For me, as a fan of Roman history and as an author of a Roman action figure comic, a dream came true, when Kaustic Plastik stepped into the 1/6 market. Kaustic Plastik is the producer of the most authentic Roman figures. They provide great customer service, and they interact with the community on boards and on Facebook. And lastly, they offer their products at affordable prices. These guys really share the same passion. So I am very happy to have been able to conduct an interview with Fabio Varesi, General Manager of Kaustic Plastik. We talked about the KP figures, the upcoming new releases and KP’s plans for the future.
Fabio, first, I would like to thank you for granting me this interview. I read on your Web site that Kaustic Plastik had emerged from the ashes of Twisting Toyz.
Twisting Toys was famous for Italian soldiers from World War II. Now, with Kaustic Plastik you are focusing on another Italian theme: Ancient Rome. Why did you choose this topic?
Well, first of all it is important to clarify one point: I used to work for Twisting Toyz as a history consultant and prototype maker. I was at no times involved in the management of TT. So, when I was given the opportunity to run my own business, I decided to go for a theme that I found more interesting.
It is true that I also like many figures of WWII, but I rather prefer the ancient theme. I live in Rome and ancient Rome is a part of my background and my cultural heritage.
Tell me something about the KP team. How many people work for KP?
The core team is based in Italy and consists of me (General Manager, Designer and Historical Research), Danilo Leo (Prototypes and Historical Research), Valentino Montini (Model Test), Andrea Rusconi and Renato Benignia (Jewel and Metal Artisans) and our Archaeologist Consultant Dott. Luca Nejrotti.
These guys represent the core team of our company!
What work is done in Italy and what work is carried out abroad?
All the prototypes and all the metal parts (helmets, weapons, details, etc.) are produced and assembled in Italy. All the plastic parts are produced in China. The packaging is partly manufactured in China…
Astacius & Celadus
The first KP figures were two gladiators: the retiarius Astacius and the thraex Celadus.
Please tell me something about your research, did you have any support of historians, archaeologists and reenactors?
As I explained earlier, we work with the Italian archaeologist Dott. Luca Nejrot on a daily basis, for historic advice regarding our products. It is with thanks to him that we have access to the finest Italian museums and archaeological databases.
We also collaborate with some Italian reenactors groups.
Talking about research… What is your favourite museum in Rome?
I love Musei Capitoloni, this museum s is one of the biggest sources of inspiration for my company, but – with regard to the ancient history of Rome – I do not think that Rome is the only interesting place in Italy. I would like to suggest to all my European friends and fans (and not only to the European ones) to once visit the museum of Aquileia (North Italy) and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples and the Pompeii city of course!
I totally agree. The Musei Capitoloni is really great. I visited it in 2009, and last May I went to Naples and Pompeii to visit all the famous sights: Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and the National Museum in Naples. I do not know the museum of Aquileia. Is it near Venice, right? Thanks for the tip.
That is right, it is not so far from Venice, so I really urge you to go there one day!
When Ridley Scott released his Gladiator movie, the works of 19th century historical painters were named as one source of inspiration, especially “pollice verso” by Jean-Léon Gérôme. I think it is a great painting, and Gérôme did good research, The painting represents the state of knowledge of that time. I think he captured the atmosphere in the Arena very well, although the combination of weapons and gear was wrong. Did the historical painters have an influence on your work as well? What were your main sources of inspiration?
Well, as you know, Jean-Léon Gérôme painting is historically incorrect, even though it fully catches the “spirit” of the Arena, and it is of course a wonderful piece of art.
We are seeking inspiration in genuine pieces originating from the Roman era, such as mosaics, sculptures, tombstones, etc.
As you know, the main goal of our company is to give a very accurate and historically correct depiction of life during the Roman era.
