A man looking to the right
Hunter Sparagna, who graduated from VCU in 2021, is a 3D sculptor/toy designer. (Courtesy of Hunter Sparagna)

‘Insurmountable’ obstacle pushed Hunter Sparagna to do whatever it takes to succeed

One-week contract to create an action figure led to full-time job at McFarlane Toys for VCUarts alum.

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When Hunter Sparagna was a kid, his older brother drew the entire Pokémon Sapphire Generation — the third generation of the Pokémon video game series circa 2002.

“It blew my 5-year-old mind,” Sparagna said. “He had drawn all the Pokémon. I loved those guys, and there they were, on that sheet of printer paper.”

It was the first time Sparagna thought about putting effort into art like that. From that moment, he was destined for a career in art (even though in retrospect, he’s “pretty sure” his brother had just traced all the Pokémon).

“I studied it in college because it was really the only thing I enjoyed getting better at — and I really hated math,” he said “I just didn't know how to effectively monetize it until I met and took Sterling Hundley's senior portfolio class” at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts.

In his Communication Arts capstone course, Hundley encourages students to lead the conversation by framing their own interests, ambitions and expectations. “Once they have identified their intended direction, they focus on developing a visual identity for their business pursuits and their portfolios for presenting their work to potential clients and employers,” said Hundley, who, in addition to teaching in VCUarts, is the artist-in-residence and a clinical professor at VCUHealth.

Unfortunately, Sparagna said, the pandemic stunted his growth during his senior year at VCU. It curtailed his access to equipment, valuable critiques and in-person instructors. (Although on the plus side, he said, it did cut out his daily commute.)

However, in his search for work while graduating in 2021, he went to interviews all over the country — even working for a short period for contemporary sculptor Jeff Koons doing secondary and tertiary details on his stone sculptures. “The pandemic really pushed my willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed by placing what felt like an insurmountable obstacle in my way,” he said.

In October, McFarlane Toys offered Sparagna a one-week contract to create an action figure. That evolved into a two-week contract and then a job offer.

McFarlane Toys is part of Todd McFarlane Productions, led by comic book creator, artist and writer Todd McFarlane, and is a sister company of Image Comics.

“So we have the team that makes the ‘Spawn’ comics and McFarlane Toys in our office,” Sparagna said. “We primarily focus on action figures, but we also do many other things like resin statues and vinyl figurines, all aimed at an older and more serious toy-collector audience with many GameStop exclusive toys.”

As a 3D sculptor/toy designer, Sparagna focuses on intricate tertiary detailing, using programs such as ZBrush and 3ds Max to sculpt and cut action figures.

Once he joined McFarlane, Sparagna started working with senior 3D modeler and digital sculptor, Stephan Ehl, who showed him the ropes.

“From there, my work has rocketed, along with advice from other fantastic coworkers,” Sparagna said. “I feel people undervalue working for a good supervisor or art director.

“If I had to tell you one thing, it's to work as hard towards your goal as you can. It's going to be new and scary, but it's worth every bit. Whether it's moving to the middle of the desert or leaving everything you know behind, I guarantee it will be worth it.”