DesignProcessSuper HeroesToys

Or, to put it another way, when is green not the right green?

brainiacIf you’ve bought action figures from Mattel over the past few years, you know that they have had some issues in the manufacturing of your favorite DC Comics characters. But the one that really puzzles me is how often the colors of the final product do not match the paint masters or even the designs as seen in the comics.

Sure, they are the right color, per se. But they are not the right value of that color. And this should be a very simple process: you get a paint master, you match each base color to a Pantone guide, you figure out which parts are molded plastic and which are painted, you send these numbers off to the factory in China, and eventually you should get back some color chips that show the actual plastic that will be used, and what the base plastic looks like painted.  At this point you double check the samples against your original Pantone numbers AND the paint master. If they deviant, tweak them and send for new chips. This seems like a pain, but the manufacturing window is long enough that you should be able to handle at least 2-3 rounds of tweaks if necessary.But for some reason, what we see in the prototypes IS NOT what we get.

superbrain
Left: Production colors, Right: Colors manipulated in Photoshop
DesignMoviesProcessSuper Heroes

Every time one of these big budget superhero movies is announced there is a process of fear that fans go through. Will it get a good director? Will they get the casting right? And what is the costume going to look like? This last bit has probably cause more anxiety and grief than any other element. Because the costume of the superhero defines them. In large part, it is what accounts for their popularity, as it is the instant visual hook that initially draws in the reader, garishly jumping out from the cover of a comic book.

It’s odd then that this is the one area where filmmakers keep getting the genre wrong. Over and over we see either wild departures from the comic look, or bad attempts to translates what works on the page into something that has no business existing in real life. And don’t get me started on Warner Bros., who can’t seem to figure out the genre at all if Christopher Nolan isn’t involved. Most of the attempts fall somewhere in between, though. The one studio that seems to have really been nailing it, though, is the one that actually owns the characters: Marvel. Iron ManThor, and Hulk have all been very true to the spirit of the character, if not the exact letter. And the Avengers movie looks to continue the trend, with a pretty faithful Ultimate Hawkeye outfit along with Black Widow. Except for one small thing: Captain America, the ostensible star of the picture.

DesignProcessToys

So these days it seems like no one is totally happy with the companies that are making mainstream toys. If it’s not the price hikes, it’s the selection. Or the quality control. Or the shoulders are backward. Sure, sure, these problems are all annoying, especially in light of the price you pay for the toys these days.

Michael-Wolf-Toy-Story-1-650x436At the risk of sounding like every other “apologist jackass” out there, sometimes these things really are out of the control of the people in charge of shepherding the line from concept to manufacturing to store shelves. Things like parts missing from packages, or bad paint jobs, or bent legs are all factory related issues. And no matter how many samples you may check and sign off on at the end of the day you really have no idea how well the factory is going to follow your master samples or the checklists you devise to make sure all runs smoothly. Even having someone stationed in China doesn’t fix everything. When I was designing toys, I worked for small enough companies that I was often the one overseeing the process through the factory, even staying in China from time to time. Mistakes happen on every job, it’s just part of the process.

NostalgiaProcessToys

rubenFive years ago, shortly before I left California for Texas, Julius Marx and I paid a visit to the studio of a truly fantastic artist, sculptor, and all-around great guy: Rubén Procopio. If you don’t recognize the name you surely will recognize his work (and if you don’t recognize the name, shame on you!).

First, Rubén has recently written an awesome book (with Tim Bruckner and Zach Oat), Pop Sculpture, that anyone who is interested in sculpture should read. If you want to be a sculptor, I would even say stop reading this blog right now and go buy a copy. It’s a really, really informative look at the whole process of creating action figures and statues based on popular media properties.

Second, Rubén has been involved in so many areas that are near and dear to my heart that I alternate being in awe of him and being bitterly jealous. 😉 Just kidding! But seriously, he started at the Disney Studios in the 1970s, following in the footsteps of his father, Adolfo Procopio (and if you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you’ve seen a lot of Adolfo spectacular sculpts), and was mentored by the fabled Nine Old Men (Eric Larson in particular) as he rose through the ranks of Disney Animation.

MoviesNostalgiaProcess

Ok, so I finally saw the Wachowski Bros’ Speed Racer the other day.

Holy. Cow. This was one of the most amazing movies I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure I know how else to describe it. It was, hands down, the best adaptation of a comic or cartoon to movie EVER.

Now, before I get tons of hate mail, let me explain what I mean. I do not mean that it was the best comic/cartoon based film I’ve ever seen. I do not mean it is the best film of it’s kind. In fact, I don’t even mean I liked it all that much. I did find it entertaining, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a great movie.

What it is, though, is a great spectacle. You almost can’t take your eyes off of it.  It is such a huge leap in the construction of these types of “green screen” spectaculars that I think it needs it’s own classification. It’s not really live action (although the actors are not modified). It definitely isn’t one of those zombie filled motion capture movies, and it certainly isn’t animated. But the entire thing is alive- the actors, the backgrounds, the cars. The way they treat the overall world the character’s inhabit outdoes video games. It really is something amazing. as it is totally like a cartoon (and a crazy cartoon at that) and yet everything has a very grounded feel, as if the cars all behave according to actual physics, if not the physics we must obey ourselves.

