For those who care about really nerdy process stuff, here’s the path I took to making those Krull cards for Tony’s awesome figures (click on any of the images below to see them full size). If you missed it earlier missed it, Krull figures were almost made by Knickerbocker before the line got pulled and Knickerbocker was sold to Hasbro (and killed). Sculpts were made, but no one has seen them. Most of this thing was taken from the research and conversations I had with Tony & Josh, so that’s who I’m “talking to” in the article below. And huge props to Skot for setting up the initial files and scanning all the board game art! First, here’s the task as it was laid out by Tony:
“Ok, so the vision is a what-if Knickerbocker had actually made these. The cards themselves should tie into the other products that were part of the whole scrapped marketing campaign (only the board & card games and a Frisbee were actually released). The front of the cards utilize photos from the movie for the characters as where the entire assortment shown on the back utilizes the painted portraits used for the card & board game.
Something to note: Knickerbocker had different logos for their game, doll, and (the short lived) action divisions. The Bakshi Lord of the Rings figures may be the only example of the action division’s version of the logo. The font is very similar to the current Nickelodeon logo.”
After giving it a bit of thought, here was my initial rationale in two parts: Part 1 – the detective work behind Knickerbocker’s thinking in 1982, and Part 2 – my thinking in trying to get into that 1982 design-space.
First, I took a look at everything that Knickerbocker made that I could find online and in my books. I do actually remember them as a brand (not the least of which for LOTR). I didn’t realize that they had been bought by Hasbro in 1983 and basically disbanded (even worse than they did to Kenner!) In any case, the first order of business was the logo. And it didn’t take long to figure out that there wasn’t a logo for different categories, but instead for different times: sometime in 1979 they switched logos. Its tricky for a bit because they had old merch trickling out with the old logo at the same time they launched new lines with the new logo. But I’m 100% confident that the LOTR logo was retired. The good news is that with the new logo came a new tagline, “Toys That Love You Back”, but it apparently only applied to the girl and gender-neutral items. The boy-skewing toys left it off (Thank God!)
Here’s a good look at how they treated the logo before and after 1979. I’ll be referring to the packages again in a moment when I discuss design aesthetics. I left these images big so you can see everything clearly.
It’s true that Knickerbocker didn’t make many “boys toys” or that the one figure line they did make had much to go on. But looking at the few boys toys license they did have at the end of their run and the figurine line they were making helps give us a clue as to what they might have done. However, “what they might have done” ain’t pretty. Knickerbocker’s design style can be pretty much summed up as “random mess”. Lots of different fonts, random colors, artwork next to photos, strange placements…it’s all over the map. And the things that don’t look terrible look very…early 1980s. The 1970s merch had a much cleaner look to it. Speaking of clean, one thing they did like was lots of “white space”. Nearly every item has lots of blank area that doesn’t appear to be blank for design reasons. And the ONLY thing I found that uses color breaks/lines/etc. as a design element to separate the space is the Dolly Pops line. Everything else is pretty straightforward.
So the big question you have to ask yourself is this: do you want these toys to look like something Knickerbocker might have made, or do you want them to look good? One problem I have with a lot of the “new” retro stuff is that when you look at the classic figure card designs they all have very specific traits, whereas most “retro” packing just picks up cues from Star Wars cards. I even got into this a bit with Frank Supiot over the Alien card designs – they didn’t really match the existing Kenner Alien box art, even if they were based somewhat on the original designer’s rough sketches. When I do this stuff, I try to have no preconceived notions and it’s NOT necessarily what I would have designed if given a free reign. It’s more what I think they might have designed in 1982. We’ll look at more examples when I get to the card designs.
One thing I can tell you for sure: there is no way they had planned to use anything from that board game. Let’s start by saying that there is one area where Knickerbocker and Parker Brothers overlap: they both didn’t give two shits about brand guidelines for the properties they were making. I’m actually not being quite fair to Knickerbocker here; Parker Bros. seems to throw out anything they’re given and just wing it for their board games. Logos, artwork…fuck it! They got this! 😉 Anyway, I looked through all of their licensed games from the late 1970s-early 1980s and not a single one remotely corresponds to the relative contemporary toy line. Battlestar Galactica comes close, but even then they just used a stock still from the show (and even stacked the logo unlike anyone else!) while Mattel actually designed custom packaging.
