How an artistic pursuit gave way to a promising startup

Fancy having a kick-ass pop culture-related sculpture straight out of Singapore talent pool? e27 talks to the artists from Singapore-based Kinetiquettes about making it big in the art startup world

Kinetic: an adjective meaning “of, relating to, or resulting from motion”.

Maquette: a noun that means “a sculptor’s small preliminary model or sketch”.

As a portmanteau, it’s the name of a Singaporean art studio focussed on making statues “in motion”. Meet Kinetiquettes, a small team of three artists and two back-end organisers formed out from their tenure at Ubisoft Singapore. Its focus is on capturing the essence of popular culture characters in dynamic action. Established in 2013, the artists have about 40 years worth of combined experience in doing 2D artwork, 3D modelling and sculpting, and they aim to go worldwide while based in Singapore.

So far, they’re slowly getting renowned for their work on Final Fantasy character Cloud Strife (see below) and are currently working on a Street Fighter piece, thanks to getting a license from Capcom. e27 talks to the startup’s sculptor and painter Adeeb Md Mynul Islam on the artists’ journey from then to now, and on the company’s vision shared with colleagues Ong Ean Keat and Kelvin Chan.

FF_kinetiquettes

On standing out
(What makes us stand out from other sculpting and art companies is that) our style is different. We’re animators; we like things in action. Whether it’s 2D drawings or 3D models, we like to capture characters at a standout moment, not while they’re standing idly by.

It’s very common to see sculptures in ‘museum poses’. We prefer to capture the moment in dynamic poses. Not just them, but also what’s around them and their environment.

Having said that, we’re not only working on statues, but we also work with other illustrators to create artworks created on other statues. It’s about what the artist wants to represent beyond a 3D drawing. In a way, we’re promoting the artist, and at the same time releasing our own product. We’re all individual artists, and this venture was spawned out of our personal hobbies.

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On how it got the license to work on street fighter statues
When we were talking to Capcom US (via a friend), we couldn’t geek out too much because we had to approach it in a systematic way, to justify it giving us the license. Since we wanted the Asia license as well, we needed to draft a separate contract with the Capcom Japan office. After we were introduced to Japan and got the terms set, we got it.

This was important, as having an official approval elevates the commissions we do beyond just fan art.

Trials and tribulations
One of the most important things is that we needed a business plan. We’re artists at heart, but in business we needed to think things through. On the front end of things, we promote ourselves as artists. The admin side of things; we have two of our people — one of them being my wife and another being an ex-Ubisoft colleague — handling that.

Another challenge was figuring out how we would approach our funding. We were mostly considering investors to start with but decided eventually to kick things off with our own initial funds that we could accumulate. Production costs are not exactly cheap, but we are hoping our first few projects are successful enough so that we can be self sustainable down the road.

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From left to right: Ong Ean Keat, Adeeb Md Mynul Islam and and Kelvin Chan. Image credit: Kinetiquettes

On the creative process
Usually, a character takes about three to four months to create. It depends on the complexity of it; the Final Fantasy VII Cloud Strife piece (see below) took a maximum of six months. While some of the commissioned pieces require handiwork, lately I’m handling the 3D modelling for the most recent ones including Capcom.

At Kinetiquettes, we come up with a lot of rough sketches while discussing the idea, characteristics and pose of a statue. The statue has to be visible in multiple views. Once we have a sketch that we like from the concept stage, Keat or Kelvin will do profile views and detailed drawings of the idea in different angles and perspectives. For example, we came up with a pose for a Capcom piece: Evil Ryu pulling off a fireball before firing it from his palms.

We used the program ZBrush for the 3D models. For private commissions, the model data is sent to a 3D Hong Kong company called Ownage to be 3D-printed en masse. I paint the final 3D-printed models to finish the job. Before that, we always get to see the prototype before we give it the OK. A piece of art would cost between US$1,000 to US$3,000 depending on how complex it is for the company to handle.

We went for Ownage because its print quality is good and it handles all of the technical stuff; we hand it the 3D model, and it does the rest. We tried, but we couldn’t find any similar service in Singapore.

(If we’re talking mass production), we’re in the midst of a discussion with a China factory to help out. We pass it the final model, it churns out maybe 300 or so statues depending on how many were requested. We are hands-on with the quality control, so that it ends up as accurate as the prototype.

On Kinetiquette’s video production series (see below)
We also want to educate other people who aren’t avid statue collectors and hardcore fans. I know that the creative and production process might be redundant to people already in the industry, but it’s an insider’s perspective to educate people and even garner interest from them. Hardcore collectors and companies might look at the vid and say ‘oh, they’re stating the obvious’, but it’s not common knowledge.

Also Read: Tokyo Otaku Mode raises funding to promote Japanese geek culture

On the local art and startup scene
(The indie art scene) is present, but it’s not as big as the San Diego Comicon and Wonderfest in Japan. The majority are artists instead of major companies. The Evil Ryu pre-order period will launch at this year’s Singapore Toys, Games and Comics Convention; we’re hoping to get the interest and attention there. Even if we’re thinking worldwide, we want to get the word out from Singapore first, what with all the big toy companies like Hot Toys coming down.

On future brands and pop culture properties
For Street Fighter, we have the license for the whole universe, so we can go for any version of the characters we want to work on. We have a line-up in mind, but it’s tentative. We need to see what people want and what their reactions are with the Evil Ryu statue we are doing.

Our products are standalone, but they have some relation to preceding products that we will reveal soon on a future video diary. We even have an idea on collectible statues that the industry hasn’t thought of before; that’ll be revealed soon.

We are trying to get in touch with Square Enix to discuss potential licensing, because our portfolio fits with their brand. Plus, the market for non-pose-able statues for Final Fantasy characters aren’t common as the branded action figures.

On what art-focussed startups can learn from you
We’re still a young company. We couldn’t have made Kinetiquettes without the freelancing experience we acquired throughout our journey. My sculpting was my hobby; at a certain point in my life, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. The only advice I can give is go and do it. Go and start on it. Once you start on it, you will automatically find the need to learn a lot of things on the fly.

When I learned clay sculpting, I also needed to learn what other materials are hardy and durable enough. I had to learn molding, casting and resin. I had to self-teach myself, thanks in huge part to the internet.

Just go ahead and start on it. You will find advice and people who will help you along the way. You have to have the will to do it.

Jonathan Toyad

If you want an elaborate answer on who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla, Jonathan Toyad is your man. A six-year veteran in the game journalism industry, he did words and videos for outlets such as GameSpot, GameAxis, IGN and Stuff.TV. Fears coyotes and scorched earths.

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