ProcessStar WarsUnproduced

Before I post about more unseen Star Wars stuff, I thought I’d do a bit of follow-up to some that I’ve already shown. One of our biggest heartbreaks in designing stuff for Phantom Menace promotions was getting all the way to prototype on a big Jabba the Hutt beanbag, but having it rejected for cost/size issues.

jabbagKeep in mind when looking at this that it was just the initial attempt. We would have had a few more rounds of refinement to get it as close as we could. The one that got made was created by a domestic beanbag maker in the traditional manner, with a sort of textured fabric for Jabba’s “skin” and very simplistic vector graphics (created by Steve Ross, shown next to Jabba) printed on it for the details. Originally we tried to have the fabric airbrushed for a more realistic effect, but this proved to be too problematic to reproduce, and we had concerns about the durability in the long term. This was not our first attempt though.

DesignProcessToys

Today’s toys have risen in quality in leaps and bounds over the toys of my youth. The sculpting is better, the molding is better, the packaging…can be better at times, and the articulation is in a whole other league. And for the most part, the painting is better. Well, sometimes, that is. For companies like McFarlane Toys and NECA, the paint applications is just wonderful most of the time. But for most of the mainstream majors, like Hasbro, Playmates, and Mattel (now that Toy Biz is out of the game) it seems like an afterthought.

wolvpaintIn the late 90s Toy Biz was really one of the first major players to step up to the plate and deliver very detailed paint applications on their figures and more sophisticated paint washes to bring out the heightened sculpting details. Sure, the smaller guys were also experimenting with paint, but nothing like the leap Toy Biz made (even with their smaller figures), thanks to guys like Eddie Wires doing the paint masters (and also doing them for Palisades and Diamond, among others). For companies like McFarlane and DC Direct you had the Four Horsemen and Tim Bruckner really raising the bar with their painting prowess.

DesignProcessSuper HeroesToysUnproduced

I haven’t done one of these posts in awhile, but I’ve been rediscovering stuff I’ve been sent over the years that never made it to shelves and thought that it was high time that some of it been seen.

This little piece was sent to me by an anonymous soul who has dropped a few other bombshells on me in the past. It looks like it was going to be sort of a prop of the 70s JLA Satellite Headquarters that would have sculpted details and cutaway sections that lit up from inside like a shadowbox. I have no idea when this was supposed to be made, or how far along it got in the pipeline. I only know that I’ve never heard about it actually being solicited, and neither has Julius Marx. So at this point, I’m guessing it’s dead (I was sent this a year or so ago).

DesignMoviesProcessUnproduced

This will be an ongoing feature here at Ottertorials: ideas and concepts that never made it off the drawing board.

While many collectors are aware of certain toys and figures that never make it into production (especially concerning Star Wars toys) most people don’t realize that for every toy made, there are dozens if not hundreds of concepts generated and pitched only to be discarded. These discards literally could fill many books and often turn up online in many artists portfolios if you know where to look. From time to time I’m going to feature concepts that I think need further recognition.

bkringtitleToday we’ll look at one of my favorite unmade concepts: army builder fast food toys. In 2001 Burger King was going to make a big splash with their promotion for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. For various behind the scenes reasons, the company pitching these toys needed a big win at Burger King, and saw LOTR as their opportunity to deliver a “never been done before” promotion. You see, how the process is usually done at a QSR (Quick Serve Restaurant, aka fast food) is that 2 or more companies are told what the license is going to be and then they both present their best ideas to Burger King in hopes of landing the program. This process is slightly different at every QSR (for example, at McDonald’s no matter who won the creative pitch, both companies would share manufacturing, which is where the money is) but at Burger King it was winner take all. If you don’t win, you don’t get the bucks for that month.

Ultimately, the pitch that won was for a 19 figure set, all with lights or sounds (or both) on bases that formed a giant ring with the “One Ring of Power” at the center. Once all were connected they would trigger each figure in successive order. The logistics behind this were insane and the cost was such that the company took a hit in its usual profit margin to deliver it. This is one reason why you won’t see such a complex set again, since Burger King didn’t pay much more for it than a normal promotion.

Anyway, on the way to hitting on the final “big idea” some of the artists pitched making sets of “Army Men” in internal meetings. These figures would be about 2.5″ tall and come in a bag containing four figures: one painted “hero” figure, and three secondary figures all molded in one color plastic. The plan was to have up to 15-20 different bags of figures, letting kids and collectors build massive armies of Elves, Orcs, and Dwarves to play with and display. Unfortunately, this is just the sort of idea that usually gets killed early on. While it would be a big hit in stores, it doesn’t have the “wow factor” to get past the non-collector execs at a QSR. To them, it can’t be a simple idea- it has to dazzle everyone on paper. And thus, you’ll likely never see this concept produced for any license. Here is some of the art produced for that failed pitch:

lotrarmy