Porgs, Cybermen and Star Wars masks: Inside the studio of fan sculptor Toby Markham

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Lucas Siegel
Aug 31, 2017

There's no denying Porg fever. The little bird creatures recently debuted in a behind-the-scenes reel for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and fans immediately wanted to know more about them. Unfortunatley, information is scarce: We know they live on the island world of Ahch-To with Luke Skywalker and were based heavily on the real-world animal, the puffin. Beyond that, we're pretty much clueless.

But lack of knowledge about these creatures hasn't discouraged fan love and devotion, including a tribute from Star Wars sculptor Toby Markham, known online as SithCamaro. Markham was one of the first to sculpt his own Porg props, getting ahead of any official toys that will be released on Force Friday. Fans have gravitated to his adorable sculptures, who stare lovingly up at you with their big eyes (and which he sells for about $64 on his web store).

But Markham does much more than just Porgs as he sculpts other props and costume pieces. He has a couple of new Star Wars masks, like Captain Sidon Ithano, the "Crimson Corsair," debuting at Dragon Con this weekend, plus other Star Wars, Marvel, and Doctor Who work that will blow you away.

SYFY WIRE spoke with Markham about projects, props, Porgs and what he might be building in the future, along with some exclusive photos of his recent work, including the finished Crimson Corsair mask and more.

Take me through this: you saw the behind-the-scenes reel for The Last Jedi, and all the new stuff in there. What made you instantly gravitate to the Porgs as something you wanted to create around?

Toby Markham: When I first saw the BTS footage, the porgs really stuck out. Of course there was a flurry of just random info that made it all a little much to take in, but those guys really stuck out. At first I saw it as your typical Disney kid-friendly sort of cute. But as a bird lover, it probably hit a little closer to home than most.

Last spring, we made a trip out to Iceland. Aside from making it a point to visit one of the black sand Rogue One sets, we also went out of our way to visit their aquarium. I'd use the word 'aquarium' very loosely, as it only consisted of two rooms, mostly filled with the taxidermy of foreign animals that had made their way over through tourism or trade. Anyhow, the main draw was that you could hold a live puffin. And since the porgs were based on puffins, it's no wonder why they caught my eye above all else.

Normally I'd have just brushed it off and looked forward to their appearance in the movie. But because I've been on such a sculpting kick as of late, I knew this would be just a quick and fun project.

This is a true craft item, as you're hand-painting each one. What kind of touches are you adding to give each of these their own unique look?

Markham: Being that these come from a mold, they are all cast identical. Mixing all of the paints are a bit time-consuming, so I like to paint these in batches of about five. So it's a bit of an assembly line sort of process, where each piece gets the same layer of paint. Believe it or not, I've not needed to make more than just those initial five! So if I were to receive more orders, then they'd go through the same process. But being that some of these colors are mixed, any future builds would be of slightly different shades.

But as these are painted, I do like to go about adding variances between the browns and whites. Much like birds being lighter in color and darkening with age.

Your other Star Wars items have focused on props and helmets. What appeals to you about those, versus something like the Porgs that are meant solely for display?

Markham: My hobbies began with Halloween and costuming, first and foremost. And as I've progressed in my skills, I've grown from fabrics to leathers, helmets/armor to props. I look at the porgs from a prop standpoint, not unlike a staff or weapon – a piece that can accentuate your overall costume. Not that these go with any of my costumes, but again, it was mostly a fun exercise. I had a similar experience when Guardians of the Galaxy came out; I was one of those people who thought Baby Groot was cute. And that opening weekend, I sat down and quickly sculpted one of those. And just like now, much of the internet had the same idea and a bunch of them began popping up.

The Doctor Who items on your site are really impressive, including the Cyberman mask. What goes into building something like that, from concept to finish? How long does each step take, and was there any part of it you found specifically difficult or surprising?

Markham: The Cyberman was a big step for me. I was still fresh into the whole casting and molding process, so I pushed myself further than just a helmet and went for the whole thing. At that point, I already had body castings of myself, that had been lying around for nearly a decade. So I decided it was finally time to use them for something.

I spent about two months developing that suit. What was most surprising was the final crunch stretch. I was about one week away from its Dragon Con debut and I was missing the hands, feet and both legs! Fortunately I came up with ideas that allowed me to burn through all of the parts that I still needed. Literally sculpting and molding the feet the day before I left! Then I sort of cheated and cast the same calf for both legs. Even though each leg has a slight bow in opposite directions, I was able to squeak by (and nobody has yet to notice!). I'm lucky that I've got fast curing silicone.

I started by sculpting the chest and arms, which was a little time-consuming. All of the parts needed to have a polished surface, something I could not personally achieve at the time. So my option was to make temporary molds of those pieces and cast those in resin, so I could rework those with body filler and a power sander. Once I went into overdrive, I utilized the techniques that I developed and went about the remaining pieces by building with body filler, rather than clay sculpting.

You've done a couple small pieces of Marvel gear around the Dark Elves - any desire or plans to do more Marvel or DC Comics based costuming?

Markham: I will definitely create more Marvel pieces as they catch my eye. A lot of these pieces come ahead of the actual character interpretation. So if it's something visually stunning, or it looks like it could push me to try something new, then I jump on it.

What’s next for you with Star Wars? Any other creatures or props you're especially looking forward to giving a crafting attempt to?

Markham: I am definitely looking forward to what Episode VIII may have in store. I probably won't go through the new Kylo build, as I rarely even wear the current version. I'd like for there to be an interesting alien to make, but not even the Vanity Fair group picture had anything that spoke to me. Perhaps the movie itself will change that.

I always look to make things that I enjoy, but I also like to fill the niche of costumes not usually made. Sometimes a costume can lose its appeal when there are more than a few dozen of them at the same convention. Of course, the main draw to any costume is the journey in creating it. So once it's finished, I'm already looking forward to the next build and burying myself into the whole process of how I will go about that.

Check out more of Toby's work on Porgs, Cybermen and more below, and head to his site for the latest on his projects in fandom!