Steve Dymszo: Interview With President And Founder
Steve Dymszo: I was one of the original founders of Master Replicas in 2000. I became the Vice President of Product Design. Throughout the next five years I worked on approximately 250 products and I left the company in 2005. The travel was becoming too much and the hours were too crazy and I wanted to spend time with my family and get a local company started.
For people who may not be familiar with Master Replicas, can you explain what kind of products Master Replicas made?
We had licenses with a number of different Hollywood studios to make high-end collectible replicas of famous movie props (original filming miniatures). Our first license was with Lucasfilm, Ltd. for Star Wars. Then we branched out to Disney, Paramount for Star Trek, and New Line’s Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. For Paramount and Star Trek: The Original Series, we made a 1:350 scale, starship Enterprise. The original filming miniature was eleven feet long, so it didn’t make sense to do it in studio scale. But we did do a studio scale replica of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. We also did the Star Wars FX Lightsaber. We sold a lot of those.
I imagine you learned quite a bit about manufacturing technology.
Master Replicas was really great because I learned how the big league players manufacture these pieces. I’ve been making prop replicas since 1994. But they were primarily done in the US and in our small facility. I had been used to making ‘a hundred’ of something. At Master Replicas I gained five years of manufacturing experience making ‘a million’ of something. It was a real eye opener.
How did you decide what kind of company you wanted to start next?
All along I knew there was a need for historical replicas. Archaeological replicas. Biblical replicas. Aerospace replicas. I started doing research, interviewing a lot of people – experts in their field. I asked them two questions: “Are you aware of any of these types of products being available?” And to a man they said ‘no.’ “If these products were made available, would you purchase them?” And to a man they said ‘yes.’ It became very apparent to me that there was a need for this niche. So I went and got forty-five people interested in this project and they all agreed to help. In August of 2012 we were able to raise enough money to get the company started.
Out of thousands of historically significant artifacts, what made you decide on the pieces you chose to become the first Artifactory products?
Regardless of what company you’re running, whether it’s Master Replicas, QMx, or Artifactory, the actionable criteria is always the same: your first round of products have to be well-recognized and easy to produce. Every product has to go through that gauntlet to make it through final production. That’s why we chose the Shroud Of Turin. The Shroud had been analyzed and restored several times throughout its history. On it’s most recent restoration, the restoration team made a high-resolution, digital image scan of the entire shroud. It’s a two-gigabyte file. By comparison, a Word document is 56K. A typical photo is two megabytes. So a two-gigabyte file has a lot of data. We’ve been allowed to use this high-resolution, digital file to manufacture our replica of the Shroud. We’re the only company that has this file, which makes our replica of The Shroud Of Turin, in terms of accuracy and detail, the finest in the world.
How does a product go from research to development to prototype to finished production piece?
I’ll give you an example: We’re making a replica of the Pilate Inscription, a stone fragment that was unearthed near Israel. The discovery of the Pilate Inscription is significant because it was the first time that Pontius Pilate’s name was found on anything outside of the Bible. Before then, archaeologists thought he was a made-up character and this proved that he was real. Since we couldn’t go to the Israel Museum where the original is kept, I contacted one of the archaeologists assisting us and said we needed high-resolution turn-around shots of the Pilate Inscription. The original plaque is 34 inches high, by 27 inches across, by 8 ½ inches deep. He said one of his students was there recently and he took a whole series of high-resolution turn around shots. We gave those shots to one of our CG artists and he drew the Pilate Inscription in Z Brush, which is a 3D imaging program. I gave him feedback, made some corrections in the file, and sent it to ACME Design, in Chicago. They did an output for us on their rapid-prototyping machine.
What qualities of the original artifact are you trying to duplicate in the Artifactory replica?
Our replicas have to be very high quality and they have to look realistic. I was able to purchase a few replicas from overseas of key archaeological pieces, and they weren’t up to the standards we think our customers would expect. But they were made for tourists and they were low-priced: $10, $25 items. Our products are much nicer. Our 1/6 scale Pilate Inscription retails for $79.95. It’s made here in the USA. A lot of our products are made in the United States. Some products are made in China and some are hybrids.
Do Artifactory products vary widely in price?
Our lowest cost item is a mere $12.00 and our most expensive piece is the Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele). It’s almost seven feet tall. It’s priced at $25,000. We already have four orders for it. But most of our items vary in price between $200 and $300.
So Artifactory pieces will appeal to a wide range of customers, from students to collectors, to scholars to museums?
