Some properties are so toy-ettic you just know they will have a toy line made for it. As a kid one of the most desired movie-based toy lines for me was Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. However, no matter how hard I looked around back in 1982, there was next to NOTHING for me to buy from that movie. As a kid, growing up in the Midwest I was able to find some Dark Crystal trading cards, one set of metal figures, like would be used with D&D and that was it… for years!
Years later, as an adult collector I discovered that Hasbro actually had plans for a Dark Crystal action figure line, that was sculpted and photographed for their Toy Fair catalog… but never ended up moving forward into production. It would have been a beautiful line of figures with Gelflings, Garphim, Skekis, Mystics even Podlings! But alas, it was never mean to be. It was photographed for the Hasbro catalog back in the 80s, it was show at Toy Fair, but the buyers didn’t have interest in the line and it was cancelled. The prototypes ended up in the hands of collectors and the window for our chance at The Dark Crystal figures closed…
As most of your know the original concept of ReAction figures was born out of the prospect of getting fans figures from lines that never came to market. The inaugural line was the 1979 Kenner Alien line, that was not only put back in the hands of fans, but the original concepted line was expanded to figures beyond what was planned with brand new figures sculpted in-the-style-of the previous figures.
Now, 34 years later, Funko and ReAction turn Augra’s all seeing eye back to The Dark Crystal, and we here at AFi couldn’t be more excited by that prospect!
We were able to have a chat with Reis O’Brien, Senior Product Designer and art director on the Dark Crystal line (Answers are in RED) and Nena Ijiomah, Lead designer and sculptor on the Dark Crystal line (Answers are in BLUE) at Funko to get the Insider scoop on what the ReAction team have in store for us as well as giving us some sneak peeks at several of the upcoming sculpts.
One quick note – this interview was conducted just before the SDCC Landstrider set was announced, so that’s why they are a bit coy on that topic.
Now on to the interview!
AFi: Last year at San Diego Comic-Con, we talked about the possibility of Funko making Dark Crystal action figures. It seemed like it was something that was on your schedule, but the timing and direction had to be right. Now, we’ve seen some teaser images, and it looks like everything came together perfectly. Can you describe some of the process that led to this point?
Reis: This past year, we took a little time to re-evaluate ReAction, where it’s headed, what we’d like to do differently, what it should really be about, etc. One of the most important aspects of ReAction that we noticed repeatedly bubbling to the surface was to use this outlet to bring to life toy lines of the past that almost, but never, made it into the market. That’s really what started ReAction in the first place, with Super7’s efforts to get the Alien figures made. So, thinking along those lines, The Dark Crystal was a no-brainer, it was screaming to be done.
AFi: Based on the sneak peek photos, it looks like there’s a Land Strider coming. Will there be other price points available? More beasts like the Garthim?
Reis: Yes, there is a Garthim coming! At this point, we may be looking at three different price points, but that could change. You’ll have your standard carded figures like Jen and Kira, then you’ll see slightly larger boxed figures, like the Chamberlin and the Mystic, and then the larger beasts, such as the Landstrider and Garthim.
AFi: How much are the new figures based on the old, cancelled Kenner sculpts? Can you tell us if any of the original designers were involved in the creation of the Funko line?
Reis: As soon as we decided to get the ball rolling on this project, our VP of Creative, Ben Butcher, got in contact with Tim Clarke, who worked on the original line. Part of this was to get his blessing and part of it was in search of advice on how we could approach the new figures. He basically told us to take it as far as we thought it needed to be taken because he recalled being pretty rushed on the original project and always felt it could have used some improvements. So, we handed it all over to Nena, the designer and sculptor on this line, and she took it from there.
Nena: One thing we noticed pretty quickly is that 3D prints tend to lose a bit more detail in mold and paint than traditional hand sculpts, especially in the face. So we’ve gotten into the practice of taking details and likenesses further than we expect to see in final. Being a huge fan of the Dark Crystal (and Jim Henson in general), and being a bit of a perfectionist, once I got the go ahead to have my way with them, I did.
AFi: The cancelled Kenner line has reached near mythic status as a ‘line that got away’ as a designer approaching a line like this, with figures fans have been lusting after for years after seeing some blurry pictures in old toy magazines and you have to recreate some iconic designs from a stunningly visual film, do you do anything different that you might not in a normal Funko line?
Reis: Well, the expectation from fans was never very far from our minds. First and foremost, this needed to feel like a dream come true for them.
Nena: I tend to my best work when I making something I love for myself. I set really high standards for myself, and if I don’t like the results, I can’t stand behind what I’ve made. I wanted to make something I would never be ashamed to point at and say, “I did that.” I always hope that other people like my work, especially when I’m happy with the results, I really hope fans can see and appreciate the love I put into these figures, this project was a dream come true, and the last thing I would want is to disappoint anyone.
AFi: The ReAction banner was originally created to go after some projects like this where there are existing figures in private collections, how do you approach re-creating something that exists that you may or may not have full access to?
Reis: A lot of internet searching! And it helped that we had some physical samples of the original figures in the office.
Nena: Since there was so little online to go from for the existing figures, a lot of the work was done directly off of assets (photos of actual puppets and props) provided by the Henson company and shots from the film and the world of the Dark Crystal book.
AFi: This is one of the rare cancelled lines where there are loose and carded samples of them in the world. Are the packaging card backs similar to the cancelled samples we’ve seen floating around online?
