Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Draznar Uncensored - Artist Interview with Jon Karis

For our first ever Artist Interview piece here at Ironhaus Productions, I chose to go with Jon Karis and his Rise of the Beasts line of mini-figures. As always, it was an absolute pleasure talking to him and I hope you also enjoy this installment of Artist Interview!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Me? I’m just a big toy nerd who finally has the chance to be part of creating an awesome toyline, instead of just buying toys from an awesome toyline. Ha ha.

I’ve been (re)collecting toys for the better part of 15 years now. Back in the beginning of my journey, I stumbled upon a couple old Yahoo email groups. We needed a better way to archive our arguments conversations, so I put up a message board. That morphed over the years into what LittleRubberGuys is today.

Toy life aside, I am a father with two wonderful kids and a wife who has been a God send. Part of the fun over the years has been sharing my love for toys with my family. My wife isn’t much of a collector, but she enjoys the fact that I enjoy this stuff, if that makes any sense. My kids both love toys and now being in the position of making them, it’s nice to be able to bounce designs off them to see what there feedback is. Sometimes it is “Awesome!” and sometimes it is “Meh.”. Helps me to avoid drinking my own kool-aid for lack of a better phrase. Ha ha.

I am also an I.T. Manager for a pretty decent sized company. Being in I.T. is a nice compliment to running a web server here at the house, ha ha. Actually, had it not been for my experience in setting up websites and hosting the server here at the house, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be where I am at today at my day job.

What are your favourite toy lines of past and present?

Favorite of all time? Kinnikuman. There isn’t another property that reaches out and grabs me like Kinnikuman. All the fun and goodness of M.U.S.C.L.E., but with the extra 100+ figures!!!

Battle Beasts, Transformers and GI Joe were always favorites, but they are all second fiddle to Kinnikuman. I do collect across a huge swath, but nowhere near where I was at about 7-8 years ago. Definitely had to down-size, ha ha.

Are you currently working on anything?

Non-toy? Lots of stuff that you guys probably wouldn’t be interested in.

Toy related? Rise of the Beasts mainly. We are trying to get that line going full steam before we branch out into some other ideas we have. For now though, just RotB.

Prototypes of the first two figures

What is your process for creating toys?

The way it works now is like this. Glenn (my partner in Plastic !magination) and I will come up with what kind of new character we want to make, and once we get that hammered out, Glenn works directly with Renato (our 3d guy) to design a 2d character and that sometimes gets bounced back to me to give my input. Once that is done, Renato works his magic and brings it to life in zbrush! There is some more back and forth and eventually we end up with a bad ass figure design!

Once the 3d is done, it gets sliced up to add the joints. The pieces are printed out over at Lightbeam3D on a very high end 3d printer (Look ma, no lines!) and we send those to Luke at Imperfecz to mold in silicone and produce resin prototypes. The articulated protoypes give us a good hands-on model that we can tinker with. They make great collection pieces for the fans too!

Once the prototypes are final, we have Luke clean up a couple master sets. One goes to the factory in China to make the metal injection mold from, and the other goes to Matt Doughty (from Onell Design) of Glyos fame. He works with Paul in China to nail down the way they are going to structure the mold.

Once the metal mold is done, Paul sends over some test shots for me to approve. If they are good, we move forward with our order. For unpainted figures it is easy. Pick a PMS color from the pantone guide and let him know which color and how many. For paint, it is a little trickier. You have to either provide a mechanical drawing of the figure or a paint master. For Gaamik and Cahriv, we provided mechanicals. Eric Nilla was our go to guy on those. I sent him over the 3d models and he was able to trace them out nicely. Once he sent them back, I added the colors via Photoshop and then off to Paul for the order.

Once the order is in and done, Paul will ship back color and paint samples. Like I mentioned, the PVC color has been easy (especially when we can reference a color Matt has made some Glyos figures in), but the paint samples can get tricky. Tricky, because no matter how good you think it is going to look, 2d art never really captures what it will look like on the figure. So, going forward, we are going to start sending paint samples. Eric Koppen has come on board for that aspect. He is a phenomenal painter and is a huge fan of the line. Being able to utilize his talents to bring these colors to life is huge!

