(Yicai Global) April 10 -- Watching as the metallic torso of an 8-meter-tall sculpture bearing an uncanny resemblance to the good-guy Transformer Bumblebee is hoisted into the air with a crane, Duan Shaojie can’t help but think of how his now-thriving business has taken off, too.
The 58-year-old native of Luoyang, in central China’s Henan province, retired from the military at a relatively young age — leaving him with plenty of time to indulge in creative pursuits. “My dad has lots of hobbies, from ink painting to welding,” Duan’s son, Duan Tieniu, told Sixth Tone.
Unlike other middle-aged people who might spend their days raising pets after their children have flown the coop, Duan Shaojie builds hulking metal exoskeletons resembling Transformers or Marvel superheroes like Iron Man. According to Duan, his creations range from 2 to 13 meters in height.
Duan started to think big after seeing part of a “Transformers” movie in 2013. His first project was a 13-meter-tall titan built in the image of big-rig Autobot leader Optimus Prime. The entire process — sketching blueprints, gathering scrap metal from the local waste yard, assembling and welding it all together, and polishing and painting — took around two months.
What began as a hobby soon became a major source of income for Duan’s entire family. According to Duan’s son, the family now earns around 1 million yuan ($160,000) per year — with a large proportion of this coming from sales of Duan’s sculptures. After graduating with a master’s degree in fine arts, Duan Tieniu returned to Luoyang, where he now works full-time with his father, designing, building, and selling the giant metal sculptures.
All told, the Duan family has built over 40 of the robot-like sculptures. “We plan to build a robot-themed amusement park,” Duan Tieniu said, adding that he and his father also hope to establish their own company by the end of the year.
In China, rural life often entails plenty of leisure time, giving folks ample opportunity to express their creative sides.