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So I haven’t really been keeping up with Super Powers in many years (and I’m posting my my blog because I think this also gets reposted to the Super Powers blog). I know a few things have popped up here and there, like the unproduced Power Plus Darkseid, but for the most part we have been assuming that most of was was in production either has already been seen or has been lost to the ages at this point.

Except… a few years back there was an auction for this piece. I was alerted to it by a reader after it had already been taken down; I guess someone made a big offer as it was cancelled almost immediately. I’m also assuming this now sits in the collection of one of the “big collectors” of Super powers, as some of those guys don’t like to talk about their acquisitions. ūüėČ

In any case, this pic is all that I’ve ever seen. I was originally planning on putting it online when I relaunched the Super Powers Archive, but considering that I started the redesign in 2007 and am still far from finished with it…well, when the subject came up on the Facebook group today I figured I might as well put this up now while I have some (very rare) free time. At some point I’d like to get back to the archive…

So: does anyone know what this was? Is it an actual proof sheet for an unproduced playset?  And of so, just how far along in the process did this thing get?!?


UPDATE: So yes, of course this was an April Fool’s gag!

I fooled more people than I thought I would, but a few folks caught on right away. I thought the proof color bars would be the dead giveaway, but only one person actually called those out…
In any case, it wasn’t actually meant to be an April Fool’s joke. I made this last Summer as a wedding present for our very own Julius Marx, to match his Tower of Darkness proof sheet. Had I made this for only the joke, I would have been much more careful with details, but also would probably have spent much less time on it.

Once you see the bigger version of the artwork below, you’ll be able to pick out a bunch of details that would have given it all away really quickly. But again, it was meant more to be a neat matching companion piece of art than it was a “forgery”. We only thought about the April Fools aspect after the fact. ūüėČ Hope everyone enjoyed it! And if you pin this image or put it up somewhere else, please credit me and link back to this article! Thanks!


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Welcome to part three in my series of reminiscing about the old days of concepting for Star Wars items that never were made. Except some of these were actually made! Amazingly, this post is following the last one not even a year later, which is a lot better than the four year gap between part one and part two. Unfortunately, this installment isn’t quite as fascinating as those first two, from the stand point of seeing a lot of crazy concepts that may or may not blow your mind. But it might be fascinating from the standpoint of taking a look behind the curtain at the process these things go through on the way to store shelves. Go check out the first two installments here and here if your memory is hazy on the events that came before. And here’s a look at some rejected mini-figures that would have gone in bags of chips, and our abandoned Jabba beanbag.

Of course, I’m writing this in part because I have Star Wars on my mind with the news last week that Lucasfilm is being bought by the Walt Disney Company for 4 Billion dollars. Y’know, in normal conversation that sounds like some kind of hyperbole or crazy exaggeration. But no, they are paying $4 BILLION for all of George Lucas’ companies and legacies. I guess what I’m trying to say is: Disney, if you’re looking for ideas for merchandise to reclaim some of that investment… give me a call! But I digress. Ok, so when last we left our story, my team and I had just landed the job of making Life Size Star Wars characters to promote Episode One: The Phantom Menace in stores for Pepsi. While good news at the time, I would end up spending months living in China, staying in the factory every day overseeing many people as they made thousands of full size replica Jar Jars and Yodas in less time than an action figure normally takes to be manufactured and at the cost of a typical deluxe Hot Toys figure. And we did it! That’s a tale for part four of this series, though.

For now, we’ll concern ourselves with what happened once I was back in the states, and The Phantom Menace was about to hit theaters. Pepsi was happy with our work, Lucasfilm was happy with our work (and we were now approved vendors!) and we had established good factory relationships. And even thought the movie was nearing release, there were still a lot of opportunities to extend the license with some of our current clients, along with others that already had part of the Star Wars license. And even though at this point we were nearing a year of being immersed in Star Wars every day, we still had enough enthusiasm to tackle a new challenge. The only obstacles now were being totally mentally drained when thinking about the movie (this only intensified after we actually SAW the movie; my thoughts on that experience also in a later blog) and that instead of having a blank canvas to work with, we would now be concepting for companies that made “home goods”. You know: Toothbrushes. Soap. Bandages. All things that scream, “we need Star Wars branding!” And, of course, they did!

