A portrait of figure painting artist Raffaele Picca
Comic book fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new Riders in the Storm graphic novel, written by Darko Macan, illustrated by Riccardo Burchielli and featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and bikes. Among the characters is Makani – inspired by real-life tattoo model Makani Terror – who in addition to being brought to life in this limited-edition collectable has also been immortalised in a unique hand-crafted figurine by artist Raffaele Picca.
Small but perfectly formed.
Enthusiasts would be amazed if they saw Raffaele Picca’s latest creation – a lifelike 1:6 scale model of Makani, one of the heroes in the Riders in the Storm graphic novel created in collaboration with BMW Motorrad and Panini Verlags GmbH. Look at a photograph of this model and you’d be fooled into thinking it was the real thing – the detail is that good. Even those who know the real Makani Terror (aka Kathrin Tolle) have done a double take when told that it’s not actually Makani in the picture, but a 30cm lovingly sculptured figure made from a variety of materials.
It’s only when you hold the figurine in your hand that you get a sense of perspective. But even though she may seem tiny to us, she’s practically a giant compared to the usual subjects worked on by German-Italian artist Raffaele Picca, who is more used to working on creations the size of your thumb. For this latest project, Raffaele definitely had to think big!
“The project was a real challenge,” laughs the 32-year-old. “Most of my figures would fit in the palm of your hand, so I really needed to get used to modeling such a large-scale work. It was like asking a jeweler specialized in wrist watches, to build a wall clock!”
It’s the attention to detail that is staggering, with shapes, shades, skin tones and even weapons faithfully recreated to the highest level of texture and finish. This is no mass-produced toy like the plastic soldiers and pirates we played with as children – but an original piece of art that began life as a simple 3D printed figure. From that point on it was Raffa, his bare hands and some special tools that made the difference.
The artist and the artistic journey.
Every project is different of course, but when Raffa received the 3D printed figure of Makani as a starting point, he knew that there was a lot of work ahead to create a truly memorable piece of art.
“First I needed to think about where I would sculpt new details, then I sanded down all the areas that wouldn’t be sculpted over. I needed a really smooth finish to have the best looking paintwork in the end. That was especially difficult in the face, as I re-sculpted almost all of it.”
Raffa’s next step was to use two different component clays to sculpt things like clothing folds and wrinkles, boots, gloves, pants, belt and pouches. Then, more sanding was needed to blend all the sculpted parts into the existing 3D print. The hair was sculpted using a mix of flexible and brittle clay, helping to protect it against breaking. Additional items were built from scratch, using sheets of plastic and a collection of mechanically made parts, including a bicycle tyre valve cover. As a last step before priming and painting the figure, all of the glowing elements were applied using glued-on masking tape.
According to Raffa, the painting process was pretty straightforward, with layers and layers of colours applied with his airbrush. The results and the intricate details that shine through are anything but straightforward though.
“Some of the colours were custom mixed just to get the special effects that I wanted to create. The tattoos were freehand painted using a small brush and a lot of reference photos of Makani. I was very happy how they turned out, especially their placement and size. I also tried to match the make-up and look of her skin. The final step was to create a carry sling for her weapon out of gift wrap ribbon!”
Labour of love.
It’s hard to know how long this process took from starting concept to finished miniature, because Raffa doesn’t keep a track of his hours. It’s certainly a labour of love for the creative genius who grew up in Ulm, Germany, and whose boyhood passion for computer gaming and graphic design saw him develop an early career in those industries, before discovering a love of figure painting. It’s an emerging industry and the creative types involved are definitely not in it for the financial rewards.
“As a general rule you could say that most figure artists, even the best in the world, would earn more per hour by working in a bar. I do this job because I love it. Putting a price tag on something you created with passion and love is very hard. Sometimes there are commissions or works that pay well and some pieces are never sold. It just depends if I create something that someone really wants in their own collection.”
Along with a friend some years ago, Raffaele started a blog platform called ‘Massive Voodoo’, describing various projects and offering an exchange platform for the community. Massive Voodoo is now the largest international figure painting blog today.
“My personal goal is to move figure painting out from its niche existence and bring it into the mainstream. It is unbelievable when you look at the quality of the pieces and the talent and skill of some of the artists. Our biggest goal with Massive Voodoo is to show the world some of the amazing pieces that people are creating.”
Raffaele is extremely successful in this exclusive niche. More brands and large enterprises are becoming interested in this form of art, such as the latest collaboration with BMW Motorrad and Panini, where a comic story and inspirational heroes is surely the perfect platform for painted figures. And just like many other enthusiasts, Raffaele is waiting to get his hands on a copy of Riders in the Storm when it is published in early November.
“I am sure that it will be a fantastic comic. The illustrations I saw from Riccardo Burchielli look great and it was a joy working with such a cool concept. My goal was to create the character as close as possible to the original from the comic story. Figure painting and modeling gives me the opportunity to bring my ideas to life and allow others to rotate them as real objects and view them from all sides. Discovering new details every time you admire the figure is very rewarding. In that way my work is a real journey of discovery.“
Straight from the horse’s mouth.
The results are proof of the amazing vision of this truly creative artist. But the one person whose opinion perhaps matters most is the actual subject herself – Makani Terror. What does she think of this pint-sized replica of herself and how does it feel to be immortalized in this way?
“From the beginning I’ve been delighted to be associated with this full-throttle journey into a fictional world filled with extraordinary heroes and amazing motorcycles,” she says, “but to see myself looking back at me in this way really is a childhood dream come true! The attention to detail and the finish of the miniature Makani character is just stunning, it’s actually quite unnerving. It feels like it could almost come to life, it’s that good!”
“I think it would be marvelous to work on a project where 3D printing, virtual reality, special effects, computer-controlled systems, conceptual art and optical illusions all merge together. Each technology or art form has its own charm, so identifying these and connecting their worlds is my greatest passion.”