Round Up the Usual Suspects! How to determine if a sample is real or fake

This is a milestone article – this is number 26.  A half of a year have articles had been posted.

During that time, I have received many very encouraging comments from posting new articles:

  • “My brother recommended I would possibly like this web site. He was totally right. This publish actually made my day.”
  • I LOVE reading these articles! Thanks for another great one!
  • “Another great article.”

I started writing the articles for the GI Joe Collector’s club. This was after a few fellow collectors suggested to “write down this information – we need do document Joe’s history.”  I designed GI Joes for about 5 years and was a collector so I could write some of that history with authority. Once the timing of the end of the Collector’s Club was announced, I wanted to keep going but push farther into other 1/6th scale figures.  When we went on our backyard adventures, we would usually say, “Do you want to play Joes?”  However, that play was never limited to GI Joe.  The Marx Best of the West Collection and Captain Action had a big part in the play mingling with all the others.  Occasionally even Big Foot from Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man would join in the action.  Big Jack, the African American friend of Mattel’s Big Jim was often on many deep African missions.  1/6th scale play never had a finite boundaries.  GI Joe was not the only 1/6th scale figure line I worked on.

While I have received very good reactions from most, one aspect the site is still lacking is reaching more people.  In order for any publisher to consider wanting to publish these stories and articles, I need more of an official following. Therefore, so I am going to reach into the dark side of my career experience with a shameless Marketing ploy:

THE FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY!

I need more people following the site, so to encourage that, I will have a non-biased person choose a name randomly from the list of people following the site on JANUARY 13th  and send that person, free of charge a preproduction GI Joe figure.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this site, there is a box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”, and you will receive an email notice just once a week noting that a new article to say a new article has been published.  I do not do any other mailings or lend/sell the names on the list to anyone.

If you have been one of my long time followers, THANK YOU! Your name is in the running for the give-away already so it is not just for new contacts.

In order to continue provided real insider information and fun stories instead of just being a marketing gimmick, the rest of this article will address the different types of samples available on the collector market and how to avoid being ripped off.

FINAL PRODUCTION SAMPLES/GREEN TAG SAMPLES – The last step before a product starts full production is the sign off a final sample.  Inside Hasbro, we call them “Green Card” samples. Other companies have other names: “Golden Samples”, “Final Aesthetic Approval Samples,” etc.  They all mean the same thing – this is the “final sample that all production needs to match”.  At Hasbro, A full master/shipping carton is sent for review so every aspect of the final shipped product can be verified.  Tags are signed and attached on final samples from the Asia team, then shipped to the US. There, appropriate representatives sign three of the samples. One signed sample goes to the factory.  One signed sample goes back to Hasbro Far East and the last signed sample stays in the US Hasbro offices. In this way, all three locations have a clear view of what the product must look like in case anyone sees a problem. An average master carton of Joes holds six.  The other three green tag samples are usually dispersed among the engineers or designers.  Quite often, that sample is opened to harvest some of the latest parts to use for new models.  In short, finding a Green Tag sample is incredibly rare. These green tags are usually taped to top or back of a package so the card can be flipped up to read any notes on the back.

However, I have seen some Green Tag samples that I expect are fakes.  In the many years I spent signing of these samples, I do not recall seeing one where the information was hand written on the green card.  It was always nicely typed on a typewriter.  So when I saw this image:

It struck me that someone had been at the factory or knew someone who gave them blank cards.  Then they wrote the information on them and sold the normal product to collectors for more money as Green tag samples.  Yes it is possible that it could be real and someone did it in a hurry at the factory, but with all the rush projects I worked on, you would think I would have seen that.  Therefore, unless you are absolutely sure of the source, I would not pay extra for a sample with a green tag that has the specific product information hand written.

Before standardizing onto Green tags, Hasbro had simple pieces of paper taped to the boxes with information hand written in.  The figure from Princess Gwenevere and Jewel Riders with a paper tag was released around 1996.

Other companies also have versions of these.  Marx had small sample tags that were tied on the product with strings or wire.  From the 1960s to the late 1980’s Mattel would melt into all its samples the same phrase “SAMPLE NOT FOR SALES”.  On fabrics they used an ink stamp that looked almost the same.

The bottom line on buying a sample that is supposed to be real Green tag sample or Production Pilot Sample, check to see what those tags really look like before accepting them a face value.

PRODUCTION PILOT SAMPLES – Production Pilot, also known as “pre-production samples”, are usually just the toy with no packaging.  The new tools get shot with the correct plastics as it can take half a day to purge an injection-molding machine to run a new color. Therefore, many new parts are often shot in odd colors.  Be sure to check the color of your suspected part next to one that is a production part to be sure. Take a look at this set of parts.

If you spotted the lime green Vietnam era grenade launcher, you are correct. It is obviously a wrong color. Keep in mind that companies like Hasbro and Marx shipped many products with color variations in the vintage days just to use up old stock. Therefore, it is common to find brown boots instead of black boots or even Soldiers of the World heads on talking GI Joe Action Marines. If you have an injection-molded part molded in colors that were not available from on-shelf toys, then you have real preproduction part.  It is the only flawless way to tell.

Being in wrong colors is also true of fabric parts.  New uniforms have to be sewn in the correct fabrics to make sure the patterns and the construction is accurate, but may be a completely different color as it take several weeks to get a new fabric color dyed for production. Some people would think, “I can sew well, so I can fake the sewn parts.  It is harder than you think.  I have been sewing since I was about 10.  Sewing the 1/6th scale clothing is one of the hardest things to do. It requires a seam allowance of 1/8” in some places.  1/8” is the normal margin of error in sewing.  (The absolute hardest thing to sew is Barbie underwear – it literally requires sewing with a tweezers.)  There are some people good enough to sew that well so look carefully at the fabric of the piece in question to a production part. See the image of the GI Joe Tomb of the Unknowns figures.  One is a preproduction piece and the other is final shipped product.  If you have really sharp eyes you can see that the medals were shot in the wrong colors also.

In addition, many if not all the parts will lack painting. Now I know there is someone saying inside their head right now, “I can get the paint off plastic parts – that is no proof.”  It is much harder than you think to get ALL the paint off.  It is true that it works better on some plastic parts than others.  The best way is to let the part soak in one of the various forms of paint thinner for a while.  If you are doing this on a polypropylene part, you might get away with it.  If you use a styrene part, it will damage the plastic in various ways such as leaving a matte texture, a fingerprint if you touch it right after or it can also melt the part itself if it is left in too long.  On rotocast heads, it is very difficult, as paint does not like to come off.  Even if you do get most of it off, it can leave a dull tone to the part that no longer looks clean from production.

One other way to identify a pre-production sample is the lack of legal markings but it is not a perfect test.  Hasbro does not mark all of its parts so this can only be determined if you have one part with legal markings and one part without the markings. Mattel parts used to have an 8-digit code on anything that is not a small part. It is the best way to tell the difference between real Big Jim parts and knock offs.  However, I do not think they use the same standard anymore.  In addition, the legal marking may only be on one part of the product.  For instance, the Mattel Disney Classics dolls have the copy write information for the Disney on the back of the head at the neck but the body still has the Mattel copy write. (Mattel wanted to be very clear if they ever stopped using that Barbie body that Disney had no rights to it even though it was used on a Disney doll.)

One other way to check for a preproduction figure is to see if the plastic parts have any molding sprues or pins still on them.  Most toy companies (EXCEPT MARX) remove those parts.  There are occasions on very small parts like throwing stars and grenades that they leave them intact to pack out reasons.  To be sure your part is preproduction, check out your part with molding pins or runners compared to how it shows in the package or once you have opened a production item.  The below image shows the Mickey Mouse ears from the Mattel Heart Family Goes to Disneyland segment. It still has a molding pin on the side.  Leaving on runners and pins would not have been allowed by the quality control people.

