What If Playmates Made Star Wars Toys?
by Shawn Crosby
This article was originally written in March 2003.
Reprinted with permission.
While working at a Playmates-affiliated sculpting studio (as a modelmaker on things like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek and Happy Meal Toys), we received word that the Star Wars license was up for grabs. Playmates, along with every other large toy company, wanted to win this badly. We were turned loose to come up with anything we could that was unusual.
A lot of things for this presentation were designed by the suits at the main Playmates think-tank, but to the best of my recollection, this model came from our desire in the shop to do something out of character for the line - something dynamic with a really good sculpt to show what we were capable of. (Of course, I was also working for Mattel on their presentation stuff, but shhh... don't tell anyone!)
The president/main sculptor of the studio and I discussed possible options and finally settled on Luke Skywalker. I brought in all of my reference materials, spanning video tapes, toys, costume sketches, and costume/prop replicas to 1981 O-Pee-Chee folder covers and even 70mm film clippings from my collection. I went into Hollywood and had 8x10 prints made from the original press kit slides. I made up some sketches once we decided on a pose and scale, and set out to work on final designs. We had about two weeks to wrap this up, which is about three weeks short of an average action figure's turnaround time. Plus, it had to be portable to take to Skywalker Ranch for presentation, and we wanted some special features like a light up lightsaber and illuminated base... all of which would take more time.
I began building the base as another artist began roughing out the figure in clay. We kept each other up to date on our progress, making suggestions and critiquing each other's work, tweaking it to make it the best it could be. We kept finding shortcuts to make things go a little faster, like embedding acrylic spheres in the clay head to give us a perfect base for the eyes.
Since I was the same height/build as Mark Hamill, we took reference photos of myself in Bespin fatigues to help us in detailing the folds and lay of the clothing.
When the rough figure was done, a mold was made, and then several wax versions were cast in a special studio-secret wax mixture. The sculpture would be refined, followed by another mold and casting series, repeated until it looked good enough to cast in resin and paint. The final figure was cast in three pieces: head, body, and left arm.
We had decided to make the lightsaber light up. This posed a special problem. We had to figure out how to get wire into the final body, as it had been cast it in resin. The mold tech, a musician, came up with an ingenious idea using guitar string in a series of loops to position the wire up through Luke: in through the right foot, up through his leg and body, and out through his right arm and hand. I then had to add his left arm and head, and blend the seams.
I created each of his accessories by hand, cast them in resin, and added them to the model. Belt, pouches, blaster, holster, and even straps on the boots were added after the fact to keep them crisp, adding depth to the figure. The saber hilt had to be cut into two parts, so I could wire a krypton bulb into the hands and add a removable blue LISA acrylic blade. I then wired one-eighth inch audio connectors into his feet, to support the removable figure on the base and provide electricity to the lightsaber.
Meanwhile, I had finished the base in three parts: pedestal, sidebar, and window. We made molds and castings of these, which I then painted and added layers of "nurnie" detailing until they had that Star Wars look. As a finishing touch, I scored and broke a mirrored tile to go under the "battle damaged" portion of the pedestal, to add more depth and reflect the flashing LED lights I'd put in the debris.
The Luke figure was painted using the reference items I had provided, and then I did a final wash and detail paint on both the base and figure. We showed the marketing guys how to assemble, operate, and present it. Finally, we crated it up for the flight to Marin County and the Ranch.
The model you see pictured here is my personal copy, one of three I created. Each has an original base piece to distinguish it as an original. I have the original pedestal, Playmates has the original sidebar, and Uncle George [Lucas] has the original window frame. While I knew a copy of the model had been left with Lucasfilm, you can imagine my surprise when I saw it behind Mr. Lucas in his office during a videotaped interview. It kind of warms the heart.
Interestingly, I wonder if the other toy companies had the opportunity to see this model. When the "Epic Force" Luke came out, it was a little too close in design for me. And now there is the "Unleashed" series, which is exactly what we proposed with this sample model a decade ago. C'est la guerre des etioles, eh?
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I am allowing publication of these model images without permission from Playmates or the other talented artists involved in its creation. I don't want to give the impression that I did it all alone, and don't want to get other folks still working for Playmates in trouble until they tell me it's okay to use their names.