Yes, I believe that this is the best way! I found it somehow funny, when I saw the making of Gladiator, and the guys kept emphazising how proud they were on their research, but they had primarily focused on the 19th century painters rather than on the original material. I like the movie as such, but from a historical point of view it is nonsense. Gérôme made his mistakes, but the art department of Gladiator seemed to be far behind Gérôme’s knowledge. However, I think that that is the problem with many movies. They always show gladiator fights as a wild slaughter without any rules. You never see a referee (summa rudis). And the gear is very often incorrect or pure fantasy ,as for example the sci-fi Conan helmet of Russell Crowe.
What’s your favourite movie related to ancient Rome?
I really like Centurion and The Eagle. The reconstructions are really good, and both are two really great action movies!
With the archaeological finds from the gladiator’s barracks in Pompeii we have a perfect blueprint for the metal parts like helmets, ocrea and galerus. It becomes more difficult, when it comes to organic materials, such as wood, fabric and leather. Here we can only rely on ancient illustrations as for example paintings, reliefs and mosaics. For the construction of the manica you chose a combination of leather and a quilted linen tube. Can you explain why?
Many of our 1:6 reconstructions have resulted from long studies, both archaeological and reenactors studies. We have learned about the appearance and workmanship of the manica from many mosaics and sculptures. And it is apparent that one of the main versions was made out of leather. We have also some evidence of manica made by chain mails and also of models in form of Lorica Squamata.
In contrast, the manica made out of Lorica Segmentata was probably only used by the Roman Army, and was not so common even in the Roman Army, because it was quite expensive to produce.
The manica of the Roman Army was without a doubt used in Dacian wars, but we have very few other evidences of the use of this in the Roman Army.
With regard to gladiators, there is no evidence of the use of Lorica Segmentata manica for gladiators! Thus, we decided to use the more commonly used leather-made manicas thereby mainly following the studies of the German archaeologist Marcus Junkelmann and the Gladiator Mosaic displayed at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
We learned from various mosaics that the gladiators were always protected by a white-quilted line protection which they wore directly underneath a leather or chain mail manica.
We know that it was quite common to wear this kind of “soft protection” underneath the armours It is commonly known that subarmalis were used and that they were e.g. worn directly underneath the Lorica Segmentata. Wearing soft protection directly underneath the armoured parts (leather or metal was equally common).
You mentioned the German archaeologist Marcus Junkelmann. In my opinion; he is the author of the best book ever written about gladiators. I had the pleasure to see him and his familia gladiatoria in the amphitheatre of the archaeological park in Xanten (Colonia Ulpia Traiana).
Celadus is dated to 79 A.D, which is the year of the doom of Pompeii. His helmet and the ocrea are based on the archaeological finds of Pompeii, thus the date makes perfect sense. I am wondering why Astacius is dated to 300 A.D. What is the reason for that?
Once again, we got our inspiration from a real Roman gladiator.
Astacius is the name of a retiarius displayed on the Gladiator Mosaic of the Borghese Collection.
As you know, this mosaic is dated to the first half of the 4th century, so 300 A.D. was a perfect time for our Retiarius!
I know the mosaic, but I cannot remember that one of the gladiators name was Astacius. It is nice to see where the name comes from. I was irritated by the fact that the galerus was also based on a Pompeii find. The fighters on the mosaic look like they are wearing a chain mail or scale armour manica. I think this type of manica was quite common at that time. It covers the shoulder too and a retiarius does not need a galerus any longer. That is why KP’s Astacius looks more like a coeval of Celadus to me.
Not at all! Look at the pictures of the mosaic I sent you. The gladiators still used the Galerus even in 300 A.D. And some of them also have a leather manica!
So itis historically correct! Yes, is true that we based the sculpture on a Pompeii Find, but please keep in in mind that Galerus Shape has not changed throughout the ages.
Let us talk about the bodies. The first one (KP01A) came with Astacuis and Celadus. It is the same body you used for the gladiators as well. Then, you released the two heroic muscle bodies. Perfect bodies for strong Schwarzenegger-type guys. Let us talk about the bodies. The first one (KP01A) came with Astacuis and Celadus. It is the same body you used for the gladiators as well. Then, you released the two heroic muscle bodies. Perfect bodies for strong Schwarzenegger-type guys.
