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;

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mickey's Magic Choo-Choo

Mickey Mouse and choo-choo trains have been associated since Disney first introduced Mickey in 1929.  As a result of this iconic relationship there have been scores of Mickey Mouse choo-choo toys produced over the decades.  Fisher-Price, founded in 1930, was one of the first toy companies to climb aboard.

As was the case with most children's toys way back then, things were simpler.  Nothing was battery operated, even plastic toys were decades away.   These Mickey Mouse trains, produced by Fisher-Price, were pull-toys that made noise when rolled. pretty basic preschool play but also typical for the era;

..Cut to present day Fisher-Price, and the popularity of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on The Disney Channel.  The computer animated series has a decidedly retro aesthetic, reminiscent of old school Disney.  To me, it captures the same subtle appeal of the show Rolie Polie Olie, a show I enjoyed watching with my kids when they were tots.  It was a very playful style and I enjoyed working on all of the toys that Fisher-Price ended up producing for the Mickey's Clubhouse line.
The revisiting of Mickey's Choo-Choo was a part of that experience early on.

The idea here was for a battery operated train with Mickey driving, but there was a new twist, which is actually an old cartoon gag brought to life;  the idea of laying the track down as the train rolls forward.  In this case, as the train rolled over the track each section would automatically be picked up and fed back up to the front.  Frankly, I was glad that I didn't have to figure out exactly how to make this function, I was trusted with the simpler task of designing and styling the train, and its cars and accessories.

It did go through some early sketch iterations, some of which went into these more refined drawings.
The first deals with the main theme and mechanism,  others address the track details, featured cars, and accessories;

..and in the end this is what the final product looked like;

The mechanism around this feature was a challenge to work out, but the end result truly does look magical.
Take a look;

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

creating Strong-Bot

The Transformers toys have had an ongoing popularity since they hit the American market in the mid 80s. They enjoyed a huge initial impact, spurring comics, more than one animated series, and of course the recent movies have introduced another generation to Optimus Prime.

Well, back around the turn of the millennium Hasbro was exploring the idea of tailoring Transformers to the preschool market, specifically through their Playskool brand.  It seemed like a natural progression, and in 2002 Playskool introduced their new 'Big Adventures' Transformers line;  Cheetor, Gorillabot, Mototron, Aerobot, and Speedbot.  Aside from being more playful and chunky in design, the main difference between these and the classic Transformers was the simplicity of the transformation, key for toddler play.
It was also around then that I was called in to come up with some ideas for the next wave of their new 'Go-Bots' line, as they were now called. The new line was comprised of both 'animals' and 'vehicles' assortments, I was commissioned to design a few Go-Bots with a construction theme.

These are the sketches I came up with;

Pretty rough beginnings. Fortunately at this early stage these didn't have to be fully though-out transformations.  It was the basic concept and theme they were looking for, with a transformation that seemed simple and plausible.
Out of the above they liked the 'Dozerbot' most,  having me do a clean-up and render for presentation;


The method of transformation was worked out, and the 'dozerbot' came to be known as 'Strong-Bot' in what was to become the first wave of 'Go-Bots' released.  In later lines the dozerbot was re-named 'Scrap-Bot' while the dump truck Go-Bot assumed the 'Strong-Bot' monkier.


Ultimately it didn't matter much to me what he was called, I was just tickled having designed a Transformer.