Patrick Schneider is Senior Global Brand Manager and Sam Smith is Design Manager for the Star Wars collector lines at Hasbro.
FulguroPop : Hi, last year when we met we talked a lot about how you guys choose characters, but since Sam is with us today I thought we could dig deeper into how toys are made.
Patrick Schneider : Absolutely.
Photo Real Technology is amazing. It really does justice to the wonderful headsculpt you guys make. However I was under the impression that some characters are harder to get right than others. Their likeness is not always right. For example Princess Leia and Han Solo are nearly perfect, but somehow Luke Skywalker figures look a bit off. Do you know why ?
Sam Smith : There’s a number of factors that make the classic characters more difficult to sculpt. One is that you’re referencing them at a very particular time of their life. So everything you’re looking at from a photographic reference is really based on 40 years photos and as we work in a digital environment… Versus the modern characters for which we get very ideal portrait reference. Sculpting department is definitely taking up the challenge with these as you mentioned with the Carrie Fisher and the Harrison Ford likeness that we did. The other big challenge we noticed with Photo Real is the way that we generate those is actually using character reference and recreating them as a digital file. We’re using more rough forms for those older characters versus having things like digital scans of the characters that we get for the more modern characters. But Luke is a very specific example. If you through frame by frame, his portrait changes dramatically. But fortunately we have now different figures of Luke that we are very happy with.
I have the Skywalker Strikes Luke, and I find it gorgeous [you can read our review here].
It’s an interesting balance in terms of finding what pushes the portrait to far because once you start changing an expression to be more heroic, more determined it really starts deviating from Mark Hamill’s look so it’s finding the balance between what’s feels right to the character and what feels right to screen accuracy.
And Speaking of different portraits, do you think having alternative heads would be possible in the future ?
Patrick Schneider : Multiple heads ? It’s something we do sometimes. Certainly in the main line we try to do more accessories that the character uses into that scene but our convention exclusives give us the opportunity to have multiple heads and certainly the Hyperreal line will allow us to get in some different facial expressions.
Sam Smith : It’s definitely something we’re looking to do more of. We just did the Emperor’s Throne with multiple heads and the Hyperreal Luke figure that we have coming does actually include different portraits so again… Not only do you get different expressions but also as that scene intensifies, it’s on Bespin, you know, there’s a sweat as he’s facing off against Vader it’s more about looking up because he has this menacing form with is 6’7″ versus Luke who is 5’7″.
So you made the two of them together, Luke and Vader, thinking how they could interact on a shelf ?
Sam Smith : Absolutely.
The Hyperreal line has just begun and for me, as a collector, it’s hard to jump on that train because of the different scale, they’re 8 inch figures. One more scale to collect… And just look at the prices here. 100 euros is a lot.
Patrick Schneider : Hyperreal is a tighter line, we’ll never go as deep as with Black Series. The scale difference is necessary to accomodate the Hyperreal technology, the endoskeleton. So fans won’t have to start a whole new collection but they’ll be able to enhance their display. So Vader is definitely paired with Luke and we’ll see where it goes from there.
There may be one nitpick about Photo Real. It’s the brightness of the skin. Would giving it a mat finish be possible ?
Sam Smith : It’s an ever evolving process. We’re definitely looking into ways of getting the right skintone and the correct finish… We only have had Photo Real for the past two years. It’s still really new. I think you’ll continually see the line getting better and better… We’re really excited by what’s in the pipeline.
You guys have the Archives line which is used for re-releasing older figures with an updated paintjob. Is it going expand past the first two waves ? It’d be great to have more of them or army builders like the Scout Trooper but without the Speeder Bike.
Patrick Schneider ,Yes, we talked about that. We have figures that never were released as a single figure and we thought people might want it without having to buy the bike. So we’re excited to use the Archives in different ways : to get mainline figures back out, to get deluxe vehicle figures back out. It’s very versatile.
Sam Smith : Black Series is still a relatively young line having been lauched in 2013. We went digital since the beginning for our sculpts so the details have always been there for the portraits but ultimately the paint process was still the same thing that we had been doing for the past 40 years. So one thing I’m very excited about with archives is the opportunity to give those sculpts the justice they deserve. For characters like Anakin and Yoda, it was like seeing them in a whole new light because we finally got to take advantage of the sculpts.
Patrick Schneider : Yoda is a good example. There was always a great sculpt kinda hidden under the poor paint ops.
It looks like you guys are releasing the deluxe version of Palpatine with a perfect sense of timing.
Patrick Schneider : We had no idea… Maybe… Lucasfilm are great partners, right, so they may have suggested it. I don’t know. We revealed it at Celebration and hours after we were in the convention hall seeing the trailer with the Emperor’s laugh. First of all, as a fan I was like : “This is amazing !” Second of all, as a Hasbro employee, I was like “This is amazing !”
Sam Smith : Actully the trailer launched before our panel. It was even better.
Patrick Schneider : You are right. During the panel we were like “this was a great item before and now it’s even better”.
When did you decide to release the deluxe Palpatine ?
Patrick Schneider : It’s linked to Archives because Archives is used to released figures for which we don’t change anything. If we are willing to change something, we go to the retailers, this one is an Amazon Exclusive. And it’s a great ay to take an older figure that is a very good character, has a lot of good parts, update the parts needed and add a cool accessory. And then you got a great figure with an environment accessory.
Sam Smith : After the initial figure release, it was like it’d be so much better with soft goods lower skirt. Even though we didn’t have any throne for the figure to sit in, it’s so iconic to the character. For most of the oirginal trilogy, he’s seen seated. It was cool to be able to add accessories like the lightning hands and the alternate portrait and ultimately the throne itself. A similar character is the Jedi Luke that we just put out. It was a candidate as we were looking into Archives, but we didn’t just apply Photo Real, we came so much further since then with the hair being a separate part from the head.
