Recently our staff member Jeffrey Debloudts had the honor and privilege of hosting an interview with First 4 Figures co-owner and Creative Director Alex Davis as well as the manager of public relations Tsoek “Chockles” Cheung. If you’ve been following Zelda news for any length of time, you might be familiar with the Hong Kong-/UK-based company First 4 Figures (F4F). Their company will turn 14 years old this year, and for 12 of those years they’ve been producing high-quality Zelda figurines.
Their first figure back in 2006 was the Fierce Deity Link, and their most recent offering is a 1:6-scale Link straight out of Breath of the Wild. They’ve produced more Legend of Zelda figurines than they have for any other franchise, so First 4 Figures is near and dear to many of our hearts. However, even if you haven’t yet heard of them, now’s your chance to scratch that collector’s itch because they do some utterly amazing work.
We had the privilege of asking them a host of questions about their development process, their relationship with Nintendo, their love for the Zelda series, and just why their statues have gotten bigger and more expensive as the years have passed.
The lucky break with Nintendo
First 4 Figures originally was meant to be a distribution company that sought to export anime figurines from China back to the United Kingdom, where such collectibles were much less common at the time. However, as First 4 Figures grew its business, Davis and his partner moved quickly into the resin statue business and became a producer instead of merely a distributor. Though their license with Nintendo wouldn’t come into being until some two years later in 2005, Nintendo — and later video games in general — would be what they ended up becoming most well-known for.
“It was a manna gift from god actually,” Davis joked when asked about his license with Nintendo. “We already started with going down this road, and in 2003 we started with WWE. And that was the wrestling stuff. And then Hasbro came onto the stand at one of the London toy fairs that we were at, and said, ‘Hey, would you be interested in Magic the Gathering?’” After saying yes, Magic was soon followed by Transformers and later G.I. Joe.
“Hey, we represent a company called Nintendo. Are you interested in getting into this license…?”
It was then that they caught the eye of 4Kids Entertainment. “[They] came onto the stand and said, ‘Hey, we represent a company called Nintendo. Are you interested in getting into this license…?’ We said, ‘Sure, absolutely.’ The thing was, it was amazing. We did this deal with 4Kids Entertainment to get the license from Nintendo, so it wasn’t direct.” But if working with Nintendo wasn’t miracle enough, an even bigger one happened next. “It was literally almost right after we got the contract with Nintendo, that [4Kids called back to say], ‘Okay, we’re not actually representing Nintendo anymore, we’re representing Microsoft [for Xbox]…. Therefore, here are the contacts at Nintendo of America.’” It was actually that lucky incident that really focused First 4 Figures onto video game franchises to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
The process: From start to finish
The process behind the statue creation is equal parts complex and simple. Every part of the design process for First 4 Figures’ statues is done by hand: the modeling, the casting, and the painting. Obviously they start with determining the concept and the pose they wish to bring to life. “A lot of people have noted over the years that we only do the statues based on the official artwork,” Davis said. Does that mean they can only make statues based upon the official artwork? The answer is no; it just so happens to be the best way to create something the fans will want. For their first works, “the game came out at a time when obviously the graphics were really, for the era, very polygon-y, hard shapes, triangles…. [Players] can all look at the Fierce Deity Link, if you didn’t see the official artwork, and you can all have your own imagination of what it would like in a realistic environment.” As a result, they often use the official artwork as their basis point for something most consumers would be familiar with.
After the concept, they do what they’ve done since the beginning: they use 3D printers to come up with the general prototype for the statue. “The only difference now is that the quality of the 3D designs and the quality of the printing accuracy is far superior than it was back then, and that’s allowed for us to have far more detail and more accurate and more ambitious poses now.” From there, they make casts of the prototype using silicone molds, which they then use to create several sample copies. “Those copies are then used to be the tooling masks which the factory then uses to create the multiple copies of the pieces, and then of course you use the remaining copies to do some prototype paint masters.”
At every stage through development, First 4 Figures needs to get approval from the Big N to make sure everything looks according to their exacting specifications. Once the green light has been given, everything heads to the factory, and First 4 Figures, after giving them the sample final product, demands a counter-sample to ensure that everything is perfect and that the factory knows exactly what to create. That’s important because, generally, factory staff won’t understand the significance of a Triforce symbol here or a crucial detail there. Once First 4 Figures is satisfied, the order is called in. Even after that, they remain in the loop by monitoring each handmade statue produced to ensure that every piece they sell looks exactly like the one they created by hand.
Balancing cost and desirability
For those who have known about First 4 Figures for quite some time, one of the slightly more lamentable things is that F4F’s figurines have gotten more and more expensive as time has passed. The Fierce Deity Link, when it first came out Stateside, was sold for US$129 in the US, and their second Zelda statue, Majora’s Mask’s Skull Kid, was only US$99; however, nowadays it’s not uncommon for a regular First 4 Figure collectible to be $349, $399, $449, or possibly more.
Davis was more than happy to explain the rationale behind this move. Before the Financial Crisis, F4F was able to simply order a huge quantity well above their actual preorder and sell the remainder to a distributor, leaving Davis able to simply focus on the production process. However, two factors have been constantly making it more difficult. “First of all,” Davis explains, “there’s a lot of price raising [sic] in China, and that’s for the labor laws but also the labor costs going up. In this industry, this is a very hands-on, skilled labor…; as we said, everything is handmade.”
