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.
Anyway, I’m breaking this round up into a few sections, partly because there are some many concepts (and keep in mind this is just a big chunk of what went to final inks and color. We have twice as many rough sketches and written out ideas that didn’t make the cut as we do ones that were presented) and partly to explain each grouping in greater depth. Before I go into the concept I would like to ask one thing: the last blog went around the internet like crazy and keeps coming back every few months as more people discover the designs. But many places that originally grabbed the art didn’t link back here, and now most mentions are unattributed. I have no problem with people sharing these and spreading the word, but I do hate that these are being seen out of context. So if you do grab these or post them somewhere else, please link back to this article. Thanks. And I just launched a new blog where I discuss non-toy stuff like design, politics, and media (toy stuff will remain here at AFi) so please go check it out at Barkingwood.com!
Light Side of the Force/Dark Side of the Force
When we were coming up with all of these concepts pretty much the only thing we had to keep in mind was for everyone to make sure we hit every price point with at least a few ideas, so that we weren’t all concentrating on the big tickets things (which were more fun!). And as guys who immersed themselves in Star Wars, it was less about looking for things to concept about, and more to try and design something that would incent fans, moms, and kids to want to buy some Pepsi to get our merchandise. But occasionally word would come down from the client requesting a specific direction to explore. In the group below, that direction was to show the duality of the light side and dark side of the Force, as embodied by Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. We knew what Anakin looked like because Lucasfilm has released some pics when Jake Lloyd was cast. But outside of that we had no idea how the character would be used in the film, so we hedged our bets by including a few Luke concepts in there. And as you can see, it was stretch for us to try and tie these two characters together in a physical product. Some of these smaller items that Steve Ross did, like the “Time Chamber” were based on technology from Disney’s Haunted Mansion and would have been really cool to see produced. Again, realize when we developed these in 1998, there was very little Star Wars merchandise out there yet. Even the toy line was barely over two years old. So when you see items like the stacking figures that someone eventually made, don’t point out that these exist, instead ask yourself why doesn’t ALL of these concepts exist by now?
Pepsi Specific Concepts
Knowing that we would most likely either be including these with a six-pack of Pepsi, or making a display around carton of Pepsi in stores, we developed a lot of ideas that were very tied in to Pepsi. After all, Pepsi spent nearly one billion dollars for the license, so they wanted to sell a whole lot of soda. (By the way, this is a pretty common practice. For Episode One, Pizza Hut even created a mascot just so she could interact with the Star Wars promotion.) Some of the ideas were based on the fact that the film would open during the Summer (grills, pool toys, etc.), some just traded off functional items that could be made from iconic images like Vader’s facemask. One note on the prequel characters that start showing up in these concepts: are a couple of rounds of pitches, Lucasfilm allowed us to use whatever we found on the internet about Episode One to concept with. Enough information had leaked by that point that we had a good idea of certain characters and vehicles and places. But our artwork was based on detailed descriptions given to us by friends who had seen some of the work being done at ILM. Those descriptions included things like “Gungans don’t wear clothes” and “Jar Jar has dreadlocks and speaks like a Rastafarian”. So please don’t judge our artistic talent by these goofy designs. There were a few really neat items that didn’t make the cut. My team had previously made the Character Cup Toppers for the Star Wars special edition, so for this round we came up with something new: the straws would be lightsabers or laser blasts coming out of guns, and would follow a track that twisted around the inside of the cup. As you turned the cup, the “blade” would extend with the familiar lightsaber ignition noise from a hidden sound chip. We made some engineering prototypes and they worked quite well (and I even sculpted a few mock-ups one afternoon in my cubicle for a last minute meeting!) but in the end the high cost killed them. And being huge toy collectors, we tried to give “hidden value” for fans of the Kenner toys like the Cantina Dispenser. It was going to be scaled to the action figures, so even if you didn’t use it for your drinks you would have an awesome pre-made diorama (much like the Yoda Pencil Sharpener in the section below this one).
Like the last blog, this group is just a whole bunch of random ideas thrown up against the wall to see what sticks. This project was both fun and frustrating. We had a very limited time to make…whatever is was we were going to make. We were working on many different projects at the same time all this was going on, and we had no clear idea of what the client wanted (mainly because the client wasn’t sure, either). So be kind to some of these pieces. The fabric booksock is not our finest hour.
What Was Made
We ended up producing one big idea: the life-size characters that showed up in many stores as part of a Pesi display, and lots of little ideas. Although some of these were fairly expensive high-end items, like the leather bomber jacket with the Naboo/Federation fighter squadron embroidered patches. The lightsaber flashlight was a great replica of Qui-Gon’s saber, and the first lightsaber made with a belt clip (the resin prototype is shown below; I can’t find a picture of the actual item that was made). The bottle toppers were also finger puppets.
So that’s it for this round, and that is the end of the Pepsi concepts! I have at least two more blogs detailing what it took to actually get everything produced. I’m really hoping to get both finished before San Diego Comic Con this year! And 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, Keith DeWaters, Mike Dethloff and Brad Weston.