Yes. You’ve got students who have a little bit of money. But they’re not necessarily wealthy. They’re not going to spend twenty-five thousand dollars on an obelisk. But they might spend two or three hundred dollars on a collectible. We have university professors who are certainly going to want to have these items on their desk or on their wall. We’ve gotten feedback from professors who want to use them as teaching tools. For example, there’s our 1:1 scale replica of the Cyrus Cylinder. It’s nine and a half inches wide and looks like a football with the edges cut off. We went to a convention in Chicago (Nov, 2012) and we had a huge response to that piece. One of the professors talked to us at length. He said: “If I can put this in my students hands and they can run their fingers into the inscription and actually feel the weight and know what it looks like, this will change the way I teach forever.” We’ve heard that from several teachers. Right now they just show their students a slide show. But the thing that really gets them is the price. When I tell them that something as intricate as The Cyrus Cylinder retails for only $299 they’re floored. They really expected it to be a $2000 or $3000 item. We don’t need to sell these things for obnoxious prices.
Also, historical treasures are often kept in far off corners of the world. It’s often difficult, if not impossible, to travel to see the original artifact in person.
If you think about it, there’s generally only ‘one’ of something. Even if you could make the journey to the Israel Museum, most of the time the original artifact is behind a wall of bulletproof glass. It’s not accessible.
You can’t touch it.
You can’t get anywhere near it. A great example is the Shroud Of Turin. The original Shroud is behind bulletproof glass inside a temperature-controlled environment. Two million people a year go to Turin, Italy to see it. But you’re behind a railing so you can’t get close enough to really study it. So the replica we have – a replica that is an exact reproduction of the original – is something you can hold in your hands if you want. We constantly get the same reaction from people coming in to our Artifactory office who see our replica of the Shroud Of Turin hanging on the wall. They’ll say: “I had no idea!” We just hired somebody who came in a couple days ago and she looked at the wall and said, “I had no idea it really looked like this.” You can see photos of it on the Internet, or watch videos of it on television. But until you can hold the thing right in front of your face and see all the details, it doesn’t really give you the full experience of the original artifact. That’s what we’re trying to do for the customers. We want them to know what it’s like to go into a museum, lift off the glass case, pick up the original piece and hold it in their hands and feel the weight and the texture of the material. We can give them the full experience.
Why offer a line of aerospace replicas in addition to archaeology items?
I think they go hand in hand. Museums and universities feature both of those subjects and I think they are complimentary to each other and many of the people who collect one also collect the other.
How did you decide which aerospace replicas you wanted to make?
I asked friends what kind of models they would like to see and a number of people said they were interested in 1950’s NASA contractor models. The originals go for between $500 and $10,000. Even a simple one can be well over a thousand dollars. We thought that would be a great line to emulate. There are just so many other pieces that could be done: Spacecraft, space-tools, hardware, blueprints, etc. We noticed that no one else was really doing it. So it was a great opportunity.
It’s good to know you’re making replicas for collectors who could never afford the real thing. Can you tell us a bit about the Voyager Golden Record Cover?
We wanted to divide the aerospace field into three sub-sections. The first would be spacecraft models. The second would be space-tools, which would include the Apollo Astronaut Golf Club and the Apollo Astronaut Checklist. The third would be miscellaneous items. A good example of that is the Voyager Golden Record Cover and the Pioneer 10 and 11 Plaque. We’re producing both of those now and they should be ready to ship shortly. Later we’ll be doing the plaque that was on the lunar module landing gear on Apollo 11. The famous one that says “we came in peace.” There are other space-related items in addition to the hardware.
I was curious where you see the company in five years? Is there a particular artifact you look forward to making and offering up to the market?
We definitely have plans for more ambitious replicas. For example, a 32nd scale Apollo Command Service Module (CSM). We would like to do the Apollo 11. The Apollo 13, with the blown-out panel. And the Apollo 15 that had the sim-bay instrumentation sticking out of it. Ultimately two of my personal favorites – and I know a lot of people would love to have these – would be a large-scale Saturn V.
It would be done in either 72nd scale or 48th scale, which would place it somewhere between six feet and eight and half feet tall! Also, we’d like to do an accompanying Russian N-1 Lunar rocket. They made three of them and all three blew up on the launch pad or shortly after launch. But it’s a really organic looking olive drab, extended cone launch vehicle; a very interesting design. It looks completely different than the Saturn V. I saw two of those models several years ago at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and I said to myself, “someone has to come out with these so that the general public has an opportunity to own them, rather than having to go to the Smithsonian to see them. I’m pretty excited about doing those. I guess that ‘someone’ is going to be Artifactory.”