PROTOTYPES, CONCEPT MODELS, PAINT MASTERS – these are much harder to authenticate.  As someone who has been paid for decades to make those, they use a variety of methods.  They could have correct parts but were painted a different color.  Many times that paint will start to chip off and it is easy to fake.  The soft goods are almost always hand made without tags and has rougher stitching.  The fabric itself could be completely different. One of the best ways to tell is if it used hard copy resin cast parts that are hand painted.  That is very typical.  If you are looking at one of these, compare it to a production part.  Quite often, there are subtle differences in the cast part from the production part.  At least one person I know of was taking production parts, sanding off the legal markings, making casts and selling the hard copies as prototype parts.  The best way to prove if a concept model, paint master or prototype is real is to check it against product photography in the catalogs.  Often there are enough subtle differences so you can see what has changed from the sample to the production part.  This is because the photography stage usually happens way before production.  Many models are created and shown at toy fair then dropped before any production tools are made.

Now that you know how to spot real preproduction samples, it is time to review the figure for FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY so you can be sure it is authentic.  The figure is the GI Joe Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement.  See if you can spot what makes it real.

If you guessed:

  • Unpainted head
  • Unpainted vest
  • Unpainted hat
  • Unpainted rifle (very subtle – you have good eyes if you caught that)
  • Unpainted upper arms (how many missed that one?)
  • Soft goods pants constructed in the wrong color

The only thing he does not have is a part molded in the wrong color.  Since none of those parts are new tools and were all used previously on other Joes in those colors, it is no surprise the colors are correct.

If you were very astute, you may have looked at the figure shown when noting Green Tag samples.

Now you have all the details so you so if you are the winner of the FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY and it sits on your shelf, you can impress people by your knowledge of it.

Did you forget to scroll down and register and add yourself to the list of the usual suspects.

Will the Real James West Please Stand Up?

There has long been discussion among Marx collectors and it was mentioned in the outstanding book “The Encyclopedia of Marx Figures” by Tom Heaton that Marx may have been planning to make a James West figure from the TV show “Wild Wild West” along the lines of the Best of the West collection, but they shelved the idea.  The theory goes that it would use the body from Sam Cobra and the head from Captain Maddox. The body and gear certainly look like the classic James West look.  The head is also a reasonable likeness of Robert Conrad who played James West.

Assuming this was true, I always wondered if they had planned for an Artemus Gordon figure.  That could have been very cool if it was made like the Marx Mike Hazard Double Agent with masks, wigs, beards and more secret weapon props. If anyone has any info on that, please add it to the comments on this. Me and many others would love to hear it.

Rumors also talked of the Zeb Zackary head being made for a TV show of “Billy the Kid” and General Custer being made for another show of the same name.  Tom’s book shows an image of a figure with a 20th Century legal marking on it. It costs time and money to modify an injection-molding tool so there must be some truth to these stories. It is also in keeping with what a toy company would do after an item gets cancelled or does not sell.  They would typically reuse the tooling if possible since it is very expensive.

(For 1/6th scale purists, you may want to skip to the next paragraph.) Mattel planned a small 6” doll line based on Wonder Woman which the Mattel pushed hard and even convinced Warner Brothers to bend their style guide rules to create a new line of classic superheroes in more girl colors to help empower young girls.  It was ahead of its time.  Since it was so important to the current Mattel president, the started the doll tools before they sold the line in to retailers.  Unfortunately, it was too far ahead for retailers so the line was cancelled. Since the figures looked great and the tooling was already paid for, I took the tools, made new heads and released them as the Disney Musical Princesses.  I tell this to illustrate that it is typical to find new uses for non-used tooling.

Back to James – At Toylanta 2018 I purchased the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Marx Sam Cobra figure that is molded in royal blue instead of black. The dealer showed me an image that was thought to be the only known color photo of the Marx James West prototype which showed a blue body similar to the color James wore in the colored episodes of “Wild Wild West”.

The first time I heard the story, it prompted me to see for myself so I switched a Captain Maddox head onto an extra Sam Cobra body so I would have a James West figure.  When the blue one came available, and believing that is one of the best sculpted Marx bodies, I was a sucker for the sale.

One other telling clue was the tooling.  When an injection molded tool is made, sometimes the company will “shut off” part of the tool by adding a plug to a part of the molded runner or welding that spot closed.  It could be that some cavities are just not working right or they need to save some money by running fewer parts.  Either way, this new Sam Cobra has additional parts than were with the original Sam Cobra.  These include extra tips to fit onto the breakaway pool stick to make them into knight like weapons – see image below.  This was also a major proof verifying the story for me.  Once again, you do not modify tools for the fun of it. It is time consuming and expensive.  Those extra parts were made for a reason.

So today, I have as a close to a Marx “Wild Wild West” James West figure as feasible. He currently sits proudly among other 1/6th scale action figures (Thor, Wonder Woman, GI Joe Talking MP, Sir Cedric the Black Knight).

But wait… there’s more!  Marx was not the only company who planned to produce figures of James West.

One of the Boys Toys Design executives from Kenner started the Warner Brothers Toys company.  It also included a key marketer and a key designer from Kenner. Then they hired away the head of Kenner’s sculpting department and brought in another veteran sculptor who had worked as a vendor for Kenner and many other companies including Marx.  The sculpting on all of the WB Toys/N2Toys products was always top notch.

The original plan was that this new (loosely associated) division of WB would make and sell the action figures from WB properties. In case you have not seen one of the Warner Brother Toys 1/6th scale figures up close, they are well worth the look.  Many were designed: Mad Max, Crocodile Hunter, Red Planet and The Matrix but only The Matrix 1/6th figures shipped. (They did release a beautifully sculpted and painted set of small figures from “Babylon 5”).

Unfortunately, for that division, WB corporate kept giving the big projects to licensees so they could never create the critical mass of sales to keep the company going.  It later broke off completely from WB and sold products under the name N2Toys.  I think there was at least one other name but I really only noticed if the name on the check paying for the work was different.

In 1999, WB was scheduled to release a reboot of “Wild Wild West” as a feature film starring Will Smith. The plan was to make two different figures of Will as James West.

When they started sculpting a new 1/6th scale body for the proposed figures, I was thrilled when the two sculptors asked for my input.  Accordingly, I brought them examples of some of the best 1/6th sculpted figures.  Since they asked, I was very insistent on pushing them to get the hands right.  As a collector, I wanted them to be able to grip but not be locked into a permanent closed fist. They finally settled on a hand that looks good, functions well and is a cross between the original Marx hands and the final Marx hands.  They could grip but still had a more open look.

The other subtly of the bodies I really liked was the shoulders.  It always bothered me that the engineers insisted on putting arms exactly on the side of the torsos while the shoulder is partly defined by the shoulder joint itself.  If we moved the joint into the shoulder, it would look better and still give good motion.

My task was to make the costumes to fit the new body and provide accessories since those new parts would not be completed into time for New York Toy Fair.

For the models, I used Mattel Barbie African American Ken heads. At the time I finished the costumes, they had only one head sculpted and painted.  Therefore, I painted up one if the heads to look like Will in the film and left the other as it was since it would be switched onto a full painted/sculpted figure.

The direction was to make the clothing look deluxe with multiple textures so the long coat is made in a fine black corduroy that looks like velvet in that scale. Cuffs were added to the coat sleeves to get the look without the added cost or trying to hide a bulky shirt underneath.  The vest is satin with fake buttons, pockets and a pocket watch chain.  The vest had the collar and tie sewn to it and it closed on the back with Velcro. The tie even had the spotted detailing that was on the costume from the film.  The pants were made with a flat percale cotton to contrast from the shiny satin vest and matte textured coat.

