I had first heard of Tom Spina back at the last Star Wars Celebration (April 2017 in Orlando). We have a mutual friend, Chris Travis, a Star Wars artist who had mentioned that his friend Tom was at the show with a new company he was just starting to launch, Regal Robot. Regal Robot was a company that was built around providing people the “not your ordinary” Star Wars furniture; such as the Han in Carbonite desk, or the Dewback Loveseat. Things that you may have seen floating around the early “this went viral” days of the social media internet. At that time I had gone over and checked out his stuff and it looked really cool, especially the Mandalorian skull, (which matches my tattoo) but significantly out of my price range.
Fast forward to September of 2017 and I am wandering around my local con, the (formerly known as) Salt Lake Comic Con. And I see Regal Robot’s prominently displayed booth again. I introduce myself and discover how friendly and outgoing Tom Spina can truly be. I ask to do an interview with him and we agree to an emailed interview after the show.
Well, life gets in the way and time ran away from me. But here we are, finally interviewing the Star Wars crafting genius that is Tom Spina of Regal Robot and Tom Spina Designs just days before Star Wars Celebration 2019 in Chicago.
AiPT!: I know you are super busy right now (as likely you always are) and thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions. When you were younger, you got your start in this business by being a prop collector and wanting to restore those props to the best of your ability. This included not only touching up the items but not altering any of the original material still originally left. The skills you developed then led to people asking you to do prop restoration for them. Is there a Star Wars prop out there that you haven’t worked on that you would want to get your hands on right now and restore if you could?
Tom Spina: Oh gosh, we’ve been so lucky working with some amazing collectors and even the Lucasfilm archives, we’ve already had so many dream projects. I suppose, for me, the cantina scene was always a favorite. I learned that the original Hammerhead puppet deteriorated and was disposed of years back. If I could go back in time and help preserve that one, that’d be pretty amazing.
AiPT! You and your companies, Regal Robot and Tom Spina Designs, have been on the forefront of putting out some of the most unique and collector worthy useable Star Wars furniture items to date, including an Emperor Throne Armchair and the Millennium Falcon Asteroid Coffee Table. What has been your favorite item to design and put out for the public to see and hopefully purchase?
Spina: I’m really excited about some of the new pieces we’re doing. Furniture-wise, have a desk chair version of the Emperor’s Throne that’s got some great proportions. It’s a little more manageable than the larger living room style chair but it’s got those same great lines. I did the designs on that and to me, it’s one of those cool times where an inspired-by piece almost feels like a replica. It’s not a direct copy of the movie chair but it really captures the vibe. Makes me happy!
I’m also dying for folks to see our life-sized Chewbacca bust at Star Wars Celebration. We’ve just posted the pics of that piece online and I think it’ll wow people even more in person. We put so much effort into capturing the look of Peter Mayhew in the mask and I’m just so excited with how it turned out. Chewie is a TOUGH piece but I wanted to make sure our first life-sized bust really showed what we can do 🙂
AiPT!: Not only do you create these more widely available pieces, but you also do custom private commissions. This include a life-sized Rocket and Groot statue, a King Kong themes home theater with gorilla hand chairs, and a life-sized statue of the headless horseman. Some of the commissions you have pictured on your site (tomspinadesigns.com) look terribly complicated and detailed. What is one of the most intricate commission you were tasked to work on?
Spina: Every job has its challenges. Rocket and Groot was for an official game company and went along with a number of other Marvel and Star Wars pieces at the time. That was a lot of fun. I think one of the more intricate ones though was when someone commissioned us to do a custom werewolf. They asked for the American Werewolf in London if it were a puppy! What a cool gig. I sketched it up and the client just connected on it right away. It turned into a really cool mix of creepy, ferocious and cute all together. The end result was a mix of sculpting and molding, silicone work, resin teeth and claws, punched hair, and fabricated foam for the body. Lots of detail, lots of different disciplines needed to pull it off.
AiPT!: What has been one of your favorite custom commissions (that you are allowed to talk about)?
Spina: We’ve just wrapped a 7′ 6″ tall full body life-sized Chewbacca statue with Regal Robot that’s really cool. Based on his ESB look and with beautiful custom fur. We have a few others in the works that aren’t public yet but I’m really excited about those as well.
AiPT!: Do you have any custom commissions you aren’t allowed to talk about?
Spina: I can’t say 😉 Seriously, yes, we do a lot of work for companies and even private collectors who prefer the work is private, so a fair bit of what we do doesn’t make it to our site.
