Fire & Bone Shrinks Skulls to Make Intricate Replicas

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Fire & Bone is a unique company based out of New Haven, CT. The company is unique for multiple reasons:

  • The company only has three team members — who are based in three separate locations across the U.S.
  • The company's entire business is founded upon the success of a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The company specializes in manufacturing miniature fossil replicas, primarily skulls, as jewelry and showpieces.

Fire & Bone launched its first crowdfunding campaign on December 4, 2013. By December 5th, the campaign was 100% funded. Fire & Bone went on to raise $151,877 from 2,391 backers, just about 1,898% of what they were looking for to get up and running.

After seven successful campaigns, the company is now a new series that features dinosaur skulls, including a velociraptor, triceratops, and a tyrannosaurus rex. The project was launched on July 17, 2018, and currently has 298 backers pledging $19,460 (as of press time), well above the trio's goal of $5,000.

The company's manufacturing process is interesting, and it includes a partnership with a casting firm out of Rhode Island.

The process starts with an actual skull or a high-quality cast taken directly from an original specimen. The team takes a high-resolution 3D scan of the skull, and digitally shrinks the model. They make minor changes to produce the best possible metal cast, but from concept to completed product, the team has invested six months to a year in a single new skull.

According to Chris Boynton,  the company's self-described level-10 3D printing wizard, the team initially gravitated towards animal skulls because it was a fascinating use of 3D printing and scanning technology, which was relatively new in 2013. "We really are armchair naturalists and scientists and miniature collectors," says Boynton. "We had some experience with combining 3D printing and lost wax casting, and through just playing around, we made a tiny little metal fox skull from a 3D scan, and it was so detailed, even at that small size, that we knew we had something cool."

The team finds some of the skulls on their own, but others are donated or loaned to them by friends or fans of their work. In the past, people have loaned rare or unusual skulls, such as the Kemp's Ridely Sea Turtle, in exchange for donating a few pieces to raise money for conservation or education efforts.

The company's business was founded upon the success of that first Kickstarter campaign. It has since grown into online sales and wholesale to museums and boutiques around the world, but crowdfunding is still critical to the company's success. According to Boynton, it allows the team to add new animals to its collection, which is now more than 45 species. It has also enabled them to experiment with new products and techniques.  

For other small manufacturers and entrepreneurs looking to use the crowdfunding platform as a launch vehicle, Boynton has a few tips. First, you need a great product, but you shouldn’t be afraid to use Kickstarter to test ideas. Good videos and images are keys to success, but the biggest hurdle is finding ways to actively bring people to your campaign from outside Kickstarter.

"Don’t expect to launch a campaign and have the backers pour in. You need to actively show your campaign to as many people as possible." Boynton also says that some companies can help with exposure, but you should ignore anyone who promises huge backer numbers and guaranteed success.

The first campaign raised $150,000, and the current one stands around $20,000. It’s nothing close to their initial success, but the company has no plans to move away from Kickstarter.

"Kickstarter is a great way to reconvene with the very people who made our business possible in the first place and it allows us to try different things out in a big way that might be too costly to do otherwise,” Boynton says.

Of the 45 species, Boynton points to a few favorites that had some impressive details, such the Dire Wolf, Merino Ram, Raven, and Bengal Tiger. The texture on the ram's horns and on the tiger’s teeth is impressive.

As for what's next, the team recently realized how few primates they offer. So, be on the lookout for monkeys, apes, and even early hominids. And don’t forget that they also work on loan, so if you have a cool skull lying around at home, it could be the next series at Fire & Bone.

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