Every year since San Diego Comic-Con 2012, the Funko team has released a new World of Pop! volume celebrating an entire year's worth of newly-released Pop! figures across countless fandoms. In addition to containing promotional images of the Pop! figures released over the previous year—hundreds of Pop!s in the early years and more than 1,000 in more recent volumes—each book also contains stunning art photos that put the Pop!s in the unique context of their fandom.
Each volume grew exponentially larger. Volume 6 was over 200 pages, almost twice the size of Volume 5. And Volume 7 was initially one-third larger than Volume 6, forcing the art team to make some difficult decisions about which art photos would be included.
Since that inaugural book, there have been six additional volumes including the recently-released World of Pop! Volume 7, currently available through the Funko Shop. In fact, for a brief time, Funatics with an eye on the entire series can buy World of Pop! Volumes 1 through 7 as a bundle with the added advantage of having Volume 7 signed by CEO Brian Mariotti, Senior Art Director Sean Wilkinson, Senior Environment Designer Robert Schwartz and VP of Creative Benjamin Butcher.
Capturing the majesty of a single Pop! takes commitment, passion and maybe just the slightest bit of luck. Capturing the nuances of a character and personality of a fandom in miniature Pop! form is an entirely different challenge. Fortunately, there's not much the tenacious, passionate and resourceful team of Funko artists won't do to get their shot.
“It's sort of a conflicting project,” said Packaging Designer Matthew Ferbrache who took a lead role in the process of creating Volume 7. “On one side of it, it's a coffee table book so it's an art book, but on the other side, it's a collector's guide so it's really important to make the list as complete as we can. Because there are people who buy the book to keep track of their collection.”
At the beginning of each new volume the artists contributing photographs divvy up tasks, each artist jockeying to get assignments for their favorite fandoms. This year's hottest fandom was Mad Max: Fury Road, in part because it took Funko awhile to secure the license. “Mad Max holds a special place in the art department's heart,” explained Packaging Designer Lead Jessica Nanez. “It's the one project everyone wanted to do.”
But the Mad Max assignment didn't go as planned for the artists lucky enough to score the assignment. Matthew wound up shooting one of the Pop!s in his garage.
“I literally lit my garage on fire to get that shot. It's practical effects. I moved stuff out of the garage for safety and used a longer lens so I didn't have to get the camera close to the fire. I had this idea of using falling sparks like embers first and I tried that a bunch of times,” Matthew explained. “I set up, I pulled a piece of metal, set it up on scaffolding and then stretched out some steel wool and, with a remote from my camera, lit the steel wool and did a bunch of shots. It wasn't doing exactly what I wanted so toward the end I just took a can of WD-40 and a lighter and then just set the timer and sat behind it and then just woosh—a little flash of fire! I ended up with something that I think looks really cool. It's dimly lit on the front so it's backlit from the fire. It's very dramatic.”
In the end, despite the garage fire, there wasn't space for Matthew's photo in World of Pop! Volume 7. Sculptor Adam Wolfe also received a Mad Max assignment. In late spring, he made his way to Pigeon Creek Beach with his husband and dog Eugene for a photo shoot. Adam set off down the beach seeking an expanse where he could get a clear shot of his Pop!s with nothing but sand in the background. Adam found a good spot for his photographs, but he found something else as well.
“I guess what happens sometimes on the beach is that there's running water under the top layer of sand, which can turn it into quicksand. I noticed my feet starting to sink into the sand so I turned to walk back to more solid ground, but one of my feet suddenly sank in to about my knee,” Adam recounted. “Not thinking, I planted my other foot and put all my weight on it to try to pull my first foot out, which caused me to sink in to around mid-thigh with the second foot.”
Adam's husband ran to tie the dog somewhere safe before returning to execute a rescue.
“Eventually, I managed to get out by lying flat on my stomach and scooting up the beach until my legs came free. I had to crawl like a seal until I got to more solid ground where my husband could grab me and help me the rest of the way out,” he recalled. “I managed to not lose the Pop!s or the poster board but my husband and I were both completely covered in sand that had the consistency of wet cement.”
Adam got the shots he wanted and returned home, covered in wet sand. He can laugh about the incident now, and acknowledges that it makes a great story. But not all the photographers had experiences that could be qualified as dangerous. Jessica was thrilled when she was assigned the task of shooting Pop!s from the Pixar movie Coco.
“I have a Hispanic background so Day of the Dead has always been a big part of my culture,” Jessica explained the movie's significance to her. “So when Pixar came out with this movie it was like ‘oh my god, a movie for us!' I was pretty thrilled about that.”