Patrick Schneider : When I suggested we make Luke in Archives, you said “no, we gotta improve the figure”.
Sam Smith : we chose a new outfit, gave a new hand one gloved, one ungloved and the Klatoonian skiff guard blaster. We were also able to do the outer tunic, the new soft goods, importantly without sleeves. We’re really happy with the update on that figure.
And you’ll probably be able to recycle some parts like the lightning hands from Palpatine, they’d work with a Dooku as well.
Sam Smith : It’s possible but as we make these we try to take into consideration the character, the size of the hand, the age of the hand. That’s kind of a blessing and a curse with going digital : the amount of detail we put into it. The hands of Palpatine are far more weathered and aged than potentially the hands that you’d have on a Darth Tyrannus.
Patrick Schneider : And we don’t have a Dooku revealed in the line yet but if we ever did him…
Sam Smith : It could potentially be a great accessory for him.
You recently did a Doctor Aphra figure along with her droids. Even the Skywalker Strikes Luke is from the comics. Can we expect more comic book characters in the line ?
Sam Smith : Leaning on publishing is something pretty new. I think the big reason for that is that we have such an expansive theatrical and cinematic universe but these figures were met with great praise and success. Definitely if we hear more desire for these characters, we’d certainly love to do them.
Patrick Schneider : We always love when there’s movie entertainment but we also love the like deep world of Star Wars, so… We’re super excited about Rise of Skywalker but after that there’s not another movie for a few years, that could give us the opportunity to explore some of the deeper niches of the Star Wars universe.
Sam Smith : In a previous interview, Patrick mentioned Joruus C’baoth.
The Dark Jedi.
Patrick Schneider : Yes, the Sith from Heir to the Empire.
He’s not canon though.
Patrick Schneider : No he’s part of the expanded universe, the Legends.
So it’s probably ruled out by Disney.
Patrick Schneider : No, we’ve done some Legends characters in Black Series : Darth Revan and Jaina Solo.
Oh you’re right. They were Fans’ Choice, I believe.
Patrick Schneider : It was the Fans’ choice, yes. In the canon, aren’t the Legend, the legends that people in universe tell ? Right it’s like the mythology.
Sam Smtih : It’s a category we’d like to expand. I’m actually curious of Jaxxon. He’s been on a cover so he might be cannon.
We probably can expect Disney to dig into the Legends and use characters like they did with Thrawn.
Patrick Schneider : we’re always excited to see that. There’s another one on Rebels, right.
Patrick Schneider. Exactly. We hear rumors, we don’t know anything but when they do it’s certainly very exciting.
Which recent figure are you the most proud of ?
Sam Smith : It’s tough. I have a couple of them for different reasons. I’d probably say Cara Dune… and Mandalorian is such an easy one. Probably, stepping out of the 6inch scale, Hyperreal Vader. That was so much fun to work o that figure in terms of really being able to go through that costume and the details in a way that we’ve really never been into before. Finding all the symetry and the asymetry… Everything in terms of variation of the paint, the aurebesh characters on the chestbox. The new scale and the new tech really allowed us to explore that character much more than what we’ve ever done before. Those are probably top 2. In terms just of oddity, the Kenner Boba Fett that we did for San Diego. That was so much fun.
Patrick Schneider : I was gonna say Hyperreal Vader as well or Luke Skywalker Yavin, but I’d say Padme Amidala. It’s an unconventional choice. The Prequel era movies, we know what kind of mixed feelings they provoke, but they’re part of the canon. They’re the start of the whole saga and now that we are completing the saga we can share a bit of Prequel love. Padme Amidala is the Prequels female heroin. She’s the mother of Leia and Luke and we didn’t have her at all in our 6 inch line until this year so…
And which figure has been the most difficult to design ?
Sam Smith : You mean aside from the Luke Skywalker portrait ? I’d say, we have the most incredible partnership with Lucasfilm, but the design of characters can be very challenging because of the lack of availability of assets. Especially in terms of elements changing in post-production. We wanna be able to deliver a figure that’s a close representation of what we see in film. I might actually say, the gaming figure, Cal Kestis. We didn’t actually know who the actor likeness was gonna be for the character until very late. So when they told who they wanted for the talent we were like go. It was a great partnership not only with EA and Respawn Entertainment but also with Lucasfilm, allowing us to be involved as early as possible into the process to bring those characters to life.
I have one last question related to the press release from Hasbro in August, stating that it was gonna ban plastic from its packaging. How is it gonna work for Black Series ?
Patrick Schneider : Hasbro’s commitment, our mission is to make the world a better place for kids and their families. We do that through toys but we also want to do it through responsible business practices. We also think of the consumers. A lot of he fans like the packaging but some of them just throw it away.
Patrick Schneider : Exactly. So the commitment was to start next year, but it’ll be more like 2022. So fortunately we have some time to figure it out. We’re looking at a lot of different avenues. A lot of our Black Series is in a close box packaging already like the roleplay helmets. Fans like to see a good photography rendering of the item they’re gonna buy so that’s an option. We’re looking at plastic substitutes.
You know, in stores, you usually look for the best paint apps, it’s gonna be more difficult in a full box.
Patrick Schneider : We also are hearing from our fans, that more and more of them rely on online purchases because that’s the way the global economy is going so there’s less of that.
Thank you Sam, Thank you Patrick for sharing all these informations with us.
Patrick Schneider and Sam Smith : Thank you.
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