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Freshness Feature: NANOSPORE

Interview by Linda Kim NANOSPORE is a Los Angeles based company made up of two designers, Paul Hwang and Ben Lee. Their fresh, clean design sense is apparent through their silkscreen prints, toys, and other art made by the duo. Both artists individually have previously worked on …
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Interview by Linda Kim

NANOSPORE is a Los Angeles based company made up of two designers, Paul Hwang and Ben Lee. Their fresh, clean design sense is apparent through their silkscreen prints, toys, and other art made by the duo. Both artists individually have previously worked on separate projects of different genres and decided to collaborate and create Nanospore. They are currently collaborating with other artists and companies in developing new projects for the cute, invading spores.

(February’s banner designed by NANOSPORE)

Freshness Feature: NANOSPORE

Freshness Feature: NANOSPORE

Q: To clarify for our readers, what is a NANOSPORE?

Paul: Well, a NANOSPORE is a softball-sized, spore-based species from outer space.

Ben: They landed earth and the characters are random mixtures of a bunch of things, some of the characters look like things found on earth.

P: Basically, they kind of showered from the mothership onto earth. Wherever they land is what they build themselves up from depending on the geography. If they landed on manure it’ll start composing itself to have the characteristics of manure. If a bull were to pass by, it could develop defensive horns through research. Ultimately, if the NANOSPORE start traveling from place to place, within two weeks time they develop and research other random things on earth.

Q: How did the project start?

P: It kind of started out as a really simple idea playing with shape. I drew this character 96 times for a class assignment, which turned out to become NANOSPORE.

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Q: How did you two meet and collaborate on the NANOSPORE project?

B: We met freshman year at Art Center [College of Design] and became roommates. We were roommates when Paul came up with the idea of NANOSPORE.

Q: When was all of this?

P: A little over a year ago.

Q: You kind of talked about the story and the background of NANOSPORE and everything. To me it seems like there is still a story unfolding, because they had just come down and invaded earth. Are you guys still working on the story or is it part of the plan?

P: Yeah, I think right now we’re in development for animation. We’re kind of flushing out the whole idea of the story and just break down the story to a few stories. And then we’re developing characters that actually exist in the world so eventually it should be a pretty strong story, a complete story.

Originally, I saw the whole story as a feature length, apocalyptic, balls-out city-destroying type of animation, so we’re still working on creating a strong storyline for a feature now. So that is hopefully in the future.

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Q: So an animation is something you are thinking about for the future?

B: I hope so, well to me at least. My background is animation so I’ve always been kind of an animation geek my entire life, so it’s like the big time, big bull, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Q: It seems like the mini-clips on your website are like trailers or teasers for what’s in store for the future?

P: Yeah, we just decided to create short clips to kind of give a taste of what might become of it, to be able to show networks someday, and what it’s capable of becoming.

B: Kinda like a comic series. The short animations really help in trying to show what we want to do. The last one that we did was for Pictoplasma for an animation conference. The book’s coming out and we’re on the DVD that we’re really excited about.

> View reel #1 here

> View reel #2 here

Q: The 3rd Pictoplasma book?

B: Yeah, the “Characters in Motion” book.

P: I know Ben ultimately wants it to become an animation, I kind of want to see it become everything. Like, integrate it into everyone’s lives. We’re creating toys right now, but they are in a genre of blind assortment toys. Eventually we want to expand the vinyl & plush, those are the obvious answers, but ultimately create utilitarian toys which are kind of like toy/products because NANOSPORES themselves are actually developed from “real-world” objects. So if we were to create Nanospores that actually had those useful qualities, like a TV or toaster or snowglobe or a piece of shit, we would actually try to be selling those products. Not a piece of shit, but you know like an actual functioning product. Like the Teapot Tankspore, we can create it out of ceramic and market it as a product instead of just the toy.

B: The craziest one that I want to make is the Rice Cooker-spore, you know those bachelor-sized ones that make one serving? We can make the proper plastic outer shell but it would still work as a normal rice cooker. It’s just the hard part is finding the people that want to do it with us because we can’t do it ourselves.

Q: So it’s going beyond the toy and becoming a practical functional object?

B: Yeah, something that it’d convince people to buy it because they’d know that there’s more than one use to it. The idea is really attractive to us.

Q: There seems to be pop influences in your work, can you guys go over what inspires both of you? Which artists have inspired you? Not just art, anything.

B: My obvious answers are the Japanese animation: anything from the really old original Gundam series, there’s kinda like a humorous, cheesiness to it that’s overdramatic that’s real funny, to anything that I see cool on I check that thing like 3 times a day just to see new artwork and things. I think what really motivated me to work on this project with Paul was Murakami’s animation that he made with some, I forget which Japanese animation company, they did Digimon the series, but they did it with Louis Vuitton. He made this 5-minute animation and it was like the first where he went out with the real sleek brunt, cutting-edge design style and he integrated it with animation, which was traditional cell animation. There’s something real pretty about the idea. Lately people have seen animation coming from whatever American animation company as coming out with this real hokey family animation thing and it inspired me to believe that you can make cell animation that is still cutting-edge and still beautiful in a very modern design sense, instead of just cute furry animals.