The gun belt and pistols used for the show samples came from the Captain Action Lone Ranger.  The hat is the Marx Sam Cobra Stetson hat.

The other costume would be the signature short waisted coat look of James West from the original 1965 series, which is also on the Marx James West… I mean Sam Cobra.

To match the look from the movie photos, I used a black knit with a crepe texture for the coat and pants.  It matched the texture but still hung a little stiff. To give the rest of the outfit a punch, we used a gold metallic brocade for the vest.  I used the same sew in shirt/tie to keep the look slim.  It is hard to see in the photo but there are actually textured vinyl chaps over the pants for added detail.  I do not recognize the gun belt I used on that one.  It is possible it came from a Marx Butch Cassidy Wild Bunch figure.  This one needed to be a single pistol holster.

The product was presented at NY Toy Fair but the major buyers passed on it so the line was dropped.

One of the fun parts of working on licensed product is getting to see stills and preproduction art from upcoming movies.  I remember in this case that they only gave a stack of about a dozen scene shots and backstage shots to work from.

So, technically, we do not have an official Wild Wild West 1/6th scale James West figure on the market, but I think we can all agree, it would have been SO cool.

The Toy Who Loved Me – Secret Agent Joe missions completed and cancelled

Let’s face it, GI Joe has been in the spy business for quite a while.  We could say it started as far back as the Adventures of GI Joe Secret Mission to Spy Island.  This was such a popular set that it had many variations even a Mike Powers Atomic Man version.  The storyline was simple; infiltrate into a highly protected area wearing all black in a rubber dingy and blow something up.  It included, sweater, pants, boots, plastic knit hat, submachine gun, radio equipment, camera, a coil of wire, dynamite, detonator, flare gun, search light, binoculars, oar and of course the inflatable PVC dingy.

There were also spy sets closer to the iconic Mike Hazard Double Agent by Marx with all of the great spy equipment and masks – more like what we were watching on the TV show Mission Impossible.  Once GI Joe was now fully committed into adventuring with the Adventure Team, one of those sets released was GI Joe Secret Agent. This equipment set had a classic trench coat, spy case with communicator, bulletproof vest, pistol, pistol holster and the best part, a mask. It is funny that in those days they went to the odd effort of labeling things with large words “BULLET PROOF VEST” or “DETONATOR.”  They were not exactly hard to figure out.

This is one of the few vintage sets I never obtained so I assume the mask is hard styrene plastic based on the images rather than a soft PVC mask as in included issued to Mike Hazard.  However, it is still a mask, which made it very cool.

One of the dream projects I had was to create concept models and designs for relaunches of classic Adventure Team sets.  These were not intended to be close reproductions such as the GI Joe Adventure Team Timeless Collection Undercover Agent (which added a figure and an entire brown uniform). Those are fun but strictly targeted to collectors.

At this particular time, Hasbro had not yet re-acquired the rights to Adventure Team, however, that did not stop me from creating a concept model of Adventures of GI Joe Secret Agent.  I wanted the fun of the original, with updated look and play.  This would have several modes, similar to the GI Joe Double Duty figures, which had already been released at this time.  These would also have soft goods changes and PVC masks. This version had three complete modes.

Secret Agent GI Joe mode wore a gray jumpsuit and carried the obligatory shoulder holster with pistol.  This was how I imagined Joe going into the Adventure Team Headquarters to pick up a new mission… should he decide to accept it.

The second mode required he get close to his target.  It would be time to don a rubber mask, a hat and a black trench coat. I also wanted to include a fun weapon in the vein of the child-size series of spy toys released by Mattel under the name Agent Zero M.  Some of the line included radios that turned into pistols or machine guns.  Not unlike a lighter, cigarette case and pen which could become a golden gun.

Unfortunately, I no longer have the model and only have fuzzy images, but the shoulder mounted video recorder was also a projectile launcher. If anyone is looking very carefully, the model is using the Playing Mantis Captain Action Dr. Evil mask.  Also as a total point of authenticity he is wearing a vintage Secret Mission to Spy Island molded knit cap.

The final mode had him get close enough to communist dictator general to assume his identity and walk away with the evil plans to foil his dastardly doings.  To achieve this look, Joe would turn his black trench coat inside out so it became a gray military coat.  Joe would then tuck in his pants into the riding boots, which all dictators required to wear.  The mask used for this model is the Captain Action Kabai Singh with an added patch eye. The hat came from the Hasbro GI Joe Street Fighter II M Bison, which used the old Hall of Fame body tooling. The case with the plans came from the B25 Bomber Pilot.

Unfortunately, the concept was not chosen to move forward so it went back into the shadows under cover.

Later, I dusted it off, updated pieces and re-proposed parts of it as the flagship item for a potential new spy offshoot of Adventure Team – the GI Joe Adventure Team Secret Service Spy Case.  As this has been described in an article published in the GI Joe Collector Club magazine and shown in a couple of conventions, it is shown here just as a single photo instead of going into detail again. It proposed using a modern version of an attaché case to be the equivalent of a vintage GI Joe Locker. The set included highly detailed weaponry and accessories and very accurately scales.  The soft goods and masks also enabled Joe to have three modes.

Still believing in the spy concept, I tried one more time.  In the very last gasps of Classic Collection GI Joe and it slumping sales, the thinking was, “What if we pushed Joe more civil servant with more police, fire and rescue but nothing truly military?”  This gave me the opportunity to skirt that fine line but proposing GI Joe Intelligence Agent.

This was a VERY modern update to Secret Agent where Joe had been assigned to Iraq or Afghanistan to infiltrate and deal with an issue.  Once again, it had multiple modes.

Mode 1 was a basic agent look where he was ready with all of his gear.  His soft goods was a simple khaki shirt and pants. This concept was taken farther along the approval process so we cost reduced the amount of gear but still kept it all very detailed and accurate.  This Joe would go into harm’s way fully equipped.

 

Mode 2 had Joe infiltrate an area as a Western photojournalist.  He wore a photographer’s vest over his khaki basics, had a boonie hat and sticky TPR plastic goatee that would stick to his face.  He wore sunglasses to help with the glare and to hide his identity. He carried camera equipment and a pistol with silencer in case he was apprehended.

This time I do have good images of a new camcorder that expanded into a bazooka to shoot a rocket propelled grenade projectile.

The final mode would allow Joe to take a deep undercover assignment.  His khaki vest reversed to a camouflage flack vest. There was a second sticky beard that was very full and an appropriate head wrap.  Of course, he would not be a true desert rebel without being issued an AK47.

Sadly, this secret agent mission was also cancelled.

While I have never actually succeeded in getting a 1/6th scale spy figure on the market, there was one more I worked on.

The normal process of doing a job for a client was to receive a phone call usually on the lines of, “Hey Greg, what is your schedule like? I have another rush project…” These requests also come in email form.  One day, the fax machine turned on and started spitting out pages.  Normally, I had pre-warning when someone was going to fax something.  As I went to the machine, bemused to see what was coming out, I saw many pages from a script with parts underlined.  At the end was a hand scrawled note from DreamWorks contact, “Greg, I will call you later tonight to discuss.  Can you make a figure for a new movie we are working on with Jackie Chan named Tuxedo?  The script pages attached show the description of what it needs to look like.”

What was your favorite 1/6th scale spy or spy mission?

GI Joe Backyard Battles on Bikes

In previous articles published in the GI Joe Collectors Club magazine, I noted a few GI Joe Double Duty figures designed which were reconfigured before release to become Real American Hero characters. Notably, Stealth Shot which became Grunt and Midnight Scorpion which became Dusty. There were other Double Duty designs created. Some used and some not used.

