For nearly three years now, Gentle Giant has built a reputation for producing some of the finest Star Wars collectibles the license has ever seen. Their line of limited edition Star Wars Mini-Busts consistently performs well at retail, and in many cases only appreciate in value on the second market. For fans looking for quality and enduring value, each Gentle Giant bust has become a prized piece in any collection. With the Star Wars Trilogy finally coming to DVD, Episode III on the horizon, and five new product lines in the works, we figured it was time to check in with Gentle Giant and see if we could get a closer look at some of the exciting things to come.
Located in a quiet, unassuming building in Burbank, Ca. Gentle Giant has proven itself a valuable asset to the film industry. Studios frequently contract out for laser scanning, visual effects, and maquette prototyping for any number of projects. Recent visitors include Ray Park and California’s own Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A quick tour of their conference/show room gives just a taste of some of the work they’ve done. Not just Star Wars, visitors will find a variety of works and presentation pieces from the Matrix, Monsters Inc., Terminator 3, to the upcoming The Incredibles. On this particular day though, the centerpiece in the room was something special for San Diego’s International Comic-Con. Wait ‘til you get a load of this…
A quick run through the shop was enough to confirm everything most of us would probably assume working for Gentle Giant would be like. From the design department to the painting and sculpting shops, the walls and cubicles are lined with the same ‘creature comforts’ many us have in our own homes and workplace: toys! Part reference material, part decoration, it’s clear to see how imbedded Star Wars, and the like, is in the talented and creative minds that work there.
Along the way we came across several pieces being prepped for Comic-Con; from the looks of it Star Wars will definitely have a Major presence, to say the least. Finally retiring to a somewhat quieter office, I had the chance to ask Gentle Giant’s own Eric Lyga a few questions about this year’s line and more.
RS: The Darth Vader statue just announced in your newsletter, is that an Original Trilogy Vader, or an Episode III version?
GG: No idea.
RS: No idea yet?
GG: No idea.
RS: So you’re really just in the initial planning stages and you’ll decide that at a later date?
GG: Yep, we know we’re doing a Darth Vader statue.
RS: What will the price range be on the statues?
GG: For the 12" statues it’s pretty much going to be $100 - $200. I'd like to be able to say Chewbacca is going to be the most expensive at a $185 SRP, (our own site initially had it wrong at $240, that’s been changed). I’d like to be able to say that’s the most expensive that the line will ever have, but I can’t guarantee that, depends on what else we do in the line.
RS: Whereas if you did something like a Boba Fett with more detail...?
GG: I doubt it would wind up having to be up there. If it did, it probably wouldn't be because of the size. Size, detail, paint, all those things go into the cost, as well as the edition size. If we did an in-scale wampa I think that would probably be pretty expensive too - I don't know for sure we’d do that but... It's always an option.
RS: The Clone Wars maquettes, you’re looking at doing the current product right now and that’s it?
GG: It's definitely going to be a finite series no matter what. The initial plan was for there to be only to be five. We’re looking at it and we’ll gauge reaction from fans, once they hit the streets, we won’t make any decisions until August/September when the first couple of pieces have shipped. Then we’ll decide if we want to go back and do a second series that would probably come out around the same time as the third season of the show.
RS: If everything did real well, they were real popular; if you guys got a wild hare; would you go back and look at some of the earlier animated stuff?
GG: Probably not. I don’t like to say "no" to anything permanently because you never know, but it’s not anything that’s on the schedule right now. The Clone Wars Maquettes was always meant to be a one and done series because of so many other lines we’re working on. We have the mini-bust line, the 12” statue line, the 7” scale statue line (the dioramas), the bust-ups, and the armory collection which we haven’t even started showing yet. We want the helmets to come in 2005, early 2005, so those will take the place of the maquettes in our production schedule.
RS: On the statues: what kind of frequency are you expecting, how many pieces per year?
GG: Between the two statue lines we’re not expecting a lot, maybe three or four a year. Starting off we’ll focus more on the 12” line, just because it’s an established scale, it’s a great way for us to do some marquee characters now with Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and the C-3PO statue we showed at Toy Fair as well. So there three already in that line, then we have the Dewback.
RS: Are all three statues due this year?
