Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Doc McStuffins 'Doc Is In' talking playset

In an October 2014 TIME article covering the 13 most influential toys of All Time, Disney's Doc McStuffins toys were listed among the perennial classics. Somewhat surprising, considering the other toys listed.

While the relatively recent character of Doc McStuffins may not be as indelibly etched in our pop culture as Disney's Winnie the Pooh (yet), or the toy line as iconic and generation-spanning as Barbie, the children's show has still made a tremendous impact on its audience and the widely popular toys have become big sellers.
One of the major producers of the Doc McStuffins line of toys for Disney is Just Play, and a few years ago I was called in to help them create their 'Doc Is In' playset.
For what it's worth, in instances like this I'm usually provided a starting list of features to be included, and/or some basic play pattern.  More specifically style guide reference helps get the character figures right, and lots of screen captures of the shows' backgrounds were essential in getting those details integrated into the design. 

Anyway, here's where it all started, with 3/4 view pencil roughs of the interior and exterior;

Here are the cleaned up versions;

After reviewing the initial pass, various changes were discussed and quickly handled with some patches;

... The doctor bag elevator idea was nixed for a more typical balcony lift.

 The 'hot spot' where either the exam table or bed plugged in changed from wood texture to the puzzle cut.

The reception desk changed to a more curvy design. ...

Having all changes done and everything approved, the exterior view was revised accordingly and both were rendered up for presentation.
Here is how those turned out;

Here is the actual playset as produced by the people at Just Play toys;

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mickey and Minnie Hot Rods

A while back the folks at Kid Trax were working on a 6V ride-on quad for Mickey and Minnie Mouse.  They sought to create something beyond a standard children's ride-on, something clearly reflecting a classic Mickey aesthetic and not something adapted from generic design, like a lunch box with a sticker.  I was called in by the creatives at Disney Consumer Products to help them from the ground up in creating the look.   

Right from the start I was leaning toward a retro feel,  taking cues from the 1950s coupes and souped up 40s models. Something that echoed the era of classic core Disney characters. .. Still, it wasn't a car in which to sit but a straddle rider, so the overall configuration would still resemble a typical modern quad.  It offered some aesthetic challenges in exploring a range of looks from which to choose.

Here are the initial rough sketches of some possibilities I came up with. The perennial Mickey ears are already apparent in the design, the 'gears' motif intentionally tying into the 'Mickey's Clubhouse' show aesthetic, a very popular Disney show at the time;

They did like the old hot rod coupe look, leaning toward C and D the most, C being the final choice.
The next step was to tighten it up and create the Minnie version.
.. Ending up with this;

In this post-modern era of 26" rims and thin rubber, I found myself reveling in the notion of big fat white-walls and chrome hubs.
Decidedly old school.

.. This is another one of those cool projects where the final product ended up looking virtually identical to my work (Well done, Kid Trax!).  Again, it's uncommon, as often so many hands are involved in creating and producing toys,  so it's very satisfying and I take it as a complement. On a more practical and professional level I view these as an example of design efficacy and good communication.
Hopefully my colleagues and contacts see it as another good reason to call on me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shake 'n Go Dragsters

The 'Shake 'n Go' brand from Fisher-Price has been around for some years now, enjoying success as a line of vehicles that are simply shaken by hand to charge. No batteries are required to run them. Always a plus for parents, as well as being environmentally-friendly.
As of this writing the Shake 'N Go brand has worked its way into fun vehicle and track play for Pixar's; Cars, Toy Story, and other licenses including Spongebob Squarepants and Thomas the Tank.

..Whatever the license, its appeal as a brand is ultimately rooted in the fun simplicity of the mechanism and its endurance as a line seems indefinite.  In its early stages, however, it wasn't quite so simple.  In fact, when I was called in by Fisher-Price to help the design, it wasn't the cars that were shaken but a pretend 'impact wrench' that would then be used to wind up the vehicles.
My role was in designing a fold-up drag race set that stored everything needed, including the 'Drill 'N Drive' tool used, which is what the concept was called.

