The Best Laid Plans...
I try to make it down to Sideshow Collectibles whenever my schedule allows, and since 2005 I've been there at least once every year. Usually we meet for a few hours and have plenty of time to look at what's cooking for the coming months before sitting down for interviews for Cool Toy Review and our sister site Rebelscum. Since all the Star Wars collecting news is published on Rebelscum, I usually structure the interviews into two parts: Star Wars and everything else.
Through a comedy of errors that included a delayed flight, a fifty minute wait at the rental car company, a dead battery, and a faulty GPS (navigating from LAX to Thousand Oaks will confuse wiser men than me), what should have been three hours ended up being thirty-eight minutes. Needless to say, the standard interview structure went straight out the window, and the option of shooting images of some of the cool stuff I saw such as the Life-Size Daredevil bust, the Jake Sully statue, and the Artoo Detoo PF and the ****** figure went straight out the window.
I did hope to break everything into two interviews, but both Brant Bridges and I are huge Star Wars geeks trying, in a non-structured conversation, to not talk about Star Wars. We attempted just that and failed miserably. (and really, that was half the fun).
DMM Sometimes I like to have a structure when talking to people. Some times I don’t. I figure today we shouldn’t have much of a structure, but there are a lot of things to discuss. Let’s start off with DC. We know we have the Premium Format Figures coming. We know about life-sized busts. It’s been announced that you are releasing 1/6 scale figures, but there hasn’t been much said on the direction of this scale or how Sideshow is going about making those…
BB Feverishly. We’ve talked for years about 1/6 scale super heroes. We’ve always felt the compromise with anatomy and spandex was a challenge but we’ve been able to wrap our heads around it in a way that’s pretty exciting. Since we got started on it so long ago, it has changed so radically. The 1/6 scale format has evolved faster than anything else in the past few years, resetting ambition and price point, and that has unlocked a lot of possibilities.
DMM It’s hard to comprehend how much this product scale has changed in the last decade, and more precisely the last five years. Sideshow really brought that to the forefront and other companies, such as Hot Toys, have taken the ball and ran with it. The days of a pretty cool figure for under $100 have made way for a totally awesome figure for under $200…
BB The constraints of a $50 figure, or even a $100 figure, are very different than what we can do in the $150 or $200 neighbourhood, or as we’ve seen with some Hot Toys pieces $300 to $350. But it’s our goal to keep them in the ballpark of what we’re doing with G.I. Joe or Star Wars in terms of price point. We want to deliver the most faithful and dynamic interpretation we can do at this scale with this price point.
DMM The DC Universe has a varying range of characters from adult male and female, to teens, and scrawny adults. Are you prepared to move past the iconic male figure?
BB Hopefully so, yeah. We’ve got a new female body in the early production phases. We’re working through test shots and things. We’ll be debuting it this year in the G.I. Joe line, as Baroness. That’ll be in the mid part of 2012, and then superhero, super villain gals will follow after that. Our new beefier male body is quite different from our Prometheus and trooper male bodies.
DMM Have we seen parts of this new body in Rock ‘N Roll or even Duke?
BB No. While the proportions may be similar, this new body will be unique.
DMM The kids in the forums have been talking about Sideshow using something developed by Hot Toys, like their T-800 buck. Is that the case, or is Sideshow using an in-house design?
BB It’s entirely us and our friends at Bigshot Toyworks, and the master tinker known as Klim (Kozinevich). We’ve been collaborating for a while now and we feel that his passion for all things toys and his sense of articulation matched with our desire to create awesome superheroes. I think it’s going to be a good blend. People are going to get the best of what the comic book styling has to offer, in the same way the G.I. Joe style works.
DMM So the line will have a distinct Sideshow take on the characters, with an appreciation for the core of the character, but in a more modern setting? Will it focus on the New 52?
BB We’re still working with DC to see exactly where we should go, but its still about costume and character likeness. It is safe to say the look we’ll develop will be iconic enough to represent the characters, and at least at first, not so much the specific storylines or artists. It will be both faithful and fresh. Some will be more daring, but mostly faithful.
DMM In terms of your G.I. Joe line, I’ve always felt that your more daring interpretations have been the coolest pieces in the collection.
BB I think it represents where our design team is in terms of ambition. We’re really trying to carve out an opportunity for them to be thoughtful. A lot of consideration goes into each product so when you’re taking it out and setting it up, there is a lot to find. It allows you to trace back to the source material everything from the gun to the garment. We then think, if this is what he uses, he’d have this sort of load out. What would the modern equivalent of that be, and what would be one step past.
