This article has been translated from its original version, which first appeared on The Creators Project Netherlands.
Jason Freeny never studied anatomy, but he knows every gritty detail inside Super Mario's body. For the past five years, the artist has been cutting toys open, filling them with clay, and carving out each bone, joint, and organ, creating carnal cross-sections of some of the world's most beloved characters.
Freeny learned the tricks of his trade from his father, who was a sculpture professor. For most of his life, Freeny stayed away from the medium due, in no small part, to the time committment it requires, as well as the uncertainty of commissions. Instead, he became an industrial design student and eventually got a job as a digital illustrator. It was during this time that he first rendered an anatomical of a balloon animal's imagined innards.
Following four years as an illustrator, Freeny lost his job during the financial crisis. After six months of unemployment, he ran out of money and, in his financial desperation, began to sculpt. Whatever he could earn with his art, it seemed, would be more than he had earned the day before. First, he bought a three-inch Dunny from Kidrobot, cut it open, filled it with clay, carved out the toy's bones and organs, and sold it on Ebay for $50, three times more than he had expected. Now, Jason sells his sculptures from anywhere up to $17,000, and has various toy vying to mass-produce his art.
The Creators Project spoke with Jason about the techniques he uses for his sculptures, his fascinations with anatomy, and his plans to get his skeletal toys on the mass market.
The Creators Project: Hey Jason. It looks like you use some kind of dental tools for making your sculptures, am I right?
Jason Freeny: That’s exactly what I use. I even use tools that I bought at the store to carve pumpkins with. I just use whatever works, but I use a lot of dental tools.
What kind of clay do you use?
I use epoxy clay to fill up the toys. This clay gets hard without baking it. If you use this clay, it really becomes a back-to-front process, so I'll make whatever is furthest back in the body first. With this clay, it feels like you’re sculpting with chewing gum because it’s so soft. At first I hated it so much, but after three sculptures I got used to it. Now I use it exclusively.
How long does it take to create a sculpture?
It takes like a month to six weeks to make a sculpture, but it depends on the size and the details. At the beginning I used polymer clay to fill up the toys. This clay gets hard easily in the oven, [and] took me less time to carve out all the organs. But I was only allowed to use vinyl toys, because this material doesn’t melt that quickly when it gets warm. Parts of Barbie’s body would just melt right away, because she is made out of three different kinds of plastic. Epoxy clay will take 7 to 12 hours to get rock-hard. So now it takes much longer to finish a sculpture, but it’s totally worth it.
How many sculptures do you make in a month?
I create three to five sculptures in one month. It depends on my own schedule. Besides being an artist I’m a stay-at-home dad who’s taking care of the kids. I often work on five sculptures at a time untill the kids come home. Once they’re taken care of and fed and they’re all doing their own thing, if I have a half hour I run over and try to do a little more work.
Do these five sculptures sell right away?
Sometimes I don’t sell anything for three months and sometimes I sell four sculptures in one month. One time I sold six sculptures in a night. It really depends on who finds out about your art and who’s actually interested in buying it.
What kind of people buy your sculptures?
A lot of people from America, China and Germany buy my sculptures, especially collectors and toy loving people. Some doctors bought my anatomy toys. For example, the last anatomic Barbie was sold to a plastic surgery office. They don’t see my art as toys. But one time a father who bought some sculptures worth $3000 dollars for his 3-year-old. So that happens, but not that often.
Which sculptures are your own favorite?
Actually, it’s always the newest one, but as far as the anatomy toys go I oddly ended up liking the sculptures that supposed to be human, like Barbie or Mario. I think the Mario is my ultimate favorite, because he is an adult man, but his proportions are supposed to be cute. So I ended up with this childlike skull inside of his head. That was kind of interesting.
If I wanted to buy the anatomic Barbie, would it possible to send you a request to recreate the sculpture?
I’ve made four anatomic Barbies so far, and some designs I retire and I won’t do again, like the Barbie. But yes, of course I’m always open for requests.
So are you already retiring from making anatomy toys?
Well, these anatomy toys have been going on for about five or six years and it’s kind of becoming repetitive. I’ve moved onto new things and am doing my own characters right now, but that doesn't mean I’m never going to make anatomy toys again. The strange thing is, as soon as I decided to move on to put the anatomy stuff on the shelf, big companies started to contact me to get their toys "anatomized" and to get them mass-produced.
Oh wow, so you have big plans coming up this year?
Well, new toys are coming soon. The sculptures are even standing on the shelf above my head right now, but I’m not really allowed to show you. I’ve made them last year, but a company is mass-producing them right now. I can only tell you that they are very well-known figures and they're produced by the company that designed the characters themselves...
Keep an eye on Freeny’s Facebook page for updates.