Saturday, June 28, 2008

Action Figures

What? An Arthur Denison action figure? And isn’t that Nallab the librarian all beefed up and ready for adventure?

Back in 1995 when Dinotopia was in development for a theatrical motion picture, the Hasbro toy company embarked on an ambitious proposal for a Dinotopia toy line. What you are looking at are one-of-a-kind presentation prototypes, not production toys.

Focus group tests at Hasbro showed that boys and girls liked Dinotopia equally and that kids spontaneously played with dinosaur toys by having people feeding the dinosaurs and riding them, not just the “attack mode” that has become so commonplace. Hasbro took the unprecedented step of teaming up their boy and girl toy designers to generate ideas in what is normally a very gender-segregated and conceptually stereotyped category of merchandise.

For my own part, starting as early as 1991, I did a number of sketches to explore how my characters might look if they were translated visually in other forms.

Above are some character key drawings in gouache with an acetate overlay to see how they would look in line and flat color.

The theatrical motion picture never came to pass, and neither did the toys, which is a common fate of concept proposals. In 1999, we decided to permit a TV miniseries to move forward instead, and we strictly limited the merchandising—but that’s another story.

On future posts, if you’re interested, I’ll share a few of the exploratory prototypes as well as some of my own unpublished development sketches.
I’d like to express my thanks and appreciation to the talented team at Hasbro, as well as Michael Stone of The Beanstalk Group, plus Jim Black, Ken Ralston and Lynda Guber, together with Robert Gould of Imaginosis, who helped develop the film project.


uglymuffin said...

The inside story of toys? Sounds interesting and fun. If you have the time, you should expound.

Erik Bongers said...

Indeed !
And the inside story on 'to-merchandise-or-not-to merchandise' too.

innisart said...

For several years, I sculpted toys for The Toy Vault, and it was an interesting experience. You never know how literary works will be interpreted. With the physiques of your characters looking so "beefed up," they look more like figures from an animated series. Has there been talk of a Dinotopia cartoon?

Azonthus said...

Yes! I would love to see more from the unproduced toy line. I am also curious as to why the merchandising for the miniseries was limited; the Alpha-Series eggs for Hallmark were awesome!

Thanks for sharing these great prototypes with us=) Who is the guy on the far left?

Eric Orchard said...

How frustrating (for me). I'd love to have Dinotopia toys. Love seeing the characters rendered in flat colours, this is what I imagine the comic book might look like.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! We're sooooo interested in seeing all that behind the scenes work! POSTPOSTPOST!

Andrew Wales said...

Those toys look awesome! I'd love to hear more. I guess I never grew up. I still have action figures on my file cabinet at school. It's just really cool to see characters in 3D, relatively inexpensive.

The characters translate well into line art with flat color. I think there should be Dinotopia comics as well.

LJay said...

I would definitely love to see more about this... always up for more dinotopia!

merchandising seems to be a tricky thing, something I don't quite understand yet... I guess there is the right balance between enriching/ further developing a line and innundating the market.

I too am very curious about the figure on the far left... i have no idea who he is...

ricardo said...

Not (necessarily) related to the action figures themselves, but did you ever comment on how did you get to the final designs of your characters?

Randall Ensley said...

Trust me, with my kids loving all things Dinotopia, we would have had Dinotopia figures everywhere in the 90's if these came out. I'm sure a skybax rider would have been introduced in series 2.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone. I have lots of other prototypes to show you in future posts.

Ricardo, I tried developing character models in a lot of different media—pen, ink, oil—but sculpting them helped me finalize them the most.

Azonthus and Ljay, I think the character on the left was named Thomas, if memory serves. He was a rival of Will's in the skybax camp of the Columbia screenplay, which adapted the first two books.

Even though I'd be as happy to sell out as the next guy, there were two main reasons we limited licensing. One is that it's really time consuming to supervise unless you have a staff (which we don't) and I wanted to keep my time for writing and illustrating.

The second reason is that I really wanted any new licensed form to advance the narrative and build the world in interesting ways. So it was a privilege to work with Alan Dean Foster, Scott Ciencin, and others on the novels.

Eric, we had the opportunity to do a line of Dinotopia comics, but I said no, thanks, because I felt that the art form of comics is too similar to the sequential art form of the original books.

Anonymous said...

I would have been ALL over Dinotopia toys as a child, especially if I could have a Bix...

cran berry said...

Funny how Bix is grouped as a "male character", and I always thought of Koro as female too. Interesting to see that Oriana was planned as early as 1991 too!