The hurricane of passions that was unleashed by the visit to Cuba of the actress Ana de Armas was about to take away an anecdote that escaped the scuffles in social media, to float safely over the toxic trenches of politics.
With thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, users prevented the crossfire of opinions — often acidic and almost always vehement — about the obligations of celebrities from cornering the event: a funko aesthetic version of the character from Blonde (2022), with which the Cuban born in 1988 in the rum town of Santa Cruz del Norte and nationalized Spaniard definitively sealed her place in the star system.
The author of the gift also enjoyed her minutes of fame while repeating to herself “I don’t believe it,” reading the explosion of posts around her gift to the actress and seeing the Hollywood star herself show it pleased in her hands.
Baptized with a Hebrew name that means favored by God, Hanny Valenciaga Díaz, 27 years old, naturally loquacious and addictive industriousness and media aversion, was born in Bejucal, the town that first of all of Latin America and the Caribbean, inaugurated the railway in 1837, in a line that connected it with the capital of the colonial island and whose station has transcended more as a useful film set than a transportation point.
A microwave for a beginner
Whoever traces an artist in Hanny’s family will waste their time. There isn’t one. She is the first and still doesn’t know why she chose that path. Things of fate, supposes the graduate of Social Communication in 2019.
The truth is that when it comes to dolls, she is almost a self-taught sovereign. Except for specific advice obtained on YouTube and from some colleagues in WhatsApp groups, Hanny had no technical training in cold ceramics. Trial and error drove her experience, with her share of successes and failures.
At first, she burned the paste in the pan. There was no proper management of the cooking time of a jelly based on cornstarch, acetate, moisturizing cream, oil and vinegar.
Before emigrating, a colleague solved the mess. She gave her her pottery tools and a microwave, a treasure trove of civilization in which to cook the mixture without scorching it. However, timing the process was the key to success.
Epiphanies. From plasticine to funkos
The origin of this story lies in Hanny’s interest in recreating the world of the animated characters that she saw on television during her childhood, and her relentless desire to embody them to play with them alone.
“I was very, very introverted. I did not like to leave the house or play outside. Just see cartoons. I was passionate about certain children’s characters, but there was no way to access them as a toy. They were not sold in stores, nor did I have relatives abroad to send them to me,” she recalls during a long talk with OnCuba in her Havana apartment.
The temporary solution to her playful demands was found in plasticine. She was 11 years old when she tried to reproduce Bolek and Lolek, also Lilo and Stitch, Elpidio Valdés, Tom and Jerry; some characters from the Mexican series Una película de huevos, and D’artacán. Among others, they were her first epiphanies.
Plasticine was a substitute for manufactured toys, but summers were her worst enemy. The heat warped the reproductions. However, her graphic quality was news that spread throughout the town of San José de las Lajas, where her family moved from Bejucal. Called by Hanny’s mother, some designers even visited her and recommended that she study design in the future.
However, the handmade toys project was postponed. Hanny forgot about it when she entered high school and college. She devoted herself to her studies in order to enroll in her career as a communicator.
While she was doing social service, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Mandatory home confinement. Quotas of boredom and restlessness in the face of uncertainty. And suddenly, the butterfly effect and the second epiphany.
An aunt appeared who made crafts and, to top it off, she had some acetate at home.
“That’s when I started doing some… horrible things. The ugliest thing in the universe,” she admits. But Hanny’s craft dreams kicked off again. And until today.
Inputs and hazards
Is getting inputs and raw materials a Homeric thing?
Some raw materials I import. I do a scan on Amazon for the ones I need. Importers charge you double or triple the market price of the products.
And in the Cuban market…
Some raw materials exist here. Acetate and cornstarch for example but getting to them is complicated.
What do you do for the colors?
From abroad; you buy the mass of the color that you need for your pieces. Here I have to create the colors, because I only work with the primary colors, and it becomes very difficult to predict their quantity. Therefore, I tend to exaggerate.
Just imagine, running out of dye halfway through a funko’s hair. Then you may never get again the mixture for that same tone. It’s crazy.
How long does the production of a piece take?
I get up at 9 in the morning and finish work when I go to bed, which on average will be at midnight. I estimate an average of about twelve hours.
Does this rate of industriousness carry health risks?
Before I didn’t wear glasses. My spine problem is worse. I have been intoxicated with the vapors of the mixtures and the inks.
Have you thought of a helper?
I don’t like the idea. I don’t see the possibility of someone helping me in the productivity of my work who doesn’t interfere in the creative process or its finishing. Without self-sufficiency, nobody creates the same as another person and it would be sacrificing my identity stamp.
What have been your lines of work?
At first, I made earrings, refrigerator magnets, backpack pins, bracelets, a lot of things. Now I only make characters in funko version or in their animated version, the closest to the original.
Characters and personalities
I really like authors and characters related to art. Van Gogh, Poe, Botticelli’s Venus, Michelangelo’s David. Also movie characters. Scarface by Al Pacino, Bickle by Robert de Niro, Coraline created by Tim Burton.
And Cuban personalities?
I have done several Martí, the last one inspired by a painting by Fabelo. Also of Santiago Feliú, at a special request made to me by someone close to me. I also worked on the figures of Rubén Darío Salazar and Zenén Calero.
Which has been the hardest to make?
A manga, Jiraiya. He was placed on top of a giant frog. By the way, I don’t like making mangas. I’m also not a fan of Marvel or DC superheroes.
What about the durability of the pieces?
They can last you a lifetime. However, they cannot be subjected to high temperatures, nor can they in water or humid environments. Not to mention the cockroaches. They eat them, because of the cornstarch content. To remove dust, use a dry brush. Oh! And I always warn that it is not a toy.
