Updated: Mar 22, 2021
People often say to me, “Wow being a toy designer must be fun all the time.” It is a ton of fun, but not all the time; mostly due to heavy deadlines. However, some projects are just magical to work on. Working on GI Joe for five years was a dream come true. Creating the toys, characters and storylines for Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders was a time of unbridled creativity for me. Designing product for the “Prince Caspian” movie from “The Chronicles of Narnia” was another dream come true. I love that book series and reread it every couple of years (okay… I re-listen to it on audio books while my hands are doing other things.)
As with many fun projects, this one came out of the blue. An old colleague of mine, who was then a design director at PlayAlong Toys, called to ask for my help with the Prince Caspian toys and I accepted a large amount of work with a short deadline.
When a large company, like a Mattel or Hasbro wants to buy into a license, they seldom have to compete. (They did for the second Star Wars trilogy movies – but that is a fun story for another day). When you are a small or medium sized company, you usually have to prove yourself to the licensor that you are qualified to be awarded the “Master Toy License” for a new brand. That license gives you the right to create any type of toy you want in the traditional toy market with that license. In this case, PlayAlong needed to give a presentation to Disney Consumer Products showing the breadth of product they wanted and the quality they were capable of providing.
Often licensors will “slice and dice” the license up. Disney is notorious for this. During the theatrical re-release of “101 Dalmatians” in the early 1990s, Mattel was selling great plush Dalmatians. The problem was that Applause was also and the Disney Store/Disney Parks had a third line with almost identical product. The way the sliced up the license was – Disney Parks/Stores has their product in their own stores. Mattel had the rights to sell in Mass Market (Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, Sears, etc.) while Applause had all specialty stores, (Card shops, gift stores, educational toy stores, etc.).
PlayAlong was medium sized company with big aspirations and wanted the full Master Toy license to be the only company making that product no matter where it would be retailed. They assigned me to make small beanie plush, feature plush, the soft goods for the action figures and a full-sized audio animatronic Aslan. Eagerly I went to work making wonderful product. About a week and a half into the work, I received an update email addressed to their internal team and many vendors as there was much more work in progress besides what I was working on. The list showed all the other categories that the company was preparing for. It also listed who was working on what segment. On that list was “12” Action Figures/Fashion Dolls.” I immediately called the department head and asked, “So…why have you not assigned the 12” Action Figures and Fashion Dolls to me?
He stammered and said, “Uh, uh… because I already gave you a ton of work to get done in that time frame?”
“I will make time!” I insisted and promised to complete all the currently assigned work AND 6 12” figures by the deadline. Not much sleep was to be had in those three weeks.
To make all of these figures more fun, each of the 12” action features had a different internal feature. King Peter had one slashing arm with a loose elbow that is activated by a button on the back. To make this model, I used the GI Joe Vietnam Jungle Recon which I worked on and had a slashing action with a machete.
Instead of just moving the arm up and down, that sword keeps going down more like a real fighting action. The Soft goods shirt, pants and cowl used a silver knit to look like chainmail. Since there was very little time to do all the work, I sacrificed one of my precious Marx Silver Knights (good thing we have eBay so I could replace the parts).
Both King Peter and King Edmond are wearing greaves, gauntlets, and helmets made from the crested helmet combine with the visor. The sword and shield I made by hand to match the reference from the film. He is also wearing a red surcoat made just for this figure. This is the same costume Peter wore the same costume that he did in the first film “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” from the end battle scene.
Since not many people will buy two figures that look the same except for a different head, I had to make a few changes on Edmond. I gave him a broadsword that has gold vacumetalizing on it. There were modifications but, it originally came from Prince Philip of Sleeping Beauty from the Mattel Disney Classics line. A large two-handed broadsword also gave a great excuse to us the two-armed swinging/raising mechanism from the GI Joe Coast Guard Cold Water Emersion Suit. To break up his look a little more, I gave him a red cape instead of the red surcoat.
We designed the fashion dolls to fit with the 12” action figures but did not have any action features. Their focus was on glorious gowns and more authenticity. The fabric sewn into her gown has enough shimmer and sparkle to make Barbie jealous. Even the cape with full hood had metallic trim and ties. Her accessories are handmade with styrene and Sculpy to match the actual look of her bow, arrows and quiver.
Now that the background story and the first three of the figures are revealed, stay tuned for part 2 to see the rest and to hear what happened to the line.
Did you use your 1/6th figures to play out stories from your favorite books?
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