This past March, Joe and I got to attend C2E2 and the real highlight of our experience was meeting Jean St. Jean, the prolific sculptor behind Creatureplica and Diamond Select Toys’ Universal Classic Monsters line of action figures.
Mr. Jean St. Jean has been a name I’ve known of for quite some time as I’ve always been a major action figure/toy collector and his name adorns almost every Diamond Select figure card you could find at your local comic shop. So getting to meet the man was a real highlight of that three day weekend.
With Jean St. Jean’s amazing background and experience in the industry that has taken him from McFarlane to H.R. Giger, and an avid interest in cryptozoology and love of the classic monsters, it was only a matter of time before Universal Monsters Universe got to speak with him.
Without further ado, here’s my conversation with the one and only, Jean St. Jean the Uncanny!
Universal Monsters Universe: Hi Jean, it’s Steven Biscotti from UMU. It was great meeting and speaking with you during C2E2 in regards to Creatureplica, and especially because I’ve been such a fan of your work with Diamond Select Toys. Action figures and toys have always been my primary interest and I’ve read that you got into this business because you’re “a collector really.” I’d love to hear about how you started, going from making customs to McFarlane then Diamond and so on. I also must hear about your time with the master, H.R. Giger!
Jean St. Jean: My original direction was music, even though I dabbled in art since I was pretty small. I studied piano composition and percussion in college; played in bands; gigged as a church organist on weekends etc. The lead up to Burton’s 1st Batman film drew me back into Batman, toys and comics. It also got me into some custom action figure experimentation. I found an apprenticeship at a toy studio that specialized in dolls and pre-school toys. Over my 5 year stint there I learned a lot of basic skills and developed a work ethic geared towards precision that still serves me to this day. After 5 years there I applied to McFarlane, did a freelance job for them (Medusa from the Curse of Spawn line) and got hired on full time. At that time the hard core guys worked pretty much around the clock with no OT because they loved it. That’s the groove I fell into as well. It was a fun environment as an in house sculptor getting to pick from some of the coolest original designs and working at a company that was so radically different from everyone else. After a couple years I was made sculpting supervisor, and I got to do some traveling when they needed and artistic envoy to help work through licensor issues. I went Japan to meet with the Metal Gear Solid folks as well as Kodansha publishing and Akira creator Otomo’s reps to take direction and potentially make revisions on site. In a similar capacity I traveled to Switzerland to work through an artistic impasse with H.R.Giger on the various sculptural renderings of his paintings we were working on such as the Li II . After a day of riding through his overgrown sculpture garden and walking through his Giger museum we started to work late at night with industrial music resonating through his house which had stacks of his most famous works scattered about skeletons and skulls in various corners and wall sized murals of work I had never see before. It was pretty surreal. I stayed there a couple days under his direction working at the famous Harkonnen table.
UMU: I know that we both share a fondness for the Universal Monsters and that universe has enjoyed a great legacy in merchandise, be it from the Remco figures to the models. I’d love to know more about you’re involvement with Diamond Select Toys’ Universal Monsters line and of the excitement and possible trepidation in approaching a series with such a loyal following. I’m aware that a lot of lines and what we see are based out of conversations had with Chuck Terceira (DSTChuck). Were there any particular conversations you remember having with him in regards to that line that you’d like to share? Maybe something we haven’t heard before?
JSJ: Yes, I started watching the Universal Monsters movies on t.v. when I was pretty young in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. I was heavily into building the Aurora model kits and buying the Ben Cooper rubber figures and anything I could find of them. Decades later when I had the opportunity to work with Diamond on them it blew me away. Originally they had the staple characters covered in the first wave and had me sculpt the Wolfman and the Bride for the second series. The line was conceived in a similar scale to the Sideshow 8” figures, just slightly smaller and with very little articulation, they were pretty much statues with arm movement, but what I loved was the dioramas which were a staple of the Select figure series. They really had some of that ‘70’s Aurora kit feel! As the series picked up steam I took over more of the sculpting until I was doing all of the figures. The turning point conversation I had with Chuck Terciera was after I sculpted the first Munsters series. We decided to evolve the line further and bring all the extensive articulation I had put into the Munsters into the Universal Monsters line. This also allowed us a reason to go back and revisit the earlier releases so I could re-sculpt them and add all the movement points with new bases.
