Sculpting a Mandalorian: An Interview With Brad Groatman

Learn more about this fan-made Sabine Wren statue and how 3D printing broadens the imagination!

Scrolling through the tags, every once in a while you find something that makes you stop and go, “Whoa.” This recently happened to me while exploring the Star Wars Rebels hashtag on Twitter, where I came across a Sabine Wren statue — something I’ve been begging Gentle Giant Ltd. as well as Sideshow Collectibles and Hot Toys to do ever since the series premiered five years ago.

Not only does the statue accurately capture Sabine’s iconic season one look, but it also brilliantly captures her style and flare. The digital artist behind the statue is Brad Groatman. We reached to him with a few questions about his statue and how he put it together.

You’ve created several statues based on Star Wars animated characters (like this Commando Droid and Ahsoka Tano). How long have you been customizing, and what got you started?

I’ve been sculpting digitally for about 10 years, but it’s certainly not something I feel particularly good at – I just enjoy the process. I tend to be more comfortable with animating characters, and sculpting them was often simply a necessary part of giving me something to play with! But with the accessibility of 3D printing, it’s given me a bit more of an incentive to experiment because there’s a more tangible, substantive result. I can’t hide behind using this or that camera angle in a render or painting over it in Photoshop: a 3D print — an actual physical object sitting on your shelf — doesn’t have any secrets.

Sabine Wren is one of my favorite characters in Star Wars. What motivated you to create a statue based on her season one look? What about her makes her an interesting character to you?

The expanded universe provided by the animated series (Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance) has been an astoundingly rich source of inspiration, and it’s clear that having a more serialized approach to storytelling has provided the show creators and writers with the chance to do a lot of world building. Characters like Sabine continue the animated shows’ expansion of Mandalorian culture, for example, and other characters like Ahsoka Tano, Hondo Ohnaka, and Asaaj Ventress are so visually striking and richly rendered, it’s easy to love them. Sabine is a character with a lot of history and a lot of internal conflict as a result, and her strength in the face of that makes for an inspiring character. The voice acting by Tiya Sircar is wonderful too, and brings those struggles to life in a way that adds a lot of weight to her story.

You used ZBrush, 3D printing technology, and traditional materials, like clay for the smoke trail, to create the Sabine sculpture. Tell us more about the process of putting her together.

Resin isn’t cheap, so if I’m going to make something into a print, I want to make sure I make it worth the time and cost. I want to make a statue that is visually interesting, not just a character standing there with her arms at her sides! Coming up with a cool base or platform for my sculpts is always hard because I never feel like I can come up with anything good, but I had seen other statues in which smoke or flames were used as a way of grounding a dynamic character pose and maintaining a balanced base, so with Sabine, I figured there was a great opportunity to do something creative with the pose if I could find a way to utilize her jet pack.

I sculpted her in ZBrush and modeled some of her hard-surface pieces in Autodesk Maya. I made a quickly-sculpted version of the smoke trail in Zbrush as well, just to get a feel for how the final shape would need to look to give her something to attach to. In Zbrush, I separated Sabine into about a dozen pieces with interlocking parts to make it easier to clean and paint the pieces once they were printed.

When it came to the clay smoke trail, I had never done anything like that before, but I figured this would be a good way to save on resin as well (that smoke trail is huge!). I sculpted it in WED clay and then made a silicone mold for it. After the mold was finished, I used Smooth-On liquid plastic to make the final piece. The entire time I was doing this I was fairly sure that I had little to no idea what the heck I was doing. It’s an absolute miracle any of this worked out.

What are your thoughts on 3D printing technology and its contribution to geek culture? For example, some people create 3D cosplay props, and Hasbro and Mattel work with 3D printing companies to sell fan-designed products.

3D printers are getting way more affordable now, and the detail they produce is surprisingly good. Those of us who like to explore our creative sides have an amazingly broad range of choices with which to do so now. The real appeal of digital art, for me, is that I can feel free to explore ideas or whims without having to worry about the detour messing up my original plan — I can just hit undo if I don’t like it! It’s a way of working fearlessly, and that’s always a boost to the imagination. Anything that gives people more confidence and access to explore their own creative potential is a wonderful thing.

What other Star Wars characters from the animated shows would you like to create and add to your personal collection?

I definitely want to make Zeb — he’s such an interesting design and I think it could be really fun to imagine a kind of “realistic” version of him. One of the great things about these characters is that they have a very distinct style, and I love the idea of trying to play outside of that. I am absolutely going to make an Asaaj statue very soon. I love that character. I’ve done two versions of Ahsoka and Commando Droids already, but the universe of these shows is so rich, I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding others to do!

Lastly, there are plenty of Star Wars fans who have neglected to watch the animated shows over the years. Why do you think they should reconsider and start watching the animated content?

I think for some folks the original trilogy, because it was so long ago and feels so sacred in a lot of ways, has kind of calcified what “Star Wars” means to them. It’s easy to look at these newer shows, with their distinct visual styles, and perhaps assume that they won’t “feel” like the Star Wars many of us grew up with. Maybe there’s still some lingering bias against animated shows in general, with some people assuming they’re skewed toward younger viewers. It’s a shame, because what made the original trilogy so alluring to me as a child was the promise of innumerable worlds and an equally-infinite number of stories to be told, and that’s precisely the promise that the animated shows deliver on.

We hope this interview has inspired some of you to experiment with your art — no matter what level you’re in — and to explore the world of 3D printing.

Follow Brad on Twitter and over at his ArtStation to keep up with his future projects.

(Images: Brad Groatman)

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