Lead Hasbro toy designer Mark Boudreaux and Jeff Popper from marketing answered questions for fans at Celebration 2. Following is the transcript from the event held on Friday, May 3, 2002 from 5 pm to 5:50 pm.
Q: At Celebration I, part of the excitement there was that the figures were not yet released until the event. Can you explain why this year the figures were released before the Celebration II or even before the movie has come out?
A: If memory serves, the timing just happened to be the weekend prior to the Midnight Madness. The dates were dictated by Lucasfilm. This time around, there happens to be a larger gap between this event and the movie launch. Retailers also help make this decision, for their advertisements. The dates this time around just happen to fall differently now than they did back in 1999.
Q: The reincarnated ships don't seem to allow the figures with the action stances to fit inside of them.
A: They do fit, you just have to work with them...that's why they are made out of PVC.
Q: The new Deluxe figures are awful playability wise, and aren't able to flip over properly.
A: They do work, it takes a little bit of a learning curve, but it is fun and they can land on their feet. Or you can make the figures jump into and army of Geonosians or Battle Droids and knock them over. If you're a kid, part of the fun is the challenge of making it work if it doesn't quite work the first time. There is a contest at the Hasbro booth today, and the first place winner was able to make the figure land successfully 2o times in a row. The goal is to deliver a toy that exists for people that love Star Wars. Collection 1 figures have special features, while Collection 2 does not. We try to extend a child's play while also striving to not lose detail. Collection 1 should be just as cool as Collection 2 figures.
Q: When the POTF2 Millenium Falcon vehicle was released, it was impossible to fit a Chewbacca figure into it. It wasn't until the Dejarik Champion figure was released and it fit perfectly.
A: Chewbacca is a pretty big figure, and the cockpit isn't the biggest so the fit was pretty tight. Everytime we create a new line, we evolve, taking a look at the previous year and make adjustments as neccessary and move forward.
Q: The Eeth Koth figure is in a very action-oriented pose, and I was hoping to get the members of the Jedi Council in a normal pose.
A: We'll take that under consideration. We always take a look at what makes sense to redo as far as the best mix of characters in a given line. So, stay tuned.
Q: As far as the variations in the new line, do you guys do that on purpose? (laughter)
A: That's why I have all this grey hair. When we develop the figures with Lucasfilm, they provide feedback as far as choosing characters, and pose that is selected. Such as Eeth Koth, we knew that there was going to be a big climactic battle at the end of the movie, and a lot of the Jedi were involved with that, and we wanted to represnt the character in that scene. To get back to your question, as we develop these figures, we try to make them as best we can, working with our Orient vendors, making sure the product we get back is what we gave them. There are times when safety requirements dictate that we need to change something on a figure, and that type of change overrrides anything. You may see a change in a figure just because of a variation in technique.We do try to minimize the variations. We have a reasonably small staff that generates all of the Star Wars products we have out there. So we don't go out of our way to make variations. And we really do try to minimize that by working with the vendors.
Q: Like the newly released R2 piece has a variation.
A: The product is manufactured in Asia so sometimes as product comes over and we look at it, Mark and the engineers, and there are some changes. And sometimes the changes come from the Orient and with the Hasbro engineers over there where they feel things could be improved. It's a meticulous process for something so small. Mark how many paint operations go into the basic figures?
A: The bare minimum is probably 30. Characters like Jango Fett. we're up in the 60's. We try to do what's best and we try to work within a costing structure. We try to make it a viable figure and we work with Lucasfilm to make sure that we really do have a product that reflects Mr. Lucas' vision. As a designer, we're fans too. Except we have to be on the other side of the fence and get to work with it everyday. Our goal is to make the product the best we can because we invest our lives, over half of mine so far, doing this. We take it pretty seriously.
Q: How many of the new figures come with inserts and how many without?
A: I don't know the exact number. That was a decision that was jointly made between Hasbro and Lucasfilm to remove that back card. It was part of the packaging concept that we had and everybody loved it. The problem is that it was a curved back and whenever you're dealing with paper, it's kind've hard to control sometimes. You have things like humidity issues. I went to the Orient for about a month in December of last year to try to expedite some of these things. We found out that some of the packaging looked OK, but we were having technical issues, if you will, on the majority of them. We felt that we really wanted to have a clean presentation of figures, and a lot of times, the extra card was starting to distract from that. So the decision was made to remove it.
Q: I like my figures to go with my vehicles, so I can sympathize with the gentleman who has a hard time fitting his figures in the ships, like Chewie in the passenger side of the Falcon.
A: It's a balance. In the seventies, when we made our figures and they were pretty much straight up and down, they fitted everything. I don't think that that execution would work at this particular point in time. That's why we try to add additional articulation for figures. They do fit. You'll have to work with them a little bit, but they do fit.
