It isn’t everyday designers get total creative freedom with a project. So when our ally in the industry, O’Neil Printing, contacted us and four other studios about designing a commemorative poster series for their 100th anniversary I saw an opportunity! During our first informal brain storming session I suggested: "Lets just do something fun, like design it using 100 action figures." Well, Creative Director Steve and Senior Designer Kevin both have an appreciation for little plastic people so it wasn’t too hard of a sell.
Usually the concept comes first and execution follows. But having decided on "100 action figures" we had to reverse engineer the concept. As we got one of our copy writers involved I started the casting process. One parameter became clear early: no bad guys. I was able to get a fairly diverse mixture from my modest collection and then varied the texture a bit with the small budget allotted to the project. Once the talent was chosen I got going with the photo shoot. We probably photographed 125 figures all together just so that we’d have some options once we started laying the poster out.
Just for fun we decided that our beloved print rep, Lucy (who was going to be retiring,) should find herself in the character line up. One customized Polly Pocket later and Lucy was ready for a place in the poster.
It took a few rounds but we finally decided on a headline: One of the Good Guys. And the tag line: O’Neil Printing, 100 years of coming to the rescue. Composing 100 action figures of all shapes, sizes, and genres was a bit challenging. Kevin said the layout process was similar to "putting together a puzzle." And we had a few friendly disagreements about which characters would be big and which ones would be smaller. (I fought tooth and nail for Shipwreck.) The only rigid design element all the posters in the series had to have in common was the information at the bottom along with the 100th Anniversary logo shield. We decided to slide a figure behind that logo and manipulate it a bit so that it looked like the character’s chest emblem. In other words, Captain Atom became Captain O’Neil.
Enough jibber jabber. Here’s what we ended up with:
Since O’Neil was running this on their 8 color press we got to incorporate some varnishes and metallic inks which gives some of the design elements a nice shimmer when viewed from different angles. I had a chance to chat with the two pressmen during the press check. They said a few of them had gotten together and were able to identify about half of the characters on the poster. Not bad! One mentioned he had gone to the McFarlane store the previous weekend when Todd was there to get a few of his comics autographed.
Not long after we got going on the project Steve decided it’d be cool to make some kind of a companion booklet that explained a little bit about each of the characters. O’Neil agreed to produce it if we designed it. Well, let me tell ya . . . I thought it was a good idea until it came down to writing the little 2 or 3 sentence bios for each of the characters. Anything times 100 turns into a hefty undertaking. Yes, I knew the basics about all 100 figures on the poster, but I had to be certain about the facts which meant a fair amount of time researching. Plus, I wanted each bio to focus on the heroic qualities of the character. Although putting this booklet together took longer than expected the final result is pretty sweet.
Some examples of the character bio’s:
Considering himself a "Wildlife Warrior," Irwin’s mission in life was to save the world’s endangered species. He was a dedicated conservationist and promoted environmentalism in his unique way. If crocs are the bad guys then Steve’s our hero. Crikey!
When young Billy Batson utters the name "Shazam," he is struck by a magic lightning bolt and transformed into the superhero Captain Marvel. With powers on par with Superman, he is called by some "The World’s Mightiest Mortal." By his foes: "The Big Red Cheese!"
Hopefully O’Neil Printing will get such good feedback on this poster that they decide to do a sequel for their 101st anniversary. ‘Cause I’d really like to do another one with all the bad guys!