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david horvath edition

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David horvath
uglydolls & aliens
Have you been laughed at by people who
say you'll never make money from your
creativity? So has David Horvath, artist, toy
designer and would-be UFO hunter, but he
didn t let that stop him.

Read his fascinating story, exclusively in


SUBvert Magazine and learn how he went
from sleeping on the floor of an illegally
erected bedroom to international success
as co-creator of the Uglydolls and other
cool characters.
Photo by Corey Burton

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the cool kids So it sounds like you chose to follow your
own path from an early age. Did you get any

became outsiders support from the people around you?

and i stayed put


My mother was a designer at Mattel for many
years. I wish that had helped me some, but the
honest truth is, she wasn t permitted to discuss
her job with me and she stayed loyal to that
David, with the widespread success of the golden requirement. The only way I knew she
Uglydoll you are being hailed as one of the still worked there was through catalogs and
top character designers in the world, but purple He-Man errors she brought home. But
did you have this passion for toys as a kid? those catalogs were inspiring. I always knew
that I wanted to tell stories through toys.
When I was 12, the class was going around dis-
cussing what they wanted for Xmas. The boys The resistance came from my father, who told
wanted Atari, footballs, etc. I already had all of me that surrounding myself with toys and quit-
that in my garage so I said I wanted GOLION, an ting Art Center to go work at a toy store would
all die cast metal Japanese robot. Many of the never amount to me making my own toys.
kids laughed until I explained that it said ages
13 and up on the box, meaning they weren t He would tell all his professional contacts and
old enough to play with it just yet. Then they co-workers about his waste-of-life son locked
kinda just stayed away. So in a way, the cool up in his toy room, working at a toy shop. He
kids became the outsiders and I stayed put. made many a famous or well known profes-

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sional in the art and design world shake their Anyway, when I was 19, I did indeed quit adver-
head at me (being told his version, not mine). tising at Art Center so that I could go work at a
local boutique toy shop to learn the ins and
So there was resistance. Luckily, I didn t care. outs of non-mass market toy distribution and
He wanted to be a photographer more than observe moms, dads, and kids buying toys in a
anything in the world, but went into advertising retail environment.
because it seemed more stable to him. Avoiding
your life passion out of fear is a no-no in my That job also got me into toy fair, and got me
book. deep into the side of toys I knew would prove to
be very important if I wanted to make my

When he would freak out dreams come true and go at it on my own.

over why I had so many toys Now I hear my father clips articles and such,
but from my early teens until well after we
(over 40 of them!) I would started Uglydoll, he told me toys and those
stuffed doo-dads were a waste.
ask him why science majors It s easy to get behind your kid when he s in the
had beakers and slides all paper, but with our daughter I want to be sure

around their room. He to be there for her during the process, not the
irrelevant outcome. I hope I can use my past

didn’t get it. run in with this resistance as a life lesson so


that I can do better than he did when raising my
own child.

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i still draw the
stuff is always thrown in to test how dedicated
you are. I always say if someone from the fu-
ture travels back in time to tell you that your

same way i did when i life-long dream will fail 100%, and you still go
for it anyway, it will work.

was 10 You clearly had passion, did you set any


specific goals from the beginning or did you
wing it as you went along?
So your love of toys was a hard path to fol-
low then, but what about your growth as an There was no winging it and the plan was al-
artist? ways very specific. We get tons of emails asking
how to do XYZ, which is great. I pretty much
I didn t set out to be an artist. I still draw the reply the same way each time, that, in my expe-
same way I did when I was 10. Is it art? I don t rience, taking the same path someone else did
really care but I did see a certain path I wanted results in getting close but never where you
to take as someone who spends their time want to end up.
working on their own toys and children's books.
Ignoring those paths and making up your own
It was mostly mental maybe? I knew this is how
route leads you to where you really belong,
it was going to go, as I wouldn t have it any
wherever that may be.
other way. Many months on my sister s floor in
the early days, and skipping meals sometimes
when things got serious at the start. But that

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I use this now pretty How you generally feel inside and what
thoughts you generally carry in your head is

much scientifically what s going to keep coming at you. This is a


huge part. The biggest. The rest is all minor de-

proven method by
tail, actually.

What about the excuses many people have

the hour and it for not following their creative dreams; no


money, time, credibility, support etc. Did

works you ever confront these same doubts?