Once the final order is in and the samples are approved, the finished figures ship this way and they go up in the store.
There is obviously a lot more to it than that, but overall I would say this is pretty detailed overview of the process.

Showing off the design process and mold

What is your success/failure ratio?
I guess it depends on how you define those. We have had problem after problem, delay after delay with this line, but nothing I would call a failure. Just road blocks. ;)
 Even after all the setbacks, we have two awesome characters, factory produced and people excited to see more!

As far as success, I wouldn’t say we are there yet either. Success, to me, would entail having a large enough customer base, that we could cover all costs with 3-4 waves and move on to the next pair of figures. As it sits, we have a good fan base and are growing, but are not where we need to be yet. We are still having to look for outside funding.

All that being said, I am VERY happy and optimistic with where we are at now. We are moving forward and that is the direction I want to go!

What is your favourite creation?
I have to say Cahriv, the scorpion. I remember the night I first saw him. We had just gotten done with the initial Kickstarter debacle, so that was a bit of a let down, but Glenn and I were on the phone with Matt at Onell, and during the call, Glenn sends us both this email with the first color render of the scorpion. Holy Mama! I hadn’t seen any hint of that character yet, but I knew Glenn had Renato working on something. It was incredible! Since then, he has definitely been my favorite. The feeling was the same the first time I had a print and even better when I got the first test shot! Not sure who my 2nd favorite is, but the Ant is pretty bad ass. There is a female character that is being developed that is off the hook as well! Wait until you see her!!!!


Cahriv painted figure and concept art

Have you ever had an idea that just didn't work? If so, how did you deal with it?

Lots! In general, we just move ahead, figure out what didn’t work and fix it. Or work around it. One thing that comes to mind is cutting the molds in-house. We had been working on this for quite a while, but kept hitting mechanical snags. The machine we had couldn’t cut the detail we wanted. We (or rather Glenn) tried for months to get it down, but in the end, it just wouldn’t do it. And without much larger tooling equipment, it wasn’t going to happen. So that method is on the back burner until we find something less detailed to try out. The solution to that was to continue on getting the masters ready for a factory. In this case, the Glyos factory! Matt has been a huge help in that regard.

Do you make your toys for adults, kids, or any audience?
Officially, they are for “Adult Collectors”. Unofficially, they are for anyone who enjoys them. My nephews and other kids that have had them in their hands absolutely LOVE them! However, I wouldn’t give them to anyone who still puts their toys in their mouths. Just like any object with small parts, they can present a choking hazard.

What are your plans for the future? (Now, and further down the road.)
In the immediate future? We are working on getting the weapons scaled correctly to the figures. The current batch of weapons are too thin to fit snugly. We also need to finish the weapons to work out balance issues. And we are also working at funding the next 4 characters. We are close to funding the molds for the Lion and Gorilla, but we want to release the Ant and Horned Lizard at the same time. More than likely, we are going to launch a Kickstarter once we have the weapons issue resolved. If that is successful, we can run all 4 figures and weapons packs. If it is hugely successful, we might be able to fund even more characters at the same time. That would be epic! I’d love to see it hit 6-8 new figures worth of funding.

Concurrently, we are trying to get the comic off the ground. Glenn has a huge backstory imagined and mostly fleshed out, but we need someone to put that on paper. We are talking with a guy right now, who happens to be a huge fan of the line. So I am hoping that works out and we can put out some comic pages!!

Down the road we have lots of characters planned out, but nothing solid yet. We want to get these 4 out the gate before we further develop the new ones.
Once the line is going strong, we want to look at costs for larger, more articulated versions GI Joe or He-Man sized to be exact. That is a way down the road though. I did recently acquire a 3d printer, so you can expect to see some mock ups of these sizes in the coming months…

Some of the planned weapons

Any words of wisdom for people looking to create their own toys?
1. Sit down, plan it out. Work out everything that can go wrong and plan for it. When we were putting this together we had heard and read all the horror stories about what could go wrong. And even with all our vetting and planning, things still happened. We looked at dozens of factories and got quotes from a majority of them. Even after whittling it down to a factory that had a great reputation on Ali Baba (Kainuosen) and a fair price, it still fell through. From delayed samples to “Sorry, we can’t do that size” to “Sorry, we can’t use your master, here is our dollar store sculpt” to “Ok, now not only do you NOT get to make any changes, but your minimum order quantity just went up” to finally them just ignoring us. We lost some money there, but we were concerned we might, so we only sent enough initially to get them to send us a sample.