You can tell at this point that we were stretching things. But when designing these types of functional products, you are faced with two things: one, that no matter what you design, they’re going to end up going with character toothbrushes because people in general are scared to try new things, and two, whatever you make needs to be functional, usable, and safe. So right off the bat you’re limited. But we had been working with these characters now for long enough to understand what we could and couldn’t get away with, and what made sense to propose. You’ll also notice that by now the great artists Kerry Gammill and Keith “Kez” Wilson were fully on the team and the quality of the art went up considerably. (Not that we had “bad” art before, but these guys are really good.) For whatever reason, we didn’t take anything to color for these concepts. Probably because we had established relationships with the companies, and they didn’t need to see the art as polished at the concept stage. I know there were at least one more batch of rough concepts that are not here (things like bath clings and Pod Racer soap-on-a-rope. If I ever find those pieces I’ll update this blog). And these are in no particular order. I know we didn’t pitch them all at once, but I can’t remember when we did what at this point. Just know they were pitched right before and/or right after the movie’s premiere in May 1999.

So with all of those ideas being presented, what did we end up making? Character toothbrushes! Yes, Colgate came back and asked for straightforward character sculpts. And we were happy to provide them! First, we did a series of character designs in color. Then, after some back and forth with both Colgate and Lucasfilm, we narrowed those down and refined the poses. R2D2 got dropped, Darth Vader was added, Anakin gained his helmet, and Yoda lost his vine cave. Interestingly, when it got down to the final mix we lost Amidala at the sculpting level, and Yoda got his vines back, as we ended up making the Empire Strikes Back version of Yoda, NOT the prequel one. Probably so that Darth Vader wasn’t the only original trilogy character. And while Darth Maul made it all the way to sculpt and paint master, he was dropped before they went into production. Looking back, I have absolutely no memory of why this happened. Maybe they thought he was too scary for kids to brush with? Or maybe with his bad teeth, he was a poor role model for good hygiene? The answer is lost to the ages. We ended up not making any of the bandage items, although Curad sure went all out with bandages.

Speaking of paint masters, here is a funny story of what happens during a normal production cycle (for you kids out there who wonder how your precious toys can have mistakes by the time they hit the store pegs). So the sculpts were being handled by a major design house who shall remain nameless (and let me state at the outset that they did wonderful work, and continue to do wonderful work to this day). Because of their relationship with Lucasfilm, they were able to handle all approvals as each piece was being made, which streamlines the process considerably. As long as we were kept in the loop (we were) then each item can be modified as it’s being worked on. So they four characters were completed, and painted, and approved. Everyone is happy. We send the masters off the China for the factory to start production. And then I get a call from the factory. They are puzzled, and somewhat agitated. Well, it turns out that the painter who painted our wonderful prototypes misread the specs. Instead of having 40 paint apps TOTAL, he thought we had a limit of 40 paint apps PER CHARACTER. And, of course, that is what they showed Lucasfilm for approvals. And now the factory is telling us that we do not have the budget to make these anywhere near so extravagant. So now I have to get on a call with our contact at Lucasfilm, with the painter, and explain as nicely as possible that those awesome toothbrushes they thought they were getting was more of an “April Fools!”

Luckily, this is where having good relationships really comes into play. Lucasfilm couldn’t have been nicer, considering the mishap. Looking at it from their point of view, it could have easily looked like we were trying to pull a “bait & switch”, and shown nicer product for approvals and then begged forgiveness once it was made and too later to fix (i.e., spend more money). And we all know, this happens more often that companies would care to admit. Still, looking at the original paint masters (on the left of each production sample below), it’s a shame we couldn’t get those extra paint apps. The other pictures are of carded samples, and one of the Darth Maul test shots along with durometer tests of Darth Vader and Yoda in translucent plastic. (Durometer measures the hardness of the plastic. You want it hard enough to be durable, but not brittle and easily shattered.)

So at this point, it’s nearing the end of the Summer 1999, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace has broken some records and left general confusion amongst fandom. We are tired, but now we get the word that it’s time to think about the video release! These days, end of Summer would be far too late to be starting the design process as the average video window in mere months following the general release. 12 years again, however, we were still in the dusk of the age of VHS, and The Phantom Menace didn’t hit on home video until April 3rd, 2000. (The dvd release was still some time away). Two clients wanted us to work toward designing items that would celebrate the video and incent consumers to buy one (Really? Star Wars fans need encouragement to spend money on Star Wars? A very interesting theory.) Blockbuster wanted to explore something that could be packaged with the video if bought in-store. After batting around a number of concepts, many recycled from our earlier pitches to Pepsi, we landed on collector coins with a planet display case. This idea was based on the old Power of the Force coins; there was much internal debate over how close we should make them to the 1980s coins made by Kenner. Ultimately, Blockbuster wanted a higher perceived value so we went with real gold plated coins with a metallic base and a hologram in the lid (Ha ha! The 1990s were goofy!). This got as far was a working prototype being made, but the idea died there for more reasons I can’t remember. I also don’t remember if all of the coin prototype was original, or kit-bashing from existing pieces. It obviously owes a lot to the Kenner Planet Balls that were just being made for the action figure line. Blockbuster ended up just ordering a lot of life size Yodas to be store displays, minus the base that the Pepsi one had.