Jessica particularly loves constructing sets, props and backgrounds for her photo shoots. She played with a variety of options for her Coco shoot, hand painting a backdrop and constructing a bridge out of glitter paper. Each fandom comes with unique challenges and adventures. For her Black Panther assignment, Jessica found herself in a hotel parking lot at the center of a roundabout shooting a waterfall as cars circled her. To Jessica, the ultimate goal of all this effort and creativity is to do justice to the characters and world of a beloved fandom. The fact that the artists charged with capturing these images are themselves fans of many of the movies, shows, games and characters they're documenting makes the end results that much more impactful. This was certainly the case when Photographer Lead Kayla Mogensen, who considers herself a “huge horror fan” was assigned the film based on the Stephen King novel It.
“It means the world to me. I've read the book. I have it tattooed on me. The new movie was amazing,” Kayla gushed. For her World of Pop! photograph Kayla set out to capture the one moment of the movie that truly terrified her: when Pennywise the dancing clown rips through the wall toward the children gathered in the basement. To capture the feeling behind the terror—the idea that Pennywise was just too large for the space, looming over the vulnerable children—Kayla took two separate photos. In one photograph, she captured a silhouette of the terrified children. She used a snoot to direct the light on the murderous clown, and was ultimately pleased with the result, which became one of four photographs featured on the book's cover.
While there's no doubt that Kayla would have captured a quality photo whether she was a fan or not, there's also no denying that Kayla's passion for her subject shaped the photograph. Having an art department filled with pop culture enthusiasts who also happen to be talented artists ensures that each Pop! photograph gets the attention, focus and expertise it deserves.
“Pretty much everyone who works for Funko is a fan of something so we have this pool of super talented people that are also huge nerds. If there's something we'd love to see a shot of, it's guaranteed that someone on this floor of the building is a fan of it and we can pick their brain about how to capture the essence of whatever the subject is,” Matt said.
But if shooting art photos of Pop!s was a uniquely joyful endeavor, it's also a uniquely challenging experience. Matt cites the scale of the figures as the most consistent obstacle artists must overcome to get the shots they want. Miniature hobbyists—whether working with dollhouses, trains or models of actual buildings—work with specific ratios and scales making it relatively simple to obtain props and tools that match the scale. But Pop!s don't exist within this world of established scales, making it particularly challenging to create a setting that will cast the Pop! as a character rather than toy.
“Also, Pop!s are designed to be displayed,” Matt pointed out. “They're not posable. A lot of them have dynamic poses but some of them are more static so the other trick is trying to get energy and making a shot that looks dynamic when you're shooting bobbleheads.”
Despite working with inanimate figures, Jessica insists that the artists designing the Pop!s did an excellent job breathing life into the figures. “There's a lot of life in the Pop! already,” she explained. “They're made for photos. They're perfect little models.”
Want to see the photos that didn't make it into World of Pop! Volume 7? Check out the Didn't Make the Cut series on the Funko blog.
Tips for Shooting Your Own Pop! Photography from the Pros
Kayla Mogensen, Photographer Lead
“I think my advice would be not to think too much and I think that goes for every artist doing anything. Everyone constantly feels like they're failing when they're trying to think too much about it. It's more about having the heart and having the love for these characters that makes it easy.”
Matthew Ferbrache, Packaging Designer
“It's really not feasible to recreate scenes specifically from TV or the movie, so you're really capturing the spirit of the figures. That's kind of the intent in the design of the characters. These aren't exact representations but you can look at a Luke Skywalker Pop! and even though it's just a guy with blonde hair, you know it's Luke Skywalker. With photography, you can do things to the way it's shot and the lighting, or even the color palette, to reference what it's from.”
“Basic miniature photography advice: Look at it in the camera. It's going to look way different. You can spend a lot of time setting up something but you won't know what it's going to look like until you take the photo because it's going to look way different in two dimensions. I prefer shooting just one or two Pop!s at a time. Don't go too overboard. The heads are really big. It's hard to get a crowd of them in a photo.”
Jessica Nanez, Packaging Designer Lead
“My approach is I do scenes from the movies but sometimes I'll go out of the norm and I'll play with a lot of color or just different things I like. You can just use things around your house for backgrounds. In World of Pop! Volume 6 I had done a Gears of War photo and if you look closely, the background is this metal wall and it's just one of my really old cookie sheets that I've had for years that was rusting in the back of my pantry. It was perfect. You don't have to design your scene to a ‘T.' You can just use things around your house. Play with color. Keep it simple.”