GG: The Chewbacca and the Dewback are the only ones due in 2004, C-3PO and Vader will be next year and then there will probably be two other pieces next year. I would guess, definitely one in the diorama line - we’re still working on the Luke Tauntaun - and then the other one will probably be in the 12” line, but could end up in the diorama line.
RS: We talked earlier about the bust up packaging, it’s not necessarily going to be a blind package; you’ll kinda be able to see inside...
GG: It’s basically a Kubrick sized box, but it will have a little window with plastic over it so you can see in and see a little bit of the piece. You’ll probably be able tell which piece you’re getting, but not necessarily, it’s not guaranteed. If all you can see is a little bit of a gold base, you won't be able to tell if you’re getting Han or Luke in series one, but if you see a white cape you’ll know you’re getting Leia because nobody else has a white cape. If you see a lot of brown, well then it’s probably Chewbacca. It’s that kinda thing. Obviously in series two it’s going to be hard because you have Vader, Darth Maul, and Darth Sidious who all wear a lot of black. So if you look in and just see black, you may not know what you’re getting.
RS: Would you say you have big plans for the future with the bust-ups line?
GG: Definitely. There are four series in development right now, the first two series are coming out this year, series three will feature the bounty hunters which we know will be a big hit, then we plan for them to come out maybe three or four series a year, six characters in every series, and we hope to get to the whole universe. We hope to make as many characters as we can, we like the line because we can get to more characters that we can get to in the mini-bust line. We get a lot of requests for characters for mini-busts that we just can’t do because we don’t have time or enough resources, and we also just can’t ask collectors to pay $50 each for all of these characters. We can do something at a $5 price point and cover many characters we’d normally never be able to do.
RS: The line seems heavily weighted toward the original Trilogy right now, any current plans to cover more of the Prequel characters in that line?
GG: Definitely, we did the Clone Trooper for our first give away, but we’ll definitely be going back and doing the Clone Trooper in the regular line at some point, Darth Maul is in the second series as is Count Dooku. It’s definitely going to be a mix, most of our products right now are leaning towards Original Trilogy because it’s hot, and that’s what Lucasfilm is pushing with the DVD set. As we segue into Episode III next year we’ll be doing some Episode III product in most of our lines, I won’t say all, in most of our line there will be some Episode III characters and we have every goal of going back and doing more popular characters in every line.
RS: Exclusives have always been tricky for manufacturers, basically fans not be able to get to where they are being offered, what have you learned about exclusives, how do you plan on doing things differently?
GG: It’s a delicate balance; it’s always a delicate balance. We literally get retailers and distributors, both international and domestic, who contact us on a weekly basis and say to us, "I want exclusives, I want exclusives, I want exclusives." There are companies out there where if a guy writes a check, they’ll do an exclusive for them; we’re not one of those companies. If you count up how many mini-busts we’ve done, there about twenty-five in the regular line so far. Then there are another six as exclusives. Of those exclusives, two were just chrome versions and two were just repainted Clone Troopers, there’re only two that have been legitimate sculpt changes, the Clone Trooper Pilot and Luke Stormtrooper. That’s not a bad ratio to have actually.
RS: And it looks like the Clone Trooper Pilot and the Luke Stormtrooper were/will be handled fairly.
GG: The only one that was really not handled well obviously was the Blue Clone Trooper and that was the first time we ever did an exclusive. I'd rather not go over old wounds, but suffice to say we've taken that experience and learned from it. There were people in the company that didn’t want to do the blue Clone Trooper at all because they didn’t think it would sell.
RS: Obviously the demand was there for it, which has to be reassuring?
GG: Oh yeah, and hopefully you can see the adjustments we’ve made. When we went and did the Clone Trooper Pilot for Wizard, and we did the Clone Trooper Sergeant for StarWarsShop.com we made the edition sizes larger. We said hey, we’re not just doing a thousand because there are more than a thousand people who want these. We’re doing the Luke, we’re doing 3500 of it, and as far as the distribution of it goes, I think we’re being very fair making sure that people at both shows are going to have an equal chance at getting them, and also in offering them on-line to our collectors club.
RS: That seems fair, very fair.