Speaking of Pepsi, they were the other client who wanted some sort of store display to herald the video release (along with chips and soda). After the very involved production of the life size characters, we all wanted something easier and cheaper, so it was decided that this would be a more traditional paper display that could go in Walmart or similar vendors. We designed a fair number of concepts, and then made full size mock-ups to make sure that they would work and figure out how large to make each one, and how it would actually interact with stacks of Pepsi cases. They ended up picking the Pit Droids fooling around with a TV over any of the main characters. Sure, why not? It would have a base wrap made up of junk from Watto’s junkyard, and we even were able to put a tiny motor behind it, so that they’re arms and legs moved. I’m not sure that I ever actually saw this display in stores, but that’s nothing unusual. I’ve designed a lot of chip, soda, and candy displays over the years and I’ve probably only seen 10% in stores, if that.

In any case, at this point I was all Star Wars’d out. Two straight years of messing with Jabbas and Pit Droids and Jar Jars sorely tested my love for the brand. Today, I’m much more at peace with the prequels and the Star Wars phenomenon in general, and am actually looking forward to see what Disney does with it all (Seriously, Mr. Iger, call me.) That’s just about it! Look for part four (the final chapter)…um…sometime before the new movie in 2015. And as always, huge props go out to my former buddies in the trenches, who came up with all this stuff and fought to get it made: Steve Ross, Mike Hawkins, Kerry Gammill, Keith Wilson, Laurie Brownlow, Mark Mears, Mike Flecker, Amy Wagner, Keith DeWaters, Mike Dethloff and Brad Weston.

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…Or something like that.

So, with the big breaking news of Disney buying Lucasfilm, I’ve been in a Star Wars mood these past few days. I may just break down and write the next chapter of the “Unproduced Star Wars Concepts” saga. To be honest, it’s taken me so long to revisit it because this has been a very busy year at my day job. In fact, today is the first day I’ve had off in over two months! And of course, the concept of “not working” is alien to me now, so when a goofy mash-up idea popped into my head I immediately sat back down at the computer to flesh it out, instead of grabbing some much needed rest time.

Still, this was an enjoyable few hours creating what are more or less virtual customs. And no paint & sculpey mess that comes with the regular kind of customs! Anyway, it’s an odd idea, but a fairly self explanatory one. Hope everyone enjoys it.

*a few caveats: Yes, I know the second series should be The Legendary Super Powers Show,¬† with Galactic Guardians being third. But I took a little artistic license based on what fit the respective logos better. Apologies to the anonymous cosplayers whose pics I snagged. If this is you, send me your name and I’ll credit you! (Plus keep an eye out for a cameo by our very own Danny Neumann as Plastic Man, plus Allen Hansard as Firestorm and Brian Parsley as Green Arrow!). And finally, I really hate to watermark these, but we all know they are going to go around the web without attribution immediately. Even worse, I don’t want folk selling these on ebay as custom cardbacks. If you want to put these on your website, feel free, but please link back to¬† this blog post so people can see where they came from.

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So I was browsing through Netflix the other night, looking at their range of mediocre to abysmal choices of things I haven’t seen when I stumbled across the newish documentary “The People vs George Lucas”. With no better choices at hand I proceeded to watch it as I wrapped up some late night editing for a project I’m behind on at my “real job”. Let me rephrase that: I tried to watch it. I got about halfway through it before I had to turn it off and put on a Beatles album (FYI: A Hard Day’s Night) to wash away the taste it left in my brain. At its most basic, this was nothing more than what any Star Wars fan has seen thousands of times in every nerd/geek/fanboy forum online since the special editions were released in 1997 up through Revenge of the Sith in 2005. And honestly, I’m kind of tired of going over the same ground over and over and over (Han shot first, Jar Jar sucks, George doesn’t care about us, fans have equal ownership, ad infinitum).

To make it perfectly clear, I didn’t really care for the film. Decently made, but I didn’t see the point to it (even if you tell me at the end they defend George’s right to do whatever he wants with his films…who cares? That point was debated a decade ago). But it did really open my eyes to something I’ve never really thought about before: George absolutely did the right thing when he made the prequels. What did he do right, you ask? Well, going all the way back to Star Wars in 1977, George has continually said that these are kid’s movies. Made for kids. Now, most fans see that as a cop-out. An excuse, a shoddy justification for everything they don’t like about the prequels. And I’m not the first person to point out that he is right, these are kid’s movies. We fell in love with them as children. If you really go back and look at Star Wars today with a clear, cynical grown-up’s eye, you can see how juvenile the first movie was. How black and white. How simplistic.¬† And there is nothing wrong with that.