One of the designs for an unnamed dessert bike assault became Spy Troops Mountain Recon with Dusty.

There is always two parts of the mission for a GI Joe Double Duty figure. Often it is #1 get there and #2 destroy an enemy stronghold or weapon. Getting there remained the same. It was a great dirt bike from Action Man Mountain Bike Extreme, which was a big seller in Europe. The detailing is modern and techy and it had the added benefit of being reasonably priced (many of the Action Man accessories were over-engineered with the result of being too expensive for the US market.
My favorite part of the bike was the projectile launcher in the front that triggers by pressing down on the back wheel of the bike so you can make it shoot as you are rolling it into action. Two additional projectiles could clip onto the side of the bike. The missiles actually looked more like rocket-propelled grenades than the bland projectiles from GI Joe Hall of Fame figures. Once I had access to the AM projectiles, I hardly ever used the HOF versions and created a few new ones when the opportunity arose. Joe’s uniform for this version was only adding camouflage painting to the existing AM figure, which has sculpting like motocross riding armor. At that time we wanted to use that body which had knees that would flex and feet attached to the pedals so AM looked like he was peddling the bike as you rolled it. Later we changed the bike riding uniform to a sleeveless jumpsuit and black boots.
The head wrap and goggles from Action Man Desert Mission inspired the initial look of the uniform. This gave a desert tribal Bedouin look, which is seldom seen on Joe, and then I added mission specific camouflage to blend into the sand dunes on his long sleeved robe. His robe also contained straps to hold the Hall of Fame bazooka and a panel of hidden electronics for navigation and communication. In this mode, he would infiltrate the enemy stronghold and destroy the appropriate terrorist weapon.

Later the design became part of the GI Joe Spy Troops segment of RAH with Dusty once again inheriting an earlier design.
Now that the Double Duty segment had ended, he no longer needed separate looks so the figure’s uniform was simplified and given additional plastic gear. It was also noted that Joe consumers were not as interested in figures that had limited mobility and use. The AM body would only look good on the bike and that figure would never stand well on its own due to the loose knee joints. Dusty now used the T-shirt molded torso body as the bike and the size of the package where already hiking the retail price tag up. Then we gave him military kneepads and the very detailed short boots from the first Dusty/ Midnight Scorpion. To make him look more hi-tech, we used the motocross helmet with facemask that came with the AM Mountain Bike Extreme.

He was issued a HOF bandolier style holster to hold one HOF grenades and a detailed AM pistol. The pistol has an attached scope with removable stock and removable barrel. One of the old HOF belts, probably from Karate Chopping Snake Eyes was just oddly shaped enough to hold these other parts. A HOF knife and sheath could be strapped to Dusty’s legs so the whole figure was self-contained to go into battle (one of the aspects I always found important in all of my GI Joe Backyard Battles).
Another Double Duty design did not make the cut was Rolling Thunder. In this case, we started with a vehicle that would convert into two functions. I was aiming at making a motorcycle turn into a gun like a WWII portable anti-aircraft mount; get in fast and blow something up.
The motor cycle was as simple as I could make it with two wheels, handlebars, windscreen and a motor/seat that was two halves of detailed techy plastic. The wheels came off to be mounts for 4 barrels – 2 on each side. The motor opened to be the base structure and the windscreen became a heads-up display for Joe to look through and fire.

His uniform was comprise of a riding helmet, tall riding boots, knee pads, an AM plastic flack vest and a jumpsuit with sleeves and pant legs in camo to tuck in for a different look.
The best part was the hidden inside the bike structure, wear I hid a bellows so it shot four foam missiles. These missiles were from GI Joe Extreme.
I will admit that I tried to cram in too much so it looked too contrived, but it would have been awesome firepower in yet another GI Joe Backyard Battle.

How long ago was your last GI Joe Backyard Battle?

GI Joe Goes off the Deep End!

GI Joe was issued his first sea sled first in 1965 as GI Joe Official Sea Sled and Frogman. This version is molded in red and black with a diver wearing an orange dipped plastisol wet suit. There was also a Sears’ special version that also included a fragile vacu-formed submarine cave to hide in. Later, the sea sled resurfaced under the new branding of The Adventures of GI Joe as the Shark’s Surprise set. This version of the sea sled is molded in blue and also included a figure. To complete the adventure, it also contained a treasure chest, (over-sized) coins and one of the many appearances of the roto-molded shark… before the shark trained to be a spy.

The Sea Sled was one of the best vehicles produced for vintage GI Joe. If this item has been sitting on your shelf collecting dust, I encourage you to take it to a pool and play with it. It is a great design and is very functional.

The design is very sleek with Joe riding on his belly and held in place with a ring that he slides under. There is a clear face shield and control pattern with sonar screen so Joe would not get lost. There are ballast tanks on the sides that you can leave full of air for Joe to navigate on the surface or you can fill them to your desired level with water so Joe can travel just beneath the waves, along the bottom or even mid-way. The rudder on the back has notches to set the turning radius so Joe can be aimed straight, explore in circles or gentle arcs.

Then there is the motor powered by strong “D-cell” batteries for strength and longer play time. The batteries fit into a watertight housing with screw-on lid is accessible by gently sliding the black floor panel back. It also came with foam inserts that fit with the battery tube to balance the buoyancy. Those are the first parts destroyed since they are just weak foam. As a replacement, I cut pieces out of a pool noodle to fit and it worked very well.

The Adventure Team was issued a submarine named the Sea Wolf. It was not as elegant or functional as the Sea Sled. Sadly, it was a one-trick-pony but that trick could make Joe rise and sink with bellows. The large clear dome made it fun. It always surprised me that it was released in a dull white color scheme instead of classic AT yellow or the occasional orange.

As a smaller accessory, the Adventure Team was also issued the Under Water Explorer. It had a stylish design and was just big enough to play with for Joe. A yellow version of it came with a big clamshell as the AT Jaws of Death set.

The GI Joe Collector’s Club released a convention special with a re-tooled version of the sea sled in the AT set Terror on the Sea Floor. This also included a large man eating plant with spring loaded Jaws that could snap closed onto Joe, Action Man or any other unsuspecting 1/6th scale action figure.

There was one more sea sled for vintage Adventure Team GI Joe as part of the Danger of the Depths set. This was a yellow hunk of plastic with very little design quality. In fact, it was so cheap that when I found mine the other day, I did not automatically associate it with Hasbro and was thinking it was from one of the knock off companies. The sled’s one redeeming feature was an underwater motor that could attach to the sled bottom. This was an off-the-shelf part that Hasbro sourced. It just did not have the strength with that one “AA” battery to push Joe’s weight through the water.

However, a variation of that part was sold earlier by Mattel as part of their undersea extension of Major Matt MasonThe Sea Devils. Those figures had a very simple sea sled that their module fit. Mattel also designed several vehicles to work with the same unit to keep costs down. As those figures were half the size and half the weight, that power module worked well.

Later, when Hasbro was highlighting Mike Power Atomic Man, they released a simplified version as GI Joe Dive to Danger Atomic Man.  This did not include the motor. The shark was they typical gray instead of being black like the spy shark.

Speaking of the spy shark, one of my favorite “toys that was never produced” was a version of the spy shark where we used the Classic Collection Shark but made a high tech looking helmet with cameras, sensors and a possibly a projectile launcher. One of the really cool parts was that it was styled so it made the basic shark look like a hammer head shark.  There was some irritating discussion comments provided by that packaging copy writer that it was unfair to the shark (no, I am not making this up). Somehow, this would be promoting abusing a (ruthless eating machine) animal.  I thought it was perfect as there was  clearly a nefarious villain enslaving sharks by fitting (innocent) sharks with high tech gear to make the (unwilling participants) into mean slaves.  Sadly, this is one concept I can only describe as the just barely finished model was presented in Pawtucket then I had to leave back to Cincinnati before shooting any record photos of it.