GG: Of course there are going to be people that don’t get them, there are going to be people upset about it, but unfortunately you can’t make everyone happy all of the time. We do our best to learn from our mistakes and put some great product on the market that we hope people will enjoy.
RS: The Mini-Bust line has obviously been a staple for Gentle Giant; you mentioned you’ve done twenty of them so far. We’ve seen a couple bounty hunters, Greedo from the Cantina, the Gamorrean Guard from Jabba’s Palace; are these areas that you’re focusing on for future products?
GG: They’re areas that we’re fans of, the thing about Gentle Giant and Star Wars is everyone here is a huge Star Wars fan. So we all have our favorites too, as much as every Star Wars collector that buys our stuff has their favorites as well. You can see I have the Star Wars Insider with Mara Jade on the cover over there, I’m a huge Mara Jade Fan, I wanna do a Mara Jade Bust. …Probably not going to happen, but I wanna do it. It’s funny because we did our femme fatales contest a couple of months ago and the number one Star Wars femme requested was Mara Jade.
RS: You could do that for a Bust-Up, but maybe not a Mini-Bust?
GG: I’m tryin’, believe me I’m the one fightin’ for it…
RS: I know there’s a lot of fans’ pushing for something like that, they’re right behind you.
GG: I’m pushin’ for it.
RS: Would it be based on Shannon (Baska)?
GG: I’d love to scan Shannon and have it based on her. Will it ever happen? Who knows... Is it on schedule for the next six months, no.
I jumped ahead of myself there… The Cantina, and Jabba’s Palace; there are a variety of creatures in there that I think we could get to at some point in the Mini-Bust line. We’ll probably get to them first in the Bust-Ups line, we could get to them in the Mini-Bust line but there’s no way we could ever complete them. So any completists out there saying they want every single creature in the Cantina as a Mini-Bust, that’s not going to happen. If we had the license for thirty years it might happen…
RS: Along those lines, Jedi Council is very popular with collectors, any plans for additions there in the near future?
GG: Nothing on the table, mainly because we’re focusing on Original Trilogy right now, we’re just starting to look at Episode III there’s probably more of an opportunity, but nothing decided, nothing certain.
RS: You mentioned Mara Jade; getting into the Expanded Universe, there’s always fans getting into this or that faction of Star Wars lore. While it may be difficult right now with the movies, is it something you might look at down the line?
GG: It’s something I would love to do, it’s a question of finding the right piece to try it out on. You have to try and find something that EU fans will obviously gobble up, but also people who are fans of the traditional Star Wars stuff who will look at it and say, hey, that’s kinda cool. I wanna get that even if it wasn’t in any of the movies, it’s not anything that I remember, but I wanna pick it up anyway. Hasbro did some Shadows of the Empire action figures, they did okay... didn’t do stellar, but they did alright.
RS: You mentioned earlier the mini-bust product line originated in the comic book genre, comic book characters from Star Wars would seem like a natural place to start.
GG: Yes, when you look at Aaya Secura getting her start because of the Dark Horse and becoming a movie character….
RS: There are probably more companies now with a Star Wars license than there has ever been at one time, how do you stay competitive with everyone else that’s offering fantastic products, how do you compete for that Star Wars dollar?
GG: We actually take that as a compliment because after Episode I, with such an influx of product, a lot of companies turned their backs on Lucasfilm after Episode I, and we were one of the few companies that came in before Episode II and said we want a license. We like to think that our quality helped turn the corner, again from not too many people wanting to be licensees, to now where we’re experiencing a golden age of product out there. I think we stay competitive just by our quality, that’s what sets us apart. No matter how many companies are out there, we feel we have the best stuff.
RS: Do you focus on price point at all, making sure that what you put out is affordable for collectors?
GG: We’re definitely sensitive to that, I think the best thing I can say is, I see other companies out there that do two mini-busts, one medium sized statue, one full sized statue, plus something else from an assortment of categories every month. So if you’re asking your die-hard collector to buy all those things, you’re asking them to spend well over $400 a month. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $400 a month of disposable income. I don’t think most people do. So we try to keep it around $100 a month we’re asking people to spend, amortizing out the cost of a statue, and that’s if you want to buy all of our stuff. I think that’s not too bad.