But don’t take my word for it, take a look at each game next to the toy line. In fact, the only company that seemed to match up the games and the toys were the ones that were all made by Kenner (Star Wars/Alien). Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley did their own thing.
You can see two direct correlation for our purposes: the Annie line and the E.T. finger, both made by Knickerbocker! So while it’s OK to pick up those illustrations for the back of the card (I’ll talk about that in part 2), I don’t think anything from the game would have been part of the actual toy line design.
You know who else didn’t give two shits? Krull’s marketing department! I’ve seen some sloppy license shepherding, but these guys take the cake. For a movie that basically had no merchandise and no support, I can’t fathom how many different branding materials there are. First, it’s a good thing that Knickerbocker liked using their own illustrations for things as every different Krull item used different artwork, none of which seems to have originated at Columbia Studios. I can’t get over how wildly divergent the styles and color palettes are.
OK. So you see the basic problem here: what style would Knickerbocker have used based on the merchandise they were making, what logo would they have picked, and how would they have treated the movie imagery? On to Part two: card design!
To preface, this is just the initial exploration of the front of the card; until that gets nailed down we shouldn’t move on to the back. I do agree with using the illustrations for the back, though. In any case, these are meant to spark discussion about the direction to go in for round two, not be seen as final designs in and of themselves. Really let these sit and take your time thinking about them, and we’ll regroup for a new round soon.
So when looking at all the old cards from other companies, one thing that stands out is that they like to use up every last inch of space they can, with either imagery or text. Which is kind of in opposition to most of Knickerbocker’s packaging! (It definitely feels like the pre-1979 stuff had a different design team. It was more elegant in the 1970s)
Here’s a look at a bunch of classic cards at right for reference: (Click on the image to enlarge)
There’s also a fair amount that like to use existing licensing images, whether it be logos, poster art, or photos. So to just loosen up I batted out a couple of designs going more for that 1980s feel. I used a good pic of his Colwyn custom figure so you can see them as they would be used, something that is a must when designing this stuff. Anyway, these first ones are very “anti-Knickerbocker” to my mind, but I wanted to see how poster art and fully stylized logos would work.
And there’s a certain amount of “train wreck” to them both. 😉 If this were another company, I’d say #1 would be a fair bet for them with the lack of a brand guide for the movie. I picked up the greens and purples in this design from the poster. I did a Slayer option for #2 as an alternate color exploration, although I think Knickerbocker would have stuck with the same look for every figure. Using photos or illustrations is a challenge from a guesswork perspective, as LOTR is one of their only lines to have custom art on each card for multiple characters. I played with the Sentry’s name in a couple of ways. Knickerbocker doesn’t even name characters on the front of the package for half their merch, so I’m struggling with if they would have had such a long name for this guy.
Moving on, this one isn’t like Knickerbocker, and also uses different color cues for each card! Trying to find a unique space for the overall design that doesn’t look like the other retro stuff, still using stock assets. Going back and forth on having the Krull tagline (“A world light-years beyond your imagination”) on there, too. FYI, Knickerbocker has a history of really juicing up the color on pics of people on their packaging, especially the skin tones, so I did likewise on the following cards. The character pics need some more work for the final. I did like the movie filmstrip motif Knickerbocker used for the back of the Annie packaging, and lifted it here in a different context. Overall, there is a ton of stuff going on here, and probably works against an “authentic Knickerbocker feel” on every level.
Before going on to the next ones, let’s look at the Annie packaging as it’s one of our closest clues to what they might have designed. It’s a movie tie-in, it was done in the almost exact same timeframe (being one of the last things Knickerbocker released), and it’s mainly figure based.
This design is all over the map! The cutout photos aren’t consistent from one package to the next (some have strokes outlining them from the window, some just crude cut lines), the grouping is odd at best (look at the driverless limo at her feet!) the building in the background is a completely different perspective, and on some packages the right side doesn’t match the left side. The names are different colors and places on different packages (who thought it was a good idea for it to basically read “Annie Annie”?) And all the photos are tiny on the package and there’s LOTS of blue space.
You know what else they like doing? Tilting the logos! Go back and look at the Knickerbocker packaging graphic from the last email: Almost every later licensed property had at least one tiltled logo. Dukes, Annie, Star Trek, even E.T!
