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~ Doll Makers ~ Behind the Scenes

Oct 22, 2010

    1. Although I'm extremely new to BJD's, (and don't even have my boy home yet!) I've become the "doll expert" among my friends. I'm constantly sharing my knowledge in the hopes that I'll drag them into this with me. :sweat In any case, I've done a lot of research, and I think I'm fairly knowledgeable.

      When I was discussing my new Crobidoll with a friend earlier, he casually mentioned something about their "doll factory." I objected. "These dolls aren't made in factories!" I told him. But, then... I realized that I actually don't know a thing about how doll companies operate!

      So, I'd like to hear about doll companies. Not reviews, but "behind the scenes" stories and trivia.

      Some things to ponder:

      • What are the actual sizes of the BJD companies we buy from? Are there really "BJD doll factories," or are all of them lovingly made by hand in basement workshops?
      • Who are the people involved in making BJD's, (other than "sculptor" and "face-up artist?") Who aren't we hearing about?
      • What's the dynamic like in companies of different sizes - from Volks to Soom to Migidoll?
      • What's different about doll companies in different countries?
      • What drives different companies to make BJD's? Is it the money? Is it the love of dolls?
      • Are there any "rival companies?"
      • Is there a great rags-to-riches doll company story I should hear about? Horror stories? Are there any "crazy celebrities" in the BJD-making world?
      • Your question here!
      I'd love to hear both insider information about specific doll companies, and just general information!

      I'd especially like to hear from people on the forum who actually work for doll companies! Please share your stories with us!

      Thank you!

      (I didn't see a similar thread when I searched, but I wasn't exactly sure what phrase to look for. Sorry if this is a repeat~)
    2. I don't know much about the bigger companies, but some of the smaller ones are just one person. Limhwa is just one dollmaker and I think Secretdolls is one person also. I don't know if they cast the dolls themselves after they sculpt the prototype, or send them out to someone to cast, but they do the rest. In any case, I'm pretty sure the love of creating beautiful dolls is at the heart of their business. I've never heard anything much about the bigger companies, maybe because they publicize and emphasize their artistry, not the actual manufacturing process of the dolls.
    3. Good questions! I'm not very sure about most of this, myself. Some of the super small companies really are a 'basement workshop' type thing, but I think a bigger company like Volks does have a doll factory- actually they may have more than one, since they make resin and vinyl dolls.

      Other than sculptor and face-up artist, there's the person who makes the molds, casts the dolls, sands seams (in some companies), takes pictures, advertises, processes orders, runs their website, and who knows what else! Of course, some or all of these jobs will fall on the same person in a smaller company.

      There are probably different motivations from one company to the next. Some are looking to share a work of art, some are in it for the cash, some are looking to adopt out resin companions. I remember Bobobie saying on their site that they want to help every girl who wants a doll to be able to have one, which I thought was really sweet.
    4. For a while it seemed like Luts and Fairyland had somewhat of a rivalry going on, but that seems to have passed somewhat.

      I'll have to find this older issue of Haute Doll that I have around soemwhere, but Soom has something like 40 employees for their five doll lines. They were started by a couple I think (someone please correct me if I'm wrong), and they've grown since then. :) The guy who started the company, originally did the sculpting (not sure if he still does), but he still takes the photogtaphs! Quite talented I must say.

      But, most companies are very small, ranging from one to four persons. Shinydoll is another operation run by an individual.