RS: Because of the nature of the work you do here, do you interact much with other Star Wars licensees?
GG: Sometimes, I’d say we see them every time we go to a Lucasfilm event, we see them at licensing shows. We actually do work for some other licensees, we’ve given some companies data, we've done prototyping for some companies, some Hasbro figures, we actually did some prototyping for Master Replicas as well. We have a good relationship with Code 3, we’re actually friends with them, they’re right up the street... So it depends.
RS: You mentioned Code 3 and Master Replicas who have each come up with a series of signature edition pieces. Any consideration for Gentle Giant to do a signature series?
GG: We’ve talked about it; we’ve had a few different scenarios come to mind. Nothing that we’ve decided to go forward with at this point. There’s a lot to consider on that, obviously there are some fans that would love it, they would love to have a C-3PO bust signed by Anthony Daniels. There’re some people that it would just annoy, if they couldn’t get it. And then there as well, if we do it do we just want it to be a signature piece signed by Anthony Daniels, or do we want to do a little something special to it? So it’s not just, "oh, I’m paying an extra $30 for the signature..." or whatever the cost would be. There’s coordinating with the actor, do you want to do it with every piece, do you only want to do it with a couple... I guess the perfect situation hasn’t come up yet to launch something like that, and that’s why we haven’t done it.
RS: Next year, 2005 brings Episode III – the final installment of the Star Wars movies, what do you look at after that, how long does the Gentle Giant license last?
GG: Without getting into specifics, we have the license for a few years. By going into the Original Trilogy characters as we have we found a lot of new life in the consumers, we’ve picked up a lot more fans, a lot more collectors than we had before. The MBNA program has actually been really good for that. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the forum threads on the chrome Jango, but it seems like everyday there’s another person who posts and says “hey, I just got mine in the mail, it’s my first Gentle Giant piece, and I can’t wait to get more.” And that’s what we love to see, more new people getting into the line. Of course, it’s very important to us to keep the people already in the line satisfied; we want them to be happy too. That’s why some of the edition sizes are growing. If we make 7500 of the Luke X-Wing, it’s because there are 7500 people who want it.
RS: The demand is there and you’re meeting it...
RS: So don’t expect an end to the Gentle Giant line anytime soon?
GG: Nope, the Mini-Bust line is definitely going to stay the core of our business, everything revolves around that. The Bust-Ups are growing into its own branch and is just beginning to take on a life of its own. The statues, the helmets, the armory collection, and the maquettes, and everything else are supporting the Mini-Busts; it’s all focused on the Mini-Busts and that’s where our fan base is. It’s not like I would ever see us stopping the mini-busts and continuing the statues.
RS: The Armory line; a lot of fans have asked, or mentioned it appears to be a follow up to the Riddell Mini Helmets. Are they going to be as detailed as that?
GG: They’re going to be as detailed but they are not the same scale, that’s the difference. They’re going to be made from a variety of materials as well where Riddell’s were just plastic.
RS: So the inside of the helmet will also have detail to it?
GG: Yes, when you see the Luke X-wing pilot helmet, it’s so detailed, it’s crazy, all based off the original Vietnam War era helmets. We actually went out and bought a few authentic ones and modeled the interiors exactly after them. So the detail is there.
RS: So the interior detail on a Darth Vader helmet, or a Boba Fett helmet would be included?
GG: The plan on the Vader helmet is definitely to have it come apart like the Riddell one, to make them as if they were actually being worn.
RS: That will be impressive. When do you plan to have that line out?
GG: When we announced the line at Toy Fair we had hoped it would come out this year, but unfortunately that just hasn’t happened because of some other things that we’re doing. We’re hoping for early next year, hopefully before Episode III.
RS: We’ve heard Lucasfilm is going out and presenting a lot of the Episode III to new licensees. Based on what you’ve seen are you excited for Episode III?
GG: Definitely! And we’ve seen more that anybody else too, because we worked on the movie.
RS: That’s true, good point.
For anyone traveling to San Diego’s International Comic Con, be sure to stop by the Gentle Giant booth, located in the Star Wars pavilion at 2813H. Thanks again to Eric for taking the time out of his hectic schedule, it was definitely a treat!