A CREATIVE dad has managed to make a full-time career out of playing with toys — by snapping amazing scenes using just toy figures as his subjects.
Mitchel Wu, 57, tells amazing stories in just single photographs, with the help of a whole host of familiar toys, from popular Disney and Lord Of The Rings characters to Hasbro’s Power Rangers.
His action-filled still images show Woody from Toy Story getting a hose down from Buzz Lightyear (above); and a group of Star Wars stormtroopers enjoying a beer and a barbeque.
Another of Mitchel’s photos shows a movie mash-up, with Harry Potter cowering from Star Wars’ rancor beast.
And in one ‘heartwarming’ image, Mitchel has photographed a mother and baby xenomorph, from Ridley Scott’s 1979 blockbuster Alien, simply sitting side by side on a rock.
Mitchel, from Los Angeles in Calfornia, USA, said: ‘When I posted that image, people had such a strong loving, emotional response to it.
‘I guarantee it was the first time anyone ever had warm feelings towards xenomorphs!’
Mitchel’s photos can take anywhere from a couple of hours to most of a day to set up, shoot and edit.
But, as a dad who spent years watching classic Disney and Studio Ghibli films with his now 19-year-old daughter, he said that the nostalgia that his job creates ‘makes me feel warm inside’.
Mitchel joked: ‘Toy photography is the best way to “play” with toys as an adult in public without someone calling the police on you.
‘I love seeing it through my daughter’s eyes.
‘Most people still have that young, 10-year-old kid within them, but as you get older it gets really hard to access that part of yourself.
‘But it’s hard to make the images that I do without going back to that time and that world where you played make believe.’
He added: ‘For me, it’s always been about telling stories, and letting that drive the image.
‘One of the most challenging things about toy photography is how to tell a story in just one frame.
‘But I love that challenge, of trying to get motion and emotion in an image where there isn’t any.’
When he started out in late 2015, Mitchel did not own any toys, but he has gradually purchased them over the past few years, to support the stories he wants to tell.
He said: ‘Most people who photograph toys as a hobby will usually specialise in a certain type of toy, for example Star Wars toys, Marvel toys, maybe even Hot Wheels or Barbie.
‘But for my personal work, I really want to let the stories drive what toys I use, not the other way around. Telling stories is the most important aspect for me.’
Since starting toy photography in late 2015, Mitchel has had contracts to create images for big-name brands including Disney, Hasbro, Warner Bros, Kinder Surprise, and Mattel, among others.
Before photographing toys, he was a lifestyle photographer, mainly shooting weddings, but working weekends took its toll.
Mitchel said: ‘I was starting to miss a lot of school competitions and activites that my daughter was involved with.
‘When she started high school, I knew a change was in order.
‘I had no idea what I wanted to do — but then, in summer 2015, I went up to visit my nephew in San Francisco and he had just started shooting toys.
‘He took me to the park one afternoon to do a shoot with him — and from the moment I started, I saw the potential to create incredible stories using toys.
‘I saw it as a new photography art form and immediately saw the potential to make a career out of it.’
Mitchel, who went to art school and has a degree in illustration, added that toy photography as a career is still ‘extremely niche’.
He said: ‘I know many people for whom it is a dream job, who would love to make a career out of it.
‘But I don’t know of anybody who has been able to take it much further than a hobby. It takes more than just photography skills.’
He added that one of his goals with his images is to ‘get people to see characters in unexpected ways’.
Mitchel said: ‘We are all force fed, by writers and creators, how to feel about most characters, so we all have strong preconceptions about them.
‘Darth Vader is a good example. Everyone knows he’s an evil villain. But my thought process has me wondering if he’s really that evil 24/7, or does he let his hair down, symbolically, and relax when he’s not being evil?
‘That was the genesis for the idea behind the image where I have Vader pushing a stormtrooper on a swing.
‘The same can be said for the heartwarming image I created of a mother alien xenomorph sharing a tender moment with its child.’
In June last year, Mitchel landed his dream photography commission with Disney — to create six images of Woody and the gang, to mark the release of Toy Story 4.
He was also given a large, 70-image exhibit at the massive annual event Toy Fair, in New York, in February.
But Mitchel said that, for him, it is not all about his clients or exhibit appearances.
He said: ‘Almost all of my images are personal.
‘I’m constantly creating new images for me, so that I can experiment with new techniques for when clients do get in touch.’