It is always funny to read the discussions about the similiarity of a head sculpt with an actor or celebrity.
Yes we always find inspiration in real life people… but we do not like to make “replicas” of real actors or famous persons..
We simply regard it as an artistic inspiration… We give the sculptures a personal touch so that in the end the finished sculpture only bears a slight resemblance with the original person.
Sometimes we even combine two different real life people in one single sculpture!!!
But we always like to keep it a secret who the real person who inspired us, is. Thus, it is funnier to follow the discussions in the forums, where our fans are eager to find out which sculpture resembles which famous person.
Yes, that is part of the fun to analyse and discuss the look-alikes.
There are two different types of bodies on the market, those with a neck, like your bodies, and those without a neck, like Dragon, DiD or some of the Hot Toys bodies. Many 1:6 enthusiasts love to do kitbashing and custom figures. They need a body and a head. Most of the heads on the market come with a neck, like 90 % of the head play heads for example. Have you ever thought of developing a body for those types of heads?
Currently, we do not have any such plans. Because I like the neck bodies a lot. For our purposes, they are much more realistic.
Also, I have to say that the neck bodies are starting to become more and more common. Increasingly more companies are producing this kind of bodies. So I believe that there will a sufficient amount of heads for this in the near future.
I hope so. I am always on the hunt for heads for those kind of bodies.
Have you ever thought of some head sets, like Dragon in Dreams did it in the past? Like for example: the four heads for historical Napoleonic figures?
What about a set of heads of Roman emperors or heads that resemble actors from ancient Rome movies. I am quite sure that a lot of the fans would love to do a Titus Pullo or a Lucius Vorenus custom Legionary.
This is a good idea. And actually we also have had various requests for re-release of some of our sculptures.So, why not? 😉
Now you have introduced the third body KP03. What is the size of this body compared with KP01 and KP02? Is it in between the two previous released bodies?
Yes, it is a bit smaller. Here is a picture showing the main difference between KP02 and KP03.
It is great that you are doing all these variations- Having people with different figures and sizes in a pictures, makes it look much more realistic.
Do you have any plans to do a female body one day?
For the moment it is just a plan!
It would be great to see a Roman domina with an authentic Roman hairstyle.
The next figure was Valerius. I love the figure and the two extra helmets. The Thames helmet was a very nice surprise.
Could you please explain your decisions regarding some of the details. Colours, for example, are always a subject of discussion. Why did you choose red instead of brown for his cape?
Yes, it is true that there are different theories about the colours. For the cape both are correct: red or light brown. Our cape model was a so-called “Paenula”. You can still find gravestones with some paint residues, like the gravestone of Publius Aelius Mestrius, Optio of Leg II Adiutrix in Hungary, which clearly shows that the colour of the Paenula was red.
But we know that there also existed a version of paenula in light brown. So we came up the following solution: We use the colour red for officers (like Centurion and Aquilifer) and also for Valerius, who is a veteran soldier, with his helmet waiting to to carry a crest soon; he is an experienced soldier who soon will become an Optio. For Tiberius, who will become our next Legionary with a field pack, we selected different colours, both for his tunic and pants (very light brown/sand colour) and a light brown for his cape.
I think that is a good decision. The painting of the shields is always rather hypothetical. For many people the red-yellow paint of the scuta of the Ermine Street Guard looks very familiar. Ignite did it the same way.
By using bronze ornaments for your shields you opted for different style. What sources did you use for this style?
For the scutum, we resorted to the sculpture evidences once again. The Trajan Column clearly shows that the shield of the legionary had a sculpted, and not a painted decoration. All shields appear to be embossed with raised thunderbolts, wreaths, and other decorations.
There is also a written evidence for this: Plutarch, Lucullus, 27.5:
“When these men are merely on the march, they do not put on gleaming armour, nor have their shields polished and helmets uncovered, as they have now taken the leather covers from their armour. No this splendour means they are going to fight, and are now advancing on their enemies”
Polishing painted wood would of course not make much sense; at least not in the way as I think the author meant it. What would make sense is to polish the brass trim and all the brass wings, the lightening bolts, and the boss on the shields.
