Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Evolution of Rizzo the Rat (Part 2)

NOTE: Still no change in Bennett, for good or ill. Still hoping for that ONE day where he has no seizures, then I'll take that and keep moving forward. Until then? Frustrating as hell to wake up every morning and stare at the ceiling as I try to find some hidden will to get up out of bed and face each day. Some days are better than others. U2 wrote a song about that. Anyway, on to Part 2 of yesterday's blog...

Continuing with the Evolution of Rizzo the Rat...

Yeah...But What Goes in the REST of the Package…?
Rizzo is a really small Muppet. Consequently he was a really small figure in the scheme of things. Even though scale had to be cheated often in most of the lines I ever worked on, Rizzo is still pretty tiny when you put him next to a package-filling Beauregard or Fozzie or Chef. So we had to figure out exactly what was going to take up all that extra real estate inside the packaging.

Lots of ideas were kicked around. You may not know this, but at one time the bulk of the accessories was going to be some Dancing Cheeses, shown here in a concept sketch that I think was drawn by Jamie.

We had to scrap that idea. Why? Because you have to pick and choose how much time you actually have to devote to any given part of a line, and any given part of a SKU, or figure package. Any part that had a likeness has to go through full process, meaning reviews, counter reviews, revision and so on. That takes time. It also takes a lot more dough.

Accessories of real objects cost less to sculpt, take less time to review and are usually the way to go when you have a limit on all your resources. That's why so many times though the message board was screaming "PACK-INS!!!" I was quietly thinking..."Um, no..." while verbalizing the term "Anything is Possible!", because it was the best way to get everybody to just shut the, it was a great way to get information across quickly, yeah that's it.

We ultimately decided on some objects from the film Muppets From Space, a Pizza in a Box, and a hat and mic from Muppets Tonight. A good mix. Here is the main scene that provided the bulk of the inspiration for most of the Rizzo accessories.

Enter the Mancuso
So in comes Bill Mancuso, who really started doing most of the accessories as of Series 4. He is talented as shit, has a very fast turnaround time and generally is just a nice guy, even though these days he looks like a thug and would scare you if you saw him on the street.

After some concepts, Billy gets cracking on the Pizza Box and some of the other parts. Some great images of the early stages of the accessories.

Bet you didn't know that at one time the Boxing Glove was going to function. Of course...I was insane in those days and tried to do anything and everything to increase the cool factor of any added part. In the end we killed it because of costs, but Billy actually did sculpt a working model.

Too Much Information...Running Through My Brain
I can't say this enough. You can never, ever, ever, ever have too much information when you are ready to send your notes in to whoever you have making your product. I believe that so strongly that I always, well ALMOST always, would create what I just referred to as a 'Production Binder'. I'm sure there is probably a cooler name for it, but this single thing, to me, is the most important part of the process. In it, I specify everything I expect the product to do, call out every type of plastic I want, the kinds of joints I want, any problems I see as potential hurdles, and on and on and on.

These binder pages, if you can believe it, are really light. I mean these Rizzo pages. But, this particular SKU did not require as much in the way of binder data as some of the other figures have. Or some other projects. As you can imagine if you have ever opened and played with The Swedish Kitchen playset, the production binder for that was over 60 pages, and I still don't think I had enough info in there.

But this Rizzo binder was adequate for what I needed to do, so I didn't overdo it. This idea was actually born from back in my ReSaurus days. Back then, these binders had to be made by hand, with photographs and cut and paste and stuff like that then color copied, but eventually the computers were good enough to do almost everything digitally.

These binders were invaluable. I can't tell you how many times problems came up and all I had to do was go back to the binder and locate what I originally specified and that was all I needed. It saved my ass more times than I can count, and it is shocking to me that more people in the business don't do it. Of course, a lot of bigger companies take prototypes to a really completed level. We never could because of budget, so often some pretty significant things had to be completed overseas, and the only way to do it was to make sure someone over there had every bit of info they needed.

Wok Your Plan
After the tooling patterns, painted masters, binders, notes, samples, whatever you gathered for the production of the piece is in the hands of the factory, they will, if requested, give you as much data as YOU need to make sure that everything is where it needs to be. I usually insisted on getting a complete tooling plan, another thing that I have found some people even in the business do not see very often. I won't proceed without one, and they are happy to provide it if you are cool about it.

This tool plan was for the bulk of the Rizzo figure, though the jacket, since it was going to be made out of a softer, more pliable plastic, was not in here. It went into a mold that was specifically created to group all the soft parts together.

