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;


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

more from the editorial years

A while back I posted some of my work from when I created original illustrations for magazines and periodicals.  Editorial art was my chosen field of aspiration upon graduating from college, and I did get published on occasion for the first 7 or 8 years that I actively pursued it, with occasional commissions from Playboy, Outside, National Lampoon, Crain's Business, The Atlantic Monthly, and others.
Along the way, I supplemented the erratic income of this profession by freelancing in the advertising business, doing layout design, marker renderings, and some storyboarding. All of this while living in Philadelphia and regularly trekking up to New York to show my portfolio.   eventually falling into designing product at Tyco Toys as a freelancer, it didn't take long until I stopped pursuing commissions altogether I just became so busy creating toys.  Now it seems like another lifetime. 

This was before the advent of digital art and desktop computers in general, so everything I did was on the drawing board by hand. Some of my influences during this era were illustrators like Blair Drawson, Lane Smith, and I was also exploring some resist wet media with gouache and colored pencil.   Looking back, I was trying to cultivate my own signature style so it was always evolving somewhat,  but from 1987 until 1994 this was some of the work I was doing for the editorial world;

National Lampoon magazine - 1988

on business communication

on the dangers of genetic engineering

on games that increase intelligence

on puppet politicians

roller coaster dog

on tax stress

the flirting waiter

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Max Steel: Extroyer Gorilla Attack!

A few years ago I was tapped by the boys action team at Mattel to design a new creature for their Max Steel action figure line.
I was already somewhat familiar with Max Steel, a brand unique to Mattel, but hadn't yet worked with him.  Most of my experience up to that point was actually working with their Barbie line, certainly fun and creative experience, but Max Steel answered my desire to design for their boys action figures.

Of course Max already existed and didn't need designing. My part was in creating a new creature based solely on their verbal description; a cross between sasquatch and a gorilla on steroids.
It would need to look menacing, with huge fangs and purplish fur, oversized hands that would need to grapple (part of a necessary feature, shown), and completed with these crystal-like mutations that were literally growing from inside its body. All of this was thematically consistent with Max's arch nemesis; 'Extroyer' and the characters' ability to possess other living beings. The crystaline growths were an integral part of that mutation.   

The Extroyer Gorilla would eventually make its way into the Max Steel pantheon of characters and creatures.  Take a look;

Here is the initial drawing I generated in illustrating the Extroyer gorilla attack and its grappling action feature;

The decision was made by the creatives at Mattel to eliminate the bolo net and employ some hi-tech shackles instead.
Here is the revised concept brought to final rendering for presentation;

This is how it looked when it was released to the toy market;

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

the Apollo 11 telephone

Up until virtually everyone started using cel phones as the norm, novelty telephones really enjoyed a lot of popularity in the world of consumer electronics. 
While hard wired phones were standard items in homes and businesses, companies like Telemania made their mark in creating all kinds of wild and fun telephones tailored to all kinds of interests.  Most of them were license driven, but not all.  The diner phone that I designed for them is just one example.

In the late 1990s I was approached by MH Segan to design a telephone commemorating the Apollo 11 lunar mission.
The basic design would have a small scale model of the historic landing event, complete with a little Neil Armstrong.  This would all be on the phone base which would also be comprised of the dialing mechanism, some NASA type components and an engraved plaque.   In early discussions it was decided the handset and cord would be typical of the period, but they wanted some styling exploration done for the rest.  For one thing, touch-tone buttons were still relatively new in 1969 and they wanted to see some variations with and without the recently supplanted rotary mechanism.  After drawing up all of the universal elements going into the design I worked up about 7 different approaches to the rest;

Having liked elements of both C and D,  I was directed by Segan to work up one more drawing that would best represent all of the elements and qualities they wanted to see in the final;

..and here is the final rendering, classic black lacquer finish with chrome touches;

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jake & The Neverland Pirates

Jake & The Neverland Pirates is an animated series produced by Disney that has been enjoying great audience and critical popularity since premiering in 2010.  Conceptually spun from the classic story of Peter Pan, this show pits 3 young pirates (and their parrot; Skully) against the nefarious Captain Hook and Mr. Smee in the Neverland world.  The Annie Award-winning show has garnered praise for its use of educational and musical elements.

Whether for TV shows or full-length features,  toy makers constantly compete for the opportunity of creating and producing the toys associated, especially if the property promises to be popular.  And the more popular the better, as any enduring interest usually ensures continued product success.  The licenses for Star Wars, classic Disney and Sesame Street characters are perfect examples, but there are many.
Of course in the case of new properties it's not always a sure thing.  Sometimes a show just doesn't hit, or a movie bombs at the box office, and the toys produced may not sell well as a result. 

My role in all of this often involves creating concepts for toy makers to show the licensor as examples of how their intellectual property might be handled.  In these instances of 'pitching' for a license, the concepts don't start rough and go through typical stages of internal development.  Toy makers just want to make a great winning impression with some solid product concepts, nothing definite but strong enough to secure the licensing rights.  Once this happens breathing room has been created at the toy company for more refined internal development.  Some of the concepts initially pitched may not get made, or they go through some changes on their way to becoming product. 

Jake & The Neverland Pirates is a recent example of my involvement in this dynamic process.
It seems like only a few months ago that I was called in to put together these concepts pitched to Disney by Fisher-Price.  At the time, and as is often the case, there wasn't much reference material available for outside creatives to work from. As a result, the look of some things are best guesses or even entirely invented.  This always varies from license to license and while it can present its challenges it's always fun building off of someone else's creation.  In some cases the licensor will like something I create enough to make it a toy, or even integrate the idea into a future episode.  One example of this production design cross-pollination is the work I did years ago for Elmo in Grouchland.

Anyway,  here are some of the initial Jake & The Neverland Pirates concepts pitched to Disney;

Jake & The Neverland Pirates: separate figures detail
small boat concept for Jake
Island clubhouse playset concept

This concept for Captain Hook's ship employed a radio controlled feature (disguised as a treasure map) in addition to a number of other fun play elements.  You can see a couple of design refinements as it went from line drawing to presentation rendering;

This other ship, meant for the young heroes, went through some further embellishments before making it into the presentation.
The 2nd version illustrates the launching crocodile and other features that pop out of the port holes;

Yes, Fisher-Price did secure the toy license for Disney's Jake & The Neverland Pirates.  The resulting toys are also doing very well. 
And although this item went though some changes along the way, it's pretty close to what came right out of the gate;