Yes, that’s true!
The new Products – Roman Legion
Valerius was a 600 pieces limited edition. Will this be the edition of the next figures too or will it be higher?
Little bit higher.
Centurion and Aquilifer in 700 pieces.
New legionary in 800 pieces.
Our figures ARE NOT toys. We would like to emphazise this – clearly and loudly. We are proud of this, and we know that we are doing something that is very similar to a museum replica. So it is important to keep all the releases as a limited edition! With these figures we are only aiming at serious collectors.
These figures are NOT for everybody! 😉
The preview pictures of the new announced figures look great. So many awesome details! All pictures always show some extras, like the muscle armour (Artorius), a vexillum and a signum (Lucius) and a lorica segmentata (Tiberius). I think that you are continuing what you have started with Valerius. Every figure comes with some bonus equipment, right?
Yes correct, we want to give our customers the possibility to customize the figure a bit… to have something “extra”.
I am sure that many fans appreciate that very much. What material did you use for the lorica hamata?
We developed a nylon material especially for that. We tried to make a version using real metal rings… but nowadays it is impossible to make 1mm diameter rings chained to each other! Making them it bigger, would be okay for a toy or for fictional character but certainly NOT for a historically correct figure!
As a result, we developed this material which looks very realistic, has a perfect colour, is easy to dress and it simulates the pattern of the real lorica hamate very well.
As a fan of Roman history I just cannot get enough, and I think I am not the only one. The wish list is long: cornicen, tubicen, bucinator imaginifer, legatus, eques, vexillarius, signifier, etc. Any plans to release any of those in 2014?
Well, for the vexillarius and signifer, we decided to include the signum and vexillum inside the Aquilifer release. So we think it will be quite easy to customize. Some other items would be lovely to produce as a kit. Our plans for 2014 are some Republican figures and some “enemies” of Rome.
Some music instruments, like a cornu or tuba, would be more than awesome. And maybe more animal skins like bear skin or wolf skin. Your lion skin looks so much better than the Ignite skins made out of plastic.
What about army building? Do you have any plans for Roman army armour kits?
In the future, I would love to release a kit with some dresses, weapons and armour. But I think it will happen in 2014 or maybe in late 2013
I think this could be a well-selling product. Many kitbashers would probably love to build their own little legion.
Last year you started your Museum Collection with two centurion helmets. Now, we have just seen the two new cavalry helmets based on archaeological finds. The so-called Ribchester helmet from the early 2nd century AD found in 1796 in Ribchester, Lancashire, and the so-called Deurne Helmet from the 4th century AD found in 1910 in a high moor near Deurne (The Netherlands) and now displayed in the Rijksmuseum Leiden. Both helmets look really awesome. They come as a small limited edition of 200 pieces. Will they be available to normal retailers or are exclusives that can only be ordered directly from the KP shop in Italy?
We will give a limited number also to our other worldwide retailers!
When I see the little museum quality things, I get into the mood of building a little 1:6 scale museum diorama with glass showcases, spotlights, etc. 😉
I have exactly something like this in my house. My entire home looks like an action figure museum.
Gladiators School of Pompeii
The latest published pictures showed the Kaustic Plastik FIRST ANNIVERSARY Edition box – the Gladiators School of Pompeii – Set 1. The combination of retiarius, secutor,and scissor makes perfect sense. They were opponents, and retiarius vs. secutor was the most popular fight pairing.
Am I right, when I say: everything shown on the pictures will be part of the set, including the body? And If I counted the gears correctly, then it would be possible to build two gladiators, and have a retiarius fight against a secutor or a scissor, right?
You can build three different kinds of gladiators with this set: secutor, scissor or retiarius.
The body and the new head sculpt is included in the set. Secutor and scissor were the perfect “enemies” for the retiarius
Are there two helmets and four ocrae included or do the people have to decide whether they want to build a secutor or a scissor?