DMM Your G.I. Joe line also seems to have rippled back into the classic Hasbro collection. In the last year we’ve seen a Snake Eyes, Cobra Trooper, and now a Storm Shadow figure strongly influenced by the Sideshow design.
BB I’d love to check back with them on that, because a lot of the back and forth we have with Hasbro influences our designs. It’s kind of full circle, I think. The last Cobra Viper they’d done has really inspired our guys. That process was happening somewhat simultaneously.
DMM But then out of left field you guys come up with the leather pilot’s helmet head…
BB We just wanted to add a little something to the mythos, however little, to put just a little extra flavour and character into it.
DMM Just like you did with the Crimson Guard. That looks like a Fred head to me.
BB It sure looks like a Fred head.
DMM I was actually surprised we didn’t see a scar faced Cobra Trooper. Matter of fact, I think that’s a character even Hasbro seems to have looked past. I think they’ve only made a figure of him once.
BB Yeah, I think you’re right, but we’ve put the Cobra Trooper platform on pause. We didn’t want to release another one without adding something substantial to it, and we want it to feel genuine.
DMM That makes sense, but I have to admit that I found the two Desert Troopers to be the finest in the bunch. I know they came with the same gear and all, but the aesthetic was pretty cool.
BB There’s a fine balance in there. I love the classic line from a modern toy design standpoint because they did so much. Just like what Mattel is doing with the Four Horsemen on the He-Man line where they can continue to reuse parts and pieces so cleverly and with such a broad colour contrast without giving away that it's the same piece.
DMM That’s always been one of Mattel’s strongest design templates, and they have always done it best. If you look back at the original He-Man or the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars lines as examples you’ll see the same thing. And it has always been done so seamlessly.
BB It takes as much if not more talent to design with a platform like that as it does to scratch build every piece. But back to where you were going, Scar Face is definitely on the agenda for somewhere down the road.
DMM I hope its not before Kwinn and Doctor Venom. I know that’s crazy, and that I’m probably the only guy that wants that, but release those two guys, a classic goggled Snake Eyes, and a sinking bunker environment and I’ll lose it.
But, back to Super Heroes for a moment. You’ve got DC 12” coming and you have a Marvel license. Does that mean you’ll be exploring a 12” Marvel line as well?
BB That would be great. We’re pretty lucky to be able to do what we do with statues and the Premium Format platform. I think you can count on one hand the number of collectibles licensees that have been able to products from both worlds in similar formats. We’d feel very fortunate to be able to do that, especially since we’ve got these bodies, but its not something we can do.
DMM Is it a licensing issue that could be worked out, or are there too many speed bumps leading up to that?
BB We’re spoiled. We’ve had great opportunities to play with every character we want to. We’ve got great relationships with our licensing partners. At this point, however, is more of an issue of how we should be focusing our team. Fortunately we’re fans of the different properties we work on, and we do so in some kind of monogamous or semi-monogamous relationships with our licenses, and we want to do them justice.
You know that TV show called Sister Wives? It’s like that. We’re looking for the big cul-de-sac where we can build ten houses so we can continue all these great affairs.
DMM It seems over the last decade that is exactly what Sideshow has done…
BB That’s true, but the team’s grown. We’ve been very lucky over the last year and a half where we’ve been able to work with so many great artists who come from every walk of life from toy design to feature film. Some of these talented people have been available and in some cases even hungry to do work in the collectibles sphere as a break from movie set work and pre-production work and just have some fun for a while. So we’ve been able to unshackle ourselves.
We’ve got a great core team that has been working hard for the last fifteen years here, and now we’ve been able to add to that and grow in capacity, so we can stay faithful to all our lovely girls (licenses) but that still remains the significant challenge. Keeping balance for everyone that’s into the lines, verses what we’d have to give up to do something new.
DMM What about Star Wars? We’ve seen some clones, a couple of clones, an alien or two, and some clones. Now that Hot Toys is doing 12” Humans, have we seen the end of the 12” Sideshow Star Wars humans? Will we be seeing some of the bigger missing pieces like Count Dooku or an Attack Of The Clones Anakin?
BB Is Attack Of The Clones your favourite Star Wars movie?
DMM No, right now Revenge Of The Sith is my favourite, but I love the designs in Attack Of The Clones like how the silhouette Anakin’s Jedi robes is reminiscent to Vader’s silhouette in A New Hope.
