I want to post the following notes from the Conceptart.org workshop that took place in Dallas. The talk was a question and answer session and these are the notes that I put together to get all the information in one place:
"I'm a designer and I want to make a vinyl toy based on my artwork"
"I'm a game developer and I want to make small collectible characters from my game"
"I'm a children's book illustrator and I want to include a toy with each copy of my new book"
Shinbone Creative gets a dozen emails a week from creative people who would like to make toys but they don't know where to start.
I've made a lot of collectible toys and sculptures and I've worked with a lot of incredible artists, and every project was a unique experience. I sculpted DJ Shadow's Jukebox Robot based on nothing more than a single piece of poster art, and I worked on an elegantly posed, bronze finished maquette of Scarygirl through a laborious exchange with the illustrator Nathan Jurevicius. I've been given detailed 3d models, hand made plush prototypes, and crudely scribbled doodles, and produced them all as finished product.
So where to begin? There's a lot to think about.
Ideation and Design
Sculpting the Prototype
Finding a Factory
The Bottom Line
Last edited by Wetterschneider; August 10th, 2012 at 09:38 AM.
The internet is chock full of helpful advice and excellent examples from other artists who have gone on and made their own toys. Head over to the toy store or raid your own collection and take a close look at how figures are put together. Look at preschool toys too, they are often made or rotocast vinyl and have simple shapes. Look at Mcfarlane and Neca. Look at the Bust-Ups that Gentle Giant made, they are prime examples of digital models broken up into parts for simple manufacturing and assembly.
There are a lot of production blogs maintained by companies and sculptors that show off detailed step by step examples of toy design and manufacturing. There is a strong community of collectors and designers and artists and a number of busy forums where they gather.
Making a collectible toy or a sculpture is not a fast or cheap proposition. The next four to six months or maybe even a year is going to be spent babysitting your project from napkin to the store. Make sure that you love the design that you are running with and that it represents you as an artist and the IP that you want to promote.
You may have an idea for a character or creature or vehicle or little abstract noodle doodle, but from here on out let's talk characters, the issues that are coming up are the same no matter what you are thinking about making
Who are we to tell you how to design something? You're the artist, you can draw so get down with your bad self and do it. If your design is ridiculously complex, let's make a sculpture or a maquette out of it. If it is simpler and elegant, maybe we can make a sweet articulated figure from it.
We've been given rough single images to work from before, and ultimately the toy got made. But if you can make turnarounds of your idea, do it, it gives you control and helps the project move a lot more smoothly, especially if you aren't doing the sculpting yourself. The front, side, back and sometimes even top views if you are totally nuts in the turnaround all give vital information about your character that can't easily be communicated any other way.
Optionally, you can throw down Sculptey, wax or clay and mash up a rough version yourself, and photograph the results or send the physical model to the sculptor who will make a final version from it. You can also make a rough digital model and render out the turnarounds if you like, we do this regularly, since some projects are too huge to rapid prototype, or too complex as the move to engineering, making the digital model reference material only.
No matter what you decide to do keep in mind that this is your character, and never assume that the sculptor will be able to make it cooler, or reach inside your brain to magically figure out what the back of your monster looks like. This is your opportunity to give life to your character and control the posture and flow and height and balance and details and attitude. If you are planning on doing the sculpt yourself, you won't have to go into as much detail here, but don't skip this step, it will save you time and pain if you solve your problems and work out the issues here and now.
Unless... you are working with another designer or sculptor that you respect and trust and the piece is a collaboration. In that case, it's the back and forth and everyone pulling together during development that gives the piece its awesomeness.
At this stage, you can work up your color and paint applications, at least as a thumbnail. Often we'll markup the turnarounds with Pantone callouts and clearly designate areas that receive specific colors.
The sculpture referred to in the design stage is rough and used for reference, technically a maquette.
At this stage, we're looking at the prototype, a finished, to size, detailed master model that will be used to manufacture the final product.
If you have the skills, you can sculpt or digitally model the prototype yourself. If you use 3d software, keep in mind that there is a cost associated with printing the file, as well as some technical hurdles to be concerned with.
Comparing Traditional Sculpture and Digital Modeling
When we are working on a figure or stature that is organic, asymmetrical, detailed, and is "single use", we use traditional tools for sculpting. This can be wax, Sculptey, clay, plumber's putty, kitbashing and Bondo, etc. The downsides of traditional sculpting are that the model is unique, fragile, difficult to repose and partition, impossible to rescale.
When we are working on a piece that is somewhat symmetrical, smooth and elegant, planned to be used at multiple sizes or applications or variations, posed and reposed, we turn to digital modeling. The downsides of digital modeling are that the model can be outrageously expensing to print at larger sizes, and difficult to detail.
Then you need to decide on color call outs and figure out the Pantone number for each of these colors as well as a paint master that the factory can follow in order to match your Specifications.
Once you have made a prototype you are 100% happy with you then need to get it to a factory for costing and talk about numbers.
this is good info but what about your experiences do you have in dealing with these factorys and what issues do they bring to the project. what kind of factory should you be looking for, what kind of costs are there and I'm sure there are things to avoid when dealing with them. Any kind of imput would help out greatly, as I am very close to this stage. I jjust don't know what to do with all my protos once I finish them.