Just one helmet and 2 ocrae. If two helmets and four ocrae (all in metal) were included, then the final price would have risen dramatically.
I myself will for sure order two of those sets in order to build a secutor and a scissor. Or maybe three sets to be able to stage a pontarius scene as well 😉
In the preview pictures the retiarius is wearing exactly the same outfit and armour as Astacius. Will there be any changes on the final product?
Some of the gear is resized, because the body is bigger than the former KP01 body used for Astacius.
Some others are identical. And there will be a couple of new items for the retiarius that we have not shown yet.
The scissor looks perfect to me. There is only one little thing regarding the secutor with which I do not completely agree. To me the scutum looks too small. To me the size in the pictures looks more like the size of a provocator shield.
We conducted thorough research for this. It is certain that the Secutor used various shields. It probably depended on the fighting technique and strategy applied by the respective Secutor. As you can see from the research material that we posted here, there are several pieces of evidence for shields that are of the same size as the ones we used for this release.
The set is named “Gladiators School of Pompeii Set 1”. Does that mean that we will see a Set 2 next year?
The combination of murmillo – thraex – hoplomachus would make sense. I thought about the helmets. The Attic- Boeotian helmets differ only in the crest. If this was designed as a separate part then it could be attached to the helmet, and you could use the same base form with different crests for a murmillo, a thraex, and a hoplomachus. And for a Chieti type helmet the same base could also be used without any crest for an eques. (Of course Berlin type helmets would also be great.)
Something in your words tells me that you have discovered the theme of the next set! 😉
Another great school set would be an Eques & Essedarius set for those who would like to have a gladiator of all well-documented armaturae. And those who want to stage a fight will surely buy two sets. Are there any thoughts in this direction?
It is too early to discuss this… as you can see we have a LOT of projects, so for the moment we are focusing just on this.
Have you ever thought about bringing out some Roman artillery weapons?
This would be interesting… but I think it would be better to test the market beforehand. Producing an artillery weapon can be quite expensive. If it is uncertain that the stocked items will all be sold, then this could kill the company!
When I think of ancient Rome, I always see five great topics for action figures. You worked already on two of them: gladiators and the Roman legion.
The 3rd topic: the enemies of Rome.
Do you have any plans to bring “barbarian” figures? You mentioned on the OSW board that you have plans for Gauls and Celts and that you prepared a Vercingetorix prototype. What can you tell me about that?
Yes, we have already made all the prototypes for Gauls, and we have a full Vercingetorix prototype. The idea for 2014 is to release the Roman Republic figures… probably a Legionary, and some historical figure… the idea is Julius Caesar. Then, it would be nice to test the market with some enemies… The Gauls would be perfect, because you can use it as a base for Celts also.
This sounds great. So we will get some Montefortino helmets and a type Mainz gladius. I am very curious about the “barbarian” figures.
The 4th topic: famous Romans, like emperors (Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nero, Vespasianus, Marcus Aurelius etc.) or other famous Romans, Agrippina, Seneca, Cato, Germanicus… Any plans for Roman celebrities? You mentioned Julius Caesar already…
Yes Julius Caesar would be our first choice. But I do not know how the market would receive the idea of other characters. An idea could be to release a kit, with Roman dresses, and maybe some Roman-era head sculpts. I think this is something, we should keep an eye on.
Yes, dresses and heads seem to be a good compromise to get some noble Roman patricians. I personally would be delighted about some accessories and Roman furniture based on archaeological findings, but I do not know whether that sells well.
The 5th topic is probably the most spectacular: The ludi circenses/ Chariot racing. Will we see a KP biga or a quadriga one day?
I would love to do something like this… But what scares me a bit, is the fact that I would also need to produce a horse!!
At the moment, KP is not big enough for this kind of products… but who knows! Our company is getting bigger… maybe in the future we will able to realize all our dreams!
I wish you all the best for this and also for the future of Kaustic Plastik. Thank you very much for the interview.