Somewhere down the line, “kid’s movie” became synonymous with “dumbed down crap”, but it wasn’t always that way. E.T. is a “kid’s movie”. Every Disney classic is a “kid’s movie”. You can say that The Wizard of Oz is a kid’s movie. But what we’re really saying is that these are family films- enjoyable for all ages. Now, the prequels are regrettably lacking in finesse. They definitely could have used a rewrite or two and a little better character motivations. But look around: kid’s today still love these movies. They like Jar Jar. They think the Battle Droids are funny. Go read Drew McWeeny’s great series on introducing his sons to the Saga: http://in-my-head.org/2011/11/07/recommended-reading-drew-mcweenys-film-nerd-2-0-star-wars-edition/

George made the right call here. He kept aiming that target in the same place he aimed it in 1977 and 1980 and 1983. And the kids that are enjoying the prequels today (and the Clone Wars, and the video games, and the toys) are going to grow up thinking just as fondly about all of this as we did 20-30 years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. I know, I know. You wanted to see something else. You want Jar Jar gone. You didn’t want silly Battle Droids and endless Jedi fighting. Or C-3PO’s antics. I get it, I really do. But let me point you in the direction of a comparable genre that didn’t take the path that Lucas did. No, this property at some point decided that instead of staying aimed at kids, it would grow up with them. It would evolve and start experimenting with just how far it could push the characters and the existing boundaries. It would get dark, it would get edgy. You know where I’m going with this: it’s comics.

At the same moment that Star Wars was capturing a generation of kids, comics was telling those kids that it was OK to never grown up and leave them behind like the previous generations did. No, once the 1980s hit continuity became king. If you weren’t on board from the beginning it became harder and harder to get on the ride. And every year less and less kids were reading comics. And comics responded by catering to that 80s generation’s every whim in a self-destructing feedback loop. So here we are. Comics exist almost solely as fodder for merchandise and movies and once the 40 and 50 year olds stop buying them the industry is pretty much going to die off (How’s that New 52 treating ya, fans?). Or move onto the web. And collectors alone can’t sustain all the toys or even movies when they are anything but a crowd pleasing, family friendly hit (looking at you, Green Lantern!) But Star Wars? Well, kids will be watching that just like they do the Disney films. Every seven years a new generation will pick it up, and the juggernaut starts up all over again.

Because George Lucas was right.

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In honor of our anniversary, I will revisit the well that never goes dry: Bollywood! And the only thing better than regular Bollywood awesomeness is groovy 60’s surf rockin’ Bollywood! Take it away, Ted Lyons and his Cubs! (I am working on something great for the anniversary, but it’ll be a little bit later than I expected).

YouTube Preview Image

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Well, that turned out to be a bit longer than I had planned on. It’s been four long years since my last look at the “rejected” concepts that my former co-workers and I came up with when we were working on promotions for the launch of Star Wars: Episode One, The Phantom Menace. And it has easily been the most read article we’ve had here at AFi, bouncing around everywhere from Boing Boing and Gizmodo to the official Star Wars blog and Wired, culminating in an interview with NPR about how it all went down.

But the concepts I showed were only a handful of the ideas that we developed. Admittedly, I cherry-picked the best concepts for that first blog; what I feature down below may cause you to roll your eyes a few times. But let me back up and recap the assignment: I was working for a promotional merchandise company when we got the chance to pitch ideas for a few items that would be made to tie-in to Pepsi’s big Episode One promotions. Until we actually won the job, we could only use things from the original trilogy to concept with. If they liked the idea, we could later try and make it fit with the new movie once they let us see a storyline and artwork. We didn’t have a budget, or even know what the items might be used for (part of the pitch was for us to tell them how to use the merchandise). So we could be making something that cost $.25 to manufacture (say, an on-pack for a Pepsi bottle of can) or we might make something for $300 (a “dealer loader”, that it, a display in store that the store owner would keep or raffle off after the promotion is over).

