Mitchel Wu has a passion for artistic expression and storytelling that’s led him from a career at Disney to work as a professional toy photographer. His dynamic photographs exude joy and capture a sense of motion that few toy photographers are able to match. Wu talks with Toy Tales about his path to a career in toy photography and shares his advice for budding toy photographers.
How did your photography career start?
I’ve always been interested in telling stories and was intrigued by art, drawing, and comics growing up. I went to art school in Northern California before being recruited by Disney to work in their Walt Disney Art Classics division, creating ceramic sculptures. I worked for a couple of different companies after that until a couple of big life changes made me realize how short life can be and how important it is to pursue one’s passion. I didn’t want money to be the thing that drove my work. I had an interest in photography and made a choice to explore that more. I photographed weddings for about eight years. It was critical to my development as an artist; developing a technique and telling stories. I moved away from weddings because I didn’t want to work weekends. My priority was (and is) to spend more time with my daughter before she graduates high school. It took me a long time to find toy photography.
What inspired your transition to toy photography?
We all played with toys growing up. It’s such a huge part of youth. I first noticed toy photography on social media and it’s something that my nephew was doing. I joined him for a shoot; he lent me a couple of his Star Wars toys to use. I think about 90% of toy photographers start out because they are toy collectors or enthusiasts. It was a different process for me. I have a love of photography, own the equipment, and love experimenting. Toy photography grew from there.
When did you start working with Mattel and Warner Bros. Entertainment?
Mattel discovered my work through Instagram. I use a lot of their toys and games in my photography because I can tell cool, fun stories with them. I started creating images for Mattel and that brought exposure to my work. I don’t actually know how Warner Bros. Entertainment came across my work.
What toys and games were among your childhood favourites?
I kept some of my Hot Wheels and Matchbox vehicles, along with Barrel of Monkeys. My daughter grew up loving Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. so those characters tend to make it into my work.
What advice do you have for budding toy photographers?
What really matters is the story. If there’s a great story within a photograph, it will be memorable even if the photographer’s skills aren’t the best. Think of action movies that rely on special effects. The special effects are entertaining at the time but the movie is unremarkable and unmemorable if there isn’t a great story being told as well.
My other advice is to just keep moving forward. It can be tough to take up a new craft when you see so much amazing work from other people. Don’t be overwhelmed: keep progressing and improving your skills. Over time, you’ll get to where you want to be. Keep shooting, it will all come together.
Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.