No Matter How Small
There are always going to be problems, no matter how much info you do send over. It's the nature of the beast. We are after all talking about some very complicated things. They don't seem that way when you look at a figure on the shelf, but any figure that has any level of sophistication has a ton of parts, and the days of the simplistic Kenner Star Wars figure are long gone (sadly).

But this is your JOB...this is what you get paid to DO. You try to anticipate and prevent as many problems as you can going in, but you also have to be ready to problem solve along the way. I find that to be a very exiting component of doing this kind of work...every single day there was something different, some new challenge that would await me every time I booted up my MAC in the morning. I loved that.

When Rizzo first got made, the intention was to have six individual whiskers in his nose. Three on each side. However, we were finding that each whisker did not want to stay in with just a glue point. So I suggested cutting the nose in half, and having two whiskers, those on opposite sides, be ONE long piece of material. That way the glue point could be on the inside of the nose itself, and that way by pulling on any one whisker you didn't have as good of a chance to pull it out. Here is the factory review of that hair-splitting scenario. I know. I love bad puns what can I say?

Animal Magnetism
The plan was to have a magnet inside Rizzo's head, like some of the other earlier Muppet figures, but one problem often leads to another. Frankly, the separation of the nose made it impossible for us to have a magnet hole in his head, and this is primarily technical based entirely on how the head was now going to have to be re-positioned in the mold in order to 'pull' out effectively.

Luckily, Rizzo has some big ears, and some fur on his head, which would be painted dark in production. So the solution was to create some raised areas behind his ears, and add small ridges on the inside of the hat. That way, though it wouldn't stay on his head if you drop kicked him (as we all did from time to time) the hat had enough contact and rigidity to keep the hat on his head for average moving around.

Packaging Kama Sutra
Next comes the time when you have to figure out, after you get all the finished plastic parts in the office, where the plastic parts are actually going to be positioned in the packaging. I've done it in a lot of different ways, but here's a great shot of a very simple method. Just take the parts, lay them on a print out of the cardbacks, and snap a shitty photo.

Works though!

How's Your Hole...Family?
Sometimes problems come out of nowhere. You haven't anticipated them and consequently you haven't planned for them. Ah, but this is the REALLY interesting part. You always wonder what you might have missed going in and somewhere along the way some thing is going to hit you in the face and remind you that you still will always have much to learn.

Series 4 was he first to switch to clamshells packaging. That means that the blister card went away in favor of a huge plastic package that sort of fit like a clamshell over the interior contents. I specified this in my notes, but I failed to mention one thing...with clamshell packaging there are different kinds of j-hooks. J-hooks is the word used to describe the little indent at the top of a package that allows it to hang on a peg.

Well, I didn't specify the kind of J-Hook I wanted, and this was what I got in the first round of packaging review.

An easy fix, if there is time, but it is a good reminder that you can never give the factory too much info. Nothing can be assumed to be understood. They gave me what they thought I wanted. No fault of theirs. I never made that mistake again though.

Is That an FEP or Are You Just Happy To See Me?
The greatest day in any 9-11 month production cycle is the day the very first FEP (Final Engineering Prototypes) come in to the office. This is when, like a schoolgirl, I gleefully would take the stuff out to the main area of the office, line it up on a half wall, and call people out of their cubicles to come have a look.

Gotta be honest with you...I was SO thrilled to do this. Seeing the looks on people's faces who had only seen bits and pieces of the process up to that point was priceless.

Of course, then all the criticism came in, and the changes that needed to be made, and the concerns, and the suggestions. But you know what? That's all part of the process, and it only meant that I had more work to do, so I was happy anyway. Especially since then we got to take the figures OUT of their plastic prisons and start taking some fun photos! We said "Play With It!" on lots of stuff, but it was always super satisfying to be able to show people just how far you could take that. This was shown the following day the FEP's arrived on the Daily Bit.

That, in a nutshell, is a look at the process of making Rizzo. Sure, it is not a complete picture. If it were as easy to sum up in a few pages of notes then it wouldn't take so long to go from the first step to the last, but I picked whatever highlights I felt were unique to Rizzo and threw them out here. fingers hurt. That's a helluva lot of typing. Glad I didn't decide to do this on the Backstage Playset or something. But it was fun...and a reminder of many of the things I really miss about working on this kind of stuff.

See Ya Later,

That's it for the repeat. Hope you dug seeing it again. I like the writing style WAY more then the older stuff. And it's a much more complete review of the process.

1 comment:

  1. I loved those dancing cheeses. I wish we'd been able to at least make some PVCs to accompany one of the Rizzos or Gonzos.


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