On a Non-Fungible Rampage [Interview with Oliver Carding]

“Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, that is their tragedy.” – Ishiro Honda

Digital collectibles are all the rage in the blockchain space, giving face and creative value to the potentials of tokenization over the past 12 months. It’s almost unlikely at this point to find a blockchain enthusiast today without a cryptographic feline or animated artwork lurking in their MetaMask wallet.

But what of the physical? Have there been meaningful or at least interesting strides to start putting tangible assets on the blockchain? Do the same principles of decentralized and immutable ownership apply to things that can only be held in one location? To explore just how this might happen, we got sit down with Oliver Carding, creator of the CryptoKaiju project, to discuss the technical and social aspirations behind his unique figurines. Physical assets on the digital blockchain are already shaping up to be a new creative domain and these little big monsters are the perfect ferocious precedents.

The Creative Crypto (CC): Welcome Oliver! Tell us a bit about yourself your background and how you found yourself in the blockchain space.

I’ve been in the blockchain space now for about 5 years, coming from a marketing background. I unintentionally got into mining early on and became a top reseller for personal mining rigs. After this, I founded CoinJournal, mainly because I wanted something to do and provide something of use in the space. I had created a number of blogs before and figured this would make for a valuable resource.

As for how I got into the art space, it as actually through David, James, and Andy at KnownOrigin. They run an excellent Meetup group in Manchester and I just got chucked into the lot. They invited me to look closer at their platform and discuss what could be possible on the creative end of crypto. I’ve always been a great fan of vinyl toys and have been collecting from about the age of 15 or 16. I’ve still got some of the stuff from back then. I was also interested in prints in general and was actually doing a CoinJournal print at the time on KO. My discussions with the KnownOrigin team started to bring those interests back to life and we started to brainstorm how we could tackle physical art with their developments as a digital marketplace.

CC: So tell me a bit about specifically the Kaiju and why you decided to design this type of figure as a precedent for physical blockchain-integrated assets.  

When I was younger, I was fully into Kaiju films. It was sort of a part of the thriving hardcore and punk scene in Manchester at the time and I really enjoyed the content around Godzilla and other huge monsters. The connotations and themes in these films seemed to mesh really well with cryptocurrency since they are these hugely disruptive forces that come out of nowhere.

With a clear parallel, I started creating prints of a Bitcoin dressed up in a monster costume. The animal would be smashing through financial districts and cause a lot of destruction to the established institutions. That became the basis for the vinyl toy. I’ve got a lot of Kaiju toys of my own and I just think they simply look cool.

CC: It’s a very apt fantastical analogy to the space. I think we need more representations that are embodiments of the technology. Tell us about the logistics of the project, so our readers know what it means to have a physical non-fungible token (NFT). Walk us through the deliberations around keeping physical items scarce.

So we have the actual physical toy. It’s made from soft vinyl, 5.5 inches tall. What we did was integrate an NFC track with an NXP chip, which encrypts individual IDs and cannot be cloned. The encrypted identifier links to a digital NFT, which you’ll receive as a proof of purchase/ownership. The chip is tamper resistant so if you try and pull it off, it basically destroys your proof of provenance. This was our first answer to the problem of sticking something on a physical collectible that couldn’t be copied and it took quite some trial and error to arrive at this specific tech. Going forward, we want to be able to embed the chip a bit better. At the moment, it’s on one foot of the toy.

The first ‘Genesis’ toys have been limited to 130 pieces. Each has a series of unique traits – Class, skill, name, color, sex, and even a unique birth date – with some of the traits being visible such as the purple or green color and a different dot color for male/female. Every single one you get is going to be unique. You can query the smart contracts to see the ownership of each one and the digital NFT version will have all of the qualities listed.

CC: You’ve been collecting for the last 15 or so years, and collectibles are one domain that suddenly became so coveted in the last few decades that people are kicking themselves for unwrapping their original Ninja Turtles or Star Trek figurines. How do you think this type of technology will change the culture and production of collectibles?

I think it creates a whole new dimension to collecting. One of the gripes I have with vinyl collection now, and I’ll use the famous artist KAWS as an example, is the lack of true or transparent scarcity. I’ve been buying his work since I was 18 and I absolutely love his products, but you don’t know how many are actually out there or who owns them. As a result, there isn’t much you can do to accurately judge value and the real culture around them.

With blockchain, you can use this tech to prove scarcity, which opens up so many more opportunities. The finite number and ownership of the kaijus are all verifiable. At the moment, we’re just using a token to prove authenticity, but we’re looking to implement ways of using those NFTs further. For example, we’re looking to work with other companies and platforms so that you can use your CryptoKaiju NFT as a character in other contexts like a game. Imagine taking your digital monster, of which you have a digital artwork and a physical figurine, and fighting with it in a new blockchain Street Fighter. Blockchain allows for that type of sharing of IP and interoperability, which allows for so much more than what we’ve seen in the past in terms of user experience.

CC: We’ve had numerous conversations with companies like the Blockchain Art Collective who are also trying to integrate proof-of-ownership around physical creative pieces. At the moment, you’re tackling collectibles, but I’m also wondering how you think this will affect the Maker’s Economy like Etsy marketplaces.

I think that these marketplaces will massively benefit from the technology. Obviously, we’re moving in the dark with experiments today, but this will undoubtedly become a widely used way to track all different types of goods. At the moment, you can only make and sell things linearly, because any other way of distribution and tracking is very difficult.

Another important point is resale value, which is only maintained because we can prove condition, ownership, provenance, rarity, etc. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to maintain that information in the art market for example, and it is also an issue various brands or Etsy stores have.

With collectibles like KAWS, we just kind of accept the reality that things will be lost or forged. But if we have a better foundation for understanding the life of these assets, we’ll see a change in the practice very swiftly.

CC: So this is your first proof of concept. What’s the big vision? Is there going to be a series of these? Are you going to launch maybe a dedicated DEX for your NFTs and collectibles?

We’ve got our DApp at the minute and in the long term, we definitely want to produce more of these. Genesis is the first one we’ve got. With our launch, we’ll have options for a subscription package for 6 and 12 months for future collectibles. We’ve already started to prototype for the second toy. Once we generate a bit of a market and interest, I want to collaborate with people. I want to introduce this sort of idea to established artists who have experience in designing vinyl toys and get them involved to collaborate, maybe even produce a Kaiju spin-off.

Thank you Oliver for joining us on this interview!


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