SciFi Japan

    Thomas Tvrdik: Living the Godzilla Dream

    Interview with Godzilla sculptor Thomas Tvrdik Author: Bob Johnson Source: Far East Monsters, American Greetings

    Many Godzilla fans, well to be honest, just about all Godzilla fans rabidly collect Godzilla figures, toys and merchandise. A few move on to the next step and get involved in selling or dealing. An even smaller percentage get into the actual creation of the products. Thomas Tvrdik is one of the lucky few in this country that has a hand in the design, creation and eventual marketing of Godzilla goods! Working for American Greetings and then co-creating Far East Monsters, Thomas has been responsible for not only the Godzilla ornaments coming out each year, but also the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS diorama that is being sold piece by piece, allowing fans to recreate the epic battle atop Mt. Fuji in the safety of their own homes. We recently caught up with Thomas and found out how he got involved in all this and exactly how he comes up with the concepts for the product he creates.
    SciFi Japan: Tell us a little about your background, the projects you’ve done leading up to your Godzilla work. Thomas Tvrdik: I actually majored in Medical illustration and minored in drawing in college. I worked in a hospital for awhile then I became an architectural illustrator shortly thereafter. Even when I worked in the architectural field, my love of monsters was apparent. On one occasion I pulled a practical joke on the owner. After spending weeks on a very high level project which had an underwater observatory, I painted a giant monster squid on a piece of clear plastic and placed it under the glass frame. It was wrapped around the observatory, looking like I had painted it directly onto the rendering. You can imagine how my boss reacted on the morning he was supposed to deliver it! SFJ: So, that`s when you started looking for work in another field? (laughs) TT: Actually, my boss got such a kick out of it, he left it in the picture when he showed the client!

    SFJ: How did you get involved with American Greetings? Is this a project you heard about or did they approach you? TT: I was working freelance as an illustrator and decided I needed something a bit more stable with benefits (we had our first child on the way). I`ve always been a big fan of Godzilla, ever since I saw the original on a Saturday afternoon. I was 7 years old. After that, I couldn`t get enough of giant monsters, especially the Toho variety. As an artist, it was always a dream of mine to create my own versions of the Toho monsters. I began working for American Greetings in 1992, and I have worked on just about every product we make. I have been on the ornament team for about 10 years now. Working for American Greetings given me the opportunity to create Godzilla designs all my own, and with Toho`s approval! Before that, I was left to making garage kits and fan art, all fun, but this made it legitimate. It took me and my partner in Far East Monsters Ltd. 5 years to get AG to pursue the Toho license, so it was not an easy sell, but it has paid off for them. SFJ: How did you finally convince them? What did you have to do to get your point across or were they already somewhat interested in pursuing Godzilla? TT: Godzilla was completely off their radar screen until both myself and Bill Kerner (my business partner in Far East Monsters) both were pursuing the license for different products. We met with various departments to plead our case and show facts about Godzilla`s popularity, notoriety, and longevity around the world as a pop icon. SFJ: So, Far East Monsters came after?

    TT: Far East Monsters Ltd. was a totally separate pursuit. My business partner Bill and I met at AG and we both were huge Godzilla fans. After years of working together on projects, I realized we both had unique talents and contacts we could put together to make a go of creating our own Godzilla products. SFJ: How was it dealing with Toho on this? I assume they were already familiar with you from AG? Did that make it easier? TT: Actually, I don`t know whether they knew who I was or not because all of my dealings with them are funneled through our licensing department. After meeting with them and giving them our proposal it was quite a long wait before we received any feedback (at least it felt that way), so I had assumed we weren`t going to get it. But then they emailed back with good news. It is a big risk financially, but if it works out, I hope it will create enough revenue to start a fund for taking care of my autistic son. He will need constant care for the rest of his life, and I want to make sure that he is taken care of long after my wife and myself are gone. I also wish to try to raise awareness of this epidemic. You will see our website Far East promoting awareness as well. SFJ: Is there somewhere fans could contribute if they wish? TT: Not at this time, but I am looking into getting something up on our website. In the meantime, they can always send it directly to: Far East Monsters Ltd. Tommy fund 6611 York Rd. Cleveland OH 44130