Here is the board I initially generated in illustrating the look and function of the Shake 'N Go drag set;



In this early form the cars were scaled smaller and had recessed lug nuts on the roof, which was where the impact wrench would charge up the cars.  There were a couple of parts that popped up for play, and lanes of track that pulled out from the base, rolling up inside when closed for storage.

Conceptually, it was pretty solid and I was eager to eventually see it in the toy stores.
..But, always being ones to refine beyond 'cool', the creatives at Fisher-Price figured a way to eliminate the impact wrench entirely and embed the wind-up mechanism into the cars themselves. And while it required scaling the vehicles a little larger, it ultimately made the play even simpler and more self-contained.
Many months had passed when I was tapped again to generate what would be this final drawing revisiting the original concept, now officially the 'Shake 'N Go' Dragsters;

..and here is what it looked like when it was produced by Fisher-Price;

YEAH!  Check it out!  ..

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rescue Heroes

A while back I was brought in by the creatives at Fisher-Price to design some new items for their Rescue Heroes line.  What made these extra fun at the time was the fact that my son was at the perfect age to enjoy Rescue Heroes and he already had some of the toys produced. 

The first project was designing an ambulance for the figures, intended as a counterpart to the Rescue Heroes firetruck which was a popular item in the vehicle line.  Because of this, I had some reference for scale and volume, and it was supposed to look like it fit with the line, but I was given the latitude to create features and functions that would be unique to the vehicle.

Here are the 4 designs I came up with, the features being called out;

The features and design they worked from mostly was 'A', ultimately producing this for the market;

Next up was designing 2 new characters for the figure line.   These went pretty quickly, not going through a number of iterations typical in developing an action figure.  In fact, the first passes were the designs they decided to run with for the renderings presented. And while they did go through some refinements along the way, they pretty closely resembled the characters I designed.

At the time I was called in all they knew was they wanted a "mountain climber" and a "safari explorer".  The gadget features, which are always integral to the Rescue Heroes play, were discussed and decided at the outset.

The names of these new characters came later,  ultimately introduced in the Rescue Heroes line as;  Cliff Hanger and Seymour Wilde.  

The expanding hang-glider backpack on Cliff remained, though the climbing claws were eliminated (perhaps too 'Wolverine').
The shooter held by Seymour Wilde launched the more appropriately-scaled capture net, not shown.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Disney premiums

Years ago I did quite a share of steady concept work for the premiums market, or as they are also more commonly called;  'happy meal toys'.   This was at a time when the premium market was much bigger, and the McDonald's corporate headquarters being located in Oakbrook, Illinois was one of its driving forces.  The premiums market has always been competitive, and the toys themselves are a challenge to design.  They have a very low price-point (typically costing around 35 cents each to produce), they have to offer immediate play, and the safety standards are often more stringent than other typical toys on the market.     

I've handled a lot of licenses for the premium market.  From Smurfs to Snoopy,  from Harry Potter to Hot Wheels.  Usually I would start by brainstorming a bunch of rough concepts, sketching a thumbnail of just one toy and accompanying it with a written description explaining the rest of the line.  Based on their feedback I would then work up more resolved drawings defining the toy line.
Almost always there was some effort to design a connectable aspect to these, be it conceptually or literally.  It created an extra level of play, but also an incentive to collect all of them.

The following concepts were proposed for some Disney premiums.
The first was done pretty early on for Winnie the Pooh, way back when I used to work entirely on the drawing board and rendering my work with Pantone markers;

Here is what the toys created when connected to form one set;

Here is another series of premiums proposed for Disney's 101 Dalmatians animated series,  which premiered on the Disney Channel in 1996 and ran for 2 years.  The concept here was for vehicles made up from 'loose parts' on the dalmatians property, each with its own unique track piece with a feature.  Again, each premium offered some instant play, but when collected they could be assembled together for some sequential play;

Here is a sketch of the fully assembled set, creating a track that allows the character vehicles to roll through continuously;