Q: There are times when I felt like you guys hit the mark square. But I can think of some occassions where it didn't quite hit the nail on the head. The engine module, for example, of the Collector Series Blockade Runner, is totally out of proportion from the fuselage. The LEGO model of the Blockade Runner is much closer in scale. What compromises were made for it to be out of scale that way?
A: I didn't work on those particular items so I don't know all the details. But you work within packaging and cost constraints. There may have been some issues with battery sizes, that type of thing. There are times when we have to "compromise" our proportion. But we try to do it in such a way that it's minimalized. If you look at the Slave I for example. In reality, the Slave I is much larger in real scale than it shows in the product. Obviously, we wouldn't be able to make a Slave I that was six feet long. But I think it's a pretty nice representation of what you see in the film.
Q: I collected the Queen Amidala Portrait Edition dolls. On the back of the box I was under the impression that there were supposed to be four of them. I was wondering if you were going to do any more costumes from that movie and are you going to do it again for Episode 2?
A: I don't work on the fashion dolls so I don't exactly know the answer as far as the fourth figure is concerned. We are no longer pursuing the fashion dolls persay. I think they were great executions. But I think the 3 3/4 inches is still the core and for the moment and there's no plans to produce large fashion dolls.
Q: Can you shed any light on the new Cantina figures coming out?
A: Quite honestly, I can't. (laughter)
Q: What is the purpose of exclusive figures?
A: Exclusives are done for a couple of different reasons. Often, we use them to help us with the retail trade and our relations with them. Primarily it's done when we have a product that we know that collectors or fans will want, but not in large enough quantities where it will make sense to ship with all retailers. If you divided that by what we think demand for the product might be so that each store will have one or two. If it makes no sense for the retailer, they're not going to stock it.
We find a retailer that would be appropriate to sell it to. One thing we try to do when we do decide to do that going forward this past year is we told the retailers they have to do one of two things. They need to assure us that they can sell it nationally in land based stores or in the internet. If they don't, then we reserve the right to go back and produce additional product and or sell it through additional channels such as the Fan Club, to make sure that every fan who wants that item will be able to get one.
Q: Is there a chance to produce more obscure characters and make them available through stores like the Fan Club?
A: It's a difficult question. Our resources are finite. As Mark said, there's a small team who works on Star Wars and there's a limit to how many figures we can do each year. One of our key goals is to make sure that Star Wars fans and collectors continues to grow and the only way to do that is to bring in future generation of collectors, which are kids. We feel Episode 2 will appeal strongly to kids and it's a great opportunity for us. As those kids become interested in Star Wars because of Episode 2, they're going to go back and watch the Original Trilogy. It's important for us to have product out there that corresponds to those films. So we think it's important to put out a Han and Chewie each year. We don't want to come out with too many variations, because our goal is to sell product and there's got to be demand. It's a juggle to have a breadth of different characters out there for all the fans and have core characters available for the new collectors.
We try to stike a balance. You look around the convention and you see a heck of a lot of kids running around in Jedi costumes. There's definitely a lot of future collectors out there. That's whats going to keep the franchise going after Episode 3 finishes.
Q: How much development if going into the Action Fleet line?
A: We are relaunching Action Fleet. You see 3 examples of what we're going to do. Those are redecos. In other words, we enhanced the decoration on those (Millennium Falcon, X-Wing Fighter, and Vader's TIE Fighter). They are the same sculpts, but we're giving them a completely fresh look. We will be doing brand new Episode 2 vehicles because we will have all five movies to choose from. I think it's important to do a mix of Classic as well as Episode 1 and 2. The launch will include the Classic figures we have shown, but we will be doing brand new from scratch vehicles.
Q: Do you know which Episode 2 (Action Fleet) vehicles are in the drawing board?
A: I can't really tell you specifics, but I can tell you that you will be seeing Episode 2 vehicles and they'll all be brand new. But there will be Classic vehicles mixed in from time to time when we feel it's appropriate. It gives us an opportunity to possibly do brand new Classics as well.
Q: I heard a rumor about your plans to release the Imperial Shuttle through FAO Schwarz. Do you plan on doing this or is it just a rumor?
A: Well, FAO went out and announced we were doing it which was a bit premature. We're in conversations with them. We would never produce a product in an amount which we feel is lower then what the demand is for a product. I think that's why FAO is trying to gauge what that demand is. Retailers don't want to be stuck with excess inventory and we don't want to short the market, so it's a balancing act in between to negotiate what the right number is. On something like an exclusive, they have to actually pay us up front and take delivery from us in the Orient. So they're not going to do it until they're convinced that they are going to sell it all through. There's nothing finalized yet with that product. We are in discussions with them and we pretty much told them that we won't sell it to them until they agree to take an appropriate amount.
Q: How do you feel about giving things away as far as plot points as in the Zam Wesell figure?
