ATOMIC-Me: Austin Alcala & Salient Figures
Who knew creating custom clothing for miniatures could be sew much fun!
Senior Visual Designer Austin Alcala tells us about how he came to tailor for tiny toys… ahem, we mean action figures.
In the December edition of our ATOMIC-Me blog series — spotlighting ATOMIC D team members and their creative outlets — we spoke with Austin about designing fashion for figurines, what he’s learned along the way and what he’s got up his sleeve for next year.
Originally studying industrial design at university, Austin first got a taste for the small and intricate when creating a diorama as an assignment for a model making class. At the same time, he’d also been working on developing a streetwear brand under the name Salient on the side, but found the market oversaturated and difficult to break into on his own.
A Green Power Ranger action figure gifted to him by his then college girlfriend would change everything…
Austin began pondering on the possibilities for decking out this tiny Tommy Oliver with his own freshly designed duds. So, he set to stitching and soon found that he far more enjoyed adorning smaller sized wearers for his streetwear threads. Thus, Salient Figures launched!
His side project, which helped to fill the time as he looked for work as a visual designer, started to take on a life of its own. As the collection grew, custom orders trickled in. Whether threading together a janitorial jumpsuit, tactical gear, or transforming a Spock figurine into IP Man, Austin found himself continually challenged and eager to learn more, experiment, and share his growing expertise.
He’s since launched a YouTube channel that houses a modest offering of tutorials on customizing for various sizing, styles and characters. Austin plans to expand this library considerably in the near future with new learnings and how-tos.
The collection expanded into several universes spanning characters from Marvel, Star Wars, DC and beyond! He then started taking custom orders from friends he’d met on Instagram. Some shared his fervor for haberdashery, others brought different skills to the table, and traded.
“What I love most about it is connecting with other toy designers,” Austin said. “I used to do a lot of sales in cash, now I only do trades.”
One unexpected collaborator, FlashpointCustoms, 3D prints armor. The two worked out a pretty sweet barter system that keeps everyone geared up. Another streetwear designer based in Canada, going by the name R.S.G. Resurgence, provided a different type of material. “He would send me tags, and I’d send him mockups. Now, we’re friends online,” Austin said.
Staying connected to all of these collaborators while balancing a full-time gig, and designing and photographing new apparel, is a challenge — but one that keeps him moving.
Another challenge — and one of his biggest learning moments — presented itself as Austin started exploring different sized toys and how they articulated. He soon discovered that not all fabric is cut from the same cloth, especially when it comes to scaling appropriately for more fragile figures.
“When I first looked up how to make clothes for action figures, I assumed it would be 1:1 scale for clothing,” Austin said. “I used to use whatever was around. But, if you get 1:1 scale thickness it won’t work for scale. Pants end up looking like joggers when I want it to look like a suit.”
Careful not to rag on himself too much, Austin also shared a few success stories, one in particular that he was really ‘juiced’ about. This win came in the form of the highly-coveted Marty McFly red-and-black bomber jacket from Back to the Future II, which included exceptional attention to detail (something that those who work with Austin will tell you is an unquestionable characteristic of his work at ATOMIC D as well) duplicating the pockets, collar and zipper.
It was his ‘ah-ha’ moment, the point at which he knew, “Wow, I can actually do this and make it my own.”
More recently, he’s explored uses for wire inserts to help make more floppy components like hoodies more posable.
With each new technique he masters, Austin plans to share the knowledge with others through new video tutorials on YouTube. He’s also taking things to the next level with a short stop motion film starring his own creations! Work has already begun on storyboarding the tale and outfitting his main characters. But, there’s still a lot of work ahead.
One thing is certain, this passion project has helped Austin to find his voice both as a creator and an Asian American in a community that until late hasn’t been known for being particularly diverse. “There’s not a lot of Asian representation,” Austin said. “But, we’re seeing more Asian superheroes, and I’m excited to bring this to my work with each new character.”