A little earlier, Danger of the Depths was chosen to be updated for the official relaunch of the Adventure Team into the Classic Collection. The designer insisted on giving that product all the same detail and quality as the collector targeted military figures. It even has underwater control panel similar to the original vintage Sea Sled. The original plan was to also make it a motorized sea sled. We were even in discussions with an outside design firm that had designed full sized functioning versions. Unfortunately, costs grew out of control and it was scaled back.

There was one other accessory planned for Danger of the Depths but also dropped for cost.  We wanted Joe to have a full mission to accomplish so I was asked to make a concept model of a small spy satellite. It used pieces from the Action Man Photo Mission but augmented with solar panels and a radar dish.

In my short stint creating mission packs for the Pawtucket team, I reused that cool sea sled and added a blue underwater camouflage to it. It was released as part of a Real American Hero Spy Troops GI Joe adventure pack named Underwater Attack Mission. This version is hard to find.

While the Classic Collection versions were being released, the design team in London was busy creating a very cool submarine as main part of the Action Man Ocean Mission. This design has plenty of good play built in. After you load AM inside (or a Joe since that set included a very cheap AM with almost no articulation) the user could slide their hand inside. This made it what we would call “kid propelled”. I made countless dives with a Joe in that vehicle exploring the bottom of my pool. However, the fun did not stop there; with your hand inside you could work a very basic front claw so you really retrieve artifacts like treasure chests or recovering downed satellites.

In addition, the sub is equipped with an underwater missile you can shoot at (abused) spy sharks.  The launcher is designed smartly so it can also snap off to be a hand-held under water missile launcher. That launcher also appear in at least one small AM adventure pack.

The front has a clear bubble so your figure can see well to explore. It snaps off and on with a little twist so the figure can be placed inside and hands snapped onto the controls.

YES – I did push to get that in the line while we were created the Adventures of GI Joe segment. It would have needed about a $40 retail and the director of the GI Joe group at that time had no sense of what makes a cool toy. For him, it was all about the statistics, “water toys do not sell as well”.  He was not interested in large accessories unless they could roll. The only large accessory we made during that time which did not roll was the Boffers pom pom gun set.

Afterwards, the London team issued one more version of the submarine. The item is the AM Atlantic Mission. I believe it was a special for Woolworths and is extremely hard to find. It is almost exactly, what I wanted the Adventures of GI Joe sub to look like.

WARNING – if you are a true Adventure Team fan, the next images could cause uncontrolled drooling!

Enjoy.

 

When was the last time you played with your GI Joe or AM submarine?

Monsters Lead Interesting Lives!

With the release of this article near Halloween, I thought it would be appropriate to review some 1/6th scale monsters.  The classic ones are the Hasbro Universal Monsters set. This is one of the sets designed in Pawtucket by the LC (Letter of Credit) group, which developed all of the special-run figures.  Most of the sculpting work happened in China instead of with the in-house Pawtucket or Cincinnati sculpting teams.  This can make the figures very hit or miss. Some were poorly done (like Dracula so we will not talk much about him) but others were spot on. The Frankenstein’s Monster was a good figure with one of their better sculpting jobs.  The skin tone and texture was dead-on.  The soft goods were also simple but well done.  He is a worthy figure to grapple with GI Joe or scare your Barbies.

The Mummy had decent sculpting but terrible color match. What often happens with these types of issues is a tight deadline and the designer is forced to accept less than perfect to hit the ship date rather than have it fixed.  If the colors had matched, it would have been a much better figure.

A point in case is the 1/6th scale Hasbro Poison Ivy figure from the film “Batman and Robin”.  The soft goods are exquisite, but in the process of making the heads, the head did not shrink the normal amount. Typically, a head is sculpted 6-8% larger to account for about 2% shrinkage to make the master roto-cast mold.  From that mold, they make dozens of production skins to make molds which shrink it 2% more.  Then the final heads that come out of those molds have shrunk about 2% more. Many variables can throw off that procedure including the balance of plasticizer in the liquid PVC that they squirt into the molds before heating and spinning them.   If that happen, a roto-cast part can be oversized or undersized.  It is a shame every other detail on that figure is great.  To hit the ship deadline, they had to release it instead of making one more head mold which can take a week or more. The designer was very disappointed it had to be released with the larger head for the film release date.

In case anyone is wondering, the process to make roto-cast molds is very Frankenstein-ish in its own right.  A head is sculpted in wax and has an electrode embedded into it.  A thin coating of silver oxide is spayed over the sculpted part to ensure electricity flows through it.  The part is attached to a rod, which is motorized to slowly pulse back and forth.  That rod sits over a vat of hydrochloric acid.  The top of the acid vat is usually covered with ping-pong balls to mitigate any acid splashing.  Dissolved in the acid solution is nickel, which free floats in the acid. Once the part is being agitated in the acid/nickel solution, they turn on an electric current screaming through the new Barbie head, which attracts nickel onto the silver nitrate one molecule at a time to give a perfectly smooth surface.  After a thickness of about 1/16” has accumulated, the head is removed and sent to another tank.  That one has copper free floating.  The electrified doll head agitates back and forth until it is about ¼” thick.  Then the wax it melted out with a blowtorch from the outside. That mold has a special ring attached to it to hold a plug for the next or hidden on the scalp under the hair.  PVC is shot in then it spins in an oven until ready.  The final mold looks like the Blob has just attacked. This particular roto-cast mold is from a small Mr. Potato Head figure.

The Wolf Man was the best of the set.  It was constructed just like the others with a new molded head, hands, appropriate skin tone and simple soft goods.  However, this case, all the little details fell together and it is one of their best.

They later sold a few Universal Monsters in individual sets.  Those original figures came in standards window boxes like most 1/6th scale figures.  They also expanded with the Phantom of the Opera and the Bride of Frankenstein.  Unfortunately, I never picked these up.  The Phantom of the Opera was a bit dull which explains why he never made it to my collection.

However, the Bride will appear someday.  From the photos, she looks very well designed.  As always, I am curious which body they used.  It looks to be a nice body created by the same design group used on the first 90’s Star Wars Princess Leia figure. If you never saw that figure undressed and you are into chunky Russian weight lifters, you might like it.  It appears that the Brides’ arms are entirely sculpted with probably an internal joint at the elbow.  The costume is very simple to match the character in the film.

Later they re-released some of the original characters but added a few new ones including The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Invisible Man. The packaging was shelf ready with a clear tube for 360 degree viewing of the figure wired to an internal stand. The Invisible Man has more elaborate soft goods, but once again, he had the same hydrocephalic large head issue. The figure was made at the same factory as Ivy.  It could also be that the hand wrapped bandages are making it look too large also.  I never unwrapped mine before trading it off but if I remember correctly, the head and hands were molded in clear.

Of all of the 1/6th scale Hasbro Universal Monsters; my favorite by far is the Creature from the black Lagoon.

 

Certainly, I would have enjoyed some additional articulation, but that could be said for just about any 1/6th figure beside Adam and the super articulated GI Joe bodies.  It would have been more fun to get him into some very realistic poses but the sculpting and detailing is so well done, it makes up for that.  There is a single direction articulation in the arm using the same process with an internal hard joint like the bendable Barbie legs.  The Creature’s legs are the same way.  They specifically traded off the universal joints for keep the sculpting consistent.  That figure has stayed in my over-sized bin of standard pool toys for years (along with the Action Man Ocean Mission submarine, a vintage AM dingy, Big Jim’s Terror Off Tahiti, several non-specific Joes attired in the Hall of Fame Underwater Attack, a twenty inch killer whale and a dozen or so 1/6th aquatic animals).