Those aren t excuses. Those are hurdles. Just


Can you share any techniques you use to need to jump. We had zero help. Zero cash. Ah
help you focus on achieving your goals? but we had a needle, a scanner, a pen, an old
borrowed digital camera, and a mac lap top
Ugh, I wish you asked before the Secret came which I got by selling my 2 older macs from
out, but actually I have always believed in the when I had a job before.
law of attraction since I first read about it 15 or
so years ago. I use this now pretty much scien- That first, hand sewn doll sold for $30. And
tifically proven method by the hour and it then the next one sold. Soon we had $3000! So
works. Your mind effects the universe, and it we used that to make more and keep it all
also creates it. Your thoughts absolutely deter- growing.
mine your reality.

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I had one design-ish art job after graduating When we decided to start for real, I slept on my
from Parsons with my, now, wife and co-creator sisters floor for 9 months, eating not much
Sun-Min. It didn t last long. The first few weeks more than cereal, plain white bread, and salads,
were great and I had a lot of fun animating in and then moved to a tiny, illegally erected bed-
Flash until the boss told me to change a color room within an industrial building in the then
to purple, and that was it for me. very scary DUMBO, Brooklyn, surviving on a
daily menu of egg on a roll in the morning, a
Lesser paying jobs, be it retail stores or coffee bagel and coffee for lunch, and really good
houses, are great because you get so pissed off $3.00 chicken legs from a local corner stand at
that your dream work comes out no matter night.
what.

but a “real” job with co-


workers wanting to hang
out and drink, late hours,
weekends, and comfortable
money coming in, is a dream
killer.
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One guy called me
photos of someone else's much nicer room in
the building just to avoid wasting a whole day.
They even dressed it with our dolls. ( I tried to

that [a millionaire] tell them.)

on a day I had to
I lived this way for the first 2 years of Uglydoll
when everyone was calling me a millionaire. One
guy called me just that [a millionaire] on a day I

skip lunch to had to skip lunch to survive.

survive Then, Sun-Min and I basically lived on the road


when we went into full production and sales
grew. Until we were married, we lived in hotels,
Rent was a few hundred bucks, paid for by sell- traveling from trade show to trade show, driving
ing everything I owned in LA, keeping 5 days of across the US, stopping by small towns to find
clothes and not much else. I bought an air bed small shops.
but had no table, so the computer was on the
bed. $5.00 a day was the food limit. Laundry It's a lot to learn starting out on your own.
was once a week, and monthly subway passes Did you have any particular people who
were $80. I had nothing else and often went helped mentor or guide you?
without the coffee.
Our sales team headed up by Alita Friedman
A Japanese magazine shooting famous artists has been a huge help since we went into full
homes came to do a shoot, and elected to take production in mid 2003. We have a small, close

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group, and its more like a family than a sales
force. They re the nicest people on the planet
and they drive the ship very straight and
steady.

Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot was the first to


find us and his enthusiasm for our work and
toys kept us going. Toshiki from Zakka in NYC
was on board early on, and he introduced me to
Dehara for the first time. The many, many small
shops keep it all going and we ve been lucky
enough to get to know many of the owners.

Sun-Min grew up with pretty much the same


dream as me, and while she was in Korea, she
worked night and day on the actual dolls while I
stayed in Brooklyn trying to make it all work.

Most of all, the early fans who were not only


into our stuff but helped spread the word early
on. The rest is meaningless without them.

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get as much input as you can, and then
don’t follow any of it
Did you ever go out and actively ask people Now you've been in the industry for several
for help and advice? years do you find it easier to call on your
creativity at will? Do you have any tips for
I realized when I was much younger, after calling being more creative more often?
up Gary Baseman for some very good advice,
I just make what comes out. For the Ugly Guide
that I was getting great advice on how to do
books, there s no sketches. I draw and write
things a way they had already been done.
with a pen. No eraser, so it s all a mistake. As
The best advice I can give is to get as much in- for how to be more creative more often, sit
put as you can, and then don t follow any of it. down and work. Done deal. Even if crap comes
out, sitting down and getting to work is what
Any other heroes? and have you had the matters. Read The War of Art by Steven
chance to learn from any of them? Pressfield. That will help with the procrastina-
tion, if that s the issue. That book was a great
Growing up, the designers at Ban Dai Japan and help and I am pretty sure the above is a quote
Tomy were my heroes. I had no idea who they from that book. It s ingrained into my brain, so
were, but I could see what they were doing and plagiarism not intended.
I learned a lot from them.