UMU: Out of the Universal Monsters line for DST, was there a particular figure that you enjoyed working on more so than others? Any figure you’re most proud of? I’d probably say that out of the line, the Lucy Westenra was one of my favorites. It’s for the same reason I enjoy DST and your work so much. The choices being made as to which figures are released and produced offer the collector such a diverse line up; something fun to collect and/or play with.
JSJ: I was really psyched to sculpt the Metaluna Mutant and fabricate the Interocitor; such a cool looking character that I had never thought I would get a crack at. Obviously the Universal A-listers like Frankenstein and Creature were awesome, but it was really fun to do the Mole Man and the Lon Chaney Hunchback as well. Even the Jekyll Hyde version, which was the Karloff rendition from Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll was such a blast. I had marveled at images of these creatures since I was a kid in grammar school looking through Famous Monsters with my best friend.
I’m pretty proud of my work on the line in general, but the Creature was a particular challenge to not only get right in proportion and likeness but to engineer it so the scales hid all the articulation so as mot to break up the flow of the body. And I love the base with the flowing plants and fish. That’s exactly the kind of thing I got into toys to do, and Diamond encourages even my most bombastic ideas. Sometimes I go a bit overboard and we have to cost them down a bit but they’ve never said, “ no, you can’t do that”.
UMU: With Universal currently rebooting their monsters, with The Mummy out June 2017, have you been following the development of the universal monsters universe of movies? Is there anything particular you’d like to see that would satisfy the Universal Monsters fan in you? And merchandise wise – would you be up for working on a Sofia Boutella ‘Mummy’ figure and a Tom Cruise? hahaha.
JSJ: I’ve been following the news with some trepidation. I keep thinking about those godawful Brendan Fraser Mummy films, and Van Helsing. On the plus side I LOVED the Wolfman remake! If they can take the new films with that level of seriousness then I’m in. I don’t have an issue with remakes per se. I can always go back and watch the originals. But I would enjoy a fun modern remake taking advantage of technology. I just want them to be done tastefully with a reverence for the source material. I’m not one of these fanboys who screams that they’re “ruining my childhood”. If a movie remake ruins your childhood, I pity you.
As far as working on the new properties, I’d have to see the designs, I generally don’t take on jobs if the material doesn’t interest me.
UMU: When we spoke about Creatureplica (which is an amazing figure line for monster/mythology fans) you mentioned that you’ve been interested in cryptozoology lore since you were a kid. I find that really fascinating as I was personally always intrigued by it as well. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. Was there something specific that captured your attention and imagination? Love the Himalayan Yeti, by the way.
JSJ: My first introduction to Cryptozoology was in 4th grade or so. I found a magazine in the library with the Patterson-Gimlin creature on the cover and I was hooked. From there on I read everything I could find on Sasquatch the Yeti and Nessie, and being the ‘70’s, there were plenty of source for info, even TV with In Search Of, and Unsolved Mysteries. It mushroomed into UFOs and the supernatural and those interests never left me. I’ve pitched the idea to toy people on different occasions, but toy companies now -a-days in particular want to focus on tried and true licenses based around established characters and properties tied to supporting media such as movies tv and Movies. Ironically, those don’t always pan out as lucrative either. The utter saturation of the market with similar product splits the collector dollar too fine. Considering the odds against us Creatureplica is doing very well.
UMU: Jean, thank you so much again for your time and speaking with me. We’re all big fans of your work and I’d like to conclude by asking the following:
Where can fans keep up to date with your work and what not? We know collectors love to be kept in the loop.
JSJ: I have a heavy Facebook presence:
And of course the Creatureplica, Series One Cryptids can be purchased on our site, Creatureplica.com!
UMU: You’re a Universal Monsters fan and is there a favorite film and/or monster you have?
JSJ: As a wee lad, I was always partial to the Wolfman and his Lycanthropic brethren. Now I’m more enchanted by the Creature, as his look has held up all these years as have the films. I would really love to see a discovery of London After Midnight to be restored though as I hold Lon Chaney Sr. in the highest reverence.
UMU: Thanks again, Jean!
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)