So I cut my teeth in the world of toys and collectibles by working on something that was neither a toy or a collectible. The freelance comic-book style drawings I did of characters from a story called Average Joe for The ReSaurus Company Inc. that I went over in the last installment of Chronolillogy got my foot in the door.
OK, maybe not a foot, but definitely a toe.
I kept in touch with Mike, the VP of the Product Development department there, and would occasionally drive down to ReSaurus just to make sure he saw my face often and let him know that I was available for any kind of work. As it turned out, they were getting ready to make some action figures for a license they picked up to a video game called Duke Nukem and Mike let me know that he might need me on some of it. In fact as part of that original pitch for the license Mike had asked me, earlier in the year, to draw a quick concept of the figure. I did one, not even sure they used it. It wasn't all that inspired to tell you the truth.
Now I had no idea at the time, but when Mike called me and offered me the gig to do the turnaround drawings for the Duke Nukem figure, it was the first step of many that was leading the Borman boys and anyone else who worked at ReSaurus to really dislike me. Maybe dislike is too strong a word, but they were definitely suspicious of me and skeptical and that's understandable. Had you asked them at the time if the two of them would be standing by my side as I got married a few years from then they probably would have said, 'Uh....no.'
See, they had always been pushing hard internally to Mike and Doug (ReSaurus Owners) to actually pursue making action figures and move away from the latex and vinyl puppets that they were known for.
They made some pretty cool dinosaur puppets for The Lost World, and some generic stuff of animals and dinosaurs, but the Borman boys had other plans...they knew that the ability to break new ground was there in the action figure market, and they had very specific ideas of how to do that, but from what I understand of what was going they always met with resistance from their bosses who never really saw the vision of what could be.
Then they actually got to a point of convincing the owners to secure the license to this game, and after all that work they don’t even get to design the thing, it gets turned over to some nimrod on the outside (that's me) and they were, rightfully, pissed.
I got the gig for two reasons I believe. One, my technical drawing skills were at a slightly higher level than theirs (only because I had around ten years of experience on them). Two, they'd been butting heads with Mike over crap all the time and I was anxious to get any kind of work at all so I was obviously very agreeable to Mike and very open to him. Mike probably felt more comfortable with me since we were the same age and the Bormans and the other guys were in their early twenties.
Of course, those were all the wrong reasons for me to be doing it. It doesn't matter a LICK if you can draw like Michelangelo, you can be a stellar product designer without that skill, and the ability to draw does not make you qualified to design a product. And then obviously I was not privy at the time of the way things really worked there as far as the relationships, so my attitude probably would have been different had I known.
Though I don't really blame myself for any of this, mind you. I'm still glad it worked out the way it did, and as much as I love Chris and Jay and the other guys who worked there the fact that they got screwed over this project but it benefited me I gotta be honest...I can live with that. It continued getting my career started, I made some money I desperately needed at the time and I made some life-long friends out of the deal.
There were silver linings.
Maybe if you asked Jay and Chris about it today they might agree with that (at least I HOPE they would), but certainly not at the time. If you thought they were miffed over the slight of having the design of the stuff taken away from them...well, they went through the roof when they saw the actual turnaround.
Pretty awful, ain't it? But I'd like to defend it if I could for a moment. First of all, I had never actually DONE a turnaround for an action figure before, so I was a very bright shade of green. But I could certainly draw better than this, you've seen evidence of that. But the main reason is because I had some of the most un-helpful art direction I have ever received from anyone, anywhere.
Maybe it was just mis-communication, but this is the way it went down. I was told I had to have a very simple, basic pose. I was told what kind of articulation cuts to indicate. But the thing that really screwed me up is that I was told to make every line solid...to not do any shading or cross-hatching or anything like that. That was SUPER odd to me but I did what I was told. You can see it in the work...I just don't normally draw like this.
Later it was explained to me that I was told that because Mike was concerned the sculptor might sculpt the cross-hatching and some other totally weird explanations, but it didn’t matter, my inexperience, the inefficient art direction and the blocking of any communication between me and the guys whose input would have mattered (Bormans/rest of PD team) resulted in one stinker of a turnaround.
Now credit where credit is due here...the figure did not turn out all that bad for a first outing, but that has little to do with me. They made it work. And when I say 'they' I mean Jay, Chris, Tony, Jeremy, Steve and whoever happened to be working there (in the department) at the time since they all came in one at a time over a period of months or years. I was the last of the real product design people to arrive, actually.
They gave it accessories that worked, they managed the sculptor to do things in the right way, they painted it, they managed it through production, they gave it what was, in my opinion, the foundation of what the ReSaurus look and feel would become. I say foundation because it wasn't a bad figure at all, but it wasn't anywhere near how cool the figures would get when everything was firing together as a well oiled machine. But I don't want to get ahead of myself here. It’s like writing a frakkin' book, this thing. And I haven’t done that either.
Staying on Duke, I also designed the vinyl accessory part of the figure, the web gear that fits over the torso.
