Inspired by a sighting of the Christopher Reeve Superman waxwork taking flight through the stairwell of London’s Madame Tussaud’s as an impressionable teen, there and then I vowed that someday I would have an ultimate lifesize Super-display for myself.
While ultimate is a conceit best left to something of Tussuads standard and fashioned from silicone with punched hair and finished with a budget of thousands, my ambition was to pay tribute to Reeve’s definitive portrayal using the best likeness available for a fraction of the cost. The dream to create my own version would never fade no matter how unpractical or unachievable it seemed.
Decades later, with a wealth of research gathered on the subject I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Superfan Chris King, a kindred spirit who shared the same ambition as me and who had already completed a phenomenal lifesize display but was keen to upgrade and had already commissioned a new portrait. Chris brief to the Nikolas Art Studio was simple;
“I’d like to commission a Christopher Reeve lifesize sculpt that has ‘life’ to it with an expression that captured Chris Reeve’s portrayal of the character”.
The secondary project was the outfit, which coincidentally was being developed by Action Costumes to produce the most accurate costume to date. Although Action had been producing the finest-quality Superhero apparel for some years, their dedication to narrowing the distinction between replica and real had blurred considerably due to the appointment of friend and SuperFan Sebastian Columbo as artistic director. Their latest version boasted specs taken from nothing less than a genuine costume (exhibited at the WB 75th anniversary exhibition in the Mostra de Valencia) where measurements and notes were taken to ensure a level of detail never before attempted (among them seam placement, logo width/shape, stitching and cape pleats) and replicated in perfectly colour-matched fabrics.
I served as consultant to Chris as his new sculpt progressed, passing on notes to achieve the very best likeness achievable. The two projects would run parallel for months until the clay master of the portrait was completed to everyone’s satisfaction and the first of the resin casts were pulled. In the meantime Chris had also sourced a suitable stock mannequin on which to mount the finished cast. As the components had taken years to come together and at considerable cost, Chris unfortunately lacked the motivation to complete the display and passed the kit onto me.
What followed were months of work to transform the raw fibreglass pieces into a coherent whole. I contacted an artist called John May to assist with the initial fittings and he made the first cuts to the mannequin to mount the head. To save money I undertook most of the alterations to the body myself using air-drying clay to more accurately reflect Reeve’s distinct physique.
During the whole trial and error process I was fortunate enough to discover local SFX wunderkind Rich Martin of RFX studios. Not only was he supremely talented, but had already had experience with a Reeve Superman having recently created his own. I commissioned him to adjust the mannequin body, add the artificial eyes and apply the final paint. He somehow turned flat resin into living, breathing skin and crucially, his flawless glass eye placement conveyed expression in the sculpt.
With the head and body completed, Action Costumes delivered on the custom costume order and after much adjustment and finishing touches the figure was finally completed in 2013 and has been pride of place in my study ever since.
Now that he’s finished I hope you can appreciate what an undertaking this was and, just for the moment, share the feeling I had when I stood open mouthed with the rest of the Tussauds visitors that day as they all pointed and said “Look!! Its Superman, Christopher Reeve…”
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
Original handsculpted bust cast in reinforced resin by Nikos Dresios of Nikolas Art Studios
Custom handpainted acrylic glass eyes provided by Tech-Optics ltd
6’6″ Fibreglass Big & Tall mannequin body with circular glass stand by Vaudeville Mannequin Co. (Imported from USA and cut to size/modified extensively to match Reeve’s physique)
Screen-accurate Bronze Edition costume & boots designed & tailored by Action Costumes (With scratchbuilt belt featuring buckle cast from studio original)
Paintwork and body modifications by Rich Martin of RFX
G A L L E R Y
Shown above (courtesy of Jim Bowers) is a comparison between the handcrafted bust by Nikolas (far right) next to a genuine lifecast of Christopher Reeve (centre). Of particular note is that the bust was commissioned long before casts of the lifemask became available yet the proportions are remarkably similar. Due to the ‘flattening out’ of the face during the procedure of lifecasting features can be compressed limiting any expression – note the shape of the nostrils on the lifecast to the portrait on the left for an example of this.