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How do you keep your energy up with all And your views on fitness?
the work required to make it in this busi-
ness? Mental fitness is just as important as physical.
Food is important. But what s most important is
Meditation. Avoid all drugs and late week nights monitoring your daily, almost hourly mindset. Do
out. Basically be what losers call a loser . Stay you carry Life is tough, life sucks in your head
home and make stuff for other people to go do. all day? Then it will be. Careful, because the
Avoid the scene and avoid hanging with the music, movies and games you repeat over and
top artists in them. over too often can keep you in a certain mind-
set, good or bad.

Scene-sters and others What about the rock and roll lifestyle of be-

trying to “make it” like to ing a hip artist and designer?

keep each other in check If you re living a rock and roll life style, you get
your photos in the backs of magazines only you
and hold each other back, and your buddies read and not much else.

and they hate anyone who My title is : Nerdy Japanese robot collector and

breaks away. strong believer in UFOs, ghosts, and the para-


normal. The artist part is helping me save my
pennies so I can switch over to UFO research
full time. See my blog for more on that.

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Ghost hunting aside, how often in your
creative work do you find yourself doing
things that you are afraid of?

My daily routine is wake up, do things that


make me afraid, eat, draw, sleep, repeat. If
you re afraid, you re on the right track. Keep at
it!

Fear is fine but don t use it as a way to not do


what you need to do. Talking about your fear
can lead to a weekly Friday night talk about
your fears while drinking beer. Forget that. Do
your work, then drink.

How often do you find yourself failing at


something or abandoning a piece of work?

The real failure is not starting. So, never.

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Isn't it a shame they don't teach that ap-
proach in school! One student said I was his
Math was my favorite art class at school. I used
best teacher ever, one
to fill in my test answers with UFO drawings.
I got an F, but was I wrong? If you get all A's in
hated me, and the rest
school, what does that mean? Good job little write from time to time.
Johnny, you memorized what we told you to and
A lot of university students tell us they are
filled in the blanks. Maybe it s better to fail. I
taught that art shouldn't be tainted by
want to send our daughter to a school where
commercialism. What are your thoughts on
they have a good balance of math, science, nu-
that?
trition, financial planning, no tests, and David
Icke. So basically home school.
Why do artists have to starve but it s OK for
Early on I taught a class, once a week, at Otis everyone else to suffer behind a desk doing
Art School for one year. It was supposed to be what you don t want to do for money? No
a flash animation class, but I turned it into a self thanks. Or do you mean fine artists doing fancy
help class. The class was called quit, get your designer bag collaborations and putting images
tuition back before the deadline, and use that on sneakers? Doesn t bother me any. We get
money to make your dreams come true, be- mad when kids paint on the walls outside but
cause this place is simply training you to work then we get mad when they paint on a bag or a
for someone else. shoe?

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Don’t reveal your plan to ANYONE!
Are there any lessons you've learned about with hopes of selling their brand or company
money that you'd like to pass on to other and its perceived value to larger companies
people just starting out? looking to grab up a hip, hot brand , but no, its
going to be a lot of work and nobody with some
Money! I ll never forget our second year at Toy magic money wand is coming. Hopefully.
Fair. Many designer toy production houses set
up booths after seeing how well we seemingly When the money does come in, save it! Or bet-
did the year before. As I passed the booths, one ter, grow it. You re going to need most of it to
of the guys was rubbing his hands, literally, and keep it all going. Making a lot of money costs a
told me well, I m ready to make a million dol- lot of money! And according to the music vid-
lars! I looked back and said You mean spend a eos, when you make it big time, being a million-
million dollars, right? He looked at me with a aire means buying nice cars and big houses,
sort of ghost face, and sure enough, he didn t right? Well turns out, those are expensive!!!
set his booth up the following year.
But the money is not as important as the start-
There s nobody out there making instant cash- ing out part, START! That s all you have to do.
ola. There s no All you got to do is ________ . Really. You ll be surprised to find how few peo-
Even the guys you think hit it rich, did so well ple do. Don t tell ANYONE what you re up to ei-
after you thought they did. A few smarty's ther. Don t reveal your plan to ANYONE! Not
make it SEEM like they are making it big time, because it s a secret, but because something in

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the universe happens when you tell us what With success comes more attention, is life
you re going to do instead of just doing it. The in the public eye what you thought it would
universe takes it all away and you never start. be when you set out?