      And despite how large Volks is, they're the ones that started the whole dolls having souls in the BJD hobby. There's a whole mythology behind it, and based on what I've heard of the man who owns Volks, they certainly seem to care about the dolls on more than a financial level.
    5. I would love to see behind the scenes photos of some of the workshops, is there a specific photo thread showing company behind the scenes? Such as them casting, their face up work areas, clothes making etc? I would find those very interesting. I have seen photos of them making the sculpt and casting etc but pictures that are more about their set up etc.
    6. I think they're kind of secretive about that stuff. Most of them don't even have showrooms or shops like Volks. I have occasionally seen work table photos on different doll web sites, but that's all. Elfdoll used to have some photos of their workspace, but I don't know if they're still up or not. Volks may have some on their website.
    7. Elfdoll on occassion has posted pictures under Rainman's story his work area and such.
      I recall seeing a few pictures of some luts work behind the scenes and they worked in what looked like cubicals. XD;

      Sometimes I think that the statement that "each made by hand" is a little unrealistic and overly glorified thought about how our dolls are made. In some cases of smaller "companies" I imagine its true, but It wouldn't surprise me if there was a stock or at least an assembly line sort of work involved. The probably most common case would be the casting. Resin is expensive and it would be more efficient for them to cast in bulk than individually.

      Although I do believe that there is probably a heartfelt connection to the doll making process that those involved in the making share.

      Interesting topic!
    8. Dollstown has in-progress pictures for most of their sculpts--though the text is mainly in Korean. I think they're a fairly small company, maybe 5 people. I get the impression most companies (apart from Volks) are fairly small. I think you'd call them workshops rather than factories.

      DoA member Victorian Winter makes an artist cast doll (Odette), and she has a lot of progress pics on her blog: http://victorianwinter.com/blog.php It's very interesting. She's been sharing the whole process there and in a DoA thread.

      I would love to see more behind-the-scenes pictures from companies.
    9. Doll companies are secretive, and very few people here on DoA seem to have direct experience working for them (although there are some with doll-making experience), so it's hard to say much about it.

      I can't back this up, but I have heard that in many cases the company designs and sculpts the doll, but they send it out to be cast. The individually-by-hand thing applies best to faceups, which really can't be done any other way. And assembling the dolls, for that matter.

      I think in most cases the companies have at least pride in their work, and I certainly get the impression that many have affection for the dolls themselves. Volks takes big steps to make sure that customers feel included in things, to make friends with customers, and to create a feeling that these are more than just dolls. For example, in their terminology you don't buy a doll, you "omukae" it - you "come get" him or her. Sculpt names get "kun" or "chan" on the end, just like children would be called.
    10. What are the actual sizes of the BJD companies we buy from? Are there really "BJD doll factories," or are all of them lovingly made by hand in basement workshops?
      I think this is more easily answered by researching the individual companies in which you have an interest. There are indeed factories, and there are also home workshops, and there are production studios of every size in between.

      Who are the people involved in making BJD's, (other than "sculptor" and "face-up artist?") Who aren't we hearing about?
      Many sculptors do not do their own casting, even when they are making a limited run of 20 or 30 dolls. There is a certain amount of pride in creating the doll from start to finish, but there is also the desire for more time spent sculpting rather than casting to fill orders. Space constraints and the cost of materials and equipment also play a big part in whether or not a sculptor does their own casting. Each doll maker has to decide what balance of tasks works best for them. Some of them shift priorities over time; Dollstown decided to have Dollshe do all of the casting because of their highly sophisticated casting workshop. Migidoll decided to do her own casting because even though it was very very hard for her, she felt more attached to each doll she made herself.
      The customer service and marketing people are generally the ones that don't get a lot of credit. If they are permitted to sign their own name, there tends to be more attachment from customers, like Doogi from Luts who later left to create 4D. International sales reps generally get more facetime on DoA than other company employees because their job is to represent the Non-English speaking company on an English board.