Because of that cost of labor increase, Davis explained that it was actually more economic to move to the larger statues. “The cost of making the 1:6[-scale] compared to 1:4[-scale] is 30% less,” he says. “But the price you can charge on a 1:4 is higher in comparison; the difference isn’t 30%.” A lot of the cost in the physical manufacturing costs — nearly 70% — comes from physically painting the statue. Painting is charged by the number of paint strokes required to complete the statue, but since the number of strokes doesn’t change based upon the physical size of the statue, the only increase in price from going to 1:4-scale is the cost of the resin and packaging.
But while the economic advantages are a good enough argument, Davis says it’s not just about that. “Popular opinion was [that] 1:4-scale was getting more popular amongst collectors. And physically it’s far more imposing and far more impressive when you have one of those sitting there. The first thing, you walk into the room and you see — your eyes are going to be drawn to the 1:4 over the 1:6.”
However, there is hope for those fans that maybe aren’t able to afford the increasing prices of some of First 4 Figures’ line. While their resin statues are now leaning towards the 1:4-scale, they have developed a new line of products made out of PVC — now that the technology has improved enough to make it sturdier — that are much cheaper to produce, and that line — at least with First 4 Figures — has brought about the Link statue from Breath of the Wild, which is being sold for $90. And they have plans to continue making PVC statues as 1:6 statues in the future, so collectors can still obtain quality Zelda figures on the cheap.
The secrets within the F4F vault
This coming year will be an extremely exciting year for Zelda fans in terms of what First 4 Figures is getting ready to release. There are more than a handful of statues coming out, and even some more going up for pre-order by the year’s end. Several of the statues announced last year will be coming out. Link on the King of Red Lions from Wind Waker will be coming out sometime during Q2 2017, and of course the Link vs Scervo diorama is currently available to buy as well. First 4 Figures also announced this past holiday season a life-sized prop version of Majora’s Mask from its eponymous game. And of course there’s the new Breath of the Wild Link PVC statue which is part of the 1:6 range and therefore will be much cheaper to buy.
All of these statues and several more are still available for purchase on First 4 Figures’ website. Well, all of them except the Breath of the Wild PVC statue; those you’ll have to obtain via your local game shop, but F4F’s intention is that there will be plenty of figures to go around as they ardently hope that these will provide some visible outreach to get their name out into the world. In the United States, the first run of Breath of the Wild Link will be out on the game’s launch date of March 3, but for the rest of the world stock won’t ship until late April or May.
“You say Tingle? Done it, Mate. ALready made it. You say, Link vs Volvagia? There’s like loads of stuff that’s already been made!”
Even more interesting than the statues that will be coming out in the near future are those that are, at least for now permanently locked away in the First 4 Figures Vault. “We have a F4F Vault which I like to talk about in the [Facebook Group] Collector’s Club,” Davis explains. “And the F4F Vault basically has a ton — a ton of concepts — that got to different levels — i.e., 3D, even some to physical — where we have worked on things such as Link pulling the Master Sword out and, you know, Link vs different characters. In fact, I can remember doing a Link vs Ganondorf based on the [Spaceworld 2000 GameCube] tech demo. That tech demo, I made that diorama. I made it! And it’s locked under lock and key in the vault that you can only see if you’re sitting where Chockles is.
“There are so many things in there. You say Tingle? Done it, mate. Already made it,” he continues, obviously extremely proud of the work that has gone into it. “You say, Link vs Volvagia? There’s like loads of stuff that’s already been made!” Later on, he adds, “If you get… on an airplane to Hong Kong, you can see Zora Link with a Wishbone Guitar, rocking it out…. It is an awesome statue! I’m looking at the concept! Maybe one day, hey?” Thankfully for us, the vault isn’t the place where all concepts go to die. It’s possible one day we might see the things locked away. “Times are different; times have changed. Maybe they can turn again, turn around in a PVC later on. Who knows, you know?”
To echo what Jeffrey said, someone really has to crack that vault open!
The future for the Zelda line
“We haven’t finished off the Twilight Princess line. Obviously we have Trueform Midna there, but there’s a big glaring omission. And it’s a kind of a character you may have heard of him, [he]’s called Link.” Granted, First 4 Figures has already created a Twilight Princes version of Link on Epona; however, the glaring omission is with regards to the collection of 1:4-scale statues of characters on their own, namely Zelda, Puppet Zelda, Ganondorf, Zant, and Trueform Midna.
And moreover, included with the Breath of the Wild Link statue is a leaflet containing two small hints about F4F’s future work. There are two mysterious silhouettes within. During the interview, Davis was rather mum on exactly what they were, saying we’d have to wait to open the box. However, after the first unboxings started to go live, we contacted F4F again to confirm that they will be doing a replica of the Sheikah Slate from Breath of the Wild, as well as a figurine of Breath of the Wild’s Link riding a horse. Could it be Epona? Only time will tell! We assume, or at least hope, that the Sheikah Slate will be a life-size replica in their 1:1 prop line started by Majora’s Mask.
Before they left, Davis and Chockles reminded us of the history that First 4 Figures share with us. Originally before Facebook became popularized, our website was actually one of the main ways they got news of their new figurines to the world. They continue to have a soft spot for us and our readers who frequent this site for everything Zelda. As a result, they want to sincerely thank everyone for supporting them. They’re excited for the future, and they can’t wait to show it to you, one collectible at a time.