The retiree who creates Star Wars and Marvel models from recycled trash
From the Death Star to Iron Man, 65-year-old former ship yard mechanic Simon Tan spends his time creating movie props and models out of stuff he picks up at the void deck.
At the age of 65, Simon Tan is what you might consider a full-fledged geek uncle.
Inside his Tampines flat, you’ll find lying around an assortment of life-sized Iron-Man, Darth Vader, C-3PO and Kylo Ren helmets; a bunch of swords and axes from The Lord Of The Rings and Warcraft; and pretty neat models of a Death Star, an Imperial Star Destroyer and that alien ship from War Of The Worlds.
But that’s not actually the coolest thing about Tan’s collection. It’s the fact that he made all of them from scratch – using discarded cardboard boxes, styrofoam and pieces of paper he casually pick up from the void deck.
I thought, why not take these (pieces of) paper, toilet roll and do something with them?
For the past seven years, the retired former shipyard mechanic has spent majority of his free time being a one-man prop-making machine, creating intricately detailed models of stuff that would make any millennial cosplayer proud.
Tan, who is single and lives with two elder sisters, started his unusual hobby while taking care of his then-ailing mother, who has since passed away. The fact that an old work injury had made it difficult for him to walk properly was also the perfect excuse to stay at home.
“I was around 53 when I resigned from work because my mother couldn’t walk, so I had to take care of her. I didn’t want to just sit there and do nothing,” he told CNA Lifestyle.
A movie buff with a fondness for horror and adventure flicks, Tan set his sights on recreating things he saw on the big screen. But instead of simply buying ready-made models to assemble or paint, he thought of using materials readily found near dustbins.
“I thought, why not take these (pieces of) paper, toilet roll and do something with them?”
OUT OF THE (SHOE)BOX
Twice or thrice a week, he goes down and walks around his block looking for discarded items, which he then proceeds to use for whatever current project he has.
“Normally, when I go downstairs, I’ll just see if there’s anything I want. If there are no people, I’ll just take them, like cardboard boxes or shoe boxes,” he said.
Once Tan has his materials, it’s time for some movie magic – he normally uses online photos or videos on YouTube as references for what are essentially papier mache creations.
But looking at images online is about as high-tech as he gets. With no background in art-making, Tan relies on his creativity – and his techniques can be quite ingenious.
On the day CNA Lifestyle dropped by, Tan was working on Spider-man’s head, where he was using a screen mesh to cover the eyes.
My dream project would be to show people what I could do with cardboard paper. That we don’t just waste all of these and you can do anything you want with them.
In creating a Sparta helmet from the movie 300, he used the bristles of a broom for the crest. To make sure his helmets are actually wearable, Tan blows up a balloon the size of his head to use as the basic mould.
“I’ll cover it with about three or four layers of paper, then I pop it. Voila, this is the head I want,” he explained, proudly.
PRETTY PINK SWORDS
While the materials have to at least be useable, Tan isn’t picky with what he uses. A family friend who worked at a printing press gave him a whole pile of pink paper, which he used to create pink versions of Sting and other bladed weapons in The Lord Of The Rings. He has yet to paint over these because that’s expensive, he explained.
As for how long each item takes to make, it depends on the complexity. A Predator head model (that’s both the head and the helmet) or the Death Star takes about three to four months.
The longest he has spent creating something was around six months – a Thousand Sunny ship from the anime One Piece that he gave to his niece was redone three times after the first two versions didn’t pass his personal QC test.
COMIC CONVENTION BECKONS?
It’s probably safe to say that these creations take up most of Tan’s time. “I start maybe from 7am up to 8pm or 9pm. But I can’t do the whole thing (non-stop). Sometimes when I feel bored, I’ll also go for a walk or watch a movie, then come back and do it again.”
As for what the family thinks, his niece Germaine Tan gladly welcomes her uncle’s hobby.
“I’ve always admired his creativity and craftsmanship, and I strongly believe he should continue with this because he’s happiest and shines the brightest when he’s working on those projects. I only hope that more people get to see and appreciate his works,” she said.
When we brought up the idea that his creations wouldn't look out of place at a toy or comic convention, Tan only laughed. The idea of showcasing his works to the public wasn’t something that has entered his mind – although he says he’s quite open to it.
“My dream project would be to show people what I could do with cardboard paper," he said. "That we don’t just waste all of these and you can do anything you want with them."