SuperMom Action Figure - Making of
Jump into your hospital gown, grab your video camera and a box of celebratory cigars and get a front row seat for the delivery of our newest plastic baby, SuperMom... from conception right through to the miracle of toy birth. And this time it's a baby double feature - our newest toy arrival comes complete with a mini baby of her very own :)
The idea for a mothering hero juggling the pleasures and pitfalls of modern motherhood popped into our heads a few years back as a single picture... a crazy busy mom trying for that near impossible balance of kids and work while standing on her head. From this mental image we started on the rest of the details - her character, accessories, etc.
We're often asked why we waited until our 4th action figure to release our first female hero. Conventional toy industry wisdom at the time said that most action figures were bought by men. As starting our own toy company and creating original toys was difficult enough, we felt it was too risky to have SuperMom as one of our initial toys and postponed her for a bit. After getting feedback from our first toy (GeekMan), with great anticipation we started developing SuperMom's concept and poured over hundreds of different pics to help us brainstorm her look.
We asked Scott Chantler, a Toronto-based comic artist to help with the birthing process. Together we explored different retro and modern mom looks and worked out the finer details on the character. A peek at Scott's early conceptual work showing different mom possibilities...
in the end our mommy panel and toy gang liked head #2 and body #2 the best... most moms wanted a subtle sexy mom, while toy addicts wanted a mix of modern and retro. With this in mind, Scott went to work on the final coloured turnarounds:
After letting SuperMom's concept percolate in our minds it evolved a little... major tweaks were: a lighter blue suit to soften her look; reduced two baby heads into one changeable head for more fun and ease of play, and devised a corresponding bonnet; and added big pink curlers to her frazzled head to create visual interest and because we thought it'd look pretty darn funny!
Yes, we know most moms today aren't big curler wearers - heck, many moms haven't ever used them... but we remember what our moms looked like with them on, and it's a bit of retro fun we couldn't resist. (Btw, Shirley wore big pink curlers from early morn to late at night for days on end while portraying SuperMom during Toy Fair season in New York and Toronto... besides getting to like the look she found wandering the streets with a head full of curlers was a great conversation starter :)).
Raven Hood, equipped with his artistic sensibilities, an inborn love of toys & models and his sculpting super powers, began to conjure SuperMom into 3D life. SuperMom is the first action figure we've sculpted 1-up (see Raven's hand in the pics below for a size comparison)... which means all the details were created at about the same size as the final figure, plus a sight adjustment for shrinkage during casting and tooling. Traditionally most action figures / toys were sculpted at 2x or 4x the size of the final toy and shrunk during tooling... while this makes it easier to sculpt the fine detailing it creates more possibilities for errors and headaches during reduction. Gradually the big toy makers have been working more at 1:1 scales and we decided to join 'em.
During sculpting Raven created two versions of SuperMom's hips/legs - one with a skirt and one without, to give us more flexibility in deciding upon the final engineering. He also tried on different baby expressions, and performed some casting trickery to create a two-faced baby head. While we liked Raven's first interpretation of the work bag / mommy purse (bottom row, middle in pic below) we felt it was a bit too retro and he created a new bag for the final toy.
We try to think out most of the engineering and design challenges before sculpting, but one detail eluded us... the baby's ears that formed the line of symmetry for his two-faced head. After a few attempts, including one head with four ears <grin>, Raven's persistence paid off and we had a winner!
Suzanne Lunquist, toy painter and bona fide SuperMom, took possession of a few copies of the final model and went to work. She created our official paint master / paint deco, along with some extra copies. The paint master is used as a template for the paint detailing on the final toy... workers at the toy factory make additional exact copies and use these as guides when they airbrush each of our figures by hand.
Suzanne drew upon her artistic and mothering experience to create the right final looks for SuperMom... some pictures during the painting process:
The roots of the SuperMom package design came from the excellent work Justin Cheong and Kyle Kim had done many moons ago with the GeekMan package. Shirley created SuperMom's logo and refreshed the look and design so it was befitting our first feminine hero.
The big question we had to resolve when designing the packaging was SuperMom's final name. We'd been trying to decide between "WorkingMom" and "SuperMom" for a long time. We'd initially gone with "WorkingMom" as our working title <insert bad pun wince here>... but after taking a poll of our test audience and store owners SuperMom won by a large margin. While SuperMom may be a bit cheesier it clearly is more recognizable, and most moms identify with this heroic title more. Early in life we learned when moms ask for something it's best to agree... or risk losing your dessert and being banished to your room!
Tooling & Manufacturing
After all the sculpting and painting excitement we worked with our factory throughout 2005 to create a final tooling model. We started from our 1-up 6" prototype, and made a number of tweaks to the joints and functionality of the EP (engineering pilot) and FEP (final engineering pilot).
The biggest engineering challenge was SuperMom's bag strap - because of her slender shoulders it kept falling off. After a few wacky (but creative!) solutions we decided that making the strap from a much softer plastic was the best solution, though unfortunately it also happened to be the most expensive.
Below are some pics that reveal some of the engineering secrets behind SuperMom... final tooling pattern without skirt (top left), a fabric skirt trial (top middle), first shot showing her joint hardware still connected together as it is when it comes out of the injection plastic machine (top right), and pics of her two-part groceries and frazzled curler head that are glued together during production (bottom right):
After a few years creating our toy mommy, at long last we took SuperMom home from the toy maternity ward and sent her off to roam the world on her mothering missions!