      What's the dynamic like in companies of different sizes - from Volks to Soom to Migidoll?
      Companies like Volks, Soom, Iplehouse and Luts are run like corporations. They have developed their business out of love for their product, but they have a responsibility to their employees and their budget that demands a certain pace of production and a certain company image they must maintain. This means they must have a certain number of events, seasonal releases, and corresponding lines of accessories in order to drive sales and keep the company name in the forefront of their customer's minds.
      Individual sculptors like Migidoll, Lumedoll, MsDoll, ShinyDoll etc have more flexibility when it comes to customer expectations of output and quality. Most collectors of these dolls are interested in the "hand-crafted" aspect of the doll and are willing to accept that individual artist sometimes have to put sculpting on hold because of outside life events. These sculptors often pace themselves by opening short order periods or casting a limited number of dolls to avoid becoming overwhelmed by more orders than they can reasonably produce without burning out.
      Companies with a larger body of work (even though they may only have a single sculptor) like Dollshe, Rainydoll, or Dollstown are generally expected to be more professional about production times because they have a production team, but their new releases are still at the whim of the sculptor.

      What's different about doll companies in different countries?
      Almost anything said about this would smack of generalizations based on race, but there are certainly some differences in expectations when it comes to what a business feels it owes its customers. There are also very different standards in what customers feel comfortable demanding, which has altered the way some businesses in other countries have chosen to manage their international marketing.

      What drives different companies to make BJD's? Is it the money? Is it the love of dolls?
      There is certainly a lot of opinion on this topic, and no company with an ounce of sense would admit to a love of money being the primary motivation in a hobby ruled by sentiment. They might say something like "We'd like everyone to be able to own a BJD," rather than saying "We're here to undercut the competition! We don't respect you enough to believe that you can discern the difference in quality."
      One would hope that in every instance a love of dolls definitely comes first, but once success is tasted, who really wants to give it up? And who, seeing the success of others, wouldn't want to try to obtain it for themselves if they feel they have a similar level of taste and skill (or not, in some cases).

      Are there any "rival companies?"

      Of course there are rivalries. 1) There are humans involved. 2) There are sculptors with differing aesthetic ideas and philosophies involved. 3) They are competing for market share.
      Obviously the companies who have been embroiled in copying disputes are going to bear ill will, but I doubt they'd respect the copier enough to consider them a "rival." A rival could be considered inspirational, someone to spur one on to better work.
      As for Fairyland and Luts, there are sculpting teams (and individual sculptors) that work behind the scenes in a lot of the larger companies. They come and go, sometimes on good terms, sometimes not. In that case there were some disputes over who had the rights to particular sculpts and names. It fell out the way you see it now.

      Is there a great rags-to-riches doll company story I should hear about? Horror stories? Are there any "crazy celebrities" in the BJD-making world?

      Rags-to-riches? There's a lot of sweat and dust. There are some companies like iplehouse that started out making doll furniture and suits for Dollshe Hound and Volks SD13s. They distributed other makers dolls before giving it a try for themselves. They started out borrowing some engineering ideas from dolls that they clearly liked, but then they were very responsive to customer feedback and continuously evolved their dolls into something entirely different. They have added another dimension to the aesthetic criteria of BJDs by taking the realism that collectors found appealing in a a few other dolls and really running with it. They are still willing to keep improving their engineering, as evidenced by the structural differences between the EID and SID males. They are clearly making use of modern tools and technology to achieve this, but unfortunately they never show any of their work in progress.

      Horror stories usually involve failure to produce dolls, which is sad for dolly commerce but not horrific in the grand scheme of things. See Charles Creature Cabinet's crash and burn, CustomHouse's year-long wait times, or Dolkot's tan dolls crumbling into powder.