Reis: While Nena was working on the sculpts, I worked with another in-house packaging designer, Victoria Dexter, on translating the packaging as closely as possible. I wanted the layout and graphic elements to stay exactly the same as the original samples that are out there. Luckily, the assets we were given by the licensor had pretty much everything we needed to recreate it, like the logo, the image of Jen on top of the Crystal. But for something like the intricate border around the cardbacks, Victoria had to just redraw it from scratch. Who knows where those original files are. Some artist must have painted or airbrushed that design element back in the 80’s. We just had to rebuilding in in Illustrator and Photoshop, and do our best to keeping it looking true to the original.
Nena: Of course, we couldn’t just copy the original cardbacks exactly. These days, packaging requires a lot more in terms of legal notices, safety notices, etc. Also, the original Aviva cardbacks had just black and white line art images on the back for the “collect them all” callout, which I’ve always loved (one of my favorite things about old Remco packaging), but we felt that we could update that a bit more with full color renders of the figures. So, they’re not exact copies, but they should feel very similar and still give off that retro vibe.
AFi: If I recall correctly, those old cancelled figures show packaging mock ups that featured a “Build a Crystal” feature. Can we expect that to carry over to the new versions? If the answer is yes, what’s the possibility of a Castle of the Crystal play set to display it in?
Reis: Absolutely! The build-a-crystal feature was a must for this line. We reworked it a bit, since we didn’t have any of the original pieces and also because we had to divide it up a little differently.
As far a playset goes, let’s just see what the demand is for the figures before we cross that bridge.
Nena: Oh geez, a playset would be insane! I hope these do well enough that we can keep going, making more Skesis, Mystics, podlings, and the UrSkeks, Even some of the background creatures would be so great.
AFi: It’s not uncommon these days for figure lines to have multiple versions of the main characters, sometimes even as pack-ins with larger accessories (like, say, the Land Strider!). Could we see multiple versions in this line, like maybe Jen holing the Shard, Kira with wings, or different Fizzgigs???
Reis: Yes, that was one of our favorite parts of this project.
Nena: What he said. Though the shard would be a prop, so it could even come with the regular version (hint hint).
AFi: If the line does well would there be any possibility of extending it to additional characters that were not made for the Kenner line, like additional Seksis, Mystics, Pod people, etc.? Or even branch off into Labyrinth for the 30th anniversary?
Reis: As always, if this line sells well, we’ll make a second series. And I’m not touching the Labyrinth question with a ten foot pole! Every time Dark Crystal is mentioned, the Labyrinth questions start coming in. Let’s just say that’s it’s on our radar and there’s plenty of people at Funko HQ that would love to make it happen. But no promises right now.
Nena: I offer myself as tribute if we make a Labyrinth line.
AFi: The sculpts we’ve seen in the renders released look like they are a move towards more realistic, detailed figures, certainly more so than the cancelled Kenner line. Traditionally, ReAction figures looked stylized and retro, as if they stepped out of toy stores in the seventies. Is this a new direction for ReAction figures, or more of a “one-off” project? Could we see more realistically detailed 3 ¾” lines from Funko in the future?
Reis: The truth is, originally, we tried to capture that retro look, thinking that that’s what collectors wanted. But when it came down to it, people were just saying, “That doesn’t look like Kyle Reese!” Well, my Luke Skywalker didn’t look anything like Mark Hamill, and we thought that was the point. But what this taught us was that although people wanted things to feel retro, they still had modern sensibilities after years of seeing highly realistic toys on shelves. So we had to do some experimenting to find that sweet spot, not too accurately retro, not too hyper-realistic.
Nena: Some much gets lost in mold and paint, we discovered if we go a couple of steps too far, they look better in final than they would have otherwise.
AFi: Is there a projected release date for the line? As we are getting close, can you perhaps confirm or deny that there will be a Comic-Con exclusive for the Dark Crystal?
Reis: We are getting close, and we’re shooting for mid to late summer. At this point I cannot confirm nor deny any Comic Con exclusives. If I talked, I’d be a dead man. Our marketing department takes their reveals very seriously!
AFi: This line must be a dream project for Funko, as it is a dream line for many collectors. Are there any other “Dream Lines” out there that you would love see brought to life in plastic?
Reis: If we’re talking ReAction, I already have a couple of dream licenses coming up, like Conan the Barbarian. But I will not rest until we get The Last Starfighter made!
Nena: Labyrinth for sure, but only if we could go deep, I want a Wiseman with his hat, the door guards, Fireys, maybe even the Trash Lady. I know Matchbox made Pee Wee’s Playhouse set, but I’d love a Pee Wee’s Big Adventure set too, with Large Marge in all of her face pulling glory. I’m a sucker for stop motion animation, and since we’ve done Nightmare Before Christmas, I’d love to make James and the Giant Peach figures too.
AFi: If this new approach to ReAction is successful could it possibly lead to more classic properties finding a home under the ReAction banner?
Reis: Everything we do with ReAction, even if some of the choices we’ve made have seemed odd (that’s all part of the grander experiment), is designed to add longevity to the line as a whole. Our new approach to more carefully chose licenses and further push the detail on the figures seems to be working so far and will hopefully keep ReAction going strong for years to come.
Thank you SO much to Reis, and Funko for the images and the dirt on what might be my most anticipated line of the year!
For some more fun insight into Funko, Reis had a great interview published the Seattle Times this past week about having a cool job. The article is worth checking out here.
We will keep you updated on all the news and information on the Dark Crystal line as it comes available!
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