The Creature even posed for a short photographic story line we shot during a summer Miami Valley GI Joe Collector Club pool party.  Those Coast Guard Joes never saw him coming.

While I did not have the opportunity to design many 1/6th monsters, there were a couple.  For the Disney Parks figures to accompany Davy Crockett and the Pirates of the Caribbean, there was a Headless Horseman concept model constructed based on the Disney animated short “Sleepy Hollow” that was released on a tape The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

The figure wore black pants and shirt with high sewn black boots.  The cape is appropriately over-sized with a big collar.  The horse was a Barbie Dallas that had not been sonic welded together so we were able to root a long black mane and tail for it.  There was a very quick plastic sword made for him to brandish and we used an off-the-shelf foam jack-o-lantern to put in his hand.  There was not time to find or paint a saddle black for him to sit better and there was none on the horse in the film. Therefore, for the presentation, he had a black rubber band holding his ankles close together under the horse’s girth. Ironically, that model was originally made for an internal Halloween pumpkin-carving contest at Mattel.  Instead of a foam pumpkin, he carried a real pumpkin with a tiny detailed face carved into it.  Later when we were looking at Disney park concepts, I dug him back out, cleaned off the dried pumpkin from his hand and presented him with the foam pumpkin.

It is always fun to have monsters for our heroes to battle.  I hope this article helps you realize that Bugs Bunny was right when he told Gossamer, “I hear monsters lead interesting lives.”

 

What was your favorite 1/6th monster?

Masked Villains

On one of the days I was working in Hasbro on GI Joe, the Marketing intern came to see me with a very puzzled look on his face.  One of his responsibilities was to read and respond to consumer questions.  A question came in on GI Joe that he had no clue how to react.  The question was roughly this, “I was wondering if you can tell me how much my old GI Joe is worth.” Sounds reasonably simple so far, but he continued, “It has blue skin, bulging eyes and its brain is showing.”  That was the part where the twenty-ish intern hit the wall.  “Does this make any sense to you?” he asked.  I tried to explain it a bit, as his eyes somehow glassed over even more, so I said, “Would you like me to type the reply for you?”

In case you are not that into 1/6th scale figures, this was not part of the “GI Joe Liberates Dr. Mengele’s Research Hospital” set.  It was indeed the villain for Ideal’s 1967 Captain Action line: Dr. Evil.  I had the pleasure of telling the collector that his figure was worth more than most GI Joes.  At that time, the loose figure was worth about a hundred dollars.

Captain Action was an amazing 1/6th scale line consisting of a hero, Captain Action, a side-kick, Action Lad and a villain, Dr. Evil.  However, the real fun was their accessory sets, which had costumes and soft PVC masks for Captain Action to become comic book heroes such as Captain America, Green Hornet or Flash GordonAction Lad could become Robin, Aqua Lad or SuperboyDr. Evil looked like a hippy alien but had a trench coat, gear and two masks to change his appearance. Had the line lasted longer, we are all sure; we could have seen became villains such as The Joker or Dr. Doom.

When Playing Mantis relaunched the Captain Action line in the late 90’s, we finally received our long overdue villains. The Playing Mantis sets came in 5th panel boxes that open like a book. The artwork was great with a true comic book style.  Dr. Evil was part of the initial launch although he only had a ray gun, necklace and mask instead of a full extra persona.  The likeness was very close to the original so he was a “got-a-have” for me.

In that second wave, we finally received a true villain character. It was the ultimate villain of Flash Gordon – the Emperor Ming the Merciless of the Planet Mongo. Flash was still dressed in a modern space suit more like Buzz Aldrin, probably caused by the space fever rampant in the late 60’s due to the moon launch.  However, Ming looked like he stepped right from the comic strips.  His costume was a full jumpsuit with soft goods cape.  He had a staff, a sword and a crystal ball.  His boots were made of rotocast PVC instead of the clumsy blow-molded boots Captain Action and the rest of the 60’s figures had.  This also came with the Dr. Evil figure wearing the costume instead of it being just an accessory pack.

The next villain to ship was Phantom’s archenemy the pirate Kabai Sangh.  I bought this the moment I saw it as my proclivity for purple was possibly propagated my favorite Superhero: The Phantom. He came with soft goods coat, pants and tunic. His pointy curled-toed boots were nicely sculpted and His gear was great with a Ruger pistol, dagger, scimitar, bandoleer, spyglass and loot.  His mask was one of the best sculptings we had seen on Captain Action.  He had a true nasty villain face with sinister expression.  These came with a cost-reduced package missing the 5th panel but still looked great.

The third villain released was the nemesis of Thor: Loki.  This time the figure was not included. Loki looked like he came directly from the Marvel comic books with a great sneering mask with those giant horns. He had a full jumpsuit, boots, a staff and gloved hands.  It was also one of the sets you would need to buy, if you wanted to get all the parts for build a Hawkeye.  This is a marketing gimmick that I should have fallen prey to but never did.  Now I wish I had.

One of the fun parts of all these figures were their toy price tag of about $30 and they were available at Toys R Us. The original plan was to sell Captain America’s arch nemesis: the Red Skull, but he never appeared on shelves… although I kept looking each week for months.  Yes, there is an amazing 1/6th Red Skull made by Hot Toys but it is hard to justify spending hundreds for an action figure (yes… I know that could be considered heresy.)

Lately, there have been fun internet discussions on “What villains would you like to have for Captain Action?”  While I weighed in with my answers, it occurred to me that I was one of the few who had the opportunity to try.

When I created the Disney Classics line of Fashion dolls for Mattel (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) part of the plan, inspired by Captain Action, was to sell “Mask Packs” of secondary characters.  As I mentioned in earlier articles, many more were designed than the four that were released: Cinderella Fairy Godmother, Cinderella’s Stepmother, the Queen from Snow White and the Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.

One of the additional concept models created was Jafar from Aladdin.  If you are wondering why he is in red instead of black, as he appeared in the films, think back to my comments in the Prince of Egypt articles: the use of computers in films has allowed the studios to change colors easily and at the last moment.  When this model was made, Jafar was still in red.  The mask pack of Jafar was designed to fit on any male fashion doll (and most 1/6th male figures). His costume is one long tunic with a separate sash that closes with Velcro at the waste. His shoes did have rounded pointy tips but were soft goods and sized only for Ken’s feet.  He also came with a magic lamp.

The head was made of sculpted of Sculpy then baked and painted. While some of these were made to slip directly over a Ken head, this one was made on a shorter time schedule so it fit onto a stick that replaced Ken’s head.  The sculpting was rough but had the true flavor of the character.  The pictures shown are of the model after many years of flopping around in boxes of prototypes so it shows some scuffing and a break that had to be glued back together.   This was the only model created of Jafar as this set was dropped from the line unfortunately.

The Peter Pan segment of Disney Classics only appeared as a Disney Parks & Disney Stores specials consisting of Peter, Wendy and Tinkerbell.  However, a full line of concept models was designed and created.  Captain Hook was one of the two mask packs developed for that film (the other being Super Chief shown in an earlier article).

Captain Hook had elaborate soft goods of pants with sewn-in stockings, a coat with ruffle, diagonal with sheath and a felt hat with fur feather. The shoes were constructed of flocked rayon fabric. The sword he would carry came from the pirates in the Big Jim International line.  That hook hand on the model came from the small Masters of the Universe TrapJaw. The mask on this one-of-a kind model was made to fit over a figure’s head.

