One day, Stephen Baker let his young son, Ben, play with a hard-plastic statuette of St. Michael the Archangel.
“He was playing with it like crazy, running out in the back yard,” recalled Baker. “Sooner or later, he came back in crying.”
Marthie Baker, a nurse, thought a dog might have bitten her son, judging from the puncture wound in his hand. But it was the spear of the St. Michael statuette that had done the damage; the figure sustained an injury too — a broken wing from the tumble.
The Bakers have other statues around the house, along with four kids, and other accidents have occurred: St. Joseph’s head has been detached a couple of times, and the Baby Jesus is missing an arm.
“We’re sitting here telling our kids, ‘No, don’t touch,’ and that’s not a message that we want to tell our kids with the saints,” said Stephen Baker.
So the parents were inspired to create Action Saints (ActionSaints.com), which offers a safe-to-play-with figure of St. Michael for ages 4 and up, complete with sword and a prayer card.
Action Saints is an endeavor of the Kolbe Film School (KolbeFilmSchool.com). Created by the Bakers, it is a non-for-profit, online tutorial program where students can learn 3-D animation production, character animation, and work to design gaming environments. One of the school’s instructors is Thom Falter, who spent time as a character animator with Veggie Tales, working on the videos and the feature-length movie Jonah.
Designing an action figure wasn’t a stretch for Stephen Baker, a licensed architect in the state of Colorado, where the family lives. He has designed or envisioned more than 30 churches and cathedrals in the United States. Back in 1993, while he was in college, Baker was struck by the words of Blessed John Paul II during his trip to Denver. The late Holy Father specifically mentioned the media as an area in which Catholics should work.
“The way he said it — ‘including the media’ — kind of haunts me,” said Baker.
So Baker taught himself animation software and eventually produced a cartoon called The Kings of Christmas that aired on PBS. He became proficient enough in his knowledge of 3-D animation software that he has been an instructor at the university level for the last eight years at area colleges.
The Kolbe Film School has a straightforward mission: “Train the next generation of artists who seek to create media that inspires a culture of life.”
Getting the first saint ready for a wide market was a multi-step process. First, St. Michael was designed in a 3-D modeling program called ZBrush, which allows users to mold a model like clay, but on a computer screen.
Then Baker had to find a firm to make the model; he eventually found one in China, as U.S. prices were high. The back-and-forth process between Baker’s vision and the Chinese artists went from pictures of the computer model to a wax sculpture to a plaster mold and plastic prototype to a mold carved in stainless steel after final revisions. So far, a few thousand units have been ordered.
The cardboard backing with the figure’s packaging features a history of the saint and the famous St. Michael prayer; the enclosed trading card also has the prayer.
The partnership has led to some evangelization opportunities. The prototype of St. Maximilian Kolbe includes a miraculous medal. One of the Chinese workers asked Baker about the “goddess” on the medal and what size it should be.
“Well no, she’s the Mother of God,” Baker told the worker.
Marthie’s brother, Jim Moran, has moved 56 units of the St. Michael figure already. With a display model, he has informally pitched the action figure at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kan. He has received positive feedback, with some families buying a number of the figures that start at $12, but are discounted for purchases of two units or more.
“People were just thrilled to have something like that,” said Moran, a father of eight.
Moran said parents have been asking for other saints. If it were up to him, it would probably be St. Joan of Arc.
The patron saint of France is on the short list for additions to the “Action Saints” line, along with St. Augustine. Sts. Maximilian Kolbe and Thérèse are featured on the website as “coming soon.”
But it takes capital to make the stainless-steel molds, and the Bakers are hoping St. Michael will sell well.
Want to see your favorite saint in action form? The Bakers said interested patrons could sponsor a saint, which would be a project for the Kolbe Film School. Interested parties can contact them via the website.
Said Marthie, “I hope it (sales) will grow, and that way we can make many more ‘Action Saints,’ because there’s such a host of great saints.”
Justin Bell writes from Boston.