P: Chronologically, stuff that inspired me were American comics as a child, and then turned into a lot of anime in high school, and then after a while it was children’s books like Japanese pop art, and old school art nouveau artists. After I graduated, I got into the whole motion graphics industry and started doing animation for music videos and commercials and stuff. And then you know, that’s just the different route that Ben and I just split, and then we took the split and came back at the fork. And so I really kinda want to see the animation at this point to be something that is integrated with cell animation mixed with motion graphics and with whatever else we could think of. I think there’s a lot of motion companies that want to try and attempt cell, and there’s a lot of animation houses that want to attempt something more motion graphics based but I think there needs to be an equal knowledge of both fields, to achieve oneness. To one-ify.

B: Like to homogenize, to make it look a little more natural.

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Q: Are you guys doing any collaborations with other designers, or other companies, or anything along those lines?

P: We’re kind of in talks with a lot of different projects at the moment. We’re talking with Tado right now, the UK duo. They do a lot of toy work and commercial work as well.

B: Yeah, we met them at the Taiwan Toy Festival. So we’re talking about trying to get a collaboration going.

P: I guess other than that, just a lot of potential collaborations with other toy designers out there, like in Japan & Taiwan.

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Q: You mentioned the toy show in Taiwan, can you describe what happened there, what it was about, what the experience was like?

B: The Taiwan Toy Festival, this past one was the second time they held it. It’s about the size of the Comic-con, it’s kind of small.

B: It was basically 4 days and like a toy festival, it wasn’t an industry thing, it was fan-based.

P: I think Taiwan hasn’t peaked yet in terms of the designer toy industry so it really just keeps escalating.

B: Or even the urban art scene.

P: Yeah, like Taiwan is still up-and-coming. They just opened up a Bathing Ape store there for instance, and like the Pixie store that PhalanX owns which is like a store/gallery and it’s the first of its kind in Taiwan. Things are looking better over in Taiwan, we had the toy festival and then a few weeks after that we actually had a solo show over there also at the Pixie Gallery.

B: We just went there, hung out, met the fun superstars of the toy show.

P: Like Devil Robots, Tokyoplastic, TADO, Dan from FRESHNESS, Touma, Eddie from adFunture, bunch of people. It was good times.

Q: So what products are out there that people can get right now?

P: The toys recently arrived at the L.A. warehouse. They should be out in stores now. We’re hoping for the toys to give us the push for all the other products like the t-shirts, keychains, stickers, prints, and postcard sets.

P: But yeah, the toys, this one is called Nanospores: Series 1 Blind Assortment toys, US version. So we have 2 more versions of the same toys, but we’re thinking of having like an Asia version or a Europe version with different color settings and change up the look of them.

B: We don’t plan to really push the same toys with different toys.

P: Not necessarily, the thing about our blind assortment toys that differentiates us from the rest of the blind toys, is that most blind toys use one mold, or two, it’s like the same character and they’re painting it 7 different times. They get their different characters, but it’s the same mold. As long as the paint job is great, we have nothing against that but we’re really trying not to fit into the same category, to differentiate us. We have 7 different molds. We just really want to make a unique product and we want it to reflect the whole idea of NANOSPORE.

B: The whole idea of Nanospores is that there’s an infinite amount of NANOSPORES you can get.

P: Yeah, so if we have a chance to make 7 or 8 different characters. We will, we want to.

P: After the first 3 versions, we plan to do one large vinyl character and then turn into a new series and may go back to vinyl.

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Q: Do you guys have a favorite NANOSPORE?

P: Hmm.. no, we love them all!

B: The funny thing is is that people are really turned off or they really like the Feces-spore.

P: Girls like it, it’s weird.

B: yeah, that is weird.

P: We have two keychains, one’s like the little marshmallow with the kimono-looking spore and the other one is the shitspore, and I figure most girls will like the pink one, but some of them like the shit.

B: Yeah, this one girl bought like 7 keychains of the poop one to give to her friends

Q: Speaking of different NANOSPORE, what about the mystery one? The one with the question mark.

P: The mystery one is actually the mystery figure in the blind assortment toys so we can’t really give away what that’s all about. You’ll just have to collect and find out

B: Collect them all!

Thank you Paul and Ben for inviting FRESHNESS to the NANOSPORE studio and participating with the interview. Best of luck to you and we look forward to seeing how Nanospore evolves and develops. Thank you!

For more information, go to


Feb. 11: Chubby Bunny group show at Nucleus Gallery in Alhamba, California.

Feb. 24-26: Exhibiting with AdFunture Workshop (also SEEN and Shawnimals) in the New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Convetion Center in New York, New York.

Mar. 10-11: participating in the MIDI Convention , intl. furniture design competition, held at Mines Malaysia Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, presented in part by BigBros Workshop.

Mar. 17-18: participating in the Trexi Invades NYC! show, held at Toy Qube New York, New York, and presented by Play Imaginative.