SDCC 2012 Panels - Independent Toymakers Roundtable: Turning Characters into Toys

This panel grabbed my attention by including the simple three letter word "toy" and billed many Indie Toymakers as panelists (though I barely recognized any of the names) so I figured, what the heck - let's make this happen!

The idea here was to give each of these seven people 5 minutes to describe, in essence, "how do you independently make toys" before opening it up to Q&A. Well, that of course went to pot and poor old Kris Schantz was cut off mid presentation as it had run just over the time limit, so no questions this time.

It was an entertaining panel, each person with their own Powerpoint relevant to their own products, but was not terribly informative and basically fell into that "pretty much what I expected" realm of information. It was still overall fun with some neat photos and anecdotes. I'm not sure I'll be buying any of these folks' products (mainly plush) but it's always cool to see new things.

The panel was moderated by a woman named Wendy Bryan, of something called "I Heart Guts," and basically amounted to an overview intro (which sadly I missed as I was rushing in post-early-dinner) and juggling the laptop around panelists. I've bullet-pointed my notes by each speaker, in order of their presentations, so... here are the highlights!

Nitin Bhargava, Kid Robot
-It takes 14-20 months for Kid Robot to produce a figure
-This is not only producing figure but also coordinating, or "curating," the multiple artists for each release
-For new items, Nitin is looking for art that breaks new boundaries for Kid Robot, draws in a new audience, or presents fresh spin on an established line
-not every piece of amazing art would be an amazing toy

Shawn Smith, Shawnimals
-In essence, Shawnimals is a design studio, just that they're their own/only client
-The first task is to create characters that work for multiple forms first then adapt into their own plush, or others vinyl, etc (i.e. the emphasis is on the character, not the toy)
-"Does it resonate? Is it relatable?" / "Is it a mix of cute, cool, weird, and funny?" / "Simple yet interesting"
-They have 23 lands in their world
-Prototyping the plush is key because they may go through many iterations before they find the right look or perhaps even just realize the design just doesn't work
-They can make up to 200 units by hand in their studio, but that has limiting cost factors
-Problems with factories mean even small or slight changes to size or placement can have major impact on the final look

Dan Goodsell, Mr Toast
-Why toys? You can make money on toys - you can't on comics
-"I interact with a factory in China. We email, I wire them money, then... the toys just magically show up."
-Ugly Dolls was sort of is inspiration/model for his line
-Design, release and finances himself - if you are going to be an independent producer you have to be totally committed (for instance he often looks at it as he is competing with Disney. And don't expect to make much money from doing this.
-Avoid pitfalls - don't invest too much money initially or into one thing. Start small.

Kerry Horvath & Darth Rimmer, Evil Ice Cream
-The character was bitten then thrown out on the curb and partially melts, this makes him bitter and thus a little evil
-They used to eat a lot of ice cream during the summer so they gained some weight and then though "oooh, evil ice cream." Later, in the bath, Darth had some bath crayons and drew the first character ...and the rest is history.
-Made toys that you would want to have

Dov Kelemer, DKE toys
-DKE is a toy distributor - others make the product, they get it to stores
-They handle orders, invoices, shipping, etc.
-They can distribute - but they can't create demand for it. They have a "warehouse filled with a lot of peoples mistakes."
-It's very hard in the Designer Toy world to make money. About 50% of SRP goes to retailer, and part of that remainder then goes to the distributor so the Creator Margin is very low.
-"So I guess the general advice is... don't make toys"
-It's taken about seven years for DKE to "dial in" to what people want so that their time at Comic-Con pays for itself. "It's a promotional expense for us."

Joshua Ben Longo, Longo-Land
-Is a teacher as well as an artist. Hasn't ever "mass produced" anything.
-He started as an artist, then made some small toys, then bigger toys and as that grew so did his exposure and ability to create. His toys lean more towards art he's done several exhibitions.
-Some years he makes money, some year he doesn't. Example - someone paid him $1000 to make a stool, he spent $750 on it and it took him three months

Kris Schantz, Happy Worker
-He and his friends created the Geek-man action figure in 2004. That really helped them get noticed and opened opportunities to work with a bunch of cool people
-Making toys is like making a model, so if you've built a model kit you are a toymaker
-He was very humbled by meeting the people in the factory who make the toys
-Kris' presentation really focused on the mass production/factory end of things and he had lots of great photos. It's really, really a bummer his presentation was the one cut short because it looked like it was to cover the most relevant info to my interests and curiosities (even things like safety standards and so on!)

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