BB We’ve been most attracted in filling the biggest holes and gaps in the line. We’ve done jags through the different themes with the Cantina run and before that the Jabba’s Palace. But the line has changed so much in the six years it’s been running, and for us more than six years. It’s still a young line but it has evolved dramatically. So when we look back at what we did with Jedi Luke or Bespin Han it is so very different from what we’d do today. Now whether you talk about Sideshow or Hot Toys doing the creative work, we’re reenergized by it all. Everything is fair game, but what we’re hearing the most outcries for is the Imperial stuff we’d been ignoring. Hoth is also the place we need to go next.
DMM Yes. Hoth is a place you could spend some serious time on and not have to worry about people getting tired of it thematically.
BB It has to be done with a sense of context though. It’s always tricky when you’re talking about Star Wars or G.I. Joe. I mean, I love guys like Snow Job, but he looks so damn weird on the shelf next to other Joes. Why is everyone else geared up for regular day while this guy’s in his parka? So we need to create a bit of context around the Hoth stuff we’re going to do. Maybe we’ve already teased some of that…
DMM No. Not that I’ve seen, but I’m all ear, as you know. We don’t need to count how many emails I’ve sent you about Hoth guys over the last eight years…
BB I don’t think we’ll go the way of the Endor figures with sinister portraits and stuff…
DMM Don’t discount the Brant Trooper too much man, that’s also a Hasbro figure now… and on a vintage card no less.
BB Yeah, that’s pretty fantastic.
DMM What about Hoth Han. We looking at a brown coat or a blue coat?
BB I thought there was an official ruling on that.
DMM They displayed the coat at Celebration IV. There is no doubt it is brown. You can’t argue that the costume is brown. That doesn’t account for colour correction and colour timing in film developing, but the actual costume itself is unmistakably brown. So which way would you go?
BB I think Sideshow would want to satisfy both camps. I think every recent Hoth Han toy has been blue though.
DMM Kind of sort of. They seem to be moulded in blue and have a brown wash.
BB That’s a clever go at it.
DMM You get the same thing though with Bespin Han, and it shows the true influence the original Kenner line had on all of us, because in both cases they made the figures with blue coats, and now that’s what we see. Bespin Han’s flight jacket is actually a dark grey, if you were to see it in person.
BB Those toys had such an impact. You see the back ground characters on screen for three or four seconds, but it is the vintage stuff we grew up with that polarizes what the characters look like.
DMM Hammerhead and Walrus Man are great examples of that. The Walrus Man figure is green. I’m pretty sure the guy on set wasn’t green, but in my minds eye Walrus Man is green.
BB The next hole we’re going to fill is going to be battle droids and other pieces within the Trade Federation. But for humans, the Episode I Obi-Wan Kenobi prototype has finally been wrapped up, so…
DMM Is it here?
BB No, its out at Lucasfilm right now.
DMM (expletive delete)
BB But it’s beautiful. We’ve broken some new ground with this guy. It’s got a bit more feature fun to it.
DMM You’re referring to the light-up lightsaber you mentioned last time?
BB It’s been a real interesting go around with that. We’re balancing out between things we could do and would do if we were making one. As a prototype it is amazing, but if it were produced like this you’d have glass elements and wire. Plus the inelegant solution to power it. I think we’ve found something in the LED vein that we’re happy with. Not too far from Medicom’s but a little bit stronger than that.
DMM What about the costuming? In the first film, his costume just hung off of him. The costume had such great attitude.
BB Killer. It’s got some real hang on this one. Where the past Jedi have been a bit voluminous in sense of think fabrics, we’ve been able to find some fabrics that give it the right touches. It hangs sublimely.
DMM How did you deal with the braid?
BB Sculpted. Soft, so it still moves around.
DMM Does it do anything to reopen the door for Qui-Gon?
BB I’d love to. That does bring up another point though. We have this killer Dooku sculpt but we got stuck on the body, just making it the right size proportion because both Dooku and Qui-Gon are significantly taller.
DMM Same with Mace Windu.
BB We wanted to do Dooku right, but we got sidetracked by so many other body discussions with the super hero and super villain bodies that we still have to go back to that body aesthetic discussion.
DMM When the first Qui-Gon came out I was surprised you didn’t use the Jaws body, which might have been too tall.
BB It was too tall.
DMM Moving on to the Premium Format Figure lines, what are you most excited about, and it doesn’t have to be a Star Wars piece?
BB You know I’m a Star Wars guy… Well, we were talking about the C-3PO and R2-D2. These have been a labour of love for three years, so I’m really excited to see them come together and make it to fans’ hands. The other ambitions of Star Wars PFs go in the tradition of Darth Talon. We have a couple of great females coming up. I think those may have been teased already.