Tell us what you did , not what you re going to Some kid posted a self made animated movie
do . Then you ll be fine. up on one of those movie sharing websites with
characters that looked just like ours. So we
made him take it down. Sad, because he was
very talented and got a million hits.

He called us evil and posted that we are evil all


over the internet. Many fans of his movie called
us evil too. Should we see him in person, who
knows if there s a danger.

But the truth is, if a giant entertainment com-


pany or toy company is looking to rip us off
(and they are) and sees a kid with imitations of
our stuff, they copy THAT instead of ours and
when we go after the said big company, they
claim that our stuff is not unique, using those
copy cat works as examples. And if we don t go
after everyone, they can claim we are selective.

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And there s a lot of copy cats. We work very started to move on with a sort of Thanks for
hard to stop them. So we make a lot of enthusi- sharing your thoughts polite kinda way.
astic kids with a lack of understanding in the
copyright & trademark realm very upset. I Uh, but he kept at it, sort of chasing me around
don t like that part. That kid was very talented and started to add insults such as if someone
and the animation was a college final. His pro- gave one of these to me as a gift, I would throw
fessor should have told him way beforehand. it away (which is a horrible thing to do, I think.
A gift is a gift, good or bad.)
So how do you handle the negative atten-
tion?
Anyway I soon realized,
After our recent art show with Dehara at Giant
Robot, a boyfriend of one of the employees
sadly, that my first true,
who was apparently helping out, came over to
let me know that he hated my work, and that he
live and in-person critic
believed my work missed an opportunity to say had turned out to be not
something to the viewer. (I made drawings of
sad fat little kids raised on junk food emerging
much more than a drunkard
from video game packaging and internet
browsers.)
heckler who only wanted to
I was fine with his comments, and after listening
somehow lift himself up by
as intently as I do to the good comments, I trying to bring me down.
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I then realized he really was helping out there
and his job was to take photos of anyone who It’s the rot you feel when
bought the art. I always buy a few of Dehara s
pieces when he has a show so as he took my
you don’t do your own work.
photo, he said stuff like try to look like you
care. Etc to try to get a rise out of me. I didn t When you let fear take
say anything, and I thanked him for taking my
photo. There s no come back to drunken jeal-
over for too long, you
ousy, so you should never try. It wastes your
energy.
begin to hate seeing
I only remember him because nobody before
others get theirs done.
him or after him has said anything negative
about my work to me in person. Uh, except for
If you do your work, and know you gave it your
some of my past art teachers.
all, and if you live your life the way you really
I m human and a few things bring me down. But know you were born to, other people s negativ-
a joker like that never could. I felt embarrassed ity seems to roll right off.
for him, because I know what makes people say
Even with the risk of criticism a lot of peo-
such things.
ple go into the arts to express themselves
and also get some recognition, do you think
of Uglydoll buyers as your audience?

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The vast majority of our audience is not an
audience. It s people of all ages buying toys,
and while they love our products, they don t
care much about who we are.

99% of people who buy our dolls have no


clue what a kid-robot or designer toy is. That
may be the secret to why it works so well,
maybe.

Because, while we are a small boutique com-


pany, our dolls aren t actually designer toys.
But the small band of people who show up at
our art shows to show so much enthusiasm
for our work and toys mean as much to us as
members of our own family, and we always
look forward to seeing their faces.

We didn t set out to see those faces, we set


out to do our work. But they are a fantastic
and meaningful bonus to an already very ex-
citing career, and our fans are a real source
of joy for us.

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heroes submissions
Special thanks to David Horvath We are always happy to look at submissions
For sharing a revealing and inspirational story. from talented individuals who are willing to
make the most of an opportunity.
http://www.uglydolls.com/
If you want to see your work featured alongside
http://davidhorvath.blogspot.com/
in-depth interviews with some of the worlds top
creative heroes and distributed to a global
audience of artists, designers, musicians and
Portrait photograph of David do-ers, then we want to hear from you.
Thanks to Corey Burton and Hilda Hufalar.
Email us your favorite 3 pieces of work. (Im-
http://flickr.com/photos/hch05/ ages, writing, tracks, video, whatever you do.)
Tell us who you are, what inspires you and what
you want to achieve. (Lazy one line emails with a
Special behind the scenes thanks to link to your website never make it.)
Jocelyn, a very talented illustrator.
angel@subvertmagazine.com
www.redbubble.com/people/bahgoesthesheep