Sunday, July 08, 2007

How action figures are made

Raw Materials
Aluminum wire, modeling clay, and various sculpting tools are used to create the prototype. The actual figure is molded from a plastic resin, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). This is a harder plastic used to form the main body. Softer plastics, like polypropylene and polyethylene, are commonly used to mold smaller accessory and costume pieces. Various fabrics, such as rayon and nylon, may be used for costume components including body suits, capes, and face masks. As a final decoration, acrylic paints of various colors may be used to decorate the figure. In addition, more elaborate toys may contain miniature electronic components that provide light and sound effects.

Once the character has been selected, the actual design process begins with sketches of the proposed figure. The next step is the creation of a clay prototype. This model is made by bending aluminum wires to form the backbone of the figure, known as an armature. The wire form includes the outline of the arms and legs posed in the general stance that the figure will assume. The sculptor then adds clay to the armature to give the basic weight and shape that is desired. The clay may be baked slightly during the prototyping process to harden it. Then, the sculptor uses various tools, such as a wire loop, to carve the clay and shape details on the figure.

After creating the basic form, the sculptor may choose to remove the arms and work on them separately for later attachment. This gives the sculptor more control and allows him to produce finer details on the proto-type. Working with blunt tools, the sculptor shapes the body with as much detail as is desired. During this process, photo and sketch references are used to ensure the figure is as realistic as possible. Some sculptors may even use human models to guide their design work.

After the general body shape is complete, the sculptor adds the finer details, paying close attention to the eyes, nose, and mouth that give the figure its life-like expression. The designer may attach a rough lump of clay on the main figure as a temporary head while the real head is sculpted on a separate armature. This allows the sculptor to finish the figure's facial expressions independently of the body. At this point, the finished head can be attached to the main armature and joined to the body with additional clay. Once the head is attached, the neck and hair are sculpted to properly fit to the figure. Then, depending on the design of the figure, the costume may be sculpted directly onto the body. However, if a cloth costume or uniform will be added later, the prototype is sculpted without any costume details. During this process, parts of the clay may be covered with aluminum foil to keep it from prematurely drying out. Once everything is completed, the entire figure is baked to harden the clay.

The sculpted prototype is then sent for approval to the manufacturer. Once all design details have been finalized, the prototype is used to make the molds that will form the plastic pieces for the mass-produced figure. The entire sculpting process may take about two weeks, depending on the skill and speed of the sculptor. This process may be repeated several times if revisions must be made to the figure. Several months are typically allowed for this design phase.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


The term "action figure" was first used by Hasbro in 1964, to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who wouldn't play with "dolls". G.I. Joe was initially a military-themed 11.5-inch action figure proposed by marketing and toy idea-man Stan Weston. The action figure featured changeable clothes with various uniforms to suit different purposes. In a move that would create global popularity for this type of toy, Hasbro also licensed the product to companies in other markets.

These different markets had a combination of uniforms and accessories that were usually identical to the ones manufactured for the US market by Hasbro, along with some sets that were unique to the local market.

The Japanese market had at least two examples where a Hasbro licensee also issued sublicenses for related products. For example, Palitoy issued a sublicense to Tsukuda, a company in Japan, to manufacture and sell Action Man accessories in the Japanese market. Takara also issued a sublicense to Medicom for the manufacture of action figures.

Takara, still under license by Hasbro to make and sell G.I. Joe toys in Japan, also manufactured an action figure incorporating the licensed GI Joe torso for Henshin Cyborg-1, using transparent plastic revealing cyborg innards, and a chrome head and cyborg feet. During the oil supply crisis of the 1970’s , like many other manufacturers of action figures, Takara was struggling with the costs associated with making the large 11 ½ inch figures, So, a smaller version of the cyborg toy was developed, standing at 3-3/4 inches high, and was first sold in 1974 as Microman. The Microman line was also novel in its use of interchangeable parts. This laid the foundation for both the smaller action figure size and the transforming robot toy. Takara began producing characters in the Microman line with increasingly robotic features, including Robotman, a 12" robot with room for a Microman pilot, and Mini-Robotman, a 3-3/4" version of Robotman. These toys also featured interchangeable parts, with emphasis placed on the transformation and combination of the characters.

Today, comic book firms are able to get figures of their characters produced, regardless of whether or not they appeared in movies or animated cartoons. One difference from the traditionally costumed characters was that all sorts of specialized costumes and variants ("Ice Batman") were being produced. Packaging "errors" and "short-packed" figures were ploys used by toy companies to increase collector interest even more. Currently, figures are made even for player-characters in video games, graphic novels and performers in adult movies, which are aimed towards a limited market of older consumers.

Action Figures

An action figure is a posable plastic figurine of a character, often from a movie, video game, or television program. These action figures usually are marketed towards boys. Redressable action figures are sometimes referred to as action dolls as a distinction from those which have all or most of their clothes molded on.

Action figures are useful in making stop motion movies which are gaining popularity among children due to the availability of easy to use computer software for making animated movies.