There were hints and promises of more Captain Action figures coming out and a stunning Action Girl figure image shown. I do not know if it ever released, but no new villains have shipped.  So to the people with the license… please get creative and find a way to get us more sets at affordable prices.

 

What costumes would you like to have for a 1/6th female heroine?

Biker Joes

As discussed in earlier articles, tooling to make plastic toys is very expensive. Therefore, just as the vintage GI Joe continually reused tooling such as the multiple variations of the six-wheeled vehicle Adventure Team Vehicle, the Classic Collection GI Joes reused many tools.

The big advantage for the non-modern or historical military figures (Adventures of, Adventure Team or Real American hero) there was a wealth of tools created for GI Joe Hall of Fame, which equipped Action Man and then that arsenal expanded many times over.

As the Cincinnati and Pawtucket design teams had very little interaction with the London design team who worked on Action Man and Sindy, I was one of the few conduits of information on AM.  New products were shown to meetings in Pawtucket once a year but the information seldom made it down to the trenches.  I had reference on all the HOF items as I had collected almost all of it. For AM products, I had to scour the toy shows and Joe conventions for product.  It was even more challenging as any AM item also had to be in its original packaging so the engineering team could see the factory code on each box to locate the tools.

One of the parts that I found and wanted was the AM Polar Extreme motorcycle.  It was really more of a dirt bike refitted for snow but it looked cool and it shot a projectile (always a plus in my mind). It had spikes for more gripping on snow and ice. While those were not really necessary, they looked cool.

There is always an issue to design around in any project.  In this case, they had sculpted the front of the motor with streams of ice as if it was clogging up with real snow and ice.  It looked fun there, but snow Joes were few and far between so asking for an accessory for a snow figure was never going to be approved as being too esoteric.

Looking at the snow/ice made me think, “What if I could make it look like slime from driving through a swamp?” Then the spikes on the wheels would also make sense for extra traction, so the Real American Hero Swamp Bike was born. I repainted it first to match the greens and browns to blend into a swamp, then added mud and muck detailing to look like it had been driven through the swamps.

While management liked the idea of a motorcycle for 1/6th scale RAH, since there was a new cycle just designed for the 3 ¾” Snake eyes, they decided to use that look and tool an entirely new bike. I assume, the same outside vendor designed both the 3 ¾” and the 1/6th.

At that point, my assignment was to create an appropriate new Snake Eyes figure for it. Since the tooling cost of the cycle was very high, I was asked to create another figure with no new tooling.  I was very happy with the result.  I reasoned, “Since Snake Eyes was always about edged weapons, that would mean he would be particular about using the right sword for the right job – right?”  I used the gear vest from AM Bowman since it had three slots on the back to hold three arrows. Now I had a way to hold three different swords. There was a sword with a straight blade from one of the first Hasbro Action Man figures AM Ninja Warrior.  The GI Joe WWII Japanese Zero Pilot came with a sword that had ornate sculpted details and a more curved blade.  AM Power Arm Ninja came equipped with a sword that had a serrated edge (so he could cut open a COBRA HISS like a tin can). Therefore, instead of just two of the same swords like previous versions, this Snake Eyes had three different swords.

Now that we had a Real American Hero cycle, why not re-purpose that first bike into a COBRA cycle.  The obvious answer was to create a cycle for the real biker arm of COBRA; so the Dreadnok cycle was born. At that time, there was not a 1/6th scale Dreadnok figure so we would need to add a few extra parts to turn a COBRA figure into a Dreadnok.

There just happened to be a good AM Dr. X Viking helmet to make it really look Dreadnok.  Of course, it would also need some nasty street fighting gear such as a chain mace.  One of the many AM Ninja variations, AM Ninja Kick, supplied that. To complete the look, AM Combat 20+ had a diagonal bandoleer-type gear belt was a good fit.  The folding stock on an Uzi sub-machine-gun could clip onto it along with two grenades (to toss as they are screaming by on a motorcycle).

The problem was that ice again.  I changed the overall colors to be a basic black street bike to look meaner.  Then it hit me, if it had an over-charged engine (just like a Dreadnok is over-charged), why not have dramatic flames shooting out of the engine front like an afterburner.  After all, Dreadnoks would be tough enough to be wearing Kevlar pants … right?

Later, we did add Dreadnok Ripper to the line so there could have been an appropriate rider for the bike.  Sadly, both versions of the AM Polar bike were dropped.

However, the design of the Snake Eyes Ninja Lighting cycle was exceedingly cool so Joe would still have a fine set of wheels.

Yes – there are three other 1/6th GI Joe motorcycles that have not been mentioned in this article: Harley Electro-glide, WWII Harley and MP Harley.  Those will have to wait for another day.

 

What was your favorite 1/6th motorcycle?

Let My Toys Go! – Prince of Egypt Figures Part 2

A quick recap from part 1: The animated feature Prince of Egypt released in 1998 with Prince Moses, Moses, the Queen with Baby Moses, and the wife of Moses Zipporah.  They sold as a special available only at Walmart and were gone in just a couple of weeks. Other figures were planned but all licensing was scaled back as soon as the words, “Academy Awards” started to be spoken.  Part one only covered the backstory and both Moses figures.

One of the problems with modern computerized films is that it allows the studio to keep making changes up to the last couple of months before distribution.  Often the film’s colors keep changing until the very last available date. This obviously creates issues for making toys to match the film.  Production can take three months for a large release and it is about six weeks on the water.

The very first model created and shown for Zipporah was the least interesting.  Her gown was very plain and her head design still had a very long distance between the eyes and mouth: not unlike an El Greco painting.  It worked well on Moses but looked terrible on Zipporah. There was still a focus on textured fabrics.

One aspect of design the studio insisted on, “the Midianites (her tribe) were black so Zipporah will be a black character.”  They were trying to keep as much authenticity as possible.  That actually made the character look nicer.  Her eyes really popped on the new sculpting and skin tone.  We did give Zipporah a small lamb, as she was a shepherdess.

These were the last Kenner/Hasbro toys I worked on as an employee and the final details were completed in Pawtucket. I do believe it lost some luster from the last model to production. (It would be about a year later that I started back in as an in-house vendor to work on GI Joe for five years).

There was another version of Zipporah created and I honestly cannot remember why.  Either this was another primary gown the studio was considering or it could have been planned to sell through alternate channels of distribution. To my eye, it was too busy and dark so it was a good that this version did not ship.

The final Zipporah designed was the Wedding Day Zipporah. The gown was very white which offset her skin tone the best to make it very stunning.  The plan for this was to appear as a special in a popular sales catalog.  However, their business model structure required a manufacturing a huge amount of product ready to ship, but they would only order it from you monthly.  It forced all the risk of the sales onto the toy company.  As toy sales are already a very risky, “hit or miss” proposition, management wisely decided to pass.  It would have been a beautiful figure.

The jewel of the set was Queen with Baby Moses.  The original model was more ornate than the final release.  The detailing was part of the issue, as simplification usually happens between the concept model and production.  However, that simplified detailing did match the film better.

The pose of the figure was much different.  We had planned to sculpt a new body with simplified but elegant articulation.  The elbows had a pivot at a 45-degree angle similar to the waist on Twist and Turn Barbie.  In the end, management decided to use the bodies the Sindy doll Hasbro had bought and sold in the UK.   That body only has universal joints in the shoulders, which made her articulation very limited.

The hair was another big issue.  We sculpted the hair to get the specific look from the film’s art on the model. However, as young girls always prefer real hair to play with, and this was not a true collector doll, we erred on the side of girls.  Getting that look with the hair was very tricky and required combining several different unusual techniques to get that look.