So going off all that, this is where I think Knickerbocker might have been heading. Although most of their stuff used solid colors and flat 1-color fill logos, with the Dukes Of Hazzard stuff they were starting to use gradients in the background and airbrushing on the sub logos. And Star Trek had glows around the logo and a neat airbrushed explosion thing behind the Enterprise! So I took that as license to use all of it on the red cards below. 😉 They pretty much never put copyrights and legal info on the front of packaging, unlike almost every other manufacturer. And they never seem to use any fun design elements like “New!” or “From the Major Motion Picture!”, so that takes a few more tools away from us. They also like that Knickerbocker logo big and on the top of the package in most instances (but not all). And the LOTR card is just about the ONLY one I can find that uses a color block of some sort to separate out the actual figure from the card. My gut tells me they wouldn’t have had one. For the blue cards below, I went both simpler on the card background and used the more airbrushed logo. I also added a lot of strokes to everything, as they did enjoy their outlines. We can do more color exploration; I kept all of these simple. But they may have gone with black packaging for this one, even. I do tend to think they would have illustrated the characters on the front, and when I have more time I might go over the shots to look a bit more painted, instead of running them through a filter. Anyways, this was only a few hours of design work, and a few of research and recreating logos. Think of it all as a rough sketch with pieces to be mixed and matched!
I just realized I forgot the red gem in the center of the Glaive on these. Whoops. You can also see that since almost every logo Knickerbocker used was flat color, I went ahead and recreated the logo from the press kit that was also used by American Cinematographer (and the Knickerbocker logo, too) as vector art. Knickerbocker definitely seemed to use whatever simple logo they were given, and since it’s obvious Columbia was giving it out to at least some outlets it could be the one they used. Another thing to point out is that where most toy companies put “action figure” under or around a character’s name, Knickerbocker like to use those as a category designator (i.e., Miniature, Dress-Up, Soft Figure, Finger Light, etc.), placed more prominently on the package.
At this point, we were all in agreement to pursue a variation of the red card, with a brand-new logo that takes the one from the poster and simplifies it and cleans it up, adding strokes and glows to the outline. So here are some variations of how to treat the area behind the figure. I think we’ve moved far enough away from what Knickerbocker would have actually done and into the territory of “it feels right for the time period” that any of these choices are OK. Of course with a choices like #4 & #5 the rectangle would be colored different for each character.
After nailing down the front, it was time to look at the back of the card. Historically, Knickerbocker couldn’t give two shits about what was on the back. But companies like Hasbro, Kenner, and Mattel did make an effort to do nice unique designs for the backs, so I tried to straddle the line between the two. I even drew a line art version of the Krull poster art! I personally felt that while not in line with Knickerbocker, option #2 felt very “early 1980s”.
I even halfheartedly pursued a design that mimicked the Mego Star Trek card backs with a nice monchrome treatment of the poster art, but abandoned it as too anachronistic.
But when you look at what Knickerbocker ACTUALLY made in this timeframe, it became obvious that they would have gone with a single color, simple card design for the backs. Here’s some Annie and Dukes examples:
So here’s what I did next:
This direction was pretty unanimously embraced. It’s a cheat, as it’s not all just line art, but it did allow us to utilize that Parker Bros. artwork! From here it was just a matter of cleaning up the art on front and back, finding the right screenshots for the characters, and setting it all up for printing. BTW, the Blu-Ray of the movie wildly varies in quality, so getting nice clean shots of everyone was near impossible. Here’s what I had to do to make a complete image of the basic Slayer. A similar process was used on the Cyclops and the White Slayer.
And here’s the full character line-up:
One note: as much as I bitch about companies making mistakes and not getting stuff right, I still messed up when formatting these and accidentally turned off a layer in my files before sending them off to print – I had painted a better “ear” on the White Slayer but it was gone on the proof shot. I caught it before printing, but the printer didn’t notice the updated file and used the first one that was sent. So believe me, I do understand when shoulders get put on backwards by Mattel!
So that’s it! A couple of weeks of off and on work, dealing with two fantastic guys! Here’s the final display at D-Con, courtesy of Tony:
And one final goof: I made a Deluxe Firemare mock-up in my spare time. Krull lives!!