      There are always some crazies, they have their fifteen minutes and then someone else comes along. Celebrities usually come in the form of face-up artists and they generally get more than fifteen minutes, unless they implode in the face of their own popularity. The rule of thumb seems to be that the more stable and secure one is, the longer one can withstand the pressure of demands from so many individual commissions.
    11. I always thought LUTS might be a rather large company because they make so many dolls.. but I could be wrong as I never really thought about it. Smaller companies will probably equal longer wait times due to the lack of employees to incoming orders, though I'm not sure it really matters. I think if you work with dolls theres always a certian level or love and admiration you put into them, even if you work with lots of dolls all day, every day.
    12. In my experience, it's generally the reverse. Most of the small companies I've ordered from have shipped within a month or sooner, like ShinyDoll who did a custom modification involving casting for me and still shipped the doll the next day, because their order volume is exponentially lower than a company like Soom. They generally have fewer dolls available for order at any given time, they have less complex websites and ordering processes to maintain, they don't have major marketing campaigns, and they have fewer collectors giving them tons of free advertising by continuously posting their dolls on forums. Volks or Soom can take in a few hundred orders for a popular limited doll in a matter of hours, and they've grown their staff and altered their production structure to meet that demand as best they can.
      The only major exception to that rule of wait times was Dollshe being completely overwhelmed by the orders for his 70cm Hound and very suddenly not having enough staff to handle the orders. Looking back on it, this demand was really just created by a few individual customizers like Anu and SDink really showing the dolls to their best possible advantage. Dollshe himself was completely disconnected from the Western collectors and had no way to gauge actual demand for this new trend of mature male dolls.
    13. While waiting the 3-4 months it takes to get a Lotus Near made by DD-Anne, you can entertain yourself by watching your doll's pieces come to life one by one on her blog. And I saw those same little casting-cubicles! Rows of them, like a funky little mortuary. :whee: When the casting pictures appeared, you realized just how long she'd had to delay because of the wet-season weather and the color formulation stage... she posted pictures of all the outfits' accessories as she purchased them (a little pile of skull-beads or white-jade trim).... Then finally, a ghostly set of little freshly-casted heads lined up on her worktable... Then later, you were rewarded with a double row of little arms, looking for all the world like an assembly line, but then the next photo was a mad-huge pile of sandpaper with the caption "This is how much sandpaper it takes to sand one Lotus Near" or, my god, "I sanded 20 arm parts today!" XD

      So I can tell you that the whole "made by hand" thing is alive and well, not a myth, and it's a truly cool thing to watch your doll come to life in stages like that.
    14. Thank you, everyone, for your insightful comments! I'm especially loving the photos and blogs. :D

      Also, please feel free to ask your own questions! Mine were only a list of talking points to get people started.

      (This post is a cleverly disguised bump.)
    15. see im making my own bjd right now, and i have sooo much making photos from many different sites :) once i've found linhwa (think so) doll making tutorial - so cool !

      im curious how it looks in big companies like dollmore or luts...
      actually must be fun with resin casting which so damn toxic !! (they all must be like kamikazes)

      please if you know any doll-making thread please gimme - i hate serching engines >_<
    16. So much mystery surrounds the manufacturing process that I wish a TV program like How It's Made or a magazine would shed light onto it. There is a big list of questions I have about the doll-making process; for example:

      What does the casting space look like? How about the faceup room or area?
      Do some companies use 3D printing to create their sculpts? (Dollstown suggests that some do, and I do have my own suspicions.)
      How do they string our dolls so tightly?
      How are different types of eyes (acrylic, glass, urethane) created?
      What is a "doll academy" like?
      How are doll shoes made and what makes them cost so much?
      What is a doll company like when there is a big event with many orders?
      Do the employees come in every day to work, even if ordering is slow?
    17. you've made me even more curious...
      "how its made - dollfie" rulez, i could die to see it XD
    18. Whilst not exactly the same as a big company, I think if you check out Armeleia's blog(The moderator), she has the step by step process of how she made Inkling. It's really good for seeing what the casting process looks like and mold making process.
    19. When I think about this, I feel a bit bad. Normally, I'm curious and have to know like how someone might want to know where the food they are being comes from. But with BJDs, I just push the thoughts away. When friends and family ask me questions like "why does it take so long to get your doll?" "who's making the doll?" "Is it some sort of factory?", I would just make something up that sounds acceptable so that they would stop questioning me.
    20. I ind stuf like this mega hand as being a newbie~