DMM Mara Jade has been mentioned, and I seem to recall seeing some sketches for a Shaak Ti…
BB I think we’ve shown a little of Aayla Secura’s design. She’ll be coming up real quick along with one of her lovely female companions. Then we’ll be getting back into more armoured and interesting Imperial stuff.
DMM Armour is more of a challenge, isn’t it?
BB It’s a lot of fun though too. The guys have found their balance in terms of prop remakes and sourcing the right materials. That’s such a weird hang up in Star Warsville, to get everything just right.
DMM What about the science of marketing involved in that? Darth Talon sold out faster than Darth Vader and is now selling on the secondary market for close to a thousand dollars at the same time Jedi Luke, which in my opinion is the quintessential rendition of the character, is still available.
BB It’s a fan-based phenomenon. Star Wars is unique. I think everyone has a favourite passion within it, whether that is the classic trilogy, Prequel stuff, Expanded Universe stuff, or just liking it all. We are constantly surprised and maybe we should say as marketing stiffs that we planned it all, but Darth Talon was just a passion play. We love this character. It’s a great design and we had to do something with it. And it was just well received and even better received when it shipped. So the question in our minds is with a success like that, how do we follow it up? How do we sate that appetite?
DMM Well, I hope the line doesn’t go too deep into the EU while there are still too many iconic film characters left to be done.
BB Darth Vader and Boba Fett are way over due for a revisit. Some folks never had an opportunity with the original ones, and for others, the last time was 2005. Sideshow’s approach to product design and planning for the next few years is really going to be around making sure we can get around to the best characters of every property but there are so many that it is essential that we rotation of the main characters, but in a way that’ll still allow us to play with characters such as Darth Talon or equally interesting stuff that pops up here and there. We want to keep the rotation so we are satisfying moderate fans, hard core collectors, and everyone in between.
DMM What have you done with Darth Vader? You have the life-sized bust, which is sort of an idealized version of the character, the A New Hope 12” figure, a Revenge Of The Sith pre-battle 12” figure, the A New Hope PF, and two A New hope bronze statues, as well as dioramas with Vader in Revenge Of The Sith, A New Hope, and The Empire Strikes Back. What about Return Of The Jedi?
BB Return Of The Jedi is going to get a loving representation in 1/6 scale next, followed closely by a Premium Format Figure.
DMM The PF is designed to fit in with the Emperor and Jedi Luke PFs?
BB You’ll finally have the whole kit and caboodle.
DMM What about an armoured Revenge Of The Sith Vader?
BB We’ve been told by fans on staff that until we’ve serviced all classic versions of Darth Vader we’re not allowed to even look at reference photos for that version of the costume.
DMM It’s such a fascinating costume design too, if you look into it a bit. The fabric elements are baggier, but he hasn’t been lugging heavy metal appendages around for 20 years yet. It would take Vader a while to build the muscles we see in the last three episodes.
BB It’s a good thing they planned ahead and left him room.
DMM No one has touched the Revenge Of The Sith costume since 2005. I think that’s funny, because it's a milestone. It’s the first time Vader wears the armour.
BB It’s hard though, because you’ve got the iconic A New Hope or Return Of The Jedi costumes that people are glued to. Those signature looks.
DMM But doesn’t it behoove the line to hold back on the one everyone really wants? If the Revenge version is left to the end, isn’t there a chance that it’ll be the redhead stepchild?
BB Even after you’ve done the others, and done them well, there might be more interest. Just speaking of the 1/6 scale, you’ve got you're A New Hope Vader, and you’re getting a Return Of The Jedi one soon, and the subtlies that make it Revenge Of The Sith are there, but it is still subtle. You have those two, would you rather have an Episode III Vader or would you rather jump to a McQuarrie version or some other reimagining of the character?
DMM Wouldn’t that prove to be a greater risk though? Even the time spent in development before you present it to Lucasfilm. Is it worth it considering their response to the Infinities White Armoured Anakin Skywalker?
BB The truth of that is that it fits into the chronology of Return Of The Jedi, so it would be more appropriate if it were done with the Return Of The Jedi version. It's a dramatically different interpretation on Darth Vader, just not that well known.
DMM Going into this new Vader, will we see a more accurately scaled body?
BB Already done. We wanted to make sure he was clearly taller than everyone else, but the first one was just a hair too tall.
DMM I took the Terminator 1 version of Hot Toys’ T-800 and did a body swap. Seemed to me, the Arnie body was taller than other 1/6 scale figures, and like Dave Prowse, the body sported a lot of muscles. Looks great.
BB That’s the fun of it. See, you asked about PFs and I waylay it into a talk about Star Wars. Who ever you go to with the Premium Format for Marvel and now DC, especially since there is no restraint in the platform, the question is how far do we go with anatomy and sculpture verses fabric.