One other detail to note is her stand. It was specifically sculpted for the DreamWorks presentation. It incorporated the film name and had her on the edge of the Nile with clear blue edging to the stand. It was a shame they lowered the shelf price and eliminated these, but with the new deluxe packaging direction, not many people would want to remove them from the box and ever see the stand.

Even though I was just picking apart the doll, it still is one of the better non-collector price point dolls on the market.  On a high note, I found a website that listed her as one of the “10 Best Black Dolls Ever Made.”  I took that as quite a compliment.  Especially considering one of my other dolls was on the list also – Fallon from Princess Gwenevere and Jewel Riders. 

 

One of the things that always irked me at Mattel was their insistence at that time on using only three different skin tones on dolls: Pink, Suntan and African American.  That particular AA color always looked chalky and dead.  Later when I was a Kenner and they did not have preset skin tones, I was very particular to find just the right skin colors that looked alive.  Those two dolls were really two of my best female dolls.

Another figure that was designed and sculpted but never released was a Jochebed – Mother of Moses.  Once again, it has special attention to fabric texture.  The scene was striking.  There was also a basket sculpted which baby Moses would fit into.  It may just have been too heart wrenching to make a figure of that scene.

While I love creating 1/6th action figures, I have also created tons of plush toys.  Occasionally, I had the chance to combine those passions. This lead to the GI Joe Yeti and Polar Bear/Kodiak Attack.  This also led to a plush version of Habibi, who became the camel of Moses in the film.  The design was very stylized.  I pushed for making it sized to fit with the figures.  We created two different versions.  The first one was just a fun plush toy in the right size.  It had a saddle and continued the highly textured fabric look. This one would come with a small book and was intended to sell through a book publisher.

The second version was the same 1/6th scale size but with an added wire frame for posing.  This way it could stand or sit.  It would even hold one of the figures on that saddle.

That was the entire 1/6th scale line designed.  It would have been fun to have more on the market but at least I had the fun of designing and hand making many of the samples myself.  At least by showing the unproduced work it is a way to “Let My Toys Go!”

However, before we end this, how about one or two more views of the other unproduced, yet marvelously sculpted jackal.

What was your favorite 1/6th dog? (Expect a post of that someday).

So it Shall be Written, So it Shall be Done – Prince of Egypt Figures Part 1

In 1994, three of the biggest names in Hollywood joined to form an outstanding motion picture company: DreamWorks SKG.  Steven Spielberg was and is one of the greatest film director’s to ever grace the star-studded sidewalks of Hollywood. Jeffrey Katzenberg had recently left his position with Disney studios as one of the key movers and shakers in that company. David Geffen is one of the top music moguls.  These three top creatives formed an alliance that brought us such outstanding franchises as Shrek, How to Train your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and many more.

In the story told to licensors, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg where having a conversation about what makes a good animated film.  One said it needed a strong hero and a strong villain whereas the other noted that the story of the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt, as commemorated each year at Passover, had those elements.  DreamWorks moved forward to make the animated “Prince of Egypt” film by doing extensive research on the project. This included sending experts over to the Middle East just to collect the real colors for use in the film to be as authentic as possible.  They even went to the extreme of dying local natural yarn fibers with the indigenous plants that weavers used in that location and time period.  The vivid results astounded everyone. This led to the amazingly colorful visuals and music which enchanted the box offices in 1998.

Before this time, only a few strategic licensing partners signed onto this project.  Since the subject can be emotional, the plan mandated keeping licensing small and very accurate. Before DreamWorks would allow any licensors to sign on, they had to prove quality and a reason that licensed product would enhance the film experience. In short, there would be no equivalent of the infamous Darth Vader Nutcracker licensed for this film (which is still the poster child for a company willing to license anything for any reason).

Hasbro was interested, but the studio was not overly excited about the idea of making dolls for “Prince of Egypt”. There were voices inside the company against it however; Jeffrey Katzenberg agreed to attend a product presentation by Hasbro to decide for himself.  The high attention to detail and quality were very evident.  What clinched the approval was positioning the figures from a setting from the film in deluxe packaging. This made you feel more like you were entering into a specific scene from the film instead of just seeing another doll in another box.  It was my honor to be the presenter of the figures in that meeting.  There were a few other items shown such a highly detailed small scenes of the Moses racing a chariot against Rameses but when the film premiered for Passover 1998, the only Hasbro items were the 1/6th figures that arrived on shelf.

As the film continued to be developed there was talk around Tinsel Town of Academy Award Status for a film. Since, somehow, licensing is poisonous to the Academy Award contenders, the studio management cut back the licensing even more.  Fortunately, Hasbro was already in production, so the distribution was limited instead of stopped. If you are wondering why you have never seen these, they arrived in low numbers and only into Walmart.  They shipped in a master carton of four with one of each character. The figures released are Prince Moses, Moses, the Queen with Baby Moses, and the wife of Moses Zipporah. The locus appeared and picked the shelves clean in a week or two.  If you have some of these, in your collection, you are lucky.

For the Prince Moses figure, it was chosen to depict the scene where Moses was working as an architect to help his brother Rameses build Egypt greater.  Prince Moses is wearing a fine white pleated kilt with gold metallic trim.  His jewelry is all golden vacumetalized and consists of a hawk necklace, armbands and bracelets. The sandals have been carefully sculpted to look authentic. The head is a great match to the film art.

The body is Hasbro’s New Kids on the Block fashion dolls that also saw use for Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s boyfriend Harvey.  So unfortunately, these have limited fashion doll articulation.

Every toy goes through stages of development to make it work better for play value, cost and quality.  In this particular case, there was a push to see if the figure would still work with rooted hair instead of wearing a sculpted wig. After tests, it was determined it was too costly and there was too much room for errors in quality to root and hand clip his hair to achieve that look.

My favorite part of the figure was his pet Jackal. There were two in the film and although they had very little screen time, I thought their design was outstanding.  From the moment I saw them in the early presentation art, I wanted to make them. The original presentation model showed two, one sitting and one standing. However, the cost of the jewelry Moses wore was adding up so one pup was cut.  Since the sitting-up pup was more visible in the package, it survived.  Please check out the outstanding sculpting on those two jackals – hopefully they will bring the smile to your face that they always bring to mine.

The packaging was a very expensive “5th panel” box that opens like a book.  However, the figure is still visible on shelf through an opening in that panel.  When opened, it reveals one of the background paintings from the film of Egypt in construction and contains the inscription “Moses is chosen Royal Chief Architect by his brother, Prince Regent Rameses.”  It is a very elegant yet detailed packaging design. It is one of the best packages my product ever arrived in.

One of the intrinsic qualities woven into these figures is the fabric textures.  That is often an aspect costed out of all but the highest-priced collector dolls. The adult Moses figure has nicely textured fabrics. The original model had construction with a fabric of a heavy striped weave to give look of hand-woven wool.  The final version wears a much fuller robe with a feel closer to raw silk. The final production coat and tunic both even had custom embroidery on them.

If you look carefully at his staff in the package, you will see it has green on the top. On one side, the staff is sculpted to look just like wood and is all brown. If you turn the staff around, there is green on top and subtle sculpting of a snake head forming. This way you can turn it in your hand making it look like the staff is turning into a snake to follow the story line where the staff of Moses turns into a snake to eat the other staffs that were turned into snakes.

The adult Moses box package is in the same format with an opening door. This scene is his iconic parting of the waves with the quote, “God’s Wonders are revealed in the Parting of the Red Sea.”

I was fortunate to see very early art and footage of the film while designing these products. It was truly amazing to see the care that each of the studio professionals took, at all levels, to keep every part of the film and licensing reverent and exquisite.

The other figures that shipped and the others that were dropped will be reviewed in following articles – stay tuned!

 

What Bible character would you most like to see in 1/6th scale?