As a commissioned doll artist, I spend most of my time creating other people’s visions of the perfect, one-of-a-kind doll they have always wanted to own. I love what I do, but occasionally my own artistic vision forces itself into my consciousness, and I want to create something special for myself. I had long hoped to do a resin ball-jointed doll of my favorite actor, Jeremy Northam.
Yes, you know the one: he of the perfect angular face, the caramel eyes, and the presence on screen that never fails to make even non-fans sit up and take notice. Performances such as Sir Robert Morton in The Winslow Boy, George Knightley in Emma, Harry Sawyer in Happy, Texas, and most recently, Henslowe Fisk in Dean Spanley, show a remarkable range of ability, and leave a lasting impression.
So, when the sculptor Denny Kim, of Doll In Mind, Korea, started accepting commissions for custom head sculpts, I knew I had to try to create a doll in the likeness of this wonderful actor. It was with great trepidation that I approached Denny about the project. What if a good likeness couldn’t be created? What if, after spending a small fortune to commission the sculpt, I was woefully disappointed? What if, once I had the head, I couldn’t find a good body to mount it on? And what if, after all the time and money, my own skill as a painter failed me?
Denny outlined how he worked from photos; a full frontal view, and a 3/4 view would be needed. I would receive photos of the sculpt in clay, and would have several opportunities to make suggestions as to how to correct the sculpt to my liking. The first run at the sculpt was horribly disappointing. I started to think that maybe Jeremy had such a unique face that no one except a photographer or filmmaker could capture it accurately. But, in spite of my disappointment, I pushed forward and created line drawing overlays on top of Denny’s photos of the clay sculpt, to try to show how the face needed to be altered to get a closer resemblance.
Denny came through with flying colors, and the corrected version was light years closer to my vision than the first had been. Over time, with additional minor corrections, the sculpt began to really resemble what I had hoped it could become.
The nose was the last remaining difficulty, and Denny never did get it exactly right. However, there is a point in sculpting, particularly when realism is the goal, that pushing it past a certain point can result in the loss of what makes the sculpture look inherently “right”. So, at a certain point, I gave approval to cast the heads, knowing that it was close enough that I could create the Jeremy doll effectively.
Denny only promises an 80% correct likeness, and I suspect that our issues with the nose may have actually been Denny “building in” a difference, so as to not affect copyright infringements. These custom heads are extremely limited. Only ten of any particular sculpt are ever created, then the mold is destroyed. I purchased all the heads as, being a fan of Jeremy’s, I wanted to control where these heads might go, and how they might be used. Once I had the head in hand, I found that it needed additional work to bring out the resemblance to Jeremy. There is a big difference between what can be seen two-dimensionally, and what you see in three dimensions, and the cast head had extremes along the jaw and cheekbone that detracted from its resemblance to the man. I spent several days refining the sculpt with a dremel and sandpaper, until I felt the head had the best possible resemblance I could get for the doll.
I chose a Soom Super Gem body from SoomDoll, Korea, modified the neck to fit the head, blushed the body to make a closer color match to the Doll In Mind Resin and built the doll. The next step was to give him a “face-up”, which is ball-jointed-doll-speak for painting the face. It took several tries to get a look that said “Jeremy”, the eyebrows being particularly difficult. Eyebrows define so much about a face that I had to rework them several times before I was satisfied.
The next step was to custom cut a wig for the doll. Wigs for male dolls are in short supply and most don’t look anything like what an artist wants to see, so we learn to become mini-hairstylists as well! Once he had his wig, the last, and easiest thing that needed to be done was to costume him. Since the role that first brought Jeremy real international recognition was his role in Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, I decided for the first costume to do him up as Mr. Knightley.
Once the doll was costumed, the first version of the doll was complete!
I plan to do a second version on a different body that may or may not work better. Meanwhile, I am reasonably satisfied with the first version of the doll. As a doll artist, he has been without a doubt my most challenging undertaking, and also the most satisfying.
Now if I could just find out if Jeremy actually approves!
To find out more about Gayle’s work, please contact her at http://members.boardhost.com/gaylec
Jeremy Northam is about to be seen on US tv screens every week in
Miami Medical, as Dr Matt Proctor, to air on CBS from April 2, 2010. The promo can be seen at youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBwyE9WbNOk
To meet other fans and chat about Jeremy’s work, please visit: http://www.jeremynorthaminfo.com