What is more challenging to sculpt?  Would you ever consider sculpting people? 

Bill:  Both have their unique challenges. Doing the kaiju is less exacting than the vehicles.  When I did the Markalite, I had to incorporate new media like photoetched parts and vacuum-formed parts.  So that ended up being a new type of challenge.  On the other hand, sculpting the thousands of scales on a piece like Gappa was one of the most difficult tasks that I’ve done. It’s really two different types of discipline.

I’ve never been really interested in sculpting people, partially out of fear.  If you get a little detail off on a monster, no one will really notice, but on a human face, if you are off by a millimeter, it won’t be recognizable as the likeness that you are trying to capture.

Bilal:  I noticed that most of your sculpts are of the villain kaiju characters. Why?

Bill Actually, my intent was to sculpt monsters that other garage kit makers had neglected. These were all monsters that I wanted to have as kits, but for one reason or another, had been ignored, especially in 30 cm size.  Billikin had made their Godzilla 1975 and MechaGodzilla II, but where was Titanosaurus? They did Jet Jaguar, but no Megalon. Perhaps I could sell more kits of more popular monsters, but they have been done many times over, so I don’t see the reason for sculpting them.

Bilal:  Most of your kaiju sculpts are in the 12 inch scale. Why? Would you
consider doing a series in the 8 inch scale?

Bill:  I think this is one of the best sizes for the amount of detail possible, as well as for fitting into the popular n-guage model train scale (lots of stuff available for dioramas). I also just like this size.

Image and Daimos are currently doing some great work in the 20 cm size.  I don’t want to try to compete with them.  Actually, the first two sculpts that I did (Flying Hedorah and Manda on the monorail) were in the 20 cm (1/250) size. After doing these, I felt like the 30 cm size was the direction that I wanted to follow.

Bilal:  Have you ever thought about doing a two-figure kit or single figure kits that are designed to be displayed together in scene or diorama? If so, what scene would you like to sculpt?

Bill:  Actually, no. I’ve never really thought about that. Maybe I should give it some thought.

Bilal:  Who inspires you in the sculpting or modeling community?

Bill:  Hard to make a list. Japanese sculptors would include Atsushi Asai, Yuji Kaida, Masakazu Oda, Takuji Yamada and many others. Here in the states I always look forward to the new work by Mike Wallace, Bill Jones, Stan Hyde etc. There’s too many to mention.

I find one of the most inspiring things is to go to the MMSI show here in the Chicagoland area. Even if you have no interest in the subject matter, the artistry on display is amazing.

Bilal:  Can you briefly describe your sculpting process?

Bill:  This would take a whole article.  Check out issue #9 of JAPANESE GIANTS to see such an article.  I start with reference material, then make an armature, cover it with foil and sculpy.  The final details are done with a 2 part epoxy part like Alves Apoxie Sculpt.

Bilal:  For us who want to try our hand at sculpting kaiju, what advice would you give?

Bill:  Know what you want to achieve before going into the process; make sure that you get the pose right before getting into the details. The best details in the world will not save a crummy pose. There’s a lot of stuff on the web about sculpting.  Everyone has their own idea about the way to do things; look at other sculptor’s approaches, and pick techniques that you are comfortable with.

Bilal:  Tell us about your experience in obtaining licenses for you kits from companies like Toho? 

Bill:  There was no way that Greg and I could have doen this on our own. We have to thank Mr. Yamada in our Kyoto branch for taking all the time and trouble to do this for us.

Bilal: What was your experience like at Wonderfest Japan as a dealer/sculptor? How were your kits received in Japan? 

Bill:  At the first WF we attended, in 2004, Greg and I were more like props than vendors.  Yamada-san and the others took care of everything business wise for us. Still, it was a great experience, and we were able to meet a lot of fans. Our kits went over rather well, especially for our first time, with several kits selling out. 

Since then, things have gone very well. I think that it has made a difference going to Japan three years in a row. Now, many of the Japanese sculptors recognize us; I think we are becoming part of the “club”. Personally, I can’t wait to go back next year.

Bilal:  Thanks again for this informative interview.  Is there anything else you would like to add?

Bill: I’d just like to say thank you to all those who have supported RCTU over the years.  Domo arigato gozaimasu!

Some Links: 

RCTU:
http://rc-ukeke.com/

Bill’s Kitchen:
  http://www.bills-kitchen.com/

My photo diary of the last WF:
http://www.bills-kitchen.com/japan06.html

Japanese Giants:
http://www.japanesegiants.com/

Great sculpting tutorial:
http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=18287

More sculpting stuff here:
http://www.danperezstudios.com/

Aves:
http://www.avesstudio.com/

MMSI:
http://www.mmsichicago.com/

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