Huy Nguyen and his family create figures from scraps of metal and parts of vehicles. He poses next to a 2-foot Optimus Prime from the “Transformers” series. He has been part of the company Metalsouls for more than a decade.
Nestled between kiosks selling nuts and handcrafted woodwork, there was one stand during Vintage Days that drew the attention from many fans of both art and popular culture.
Metalsouls, an art studio from Los Angeles, ran the kiosk. The stand featured statues, vehicles and figures created from welded scrap metal.
Among the models were recreations of some of science fiction’s most famous heroes and villains, including the Predator and Alien from the “Predator” and “Alien” movie franchises, respectively.
Huy Nguyen was brought in to work at Metalsouls when his brother founded the studio. Other relatives also contribute to building and selling the sculptures.
“He started the business in 1999 just for fun,” Nguyen said. “It was good, and we made more and more and more.”
The art is created from any piece of metal they can gather: nuts, bolts, screws, bike chains, gears, sprockets and sheet metal.
Nguyen makes many different types of models, but there are some he prefers to make more so than others.
“I love Predators and Aliens,” he said. “Those are my favorite characters.”
Nguyen said “Predator” (1987) is one of his favorite movies.
The company also sells sculptures from other popular franchises including “Star Wars,” “Iron Man” and “Doctor Who.”
Nguyen said many of the sculptures are crafted by using action figures bought from stores.
“We buy toys and use them as a model,” he said.
After more than a decade, Nguyen has crafted many sculptures.
“Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s too much work,” he said. Nguyen’s hands and arms tell tales of years of hot metal work in the form of scars both new and old. But the physical toll does not faze him.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I like it. I love it.”
Nguyen said the maximum size of sculptures the company creates is around 2 feet. The only statue at the event which held that height was an imposing recreation of Optimus Prime, which drew influence from the Michael Bay “Transformers” films instead of the original 1980s cartoon.
Besides drawing attention, the larger sculptures serve a second purpose.
“When you start making sculptures, you make the big one first, then you scale down—that’s easier,” Nguyen said.
The company creates sculptures both large and small. The smaller statues, however, are actually the end result of a long scaling process.
After collecting the scrap materials, figuring out how to create a model is the first important step in the process, and where to start is not the same for each statue.
“It depends on the sculpture, because most of them you have to start at the bottom because it’s easier,” Nguyen said.
Sculptures that stand must be started from the feet to make sure the model is balanced. Figures that are held in suspension, such as a metal scuba diver, as well as vehicles, are built from the middle out.
Not every sculpture is made from a model, however.
At the stand, Nguyen had 3-inch human figures, made of welded nuts and bolts, playing musical instruments or lifting weights. They were simpler in design compared to the robots, tanks and aliens surrounding them, and therefore didn’t require models.
“You don’t need to get a toy for dolls,” he said.
As the company grows, Nguyen said he wants to focus on how to make sculptures easier to make, as well as making costs reasonable for all potential buyers.
“Welding is easy, but getting the right part takes a lot of time,” he said.
Each sculptures takes a certain amount of time to complete, and the longer it takes, the more costly it will be, Nguyen said.
For example, the cheapest items, the bolt dolls, take around 30 minutes to finish, while a 1-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex could take up to two hours.
The 2-foot Optimus Prime on display took nearly a month. Statues based on that model can take up to a week and come with a comparable price tag—the Optimus model was priced at $600.
“Optimus Prime has a lot of parts, so every time you see one, they may have different parts,” Nguyen said.
To find the right parts, the company buys scrap in bulk from junkyards or auctions. Some parts like bicycle chains have to be ripped right out of the vehicle.
For Nguyen, the best part about creating models from discarded metal is the artistic freedom.
“For me, structure has no rules,” he said. “You can make whatever you want.”