A: We obviously are putting in to the product features, if you will for lack of a better word. Things that we have gone over with Lucasfilm to put into the product. We are selling the product before the movie is out and obviously, as a fan, the first thing you want to do is to take it out of the package and play with it and you may discover a few things.
A: The other thing is the book is now released. Dark Horse Comics has published the comic version of the story as well. That's why we had a national release date of April 23rd so that all that product is out there. That's why we try not to release product ahead of time. We realize some fans are waiting for the movie and we try not to put too many spoilers into the packaging. So if you don't open it, hopefully you won't learn things you didn't want to know.
Q: Once you take off the little rubber bands holding the gun or lightsaber, that figure can't really hold it anymore.
A: The rubber bands are placed on there for transit purposes. Obviously they travel a long way. So we want to make sure that is the figure is never taken out of the package and that the accessory remains in the right place. Plastic does move around from time to time, so want to make sure the hands are tight enough for weapons.
Q: For the Zutton, any chance of a new one coming out? Giving it longer legs and painting it blue?
A: Do you sculpt well? (laughter)
Q: Is there any chance of a more proportional Millennium Falcon similar to the FX X-Wing?
A: Well, personally I would love to see something like that...but, we'll see.
Q: I wanted to compliment you guys on the excellent job you did with the new Playskool line for preschoolers. Do you have any future plans for more toys in this line?
A: I'm glad you brought that up. The folks back in Rhode Island who work on that line just did an incredible job. You see the Millennium Falcon we currently have in our booth which we previewed at Toy Fair. The key really is demand. We can make product, but if the retailers don't stock it, it makes it difficult for us. We'd love to produce more, but the demand has to be there.
Q: Are you ever going to do anything with Jedi Points?
A: Don't throw them away. We brainstorm about that constantly and we yet have to come up with something that economically makes sense. But we don't stop thinking about it. I'm working on something right now with Frito-Lay so keep an eye out on that. We're constantly looking for innovative ways to do it so that economically we don't bankrupt ourselves.
Q: Why are there more male characters than female characters?
A: It's really supply and demand and determine what the right quantities to produce are. If we think there's extra demand, we'll produce it. That's what we base it on.
You'll see more versionns of Amidala coming up with more articulation for people who don't like the quick draw feature. There's a vesion of her probably coming out next year that's more articulated and we'll look into producing even more versions of her as well.
Q: Can you tell us where the idea of the Celebration 2 figure came from?
A: I don't know if I can give you all the details, because I ,quite honestly, wasn't involved in making that figure. But I can specultate that we wanted to do something real special and unique for this line. So the discussion was, well what better figure to have than to celebrate Mr. Lucas? He's the reason why we're all here. So we really felt that this was the best figure to do and we wanted to make it special. He's the ultimate pilot of this ship. Put him in the X-Wing Pilot. Put the helmet on there and add a little mystery to that character. From what I've seen, he's gone over really well.
Q: Are you planning on any more Expanded Universe figures like with the New Jedi Order?
A: We constantly look at what purchase patterns have been on past characters and figures. If you were in our presentation earlier today, we announced the next Fan's Choice poll, and you'll see some EU figure in there like Nim. So we'll continue to do that if the demand is there.
Q: Are there any plans for exclusive figures in Canada?
A: We work closely with Hasbro Canada and obviously they leverage a lot of what we do and we make them aware of everything in our line, including the exclusives. It's up to them to work with their retailers and find a retail partner that's interested in one of those products. I encourage you to put in a request to your retailers. When it's a customer like Wal-Mart who is both in the U.S. and Canada, they have the right of first refusal to really anywhere in the world. If you see a Wal-Mart exclusive in the U.S., I suggest talking to your local Wal-Mart and ask them to bring it in.
Q: Is the Shuttle from the original mold?
A: Like the items we launched in the '90's, it is utilizing the original tooling.
Q: Will there be a pack in figure with it?
A: That I don't know.
Q: Nowadays, the plastic for the guns are soft and bend.
A: If you look at the older weapons, they were a little less accurate. They tended to be a little heavier and thicker. Now we are trying to be as authentic to the style of the weapon as we can. A lot of the weapons have what we call thin cross sections. Thin gun barrels, long gun barrels. Look at Aurra Sing's rifle. It's like nothing wide and five feet long. To make sure that we try to get it as authentic as we can, it requires that we use a softer material.
There's also safety concerns. When it's that thin, if it's hard, it would be pretty sharp. Since these are toys for kids, according to the government, we have safety standards that are important for us as a corporation. We have to abide by those standards.
And that is something we're also working with the Orient on because we're pushing the authenticity which somtimes makes for small parts or small cross sections of parts. We realize that and we're working with them to strike the right balance between the darameter (sic) of the plastic, which means how hard the plastic is, versus the authenticity.
A: Thanks for coming everybody. (applause)