Star Wars galaxy gets new character in Clay Wars contest! - Part TWO

Trevor Ingeneri's Star Wars inspired character wins the Grand Prize in the "Clay Wars" life-size mask category.

Jan 3, 2017

Clay Wars, the first annual Monster Clay Sculpting Contest

The Monster Makers in partnership with Stan Winston School of Character Arts and American Fine Arts held the first annual Monster Clay Sculpting Competition called Clay Wars in both the 1/6 (human scale) figurative maquette and life-size mask categories. Entries had to be Star Wars themed but needed not reflect core characters of the Star Wars universe.

We last featured Luke Welch, the grand prize winner of the 1/6 scale figurative maquette category for his "Toodun'ata" sculpture, and now we're proud to introduce you to Trevor Ingeneri, the grand prize winner of the life-size mask sculpting category for his work "Mercenary".

- Team Stan Winston School



By Trevor J. Ingeneri, MD

I was born in Natick, Massachusetts, and spent the halcyon days of early childhood in Western Michigan. I was the middle child in a family of eight. My older brothers and I grew up on Atari 2600, big wheels, and BMXs. Our adventures were fueled by Star Wars, Alien, Raiders, D&D, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Saturday morning cartoons, and Marvel comics. Heroes and monsters from every realm of sword and sorcery, sci-fi, and fantasy took up residence in my pre-adolescent mind. Mom always made sure there was no shortage of crayons, pencils, markers, and poster paints to bring our beasties to life. I developed an early fascination with human anatomy and animals (great apes and big cats, specifically) and filled sketchbooks with Spidey and the X-men while getting carted around in our muted yellow, faux-wood-paneled station wagon.

Pictured above:  One of the greatest alien designs of all time. Top: “Life drawing” from VHS tape of 1987 Predator.  Bottom: Comic book art (black Sharpie, after Chris Warner) – both age 15/16.

I became interested in animation, puppetry and eventually, the obsession with movie “special effects” took hold. The latter ran the gamut from prosthetic makeup, creature suits, miniatures, and stop motion to matte painting, physical effects, and sound design, although it was obviously a while before I would come to understand how those magic tricks were pulled off. We got a VCR/VHS player when I was around nine or ten, and I would happily sketch for hours copying the paused action sequences in Japanese anime and my favorite movies. I devoured any behind-the-scenes or how-to stuff on TV specials or in print. All this was pre-internet so you really had to earn it (who remembers rifling through the card catalog Dewey Decimal System at your local library?). It wasn’t until med school that I got my own computer and took my first steps into the “world wide web.”

Pictured above:  Surface anatomy/musculature…you know you gotta have a little Frazetta in there – age 15/16.

I already had a pretty good collection of books on masters of classical painting and sculpture, but having instant access to various artists‘ work and techniques just blew my mind. A comprehensive list of contemporary traditional and digital artists who continue to influence me is beyond the scope of this article. The talent out there today is staggering. For inspiration and instruction, I would refer anyone to the contributing artists at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts and Gnomon Workshop sites and those featured in Sandy Collora’s The Art of Creature and Character Design. A word about inspiration, that will be instinctive to many of us: It’s absolutely everywhere. I have marveled at color, form, movement, and texture during surface-supplied air and scuba dives, in Navy nuclear submarine machinery compartments (read: Millennium Falcon), and even while performing forensic autopsies. Ok, weird list – but you get my point. Keep your eyes and mind open.

Pictured above:  Belle (one and only oil painting 18x24, one and only portrait commission) – 2006.


I have had no formal art training and can get frustrated by my knowledge gaps and lack of experience. When I came across the Clay Wars Sculpting Contest I was hesitant to throw my hat in the ring. I really only sculpted one other finished piece (a 1/2 scale head thirteen years ago).

Pictured above:  Mixed media projects. Top: fairy corpse (Epoxy clay features and decomposition, skin is TP/PVA, that’s toilet paper and Elmer’s glue, real skeletonized leaf wings, and hair from Grant the cat J).  Middle: Stylus holder (Had to try techniques from SWSCA’s Rob Ramsdell Metallic Painting tutorial. Rusted feature on temple was kitbashed from Scout Walker AT-ST Kenner toy. Can you tell which part? Now that’s some ROTJ love!).  Bottom: First go at pepakura (craft foam, epoxy resin-coated + Bondo + frustration).