DMM I know collectors have their own opinions on that…
BB Oh, yes they do.
DMM I’m a big fan of what you are doing with the X-Men PFs, though I wish the line drew from more than the relatively short period that Jim Lee worked on the title. There are so many iconic artists and indelible styles. I’d love to see a Paul Smith mohawked Storm, or a Romita Jr. punk rock Rogue, and a John Byrne Wolverine in the brown costume. But the line is still very exciting despite its limited focus. Still, I don’t understand why there was a shift from the material costumes to the sculpted costumes.
BB There is no hard and fast rule. The playbook is still fairly open about what the interpretations rules are in regards to how much fabric or how little to use and I think even more its come down to a design and execution oriented point of view of what’s going to look best for the character. In cases where the most iconic art for the character shows a tonne of anatomy through the costume, it would be tough to match that through fabric. In Gambit’s case you have so much of his anatomy drawn on to a guy who appears to be wearing an armoured, non-spandex kind of costume, so to do that justice our design team decided to go sculptural. The trench coat still gives us plenty of opportunity to do fun stuff with the tailoring and the posability. At the same time discussions are made in the opposite way too.
The Batman Premium Format piece goes in the other direction. I’ll let the photos of that, when they show up, tell the story for that, but there is plenty of anatomy but plenty of fabric as well. Traditionally we’ve done fabric capes, even when the body is sculpted, but we went in the opposite direction for this go around.
DMM So it’s a sculpted cape?
BB The cape is sculpted.
DMM When will we be seeing Batman?
BB As soon as we possibly can. We’d like to get DC in front of people sooner rather than later.
DMM The Joker Premium Format Figure is very much a Brian Bolland inspired piece. Is this something we’ll see more of in the series, where certain artists of story arcs are depicted in the final pieces, or will it follow one artist, like the Jim Lee inspired X-Men PFs?
BB You’ll see less of a concentration of any specific artist’s work, but the influences will be unmistakable. Batman isn’t designed to accompany Joker exactly, but they look remarkably good together. There isn’t a startling difference, at least not a difference between J. Scott Campbell and Alex Ross. The design team is just focused on making striking, strong pieces of art. Once you get on a jag where you’ve got two or three that look similar, as we’ve done with the Jim Lee X-Men jag, its hard not to continue making complimentary pieces. If we’re going to do Psylocke or Storm to go with Gambit, Wolverine, and Colossus, what makes the most sense? With respect to collectors that have been with us while we’ve run on that same look, we want to stay true to that and match this team up. We’ve been so lucky that people have supported these lines to the degree that they have, and that’s why we are now glued to the forum boards, the Ask Sideshow write ins, and the other ways we get feedback about what folks want to see next. There is always the option to do a second or third version of Wolverine or the option to do something like Mr. Sinister.
DMM I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to do a Mr. Sinister Premium Format Figure.
BB It would be a fun challenge.
DMM Despite the Jim Lee focus of the Premium Format X-Men figures, the exact opposite is going on with the Comiquette statues. As a huge X-Men fan I find myself constantly enjoying the rollercoaster ride this collection is. As a collector you truly don’t know what is coming next, what era will be the focal point of the next piece. Will it be a Romita Jr. Phoenix or a Silvestri Dazzler, who knows, it might even be a Madureira Maggot…
BB Comiquettes have been such a range. I think we’ve found a little bit more rhythm to it because we’ve done different scales and interpretations. The only thing that is universal about the Comiquettes is that they don’t have any fabric, but we’ve done pieces in ¼ scale that match with others we’ve done in Premium Format that we’ve called Comiquettes but we brought them to a place where we can keep consistency with what a Premium Format piece looks like with or without fabric. The Premium Format label is there to tell you it is ¼ scale piece, these will look good together. If you collect ¼ scale Marvel you will be OK. At the same time a Comiquette will be something a little out of the ordinary.
DMM Where does the Iceman Comiquette fit in terms of scale?
BB I think the Iceman is at the end of the 1/5 scale. We're going to start reserving characters that we would have done in the 1/5 scale line to do in the Premium Format line so they really do have context with other characters.
DMM So Iceman is 1/5 scale?
DMM Overall, I’m excited about what’s coming up. You know I always am. What about you? What are your feelings about 2012?
BB It’s going to be fun. I get increasingly excited about the product planning as time goes by. As a fan myself I always fear that we’re going to run out of cool stuff to do, but we keep getting closer and closer to finding the right balance and there is some dang juicy stuff coming up.