2. Do the math! If you want to produce and sell your own toys, or anything for that matter, look at how much it will cost you from development to final production to distribution, etc. Look at how much you will need to sell the product for and give a very conservative estimate of your market size, and then calculate if that is realistic. If it is, go for it. If not, find an alternate route. Maybe just develop your figure and have someone like Eric Nilla (@ericnilla) or Marty Hansen (@TheGodBeast) make a silicone mold and resin copies for you to sell. That is actually where a lot of independent toy makers are at today and it works great for low to medium run releases.

3. Make sure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Even before picking a factory, we had been working on alternate routes. One I mentioned earlier was making the figures in house. We looked at multiple machine shops and got quotes to have them cut the mold for us. We ended up buying a small router and tested that. We were also talking with Matt from Onell, hoping there might be an opportunity there. So when Kainuosen fell through and we had to cancel the Kickstarter, we were still really optimistic. In the end, the only thing that actually panned out, was working with Matt at Onell. But had it not been for us already working on those alternate options, we wouldn’t be where we are at now.

4. Don’t quit! No matter how many times you get knocked down, or how many bumps in the road you hit, keep going! If this is your dream, no one else is going to do it for you. Work through or around the problems and make it happen!

The infamous "dollar store" sculpt

Fan questions:
How did you decide which animals to get "Beast-ized?"

Good question. As far as Asa-yid (the white lion) we wanted something instantly recognizable as a Battle Beast homage. Then we just picked some other animals we would like to see and went from there. The Gorilla is the other one with heavy Battle Beast influences, but the rest are all pulled from Glenn and Renato’s imagination.

Current and soon-to-be sculpts

Why did you go with that specific size?
The project actually started out in June 2011 as a military themed project. We had 5 characters designed and were working with another 3d artist at the time. 60mm fully articulated characters. Mainly because no one had really done it yet and also because we all collected mini figures. At the time we were still thinking we could have the molds cut at a local machine shop and injection mold them ourselves. That project really didn’t catch on so in August, we changed gears. We started looking for something different and we thought about doing something like Battle Beast meets He-Man! We knew that would be a blast!

Was Glyos compatibility something you decided from the start, or did it come about over time?

It came about over time. The original joints were going to be ball/socket joints. You can see that in the mock up mold. But while I was pitching the Glyos factory to Glenn, I said that having Glyos joints would be a good idea, due to their simplicity and sturdiness. One of the biggest issues with the original beasts is that if the arm comes off, it either rips the joint a little or is a pain to go back in. They also tend to get stuck over time and tear that way. With Glyos joints, you don’t have that problem. Ever. Plus you get the benefit of parts swapping.
J When we added the extra articulation at the neck and waist, it made even more sense.

Glyos compatibility!

What can the fans expect for the future of Rise of the Beasts?
Well, that really depends on the fans. If you guys enjoy the line so far and continue to support us by picking up the figures and bringing in new collectors, then we can grow the fan base enough to be totally self-contained and pop out new characters on a regular basis. I envision being able to knock out 4-6 new characters every 4-6 months, if not more. That is entirely up to the fans though. We have the talent to do it in house. Glenn and Renato can get a figure done from conception to completion in as little as a week. The factory turn-around time has been super fast. If the fan base is there, we can get into a rhythm, get all parts moving in sync and expand the universe pretty fast!

Are other tie-ins a possibility? Things like games, comics, playsets and vehicles?
Yes. Comic is in the works. Playsets and vehicles are barely in the concept stage, but we are hoping to do both. Not sure about a game.

Are you going to do another kickstarter for the next 4 figures? 

More than likely, yes.

(Ironhaus would like to thank Jon Karis for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk with us! We look forward to seeing Rise of the Beasts continuing growth. If you'd like to purchase some of these figures for yourself, the link to Jon's store page is posted at the bottom. - Fe)

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