AiPT!: You not only work on Star Wars themed furniture, but you also have done other pieces including things that touch close to my heart, dinosaurs. What made you want to branch out into other themes?
Spina: Just trying to keep things interesting for us, and I’ve always loved things like apes and dinosaurs. I guess I’m just a (monster) kid at heart!
AiPT!: I love the T. rex themed desk. Do you ever worry about treading into Jurassic Park copyright while creating dinosaur-based products?
Spina: We’re always mindful and respectful. With that design, it’s nothing from the films. People tend to connect everything dino with Jurassic Park these days, but that’s just something Rich Riley came up with here and I’ve always dug the design. It’s a bit more archaeology than “dinosaurs running amok after being brought back to life… again” so I think we’re good 🙂
AiPT!: If I wanted to hire you for a commission, how would I go about that process? For instance, I’m not terribly sure what I want done but I have a bar area and a theme. Would you and your company be able to guide a commission to something that would be the best kick-ass bar this side of the Rockies?
Spina: Totally. Sometimes folks come to us with a really specific idea (Werewolf puppy!). Other times, they give us a sense of their space and interests and hire us to do concept work for them. It all starts with a conversation though. Just drop us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’re always happy to chat about the possibilities!
AiPT!: You are going to be at Star Wars Celebration 2019 – Chicago! And it looks like you are going to be bringing some very, VERY cool stuff with you like the Tauntaun Maquette Replica Sculpture which is based on Phil Tippett’s original molds. How does it feel being allowed to not only handle the original molds but to actually use them to recreate such an iconic beast?
Spina: I have to pinch myself. Yep, still awake, not dreaming. It’s incredible. I lead a very fortunate life. To me, the molds and sculpts are all very, very special. But even more so are the masters that made them, and to get to spend time with a legend like Phil is just crazy cool.
AiPT!: As a Star Wars fan, what has you most excited to hopefully see at this Celebration?
Spina: I just heard Penny McCarthy is going to be there. She played a few of the cantina aliens and that’s super exciting for me! But mostly, I’m just excited to see friends from around the world. There are so many folks out there who I only really get to see at SWC and it’s gonna be nice to reconnect once again!
AiPT!: Not only do you have all this fantastic work keeping you busy but somehow you also find time to do panels at conventions entitled “Behind the Scenes of the Cantina”. A panel that has been getting ever longer and more detailed each time you present it. What is one bit of information that you discovered that had blown you mind while researching for the panel?
Spina: I’ll refer to Penny again. We’d known she’d played a few characters but were very lucky to turn up a photo of her un-masked in 1977 during shooting. Super fun!
AiPT!: What is one bit of information that you haven’t found out yet and is just driving you nuts to discover the answer?
Spina: Walrusman. We still don’t know who played him. It’s maddening!
For those attending Star Wars Celebration and those not attending the show but want in on the Merchandise:
Regal Robot will be at Booth 3419, They’ll have an con exclusive Jabba’s Dais Gargoyle Magnet and a number of show specials that aren’t to be missed.
At the show They’ll be debuting new items as well. Orders for these items will start on April 11th at approximately 2pm EST on the website and at the show. There will be a blog post live at 2pm that day announcing orders have started and that link will be:
Limited Edition Life Sized Chewbacca Bust – Peter Mayhew Signature Edition: 1:1 Chewie bust, limited to only 50 pieces and made by hand by our crew in New York.
Tauntaun Maquette Replica – Phil Tippett Signature Edition: Limited edition of 250 pieces and mastered directly from Phil’s original studio molds for this awesome concept sculpture.
Space Slug Desk Organizer: Fun resin piece, made in the USA like all of our items and digitally sculpted from a scan of the original prop puppet. Comes with a pencil that has a tiny Millennium Falcon™pencil topper too.
Emperor’s Throne Inspired Desk Chair: An all new version of our Emperor Throne chair, with updated sizing and a wheeled base to be the ultimate power in executive desk chairs!
And for anyone who wants to hear Tom Spina talk, he’ll doing a few panels as well! He’ll be at the Collecting Movie Props and Costumes Panel (Sunday 6pm-7pm, Collector Stage) and the Star Wars Collectibles Update panel (Friday 1:30 to 2:30, Twin Suns Stage) talking about what’s coming up from Regal Robot.
He’ll also be doing the latest version of the famed “Behind the Scenes of the Cantina” panel (Sunday 1pm-2pm, Twin Suns Stage) where not only will they show rare and never before scene BTS images, but they’re also going to name another Star Wars alien from the scene after a lucky member of the audience!