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Taking Risks & Telling Stories with Toy Photographer Mitchel Wu

January 14, 2020 | If you’re in the toy industry, you’ve likely come across the work of toy photographer Mitchel Wu. Used in campaigns from Disney to Moose to Mattel and more, at first glance, you might assume his images are Photoshopped or that that your eyes are playing tricks on you – can toys really come alive when no one is watching? But it’s Wu’s own background in creative risk-taking and storytelling that has helped him capture what most kids only dream of happening, toys coming to life.

At Toy Fair New York, Wu will share how he built his business and brand in the session “Creativity, Risk-Taking, and Storytelling with Mitchel Wu Toy Photography,” taking place on Sunday, February 23 at 9:30 a.m. in the Creative Factor Theater (the lobby outside Hall 1D). He will also discuss the importance of finding your niche, differentiating yourself, and knowing your value.

Ahead of Toy Fair, Toy News Tuesday caught up with Wu for a sneak preview into his session and what attendees can expect to gain from it.

What led you to toy photography?

I often think about life plans and how opportunities can quickly change the course of what you do. That's kind of what happened to me. After getting my degree in illustration, working six years in product design & development with Disney, followed by work as a commercial, lifestyle, and wedding photographer, toy photography seemed like the perfect medium for storytelling. There was a strong component of nostalgia to it because I tended to focus on toys that I grew up with or that I shared with my daughter Angie as she was growing up. Toy Story has been a big focus of my toy photography because Angie and I would watch the movies together, over and over again.

When I look at what I’m doing now and some of the commissions I’m getting from various companies, I have almost exactly the career that I always imagined I’d have as an illustrator. The media look a little different, but the lines have been blurred between illustration and digital photography simply because of how photographs are now edited and created. I’ve really come full circle and am back to where I imagined I would be creatively.

You’re very active on LinkedIn and Instagram. How have you used social media as a tool to build your business?

Instagram is where toy photography lives and breathes. There’s a huge community of toy photographers and we all support each other. Even people new to the craft can go there and learn techniques. Everyone is really willing to share and help. Every time I go onto Instagram, my jaw drops. What’s being created now on a general basis is nothing short of mind-blowing. It’s shocking to see how far the community has come in such a short time.

A lot of toy companies also have a growing presence on Instagram, and it’s not uncommon for toy photographers to connect with toy companies on the platform to develop relationships, to be featured by them, and even see those relationships evolve into collaborations.

LinkedIn has also evolved into a powerful platform for telling stories and connecting with like-minded people and companies. Each platform has its own personality and its own strengths. To really succeed on social media, you need to figure out the culture and how people respond best to what you’re doing.

This year, you’ll be cutting the ribbon to kick off Toy Fair 2020 and have your work showcased in a separate gallery, in addition to the Creative Factor session you’re presenting. As a first-time Toy Fair visitor – what are you most looking forward to?

Even though I've never been to Toy Fair before, I've always felt pretty in tune with what was going on at the show. Toy Fair is interesting in that it's covered by so many media outlets and people that I communicate with on social media. Through their daily updates, it was almost as good as being there, in the fact that you could see what's new, what's coming out, and gauge the temperature of the industry.

One of the reasons that I'm excited to go this year is just to be inspired. I know that I'm going to be surrounded by some of the most creative people in the industry and some of the most inspiring companies as well. Some that have been around for many, many years and created the toys that I played with as a kid. There are also going to be companies there that will be creating the toys that kids will be playing with tomorrow. It’s cool to be able to see what potential toys I might be able to create stories with in the future.

What can attendees expect to gain from attending your talk?

I'm looking forward to sharing my journey and the learnings that I've gained along the way; things that I wish I knew about when I was just starting out. Storytelling is a very important way to set yourself apart from your peers. It helps you create a brand and identity for yourself as you're trying to build your business. These are things that I found impactful and important on my journey. And I think even though toy photography is an extremely niche and specialized field, the foundation that I'm working from will be useful for other people to learn about.