Have you ever redone a piece due to nonconformity?
Yes of course. I remember that the shade of green that I gave to Shrek did not convince me. And I repeated it to get closer to the original color of the character.
To make classic characters from Cuban cinema. Also of music. There is nothing about it so far, but few are interested in it, and I work on request. Most request American or European characters. The institutions have not shown signs of interest either.
What’s the next funko?
“The girl with a pearl,” by Veermer, for June.
And then, who’s in line?
From Taxi Driver to Blonde. The Garcia Connection
“The Ana de Armas thing marked me… It marked me a great deal,” says Hanny, repeating the verb to illustrate the shock of this little story from which the vertigo still lives.
It all started at the beginning of last year with a call from Deymi D’Atri. With no more details than her own name, the documentarian and photographer wanted a reproduction of an insomniac murderer: Travis Bickle.
There was nothing to worry about. It was a gift for her husband. A few days after the delivery of a De Niro with sunglasses, a big head, with his inevitable mole on his right cheek, and a neo-Nazi hairstyle, Hanny received a photo via WhatsApp with the recipient of the piece.
“My God, my God!” The artisan only managed to exclaim when she identified the well-known actor Luis Alberto García, smiling next to the doll, an imitation of one of the stainless characters in the entire filmography of American Martin Scorsese.
Hanny’s family is devoted to national cinema. Film that is made on the island, film that they consume, and García himself is awarded with the label of icon.
“He is a wonderful person; at least with me he has been great. I cannot thank him more than I have thanked him… I think that yes, that I can continue to thank him,” concedes Hanny, whose work on Bickle was praised by Elpidio from La vida es silbar.
Recreating this protagonist of the Fernando Pérez film, from 1998, was just the second commission, already done directly by Luis Alberto.
“Spectacular” was the adjective that García found to qualify Hanny’s new installment.
By then, she had made a custom Marilyn Monroe, based on the famous scene with the dress lifted up in a New York subway vent in The Seven Year Itch (1955), a Billy Wilder classic.
The piece was published by the potter herself on Facebook, with a caption ready for divinization: “Ana de Armas is my shepherdess, and I will lack nothing.”
With this, she honored the success of the actress, who in those days triumphed at the Venice festival, where they awarded her work in Blonde with a 14-minute standing ovation.
And at this point in history, we are approaching the great event.
Between disbelief and the hurry hurry
“When he asked me for it, I was silent; so much so that he asked me if I’m still in the line,” recalls the artisan, who at that first moment did not believe that such an opportunity would later become a reality in the hands of the actress. “I said to myself: that’s not going to happen to me.”
However, betraying her own disbelief, she had the case made with a photo of Ana de Armas playing her character, and the title of the controversial film by Australian Andrew Dominik.
Everything had been on hold, when Hanny received an urgent call from García after 2 in the morning. He announced the imminent arrival of the actress and the need to have the funko ready for April 30. The deadline was stressful.
“Calm down, that’s going to be ready,” replied the potter in the midst of a personal anxiety crisis and another national fuel crisis that made the manufacturing and delivery process of the piece tense.
Finally, the gift reached the hands of the actor, who happily managed to deliver it to her on the night of his friend’s birthday. She was a Marilyn closer to the Blonde version than to the original, with details such as a smaller face and more oval eyes or the shape of the hairstyle. The rest was the pose, shared by both figures, which recreated Wilder’s sensual scene.
But around 3 in the morning on May 1, Hanny was unaware of the fate of her piece. She was anxiously awaiting any sign and she had given up hope until the photos burst onto her cell phone.
“I couldn’t believe it, I started screaming and woke up my boyfriend, and despite his warnings about the time, I posted the photos on my Instagram account. I wanted to share my happiness with everyone.”
Soon after, as if many were also waiting for the outcome of the gift, the images of a smiling Ana de Armas showing her funko version of Blonde went viral on social media, exceeding 500 comments and 3,000 likes.
“It was incredible. I was in the clouds. I was very excited that she, as a Cuban who had succeeded so much, had something made by a compatriot”, values the ceramist, who has pursued the career of Ana de Armas since her appearance in the Spanish series El internado, which started in 2007.
In the photo, Ana de Armas shows an admiring satisfaction with your personalized funko… Do you share it?
Well, she’s an actress…. So I don’t know. (Laughter) Luis Alberto told me that she loved it.… Honestly, I didn’t expect anything. She really is too big, too big for me.
Like Apple, the Funko company was born in a small garage in 1998. Three friends wanted to convert the image of their favorite characters into figurines, but they wanted to avoid a hackneyed aesthetic. The first idea that comes to mind is that of a man with a computer as his head.
Currently, Funko is an American toy company, famous mainly for its collectible vinyl figures in the form of bobbleheads. The company owes its name to the concept of fun: a lexical game with the terms “fun” and “company” (fun company), which was merged into Funko.
Funko pop are figures with a peculiar design, but since nothing comes out of nowhere, they are based on the Japanese chibi concept: a specific style of drawing in which the characters are portrayed in an exaggerated way. In general, they present characteristics such as reduced bodies and extra-large heads compared to the size of the rest of the physiognomy.
Even an animated character like Betty Boop, which due to its morphology could belong to the funko family, was created long before the company in question, in 1926, by the animator and film director Myron “Grim” Natwick.
In addition to bobbleheads, Funko also sells many other different products, such as plush toys, action figures, board games or electronic products, such as lamps or headphones.
The company’s slogan is “Everyone is a fan of something.” Could it be?