Bobbleheads and the Resemblance Discussion

In our first article we discussed personalized bobbleheads and how they have made a jump in to popular culture. We also provided some tips to keep in mind if you were thinking of buying one and some background on where they came from.

There is one topic that producers constantly try to reassure, and which keeps coming up in the discussion when people first hear of, or see the product in the clay, this is the issue of resemblance. So the quintessential question on this product is: does the bobblehead really look like the person?

We thought that once we had made the introduction into what the product is, we should dive straight into this next topic. Later on we will discuss bobblehead types, props, et cetera in more detail, but for now we will discuss resemblance.

There are several angles to consider when talking about bobblehead resemblance and we thought it would make sense to divide them in two main groups: input and process.

The input to create a personalized bobblehead involves the person to be ‘minimized’ and the way in which the artist sees the person’s face. The process of creating the bobblehead holds also variables, which will determine the outcome including the production method, material used, the artist and the style meant for the result.

These are the input factors that affect bobblehead resemblance:

Factor 1: The face of the person to be minimized. This presents the first factor in bobblehead resemblance and is a somewhat counter-intuitive one. It’s one of those situations when being good looking can definitely work against you, and the reason in simple. Good-looking faces make for very ‘standard’ looking bobbleheads, where as the more ‘colorful’ or ‘characteristic’ faces are far easier to represent. An artist will more easily capture things like funny hair, strange features or exaggerated faces, compared to average or perfect features.

Factor 2: The way the artist gets to see the person. Most personalized bobblehead companies work online and some via shopping districts which means that in most cases, the artist or maker (we’ll elaborate on the difference later on) and the client never meet eye to eye. The artist must make an interpretation of the person’s face based solely on photos.

Photos provide a static view, which allows the artist plenty of time to copy. On the other hand we all know a photo can sometimes be misleading and not convey the right persona, resulting in a bobblehead that somehow doesn’t quite capture things.

In addition the photos provided as input are not always of the quality and in the angles that make the artist’s life easy. The ideal photos for a bobblehead are a good front face photos and a profile photo. The light and focus should be good, leaving no part of the face outside the frame.

Certain artists, especially in Asia have set themselves in small outlets and even airports, where they create bobbleheads for people right on the spot. Here the artist has the ‘luxury’ of seeing the person’s features and personality, and then convey them directly into the figurine. However time is the biggest enemy, and the situation requires a seasoned bobblehead artist who doesn’t need much time to do a good job.

The additional advantage of face-to-face bobblehead creation is giving the customer the chance to see the result and suggest corrections him or herself.

Next, we have the process factors that affect resemblance:

Factor 1: The production process. This one is a reason for major debate in the industry at the moment. Up until a few years ago all bobbleheads were hand made with no exceptions. Now a few players offer figurine made by fast prototyping machine, also know as 3D printers.

Although machine-made bobbleheads hold the promise of 100% resemblance, matters are a bit more complex. First the 3D printer must be given an electronic file containing the person’s face. Some firms have shops with special 3D cameras on-location, but most try to convert the 2D photo into a 3D image. Here margin for error is introduced and the resulting file is often a rather awkward representation of the person.

In addition 3D printing technology is still not at the level where it can produce a final piece of good quality unless the client is willing to pay a very high amount of money, but that is a separate topic.

Sufficient to say that a machine-made bobblehead will have a different resemblance and style than a hand-made one.

Factor 2: The material used. Some firms will use polymer clay and some will use resin. The impact on resemblance is not so much the features themselves, but the finish that each material offers. While polymer clay can have different colors, resin is almost always pristine white and therefore needs to be painted. This can have an effect on how things turn out.

Factor 3: The artist. Perhaps the most determining factor in the production process is the artist creating the piece. Sufficient to say that his or her talent will ultimately determine whether the right features have been captured in the bobblehead.

Factor 4: The intented style. This is a highly subjective factor and it varies per artist and per company. The easiest way to explain it is to compare a bobblehead to a cartoon. Different cartoonists will create different cartoons of the same person. In a similar way, artists may create a bobblehead of the same person, both with high level of resemblance, and yet produce a very different-looking outcome.

Producers of personalized bobbleheads go to great lengths to reassure customers that the resemblance they produce is good. As we have discussed in this article there are many factors involved, and some of them like photo quality are under the control of the client.

Claims of perfect resemblance should arouse at least some suspicion given all the variables that come into play, and a satisfaction guarantee will be more valuable at the end of the day. Comparing bobbleheads from different producers will also give a good impression of the styles out there, and will not be wasted time given how different they can be from each other.


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