Turning collectors' dreams into plastic reality...
The gates to toy nirvana.
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When it comes to licensed pop culture collectibles, few companies can compete with the quality and variety of product produced by NECA. From modern blockbuster films to nostaglic retro gems, timeless musical acts to sizzling video game titles, the National Entertainment Collectibles Association offers a little something for everyone with a broad spectrum of merchandise. To quench the thirst of the casual collector there's an abundance of novelty items, including keychains, posters, t-shirts and tote bags. Visit most any retail store, pick up a licensed movie tee, and the odds are good that NECA made it. However, if you're anything like me and a serious collector, niche knickknacks only go so far in allowing us to connect with our favorite properities. We need more. We need action figures, statues and prop replicas.
Randy checks his Twitter.
Helmed by Randy Falk, NECA's action figure department has experienced immense growth since its humble beginnings over 10 years ago. Starting small with vintage toy re-releases (Tomy's TRON and Hasbro's NBX), NECA now dives deep into licensed figures of their own making. As NECA's Head of Product Development and an avid toy collector himself (Star Wars, GI Joe and MOTU), Randy Falk has the amazing job of turning many collector's dreams (as well as his own) into plastic reality. Recently I had the great pleasure to visit NECA's New Jersey studio to see these dreams come to life. As a longtime fan and friend, accepting Randy's invite was long overdue. With my supportive wife for company (she "gets" my passion, but still thinks I'm a dork), we made the five hour road trip from the historic burgs of the "Old Dominion" to the lush landscape of "The Garden State". Five zillion toll roads and missed exit ramps later (GPS be damned) and we had arrived.
Old Gears of War prototypes... or are they?
First things first. Many reading this are here for the exciting announcements and reveals. I have plenty of those to share, some subtly tucked away in photos for you to discover on your own (hint, hint). However, there's also plenty that I can't discuss quite yet, NECA wanting to wait until San Diego Comic-Con next month to break the big news. And boy oh boy, is there some big news in store for fans! Ah, but I'm teasing now. Let us proceed with the tour...
Trespassers will be shot.
Hidden in Hillside, New Jersey, NECA's main headquarters is a heavily fortified structure surrounded by razor wire, laser mines and automated sentry guns. Trespassers will be shot. I kid! In actuality, NECA's offices and studio are two very nondescript buildings located in an office park. If you didn't know where you were going, you'd miss it. Lucky for us, we knew exactly where we were going... almost. The address we had led us to the main office, NECA's sales department. A friendly greeting by the receptionist and a phone call later and we were quickly whisked away in the right direction. To the building next door. To NECA's sculpting studio. To toy nirvana.
The elves hard at work in Santa's workshop.
NECA's sculpting studio is like a galley ship propelled by human oarsmen, Randy Falk their master, gleerfully cracking his whip to row on. I kid again, but I have to say that's the first demented image that popped in my head when I walked into the room. That and awe. Down the middle of the open space is a long, wide work table flanked on each side by NECA's passionate sculptors, fabricators and painters.
Meet the team...
This is the talented force that turns ideas into bonafide collectibles. It's a much larger group than I envisioned, which is not surprising considering all the licensed product NECA is working on these days. First we were introduced to Chris Gawrych, a Sculptor and NECA's Overseas Factory Product Supervisor. When Chris isn't sculpting cool figures, such as the new Assassin's Creed Ezio he was working on during our tour, he's off to China six times a year for 2-3 week long stays. His long trips don't go unrewarded, however. In addition to making sure NECA's figures are made the best they can be, he has the great opportunity to pick up cool import toys to add to his collection. Next up is Kyle "Tankman" Windrix, a name many collectors are quite familiar with. Kyle's position is "Sculptor Extraordinaire," his words, not mine. I'd have to agree though, as Kyle is responsible for NECA's many fantastic creature sculpts, including the just released towering masterpiece, the 1:4th Scale Predator. Kyle and I share very similar passions, something we talked about at length and probably could have all day. But the tour must go on...
Brad Haskin's is NECA's Lead Fabricator, the man behind all the awesome gear and guns the action figures come with. I really like guns and thus I really liked Brad. One of Brad's favorite sites is the Internet Movie Firearms Database (imfdb.org), which just so happens to be one of my favorite sites too. That's because we like guns. Check it out, it's an invaluable resource and a fascinating look at all the wild weapons used in movies. Brad also made NECA's upcoming Gears of War 1:1 scale Butcher Cleaver, an impressive piece of cutlery due out this fall. Look for a soft role play version priced at around $30 and full-on metal replica later in the year for about $100. Rock on Brad.
Moving down the line we reach the husband and wife team of Jon and Karin Wardell. This couple is behind the brilliant paint apps on NECA's action figures; the Paint Masters which are sent overseas to duplicate on the actual toy. I'll explain more about the process later on, but I'm sure you're more interested in that photo of Ash above. Jon was painting away on this much requested collectible which will be part of NECA's new line of Evil Dead 2 figures. Excited yet? Full details at Comic-Con... Across from Jon was his lovely wife Karin hard at work on what appears to be something... green. What could it be?
Resident Evil's new resident: Vector
Wrapping up the sculpting team we met Trevor Zammit and Thomas Gwyn. In addition to sculpting, Trevor is also a Quality Control Supervisor. Trevor goes way back in the industry, working for renown toy companies like ReSaurus and Palisades. On our tour, Trevor was working on an all-new license, which you heard here first: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. The game is a new direction for the zombie franchise starring squad-based mechanics. The figure being worked on is a slick soldier named Vector. Looking good! Lastly we come to Thomas Gwyn, a Freelance Sculptor and Fabricator for NECA. Thomas was working on what appeared to be a bird. New Discovery Channel license? Has NECA gone coo coo for Cocoa Puffs? As you can see from the photo below, Thomas likes to have a little fun with his action figures. Poor Duke Nukem (For the record, I thought the game was a blast).
Hasta la vista, baby.
Looking at cool toys and talking to the cool people that make them can work up an appetite. So after a tasty bite to eat at