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Toy photographer Hung Doan: ‘Everyone wants a Death Star’

Hung Doan from ForcedadPhotography tells us how he combines playtime with his kids with his passion for photography and storytelling.

Star Wars is an iconic story, with breath-taking visuals to match. Kids and big kids alike collect Star Wars merchandise with fervour, and there are toy photographers all over the web taking the obsession one step further recreating dynamic Star Wars scenes.

Hung Doan, also known as ForcedadPhotography, is one of those photographers. Together with his children, he creates incredibly action packed and realistic scenes using Star Wars figures. He then edits them with Affinity Photo for iPad and shares them with the world…

Millennium Falcon by Hung Doan
Your Instagram name is ‘forcedadphotography’, tell us a little bit about how your son gets involved in the process of making your images…

The toys belong to him. I got him the Millennium Falcon one Christmas, so we started taking pictures. I think he is starting to outgrow it so his little sister is getting into it, so it is a father/daughter thing now. My son still helps out when new toys come out. His interest comes and goes.

What made you think to start photographing your toy collection and turning them into scenes?

Well, I had another Instagram account where I take pictures of Eames furniture and Swiss watches. You can only take so many pictures of the same chair before your audience gets bored. I took some pictures of figures on Eames furniture right about the time Force Awakens hit the theatre and got featured by the Eames Office.

After that, I decided to create a new account. The very first post got 700 likes and I figured, hmmm. I can post new content every day. With action figures, you don’t have to worry about models, scouting locations. A new playtime can be a new scene. It has a been a good creative outlet and it doesn’t have to be perfect because it isn’t commercial in nature.

Do you have a favourite Star Wars character or a favourite figure to include in your photos?

No favourite characters. Favourite ship—Millennium Falcon. Maybe Boba Fett but I change my mind every other day.

Boba Fett on the move
You post your images on Instagram and Facebook, what type of images work best there?

Instagram is my main platform. Facebook is a by-product out of necessity. The audience is younger on Instagram and they expect more content. Facebook has two advantages—longer video times and high-resolution galleries. Hence, I would exploit the strength of each. You can post a five-minute video on Facebook where Instagram is limited to a minute duration.

Also, Facebook photo galleries are ‘evergreen’. Evergreen means the content will more likely be viewed in the future as new Facebook followers check out your page. Instagram’s content has a median lifespan of three days.

New Instagram users won’t be looking at a post from two years ago as the UI isn’t suited for that sort of searching and organizing. Sounds like Facebook is better, but I get more traction on Instagram.

How have people’s reactions to them made you feel?

It has been interesting. I get private messages from little kids all the time and it is a bit of an honour. Hence, I keep it PG rated. I don’t do the gory toy photography some of the other ToyPhotogs do.

Guard duty
How did you first discover Affinity Photo?

When I got my iPad Pro. Prior I was using an iPad Mini and it went into the washer. When I got the Pro 10.5, I wanted to see the best apps available for it. I was instantly hooked after 10 minutes. It was a game changer.

“The majority of the time, I do my compositions while I ferry my children around to their after-school activities. During 45-minute Karate practice, I am able to generate some fantasy science fiction scenes at my leisure.”

Hung Doan
Tell us a little bit about your workflow and what the main tools you use in Affinity are?

I shoot with a DSLR. I may import the photo directly into the iPad or I will curate them on the desktop. The workflow is like this: I use AirDrop to transfer from Mac to iPad. I create an album of ‘to-do’ with images pre-retouching.

I will create monthly album projects into Affinity.

Then I will import the ones I want to work with. When I finish working, I save them out. I either save to an album on the iPad or push to iCloud so I have access with my iPhone. However, now, I am using Iconosquare to schedule my posts. Iconosquare is an Instagram analytics app with schedule posting. So now, I have a calendar I can pre-plan.

Hung Doan edits a scene with Affinity Photo for iPad
What has it been like working with Hasbro?

It has been an honour to get to have access to some of the early figures such as the 40th anniversary Black Series. Embargo stuff is always exciting, you get to photograph something no one else has yet and have to keep it quiet.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to take his or her first steps into toy photography?

Experiment. Get up close as you possibly can. The larger the subject looks in view, the greater the likelihood it looks more realistic.

Secondly avoid harsh light where the plastic reflects. Plastic is shiny by nature and that gives the illusion away.

What has been your favourite photo to work on so far?

Hard to say. I’m always learning something new. The ‘Luminance’ brush pack given away by Affinity recently got me re-doing some past images. They are the new images with the flames that I simply pressure –draw in. I also like the new Han Solo images from the new movie coming out in May.

Han Solo speeding

This one is typical Affinity Photo for me… Inpainting brush to remove the supports, motion blur and FX. Quick five-minute retouching job. Literally five minutes. Another two-minute quickie using iCloud Files and placing overlay. It got a quick 1,000 likes just because I think I was one of the first. And iPad/Affinity allows me to quickly produce an image and get it out as the toy hits the store shelves.

You’ve recently been a supporter of #BackTheBarge… are there any other vehicles or characters you’d like to see made into toy reality?

Everyone wants a Death Star—me included!

And lastly… who shot first? ;)

Han Solo.

See more of Forcedadphotography’s work on Instagram and Facebook.

Artist relations

Umar is part of our artist relations team. He likes to tinker with computers, build things and play competitive games. His favourite colour is green and he enjoys bouldering, which is basically climbing without any ropes. It’s less dangerous than it sounds.

Credits & Footnotes

All photography copyright of Hung Doan/Forcedadphotography. ‘Star Wars’ is copyright of Disney. Star Wars toys are copyright of Hasbro.