Pictured above:  Top:  Mom loves Mr. Tumnus so I made up his drunk uncle, Portulus, for her (Wal-Mart baby doll with epoxy clay legs, head/neck, and horns. Face is resin cast from the incomparable Jordu Schell Troll Series kit. Painted by me.  Articulated, sand-filled, free-standing, belches, and farts).  Middle:  Needed my own “Move Along” Sandtrooper bucket (silicone mold with fiberglass and MDF jacket, cast epoxy resin with a ton of Bondo and sanding, green welding lenses, and screen-accurate, hand-painted jacked up tube stripes).  Bottom:  Everybody needs a coast redwood for their workshop (foam insulation board sculpted with metal garden rakes, industrial hot knife, a little chainsaw, and wire brushes).

I’d never entered an art contest before, but my wife was very encouraging. What clinched it was the caliber of the three judges (Steve Wang, Casey Love, and Chet Zar) with the grand prize winner in the mask category getting a paint-up by Casey!! And a Star Wars alien theme? I was in. Time to stop lurking in the forums and put something out there. My goal was to create a compelling character, hopefully not too derivative. Quick thumbnail sketches led to a little maquette which was photographed and used as the basis for some Photoshop concepts.

Pictured above:  Redcap goblin (My first creature sculpture-1/2ish scale, oil clay. This is a latex cast painted with toxic rubber cement paints) – 2003.

I kept the designs pretty loose, layering textures and inviting “happy accidents” to facilitate the possibility of unique forms. I gathered nature reference (leatherback turtle, apes, and alligators - I wanted to avoid an obvious reptilian look) and collected inspiring images from Bryan Wynia, Andrew Baker, Steve Wang, Casey Love, Jordu Schell, Aris Kolokontes, Jerad Marantz, Rafael Grassetti, and Joel Harlow, among others. My working environment was appropriately enhanced by John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Pictured above:  “Approved” digital concept for “Mercenary”.

Other than the maquette study, I had not worked with Monster Clay before, but I really enjoyed its tactile qualities. I quickly roughed in the major forms after softening batches in a countertop convection oven. Things were going pretty well but eventually the novice emerged and I started getting too tight, too careful. Stepping back frequently now, I noticed the character and attitude were slipping away from what I liked about my concept art. If I am proud of one thing in this whole experience, it is this: several hours into the sculpture, I took a ceramic knife and cut it apart because it wasn’t right. I may not have a ton of mileage as an artist, but I do have a good eye for when something’s not working. When this would inevitably happen in the process of 2D work my tendency was to noodle it to death. I was often not bold enough to make the real changes because some (errant) feature had become too precious to me. You must be able to “murder your darlings” as the old bit of writing advice goes.

Pictured above:  Concept maquette and work in progress of "Mercenary" , the grand prize winner sculpture of life-size mask category. 

Pictured above: Final texture and details.

In the end, I am satisfied that an interesting and viable mercenary character appropriate to the Star Wars universe emerged. I guess I should have given him a proper Star Wars name (suggestions?), but hopefully, he reads as a menacing blaster-for-hire currently in the employ of a powerful galactic criminal syndicate, maybe Black Sun or the Hutt Cartel? My wife just told me my Nerd-O-Meter just pegged. Whatever.

Pictured above: Finished mask - Paint by Casey Love.

Pictured above: Side view of the painted mask.

Pictured above: Rear view of the painted mask.


Last month I attended my first [Son of] Monsterpalooza and was thrilled to find out on the convention floor that my sculpture was the grand prize winner for the mask category. My sincere thanks to Chet Zar, Steve Wang, and Casey Love for their generous participation and inspiring body of professional work. Ever the opportunist, I hunted Casey down at the convention and made the outlandish request to come back out and watch firsthand when he painted my mask.

Pictured above: Meeting Casey Love! Let’s throw some paint on this thing!

Pictured above: I’m the one who’s not the legendary Steve Wang.

He graciously and enthusiastically agreed! So stay tuned as one of the industry’s best animates this new denizen of wretched hives of scum and villainy. I would especially like to thank AFA Foundry, Stan Winston School of Character Arts, and Arnold Goldman of Monster Makers for organizing the first Clay Wars Sculpting Contest and galvanizing me into action.

Pictured above: Trevor's latest project: an original design battle helmet made from craft foam, his son's ice hockey helmet, and miscellaneous household items.

Pictured above: A closer look of the magnetic snap closure

- by Trevor J. Ingeneri, MD