If you were with us at the Thailand Toy Expo earlier in May, you’ll probably remember the hauntingly awesome glow-in-the-dark Jiangshi Acolyte figurines created by Singapore-based sculptor, Daniel Yu. Alongside Daniel was Fanny Kao (who goes by the alias FuFuFanny), a toy maker based in Taiwan, who was also present with a couple of playful hedgehog (Acorn and Chompie) and bat (Romeo) figurines.
We recently sat down for a chat with the brains behind the well-loved figurines to pick their brains about how their careers in toy making came about and take a peek behind the scenes in their daily work.
What was the hardest step when you initially started out as a toymaker?
About 10 years ago, Fanny took her first steps into the toy making industry only as a favour for her brother.
“Eventually, I had to quit my day job and commit full time because being a perfectionist, he pays a lot of attention to details and had problems meeting deadlines as a result of that.”
She mentions that the most difficulties she had were with the gathering of casting materials and other resources as they were not as accessible back then, unlike now where everything is just a click away on the internet. Even the limited resources that were available was quite pricey.
For Daniel, the hardest part was not knowing where to start and the unfamiliarity with the industry.
“I have always been a collector of toys because I like that it is a tactile thing that you could hold and that you can play with. It is basically like a movable sculpture.”
As toy making started out as a hobby for him, he had no idea where to begin at all when he finally decided to pursue it as a career. The knowledge of independent toy companies and artists helped a little but there is no hard and fast rule in this industry that you can follow, a lot of things were trial and error.
“Another difficult part was learning how to roll with the punches. When I first started out, my expectations did not meet reality. Just trying to push forward and keep going, that was already quite a challenge.”
Was your passion for toy making something that drew the both of you to each other? And can you name the specific moment when the idea of going into this industry hit you?
Fanny: “We got to know each other because of Mighty Jaxx!”
The creative duo got to know each other at Taipei Toy Festival (TTF) when Fanny was working with INSTINCTOY and Daniel was collaborating with Mighty Jaxx. If not for this convention, the couple would never have crossed paths!
Daniel points out that he was not keen on attending TTF initially and it was Jackson (founder and owner of Mighty Jaxx) that convinced him to go.
Daniel: “I was glad that he did!”
When Fanny was working with her brother, things did not work out quite the way they wanted. They cleared out their savings because they were not proficient in selling their toys and Fanny was forced to get back into the workforce. The definitive moment when she decided to carve out her own path in the industry was when she was working under INSTINCTOY.
“No matter how much hard work you put in, as long as you are working under another person, it will never be your name on the front. Even when you have some interesting and good ideas, your opinions will be overruled because ultimately it is not your brand or company.”.
Since she already possessed all the necessary skills to start up her own business, Fanny decided it was time for her to come out on her own.
Up until Daniel joined the Arts and Culture fraternity in university, toy making has always been just a hobby. The interactive experience he had with local and international artists during his time in the fraternity gave him the idea to enter the industry.
“Becoming an artist as a full time gig wasn’t as far-fetched as he’d thought”.
With that idea seeding in his mind, it motivated him to convert his hobby into a career.
Touching on the idea of occupation versus vocation, how did you realise toy making is something you love to do or rather “your calling”? Do you think it is a myth or is it something that you think everyone can find for themselves?
Rather than saying it’s a calling, for Fanny it is the freedom to produce her artwork that spurs her love for toy making. As long as she is able to do what she loves, Fanny has no qualms about exploration of other art forms.
Daniel: “For me, I think I'm lucky.”
Stepping into the industry with a burning passion for toy making, Daniel did not have to struggle much with deciding on what he wanted to do. He feels that instead of scurrying to find your “calling”, it is more important to be self-aware and know what your limitations and strengths are. Everything else will fall into place with time.
Over the course of your careers, constantly coming back to the same thing day-in and day-out, how do both of you maintain interest and excitement in what you guys do?
As a person that enjoys problem-solving, no matter how boring the job is, Fanny will find a way to challenge herself. She is always thinking of faster and better ways to complete the task at hand and finds that the constant challenge keeps things interesting for her at every turn even if the outcome is the same.
Being an independent artist, Daniel feels that there is a lot of rules to follow but he is also given the opportunity to be more flexible and manage his own time; allowing him to delegate his tasks as he deems. Since there are many different aspects of the job that requires him to do varying tasks, he tries not to do the same things everyday which helps to keep things fresh for him.
“Not everyday will be sunshine and rainbows but it is on you to motivate yourself and to maintain that drive.”
Before coming out on your own, you were working with companies like us to develop your artwork. How is it different? And what was the most memorable collaboration for you?
When Daniel first met Jackson in 2012, they were both pretty new to the scene and still learning as they went along. As they were specialised in different fields of expertise, they were able to absorb each other’s skill sets and grow together.
“working with Jackson was in a much more communal environment where they could exchange ideas and give out comments freely.”
It was a more collaborative process that allowed him to focus on the artistic aspect of the business with Jackson taking care of the production part. In this way, their individual qualities was beneficial to each other.
As he went on to be an independent artist, Daniel felt that he had to take on a lot more roles. He could not just focus on being an artist anymore as he basically has to run an entire company on his own.
“Cthulhu was the most memorable collaboration with Mighty Jaxx.”, Daniel says as he talks about his most significant piece of work with us.
The character was birthed from Daniel’s love for horror and H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and universe, with a touch of contemporary element.
Lastly, what advice would you give to the next generation of aspiring creatives to come?
Daniel: “For me, I would bring it back to the point of being self-aware, knowing and playing to your strengths. Not everything is going to go your way but you still have to maintain your awareness when it comes to the goal you wish to achieve and work towards it.”
Fanny: “I would say, it is important to keep a cool head and not freak yourselves out unnecessarily. When you are overwhelmed by your problems, simply list them out and tackle them one by one. There is nothing that cannot be resolved if you put your mind to it!”