Putting ‘action’ into ‘action figures’: USP’s secret DIY master

Ihsan with a diorama he designed and made by hand

By: Samara Gan

When I first met Ihsan last year, he seemed like a quiet, stoic, and reserved man.

So imagine my shock when I ran into him at the Singapore Toys, Games, and Comics Convention (STGCC) on Sunday, dressed up as Vigilante from Arrow, with a rifle to boot.

Muhammad Ihsan Bin Salimi, better known as Ihsan, is one of the hidden figures in the USP admin office. By day, he is a 25-year-old Management Assistant Officer in USP, providing facilities and events support to staff and students.

By night, he is a DIY enthusiast in his studio/bedroom, working on customised figurines, toy photography, and screen-accurate props.

Surgery. Pretty much what happens during my painting process. Don't judge. 😂

A post shared by Muhd Ihsan (@md1hsan) on

While he has kept his “double life” relatively secret from USP, one does not need Batman’s detective skills to figure out that Ihsan is in fact a comic book geek.

Sitting on a shelf in his office cubicle is a series of Star Wars and superhero figurines, an unwrapped Green Arrow Funko Pop toy, and a small but noticeable poster of Star Wars: Rogue One. Next to the shelf is a brightly coloured DC Comics calendar from Typo.

A shelf in Ihsan's cubicle, featuring various pop culture figurines
A shelf in Ihsan’s cubicle, featuring various pop culture figurines.

Besides reading comic books, Ihsan’s hobbies include sculpting figurines, making dioramas (which are models that represent a three-dimensional scene), taking toy photography, repainting figurines, and prop-building, among other things.

He posts pictures of his work up on his instagram @md1hsan, which has 430 followers at the time of writing. Two of his posts even received a ‘like’ from Teddy Sears, the actor who played Jay Garrick in Season 2 of The Flash.

(Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched Season 2 of The Flash: Read the captions of the photos at your own risk!)

‘MY PASSION IS NOW DIY’

Ihsan’s passion for customising action figures started during his National Service. He wanted to own figurines of his favourite characters, but they were not available in the market, so he decided to make them himself.

But soon, his hobby evolved into making dioramas and toy photography. He would recreate the scenes from his favourite TV shows using his dioramas and figurines.

"Find us Bruce! You have to find us!"

A post shared by Muhd Ihsan (@md1hsan) on

Lately, he has been interested in making screen-accurate props from movies. Some examples of his work include Jyn Erso’s A180 Blaster and Cassian Andor’s A280-CFE Blaster from Star Wars: Rogue One.

“I guess you can say my passion is now DIY. It’s not merely just making dioramas and everything. It’s just a hobby. I just love making things in general,” he said.

Ihsan was also part of Science Centre’s Maker Faire earlier this year, where he exhibited his work and conducted workshops for visitors. He said that he will likely be exhibiting at the Maker Faire again next year, but “no promises”.

To fund his expensive hobby, Ihsan takes commissions at about $25 for a simple action figure head sculpt. He takes around two to three hours for each commission.

However, he hesitates to take up a diorama project.

“I have done [dioramas], but it’s difficult. You have to spend a lot of time on other people’s work, you know?

“Sometimes your commitment [to the project] is tested. Sometimes there’s this thought going in my head, ‘Why am I putting so much effort into others?’ I did do a few, but then I stopped. It’s a bit difficult, especially the fact that I’m working alone.”

TURNING DIY INTO COSPLAY

As a comic book fan, Ihsan has been attending STGCC since its inception ten years ago.

After years of attending STGCC as a ‘civilian’, he wanted to do something different this year. His friends also pressured him to cosplay since he was already skilled at making props.

“I said okay lah, I’ll do it. But I’ll only do my favourite character, which is [the] Green Arrow,” he said.

He spent USD$99 on a pre-made Arrow costume, which he had to spend time altering and dyeing the fabric by hand. He also made the arrows and quiver for the costume.

Ihsan posing in his Green Arrow costume
Ihsan posing in his Green Arrow costume on the first day of STGCC 2017.

“The funny thing was, before I enter [the convention], there was this security counter. There was one thing that I couldn’t bring in. It was the smaller arrows at the wrists. They said these were too sharp but actually they were made out of skewer sticks. You know, the one use for barbeque…”

He laughed at the memory.

“The police officer [at the counter], he asked me, ‘Wah, this one… all you made arh?’ and I said, ‘Yeah…’

“He said… ‘Oh, quite impressive’.”

Ihsan initially planned to wear his Arrow costume on both days of the convention, but he spotted a costume of Vigilante, a villain on CW’s Arrow, on Carousell and decided to wear it on the second day.

That was when I bumped into him at STGCC on Sunday.

He was dressed in a nearly all-black costume with a mask, combining both the comic book and the TV show versions of the character. It took me five whole seconds to recognise him that day.

“I was wearing my mask, then I saw Haqeem walk past. Then I took off my mask and called him. Tapped him on the back. And then I saw… his look of shock,” he laughed.

“I saw my Secondary School teachers there also. I was also in [a] mask, you know. Then I took off my mask and called my Secondary School teacher, and then he was also shocked.”

IHSAN THE…  GUITARIST?

Just when I thought I’d uncovered Ihsan’s greatest secrets, he sprung another one on me: when he was in Polytechnic, he used to record guitar covers and post them on Youtube.

I joked that I would headline this article ‘Multi-talented Ihsan’.

“I’m mostly into Hard Rock,” he said. “But now I don’t play so much.”

His Youtube covers were posted on his channel, under the username san812.

“You know how I got the number ‘812’? It was my bus home,” he laughed. “I’m such a weird person.”

When I asked if he had ever thought of joining LiveCore, he broke into laughter and said, “I knew you will say that!”

Much to my (and everyone’s) disappointment, he said no.

ONE YEAR AT USP

Ihsan just celebrated his one year anniversary of working at USP just three days ago.

He joked that the first reason why he joined USP was that the job was available.

“I guess when I attended the interview, I took a look at the surroundings. It seems like a good work environment, and it’s true, after one year of working here. All the colleagues are great,” he said.

“I wanted to join USP also because I wanted to, in a way, upgrade myself. And I strongly believe, from what I’ve seen, NUS can provide a better working environment. In a way, you can improve yourself as time goes by.”

Ihsan sitting in his office cubicle
Ihsan sitting in his office cubicle,

A day in the life of Ihsan involves booking rooms, preparing logistics for events, and daily maintenance and upkeep of facilities, he said.

I asked if his dream is to set up his own shop one day, and he said “Yes, it is, but I love my job here.”

“Even if you gave me a whole bunch of money, and then tell me ‘hey, you can go set up your shop, tomorrow you leave this job’, I probably will say no,” he said, cracking up.

When he calmed down from all the laughing, he added, “I mean, I wouldn’t say ‘no’ upright, but I’ll probably put a lot of thought into it and then I’ll say ‘no’. It’s a matter of how much time you can put into it.

“Right now my way of thinking is, this is my hobby. I love doing it for myself. If I want to do it for other people, I can, but it takes a lot of commitment. You have to think about it.”

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