We came up with hundreds of concepts over about 4-5 rounds of pitching. I and a co-worker, Steve Ross, were the big Star Wars fans of the office, but everyone pitched in. Halfway through the pitch we hired noted comic artists Kerry Gammill and Keith Wilson, so you’ll see that some concept art is definitely better than others. And for all that is here, there is still a good number of concepts that I can’t find the artwork for – in 13 years you tend to lose a few things. As it is, these presentation boards are pretty big and are too big to scan; I had to take photos of each one and clean those up, hence one big reason it’s taken me so long to write this follow up. You can see what the actual boards looked like at right; after we landed the account and created the four life-size characters seen way down below, Lucasfilm was so pleased that we explored making two more characters for the video release: Sebulba and Boss Nass. That exploration didn’t get very far, but I’m not sure if I remember why exactly it was killed. Keep in mind that as I said before, most of these concepts were never seen by Lucasfilm or Pepsi before they got killed at lower levels. So please don’t blame them if your favorite concept never got made.

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So these days it seems like no one is totally happy with the companies that are making mainstream toys. If it’s not the price hikes, it’s the selection. Or the quality control. Or the shoulders are backward. Sure, sure, these problems are all annoying, especially in light of the price you pay for the toys these days.

But at the risk of sounding like every other apologist jackass out there, sometimes these things really are out of the control of the people in charge of shepherding the line from concept to manufacturing to store shelves. Things like parts missing from packages, or bad paint jobs, or bent legs are all factory related issues. And no matter how many samples you may check and sign off on at the end of the day you really have no idea how well the factory is going to follow your master samples or the checklists you devise to make sure all runs smoothly. Even having someone stationed in China doesn’t fix everything. When I was designing toys, I worked for small enough companies that I was often the one overseeing the process through the factory, even staying in China from time to time. Mistakes happen on every job, it’s just part of the process.

But the factory stuff at least gives you the opportunity to fix things. If you catch it early, most times collectors never have any idea about the daily problems that crop up. And for large runs, you can always make running changes to try and fix it as early as possible. But some of the things that collectors complain about are simply out of your control. And nowhere in the process is that lack of control more frustrating than in dealing with Licensors (or clients).¬† These people are the ones with the ultimate control of their properties, and they are the ones who dictate what you can and cannot make. Even more frustrating is that most of the time the people in charge of licensing are not creators or artists, but simply account people working their way up the ladder and happen to have stopped there. They don’t know the property, they don’t watch the cartoons/movies/tv shows. No, what they have is a style guide, which to them is THE BIBLE.

No joke! That style guide went through a long, complicated process designed to take thinking out of the equation. The licensing rep can be very pleasant, and fun to work with, and very smart, but if you want to deviate from the style guide or the approved corporate branding, then you have huge problems. Because they do not want to “color outside the lines”, because they a.) have no power to make those decisions, and b.) don’t know what they can and can’t do since they didn’t create the property. This whole drawn out preface leads me to what are arguably two of the biggest complaints with some toy lines out there today: character choice, and color choices.

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As the years have gone by and I’ve gotten older (and wiser?) I’ve come to notice that every time one of our¬† distinguished men of AFi have posted pictures of their past childhood holiday toy pictures that something has been missing from my life: namely, and similar pictures of MY childhood Christmases filled with toys. For that matter, I really never had any pictures of much of my childhood, period, outside of the typical family portraits.

Or so I thought. Last year while home for the holidays I made an off-hand remark to that effect to my mother, who then asked why didn’t I look in all the boxes of slides we had stored upstairs. Turns out that my parents DID take a tremendous amount of pictures, only they were almost all slide film and then put away once we stopped gathering around the ol’ Kodak Carousel. Since I was curious as to what slides we had, I took it upon myself to scan them all and convert them into nice digital files.

Well, over 6000 slides, 12 months, and many hundreds of hours later, I now know what is on all of those slides (and might I add they date back into the 1950s, well before I was around). And I still have around 2000 more slides to scan…unless they find even more boxes, which is a very distinct possibility. But within all of those pictures, I did find a number of great shots of what I received for Christmases past. I haven’t gotten into the 1980s yet, and if you had asked me before I scanned them what toys I received, I would have told you that I mainly got cars & planes, model trains, and a toy drum set until 1978. At that point my life was overtaken by Star Wars, (I even made my own xmas stocking shaped like Boba Fett’s leg, seen at right!) and I can’t really remember owning any other toys until I started collecting in earnest in college (well after throwing away everything I had in childhood).

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Just Did!

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So I know folks have been watching this blog daily, asking themselves “Where is ToyOtter, and when will he blog again?” Well, folks, the answer is simple: I’ve been scouring the Earth for you, looking for quality Bollywood clips to post.

And brother, do I have a clip for you! Featuring the International star Chiru (known around these parts for his “Indian Thriller”) this scene contains the craziest, most jeep-flipping, horse-skidding*, glass-shattering action you’ve ever seen. They just don’t make them like they used to. Enjoy!

*Animals were most definitely harmed during the filming of this movie. Sweet Jesus, the horse sequences just make me cringe.

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