Finding a suitable production facility is a complicated process. For a small run of toys, you might be able to use a local studio that can handle 100 or less cold cast statues. For a large run of vinyl figures, you'll find yourself looking for a plant that can handle the logistics of producing 1000 units, along with packaging and shipping.
We use a number of factories in China, depending on the material of the toy. Some of the teams specialize in wood, others handle vinyl. The agents that represent each factory are usually located in Hong Kong, and speak English, and deal in U.S. dollars.
All of the currently available factories have online websites and email contact information.
When shopping for a facility, look at the samples of finished product and the client list. Don't seek the cheapest price, but rather find the cost that fits your budget, and seek to nail down the highest quality that you can afford.
When you begin the process of communicating with the agent, pay close attention to their responsiveness and clarity. Check references if you can. Search for the commentary by previous clients.
We strongly recommend working with a project manager or an experienced coordinator. Being a productive artist is a full time job and most artists are not interested or capable of becoming project managers. There are a lot of catches to seeing a project through to the end, and the factory usually needs continuous oversight and feedback at every stage.
Your negotiations will take time. Have the factory send you samples so you can see their work first hand. Most factories should be able to point you to their work that can easily be found in the U.S. and throughout Europe. Don’t expect to find the same factory that Hasbro uses for your limited edition toy. You will need to find a good, stable, medium sized company that can handle the work for you.
The factory will need your prototype in order to both give you an accurate estimate and initiate the production. Sometimes we send the factory the single master model, and sometimes we recast the master a few times as insurance. Within a couple of weeks of receiving your prototype you will be able to get an accurate quote for the production of your figure.
The production process takes about six to nine weeks, since there are a number of intermediate steps that need to take place. Wax recasting for cleanup, master molds, paint masters and production molds all come next and there's a lot of back and forth between you and the factory to quality check every step.
Then the production actually starts.
In the meantime you'll need to finalize your packaging design and have that artwork sent to Hong Kong so they can print and package your toys. There are required carton markings to be aware of and some safety testing that might be necessary for export.
Last edited by Wetterschneider; February 2nd, 2010 at 01:58 PM.
It is almost useless to just throw numbers out there, the range is too great.
The cost of your figure is the result of few variables. The material, the size of the production run, the paint application, the dimensions of the sculpt, amount of articulation, and the packaging. It is difficult to answer the question "I have a design and I want to make a toy, how much will it cost?" without specifying all these details.
A good example of how difficult it is to nail down costs - sculpting can range from $300 to $1,500 per figure or if you want a well known sculptor to do it, it can go up to $2,000. Size and complexity affect the cost.
An experienced designer or sculptor can offer advice on reducing cost by re-sculpting some details or changing he pose of your character to fit molding concerns.
However, the most common type of sculpt that artists are looking to reproduce is the 6 to 8 inch figure, in vinyl with one to three points of articulation. A rough estimate for that type of item is about $800 to sculpt, and $11,000 to produce a run of 500 units.
Injection molding and rotational molding are two commonly used methods in plastic toy production. Statues are mainly made from resin and pewter
Injection molding uses a hot melted liquid plastic squirted under pressure into a metal mold. This process is preferable for small parts, or large production runs. Tooling or machining the metal molds can be very costly.
Resin, polyresin or polystone figures are cast by silicone mold, which is not only cheaper than most of the other molds, but it can also well preserve the product details. In addition, resin product is mainly hand-polished and hand-painted, which enhances its perceived value . The main disadvantage with resin is its fragility, meaning that the figures are essentially statues. They can't be posed or handled without risking breakage. Resin is best used for small to mid-size life-like sculpture and statues.
Rotational molding is also called roto-casting, referring toa way of forming the figure inside a seamless heated mold, which rotates globally in a two-axis mechanism. Raw plastic materials are pre-loaded inside the mold, then are melt under heat and formed an even layer along the inner surface of the mold with help of the centrifugal force of rotation. While the product is still soft with heat, it can be pulled out from the opening of the mold. After cooling down, the plastic product becomes solid and shaped.
Here are some simple points to remember
* Rotational molding can achieve seamless product surface with relatively cheap molds, but this method is only suitable for making certain shapes and hollow products.
* Injection molding is an effective manufacturing method, but it requires expensive molds, especially with large size of parts, and it would leave products with mold seams.
* Injection molded PVC has different grades of flexibility while ABS or styrene is a hard plastic commonly used in various types of plastic housing and model kits as well as parts that require a precision fit and movement.
* Sometimes the two methods can be used together to make complicated products, or to lower production costs.
Last edited by Wetterschneider; August 10th, 2012 at 09:43 AM.
We also encourage people to try out Patch Together. A lot of artists have had success producing very limited runs of cast resin statues, runs that the larger factories would not want to get involved with.
For large runs, or articulated figures, or vinyl manufacturing, consider using a project manager who is local to you, who can interface with the factory on your behalf. This is a service that my own company provides - all we need from the artist or designer is a sketch, and we can deliver finished, packaged collectibles. We occasionally license work from artists to produce runs of toys, and we occasionally produce our own designs. Most often, however, a designer or company representing a designer will come to us and we'll produce and manufacture their product for them.
For small runs of cast resin, especially for artists that don't have a lot of financial flexibility, Patch Together is a terrific alternative.
Last edited by Wetterschneider; February 27th, 2012 at 01:43 PM.