Yet another thing that I sort of screwed up. I'm sure Jay and Chris envisioned a more realistic web gear, something grounded in reality. That's one of the things they really pushed for, a sense of realism, and here I come with a Liefeld-style packs and straps kind of thing. The ONLY thing that saved it here is the subject matter itself. Duke Nukem is somewhat campy and humorous, so it worked. But if this had been for Quake or something more realistic, it would have really shit the bed.
It was Chris I believe who designed the remaining accessories on paper.
And if I am not mistaken they also sculpted them in house themselves rather than farm out the sculpting the way they did on the figure itself. They all turned out exceptionally well, and they functioned WITH the figure in a great way. They basically believed that if you can walk through the game in this first person shooter and pull out all these weapons by scrolling through the screen, then the figure itself should be able to physically WEAR all the weapons at the same time.
To me? That's something very, very special that shows you how those guys thought every little detail through.
After the Duke figure was released, they set in motion the designs and plans for the line to become a much more complete one, by adding in some of the very awesome aliens that populated Duke's world. This was one of what I consider to be the 'core values' of what I learned from those guys. Always strive to build the universe around the main characters and not just the main characters themselves. It's a lesson that I always followed and only deviated when financial considerations (toy market getting worse later in life) forced me to do so. One of these days I ought to jot down all the things that sort of became the Commandments of Product Design I took from that job and those people.
And populate Duke's world they did. I don’t know who actually did the work, or I would credit them here, but they designed figures for the Pig Cop...
...and a boss enemy called Battle Lord.
They sculpted some prototypes with sort of a team concept. Darryl Finney sculpted the masses of the Battle Lord and Pig Cop, while Jeremy and Jay and Chris added textures and details to them. I believe Jeremy handled Octobrain on his own sculpturally but everybody probably tinkered on elements of it. Then of course they all worked together on painting them up. (That was common at ReSaurus early on...a total team concept that got more difficult to maintain the more people with very specific egos were added to that mix.) These are those first painted prototypes.
Can you tell that the Pig Cop was shot in sunlight? We had NO sophisticated equipment so we did the best with what we had. I wish I had some of those raw pics we used to take. You'd be amazed at what was accomplished with so little.
And here is an image of some of the actual figures that got released, you can see some of the changes that got implemented, particularly in the Octobrain brain and the base which was created after the fact in China.
When all was said and done, it was shaping up to be a fantastic looking line overall, and to sweeten the pot since they were technically re-releasing the Duke figure again with this first official 'series', they devised some Duke Variants. The Night Strike Duke, which had that more realistic feel that you know came straight from the Borman brothers and a SWAT duke that had the same kind of flavor. Some of the early prototypes.
As with most lines that would eventually be created and released at ReSaurus, there were subtle details everywhere, but because they were GOOD details they didn’t come screaming out at you when you looked at the work, they were just there.
There were some great instructional illustrations that I think Steve Hamaker did for the packaging. Here are just a few.
And there were some really great images of the characters that were fully painted on the blister inserts. You might have thought those were provided by the licensor. And you'd be wrong. In the best action figure traditions from which they sprang, the guys felt that original art, created FOR the figure, would be the best, and that's what they made happen. It was too late for the original Duke figure, which did use licensor provided art, but for the new versions we got something cooking.
Mike, the VP, actually rendered out one of them, for the Battle Lord. But a good buddy of mine from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Tom Biondolillo, did the rest on a freelance basis. I remembered that his style, when he painted, has a really old school feel and I thought that was what they were looking for on these paintings, so I recommended him. They liked the samples they saw and agreed to give him the gig, and he sent in some really nifty images, exactly what we were all looking for. (Though...my memory on all this stuff is not perfect, I am not 100% sure he did the Pig Cop.)
It was a total of six SKU's, but I only have final package photos of five. SWAT Duke is absent from the packaging photo, and I don’t have a personal copy to actually take a shot of or I would. Actually I don’t have any of the samples to be quite honest, I had to sell them along with a lot of my other stuff during some rather hard times. There was also a Military Pig Cop, a green fatigue wearing version of the Pig Cop that Chris had cooked up but I do not remember if that was released or if it was canceled before it was released.
Not a bad line-up of figures overall huh? In retrospect of course. Yeah there are always going to be things to look at and pick apart, and nobody does that as critically as we who worked in this shit, believe me. But you have to look back on any line as a designer or a sculptor or a painter and sort of put the whole thing into a perspective and see how it all holds together. I think it holds together very well.
Those times were great if you were into making and selling figures, because even if these weren't very good we'd have still sold a bunch of them. Sales were through the roof on action figure lines back then, it was SICK the numbers we were pulling.
Comparing the numbers of Duke or some of the other early ReSaurus lines to some of the later Palisades ones and to numbers I have heard from other people in this business is mind boggling.
And yet, with as many of these that were sold, you hardly ever see them on eBay or anywhere else. And you see stuff like late series Muppets or Resident Evil, which had less than a fourth of the total number of sales, on eBay fairly frequently.
I've always wondered what to make of that.