    SFJ: What other non-Godzilla ornaments have you worked on? TT: I have designed and constructed many different types of ornaments through the years. All kinds of non-licensed ornaments, cute to decorative. I have also worked on all kinds of licenses- Simpsons, KISS, John Wayne, A Christmas Story, X-men, Spider-man, Elvis, Rudolph, Sponge Bob, Lucy, Marilyn Monroe, various sports stars, Betty Boop, Andy Griffith, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Blues Brothers, etc... SFJ: Any other Sci-Fi or monster designs? TT: Just King Kong for Universal. SFJ: What steps do you go through in designing the Godzilla figures (ornaments and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS diorama)? TT: I always try to think of the Godzilla fan first. Something unique, something special, something I haven`t seen before. SFJ: Do you imagine Godzilla scenes/poses/appearances from the movies? Or do you try for something that might be more dramatic or aesthetically realized? TT: I will do both, depending on what I am trying to get across to the audience. I really love realistic looking things but I also want to add a bit more to them, be it more dramatic pose or just something you haven`t seen before. I think there is plenty of room for both accuracy and artistic license, and I try to not go too far over either line. SFJ: I know the Far East Monster figures are based on DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, but for American Greetings, do you get to choose which Godzilla design you are going to base the ornament on? TT: Yes, I do since I am the resident "expert" on G, they trust me to make the design decisions.

    SFJ: Do you have a favorite Godzilla design or suit? TT: I actually have a few. I think my all time favorite is the suit from GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH. Actually, the shots of the chest up robot are probably my favorite. It had so much emotion, anger, and animation. The Destoroyah Godzilla comes in second. It reminds me so much of a Samurai warrior. Of the old suits, I love the original and the 1968 version. I am also a fan of the head of the GMK suit. It was probably the meanest looking Godzilla ever. SFJ: Are there any limitations put on you by American Greetings or Toho as to which Godzilla designs you can base the ornaments on? TT: No, we have rights to all the suits. I do base my designs on what I know to be the most recognizable and the most popular. This is because we are targeting a much larger audience than just the die-hard Godzilla fan. SFJ: What do you feel is the general public`s perception of Godzilla`s appearance? I know a lot of people think he`s green for example. TT: Yes, there are many misinformed people out there, and to some extent I hope I am giving them a lesson in what Godzilla really looks like. I work with a number of people who have gone through "Godzilla re-education" and it seems to just make them more interested in him. SFJ: During the process, how much input or approval do American Greetings and/or Toho have? TT: I represent American Greetings in design decision making when it comes to Godzilla. The designs are reviewed through various departments who all give their input. Toho reviews and approves every design at every step. SFJ: Have you had any problems so far? Any designs or elements you wanted to use that you couldn’t? TT: In creating products such as these, their are always "problems" and I always have to pull back on my designs for all sorts of reasons, such as cost, technical ability, process, materials etc. But I always try to reach for the stars so that I can at least hit the moon when I initially design. As for design elements I wanted to use but couldn`t, I still haven`t figured out how to make something truly "smoke" yet and still pass testing.

    SFJ: You mentioned that you also did the KING KONG ornament this year. How was it working with Universal? TT: I had the great opportunity to create all of American Greetings` KING KONG ornaments to date. Universal was very pleased with the sculpts, which made me extremely proud. The first one was quite a feat considering I had just a one-time look at 20 minutes of the condensed movie, and some very preliminary Kong designs. SFJ: Moving on to Far East Monsters, were you involved in the diorama project from the beginning? TT: It was my brainchild. As a kid I always loved the Prehistoric Scenes model kits, you know the ones that were snap together with the bases that fit into each other. I drew my inspiration from them. SFJ: Are there any of the monster designs that were more difficult to adapt into these figures? Were there any monsters that gave you headaches design-wise? TT: I`m actually still working on them and I`m sure at one point or another, they will all give me headaches! But I`m looking forward to it. SFJ: Some of the monsters are in pairs. What went into those decisions? Lesser-known monsters that perhaps couldn’t stand on their own sales-wise? TT: That is one reason, but I also wanted to keep the bases as I designed it and it only has 8 pieces.

    SFJ: Is the design process for the diorama figures different than with the ornaments? TT: Very much, the ornaments are for a much broader audience, the mass market, where as the diorama is geared toward the more hard -core fan. That`s not to say the average Godzilla fan can`t enjoy it just as well. Also, the ornaments are designed to hang from a tree, be of a specific size and weight, and be a bit more brightly colored. SFJ: There is so much Godzilla merchandise in Japan! Do you check out any of the Japanese figures, toys or kits? How do you try to make your pieces stand out or differ from what is already out there? TT: Yes, I stay up on all the Godzilla product I can. That is why ( I think) Toho allowed us to create these pieces. We showed them things that had not been done before, including our Giant Floor Puzzles and Velvet Art Posters. SFJ: Are there plans for any other Godzilla products from Far East Monsters? TT: We have countless ideas!!!! SFJ: Once you finish the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS pieces, what’s next? What projects do you have lined up? TT: Right now I`m pretty focused on this first run. I`ll just say, it`s going to take some time to go through the pile of ideas! ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ For information on the new Godzilla product line from Far East Monsters Ltd., please see the previous coverage here on SciFi Japan:

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