View Full Version : 10 months for an action figure?

07-13-2002, 05:19 AM
Hasbro says it takes ten months to make one action figure from thought to design to sculpt to hardcopy to painted master to factory to salesman sample to finished product. Ten months just for one tiny little figure? What do they do, gestate them?

Now I'm not saying I reckon they should be out in a couple of weeks but it sounds like someone is creating work where ther is none to me. Lots of coffee breaks and meetings to decide the schedule for the next meeting which will decide how many meetings are needed to decide on the following meetings.........
Waffle, fiddlesticks and flapdoodle! There's no way it should take ten months. Maybe I'm completely misguided here but if Hasbro refuse to let people in on the inner workings of their department and really explain how the process works, what's a guy supposed to think? I just fail completely to see how this system of theirs works. And I don't want some hypothesis answers here, I'd actually like someone to enlighten me as to how this process of making toys works and why it takes so darned long.

Is there anyone who actually knows and can answer this correctly?

07-13-2002, 05:33 AM
Well, I don't know the exact answer but you have to figure on the time it takes for all the steps in the process.

1. Decide on what charecter to do. Dig up source material on that charecter. Make sure you have rights to produce that actors likeness.

2. Pitch the idea to the Head of the Star Wars Design Team. Then they decide if they charecter has a chance of being a good seller.

3. Start prelimanary design sketches for the figure. While someone pitches the idea to someone with Lucas or Lucasfilm, to get their approval.

4. Start in on detail design sketches, figuring out articulation, pose, sculpting, and paint details. As well as what gimmicks and color choices for accessories.

5. Start working sculpting the prototype wax mold, which is then presented to the team again for approval. If there is somthing wrong, back to the sculpting process again.

6. Start work on final prototype, which will get used for paint masters and packaging tests.

7. Send the paint masters and first shots to China, to get turned into molds, so that production can start.

8. The first runs off the line get sent back to the states, for final approval of the paint that was used. Any changes need to be made at this stage, or you end up having to do a running change later if a mistake is found.

9. Produce, paint, package, and ship the finished products by ship back to the US Distrubution centers, where they then start getting shipped to stores.

I may be off on a few of those, but thats pretty close to what I remember from an article in Toy Fare a few years ago. About just what goes into making an action figure. :)


Jar Jar Binks

07-13-2002, 06:27 AM
That's never ten months work. I realise all the steps JJB, I want to know why it takes so long.

Eternal Padawan
07-13-2002, 06:52 AM
1 thru 6 should take no more than two weeks. Shipping it to China and then shipping back might take many months if they are using a TRAMP STEAMER!! But if UPS or FedEx is involved that should take no more than a week or two.

Step 9 is an extended process, but I can't see it taking up the other 9 months. Somebody at Hasbro is smoking something. But it makes little difference because a little bird told me Hasbro is going to lose the SW license...

07-13-2002, 07:22 AM
Noooooooooo... really? gosh. Blimey Charlie.....:sur:

07-13-2002, 10:54 AM
a little bird told me Hasbro is going to lose the SW license...

EP. perhaps I'm being gullible, but is there any truth to that comment? I didn't find anything in the News section of SSG about it.

On the 10 months issue, it IS a long time. But we're talking about a behemoth like Hasbro, and possibly combined with whatever red tape is involved in getting Hasbro and Lucasarts together to negotiate license or figure design approval, and whatever red tape there is in vetting the final product for safety compliance with any little accessories. I'm definitely not making excuses, it just seems to always be the case that the bigger the corporation, the slower they are to bring product to market.

07-13-2002, 11:44 AM
I love these kinds of discussions as they are very educational for us all. The bottom line is that 10 months is not a long time for something like a Star Wars figure, especially given that it is a LICENSED product.
Let's explore that aspect first. You see, unlike G.I. Joe, which Hasbro owns 100%, lock, stock and barrel, Star Wars belongs to LucasFilm and is available to Hasbro as a toy maker only under the most stingent guidelines. If Hasbro wants to make a new G.I. Joe figure, say perhaps a character called K.P. (a kind of low end of the totem pole, rookie Joe, the one who has to muck out the latrines and comes with a potato peeler accessory), the design team hashes out the aforemetioned details from concept to paper to wax to painted first shot, etc. But that is ALL done IN HOUSE. With a licensed product, a good deal of the time you don't seem to perceive is eaten up in the approval process.

"Lost in a Comittee" - Now this is the part that seems like it would be a no-brainer type of thing. A couple of weeks, as some have suggested. But then you are assuming that if Hasbro Designer Bob draws a detailed picture of General Dodonna and those who make the decisons on who gets the figure treatment give the old boy the green light that it is all smooth sailing from there. Wrong Bantha Breath! At every step of the design/approval department, LucasFilm has to be involved. So the preliminary design goes to LucasFilm for approval, then the wax prototype is made and runs the gauntlet at both Hasbro and LucasFilm, and so it goes through all of the steps. And at any point the design can be kicked back due to flaws in the design or some aspects garnering disfavor over at the Ranch. Another aspect of this commitee system that others have failed to mention is that design is only (in the words of G.I. Joe) half the battle. Bob may be a great designer from the conceptual stand point, but that does not make him, by default, an industrial engineer. Hasbro has those guys too, on hand to make sure that this great pose or gimic is actually workable. Granted, these days there are a myriad of techniques and materials that were not available even five years ago. This gives us things like holsterable pistols, light up eyes and back panel on the tiny 3PO that comes with Chewbacca, and the dreaded (in my humble opinion) built-in magnets. However, even with these technological terrors, there are still things that simply cannot be done. Or done cost effectively. Oh yes, speaking of cost, there is that troublesome budget department. They get to throw their two cents worth in too! Literally. You see, another aspect of the design process is that of "job costing". In other words, how much are we going to have to pay to make Ephant Mon, a fairly complex figure vs. a Battle Droid, a fairly simple one. An it is the subtle balancing act of budget that bring us a mix of both types of figures. Just look at the current releases. Chancellor Palpatine with NOTHING, Chewbacca with "G.I. Chef hairnet", 3PO pile-o-parts, 3PO electronic torso, 3PO head with lighted eyes, and a blaster! And then there is that troublesome matter of safety. We don't want a Nexu that is too prickly, or a Dejas Puhr pistol that will get lodged in Junior's esophogus! That would get the bean counters up in "job costing" pretty hot under their white collars. Nothing drives the cost of making Star Wars figures through the roof like a hefty, "McDonalds Coffee" style lawsuit. And such is the nature of doing business in the most litigious nation in the world. If you don't believe me, just call my lawyer!
And that is just a brief glmpse into the tangled maze of beurocracy that slows the seemingly simple progressoin of "concept to design to collectible" (to steal a phrase). But that's just the Hasbro end of the mix!

"LucasFilm Licensing: Mandates From On High!" - Sure I mentioned that every step of the process must pass muster both at Hasbro and at LucasFilm. And I am sure you now appreciate how time-consuming that portion of the process can be, given transit time between Cincinatti, Ohio and Marin County, California. Now comes the two headed monster of time consumption as it manifests itself round LucasFilm way. Number one, LucasFilm is notorious for being sticklers. They carp on design, on color choice, on likeness, on all manor of things. And this has long been atributed to Mr. Lucas' personal desire that Star Wars be a brand known for quality in the marketplace. Many a licensed product never saw the light of day under this close scrutiny. Of course given the volume of garbage that was allowed to be mass-produced, it almost seems a hypocricy I know. Don't ask me to explain LucasFilm logic, I'm just calling them like I see them. Now a prime example of how this level of scrutiny and involvement can bring the wheels of timely progress grinding painfully into low gear can be found in the short-lived
"Adventures of Indiana Jones" comic from Marvel Comics many years ago, and John Byrne's even shorter tenure on said comic. Byrne had scripted a wonderful, two-issue story to begin the series that read like a true Indy film. I believe this was prior to Temple of Doom, but it had a similar kind of flair for mysticism. Anyway, LucasFilm representatives demanded unreasonable changes to the script, in one case requesting panels in the comic depicting an insignificant past event that was mentioned in the dialoge. Byrne equated this to having included a flashback scene of Abner Ravenwood showing a younger Indy books and artifacts related to the Ark when such an event was mentioned on film. The LucasFilm rep acquiesed on that point, but it was just one of many intrusions that compelled Byrne to leave the project after only two issues as writter/artist. The writers that followed had no clue what to do with a character like Indiana Jones and obviously met the letter of LucasFilm's demands. Granted, this is an example of meddling in comics, but similar, seemingly pointless, demands have been made of other licensees. A little known, recent fact is that Pepsi had tooled up for a huge Episode 2 campaign, complete with life-size macquettes (like Watto, Jar Jar, and Maul from E1) for store displays. Pepsi executive reportedly were quite frustrated with repeated revisons of revised revisons of all aspects of the campaign, and then had their license bought back from them at the last minute! I don't know the particulars of what they had planned, but thanks to LucasFilm, we missed out on a whole lot of cool new Pepsi stuff! Using Pepsi's woes as a barometer, it is not a difficult thing to imagine what Hasbro must go through with every new batch of Star Wars figure designs. And that brings me to the second issue with being a license holder vs. being the license granter. LucasFilm Licensing is under NO OBLIGATION to Hasbro to be timely in their efforts. The natural assumption is that something like a paint master arrives to LucasFilm, a meeting is convened, notes are taken, revisons requested and the whole lot is shot back to Hasbro that afternoon. Then Hasbro makes the changes n a day or two, fires it back to LucasFilm, another meeting, a green light, and off the toy goes to China. While the transit back and forth between Hasbro and Lucasfilm and Hasbro and China (up to the point of final production) may be quick, time is undoubtedly lost once the items fall into the hands of those who must sign off on the project. I sincerly doubt that LucasFilm Licensing has a fast-track program for Hasbro's action figures. You have to bear in mind that they must also look at all manor of other licensed products from model makers, book publishers, and novelty manufacturers. Everything from party hats to replica props must cross thier desks and Hasbro is not the only license holder sending potential product for approval.

"Slow Boat From China" - Manufacturing of a new toy is not a simple process either. Mold making is a rather time consuming process (and the most expensive part of the game). And once the molds are made, design flaws often rear their ugly heads when the first batch is fired up, causing further delays. This is a well-documented FACT in all mold-based manufacturing processes. That of course creates delays to correct the molds and then production begins. Now arms, legs, heads, etc are churned out by the thousands and Chinese laborers assemble or paint or package them. These factories are gigantic and effiicient and that aspect of the system probably does not cause many delays. Now another delay (and this may not be true of the Star Wars line, but is true of some toy linese I've seen) is when the toy is manufactured in one country and packaged in another, usually not another Asian country (i.e.; manufactured in China, packaged in Canada). Now all of thes great figures are all packaged and boxed, put on pallets, then into huge freight containers, and shipped off to waiting, yes, (you guessed it Eternal Padawan!) giant tramp steamers. Well, not steamers as such, but just as slow and plodding as they sail at a snail's pace across the vast Pacific, their holds swollen with toys and electronics and other imports for a product hungry U.S. market. I don't know how familiar most of you are with the speed of a cargo freighter, but it is not very fast at all. Laden as they are with tons upon tons of cargo, and built like great bricks that still float, they are in no great hurry as they make way for America. You could drive cross country in the U.S., from the northern-most point of Maine to the southern-most point of California (taking only back-roads and never exceeding the posted speed limits by even one mile per hour) faster than a mega-freighter can cross the Pacific Ocean. In fact you would have time to spare for sight seeing as you waited for the toys to arrive.

"What strange customs they have!" - Oh yes, I almost forgot! More beurocracy! Once the freight arrives in this country it is not simply loaded from boat to truck or train bound for Cincinatti (or wherever Hasbro has their distribution hub). No, they must first pass through U.S. Customs. And though big importers (of manufacture) like Hasbro have expediters, this is still a time consuming process. That hurdle being passed it is off to the maze of "middle-men". Hasbro takes the finished cases into custody and begins the distribution process to the various retail vendors. Let's simplify things now and just look at one vendor, say Wal-Mart. Undoubtedly Wal-Mart has a central receiving hub which would receive thier allotment of new arrivals for further distribution to sub-distribution hubs or the actual, individual stores.

And eventually someone at the Wal-Mart wheels a shrink-wrapped pallete of various toys out into the middle of the aisles for the poor hack saddled with the responsibility of keeping that department maintained to open and peg the figures. And as the Temptos and Nexus are hung on the pegs for sale to all of us who have been anxiously awaiting them, somehere, deep within the Hasbro archives, a preliminary design sketch, covered with notes and and revision suggestions, approches its first anniversary.

Hopefully this will give you some insight into why the process can and DOES take at least 10 months. One final thought on this, it seems that many are looking at this as "it takes 10 months to produce ONE littlle figure". The truth of the matter is that Hasbro is probably working between 10 and 50 characters through this process at the same time. Why else do you think we are going to have over 40 new 3.75" scale figures by the end of the third quarter of 2002! Dejas Puhr did not come out 10 months after Jar Jar Binks (Senator)! I suspect that as of this writing, Hasbro has characters in the works that we won't be reading about here until Thanksgiving. And that some figures are already at the paint master stage that we have only now just begun to hear rumors about.

So there you have it. A none-too-brief explanation of a seemingly simple process. Bear in mind, it takes almost a year to make even the simplest feature films (that is those without special effects, etc.), even though they may have a shooting schedule of only three to four weeks!

07-13-2002, 11:49 AM
Originally posted by Eternal Padawan
But it makes little difference because a little bird told me Hasbro is going to lose the SW license...

Ah, the Rumor Mill!

This seems highlly unlikely as Hasbro's LAST license agreement (that is to say the one that was penned back when the prvious license lapsed) was valid through Episode 3. This was the license awarded to them by LucasFilm after Mattel had offered $1 BILLION for the license and Lucas himself convinced Hasbro to renew, favoring continuity and quality over truck loads of cash.

So remember, not all birds sing the truth!

Jedi Knightrider
07-13-2002, 12:08 PM
Wow! that was impressive, cole. Thank you for taking all that time to compose that. Very informative. I came in here under the impression that 10 months didn't seem to be too long for this process, but you clinched it for me. ROCK!

07-13-2002, 04:06 PM
Thanks, JediCole, that was very informative.

I remember reading an interview with the guys from Kenner who made the original figures. You think it's bad now, Kenner was working overtime (24 hours a day on rotating shifts) and still couldn't get the first figures into the store until one full year after the movie was released! And that was only twelve figures and three vehicles! The designer stated that 12 months was as short as the process could be, because any shorter and you start compromising quality.

So if anything the process has actually shortened in the last 25 years. Name me one big name corporation that has cut two full months off of it's production times in the last two and a half decades, on the exact same product. If anything, given the quality of the EP2 line, I think they should stick those two months back in there, with an extra month for painting inside the lines.:)

07-13-2002, 08:50 PM
I am glad that folks are finding my "article" quite informative. I was hopeful that at some point we might get some true insight from someone more "in the know" than I am. My appraisal of the "10 month cycle" is based on a variety of sources, not all of them (as you can see) pertaining to Hasbro propper. I too read the iinterview reference by Barada and that forms part of the backbone of the post. Much of the rest is based on tidbits of informatiion gleaned from other interviews regarding Star Wars and other toy lines, features on the actual toy making process in various toy magazines over the last 10 years or so, Steve Sansweet's books and colums, and a working knowledge of corporate structure and beurocracy. Furthermore, anicdotal evidence (like info given to me secong hand that came from a Pepsi executive and seven years working in the wholesale distribution industry in the nineties. Much of the rest is logical extrapolation on the above and educated guesswork. And even a bit of just thinking the whole process through.

At the end of it all, I had a profound sense that 10 months is quite timely, all things considered. Given all that goes into this rather complex process, it is a wonder that Star Wars figures don't cost $100 each!

07-13-2002, 11:38 PM
10 months to produce an action figure, 10 minutes just to spot an error.

07-13-2002, 11:52 PM
Yeah how come there are so many errors if it takes em 10 months to make the figure?

07-15-2002, 11:39 PM
Originally posted by JesusFreak
Yeah how come there are so many errors if it takes em 10 months to make the figure?

I guess this thread has lost a bit of steam. However, this last post (quoted above) raises an intersting question. But the above question raises yet another...

How many "errors" are there, really?

I took a few days to digest the above question, not entirely certain how best to address the problem presented. Then it hit me! This is a question of "dinosaur bones".

What do I mean by that?! Well, you see, we have all seen, or are at least aware of, dinosaur skeletons displayed promenantly and proudly in museums of natural history worldwide. However, most people don't realize how few complete and near complete skeletons really exist in the world, and indeed, how few remains have ever been found. This is not to say that there are not hundreds upon hundreds of different identified species, but it is often the case that there is only one skeleton, sometimes even a partial one, of any given dinosaur that has ever been unearthed. Since fossilization is a rather unique process, there are usually not a lot of the same animal found, usually just one or two, and then not at full. Most museums have replicas of the originals housed in other museums, and in many cases, entire animals are reconstructed from as little fossil evidence as a single tooth or a handful of bones.

The reason for this lesson in palentology? It is to illustrate how reality and perceived reality can be at odds with one another. When we go to the museum or read a book about dinosaurs, we begin to imagine that hundreds of specimens of every species exist and are fully assembled in mostother museums. Sir Steves Guide provides much the same experience. We are exposed to that tiny handful of errors that occur in the manufacturing process. I have seen the reports here of errors found on this figure or that figure. Yet when I go peruse the shelves and pegs, I have yet to stumble upon them en masse. So you see, the perception is that the production run is repleat with errors (despite the 10 month process) because we come here and are told about them, or when we stumble upon one we dutifully report it. But has anyone ever got to an unopened case of Star Wars figures and found the same error on every single one of any given figure? Or rifled throught the pegs to discover one after another Jango Fett with identical paint errors, or incorrectly packaged R2's? I have probably seen over 100 of the new R2's and have yet to see one packaged in error. Yet the perception easily becomes that the manufacuring process involved is full of them.

The truth of the matter is that the odd production error does come up from time to time, and they don't always get caught. But with very few exceptions, we don't see these errors by the dozen when we go looking for new Star Wars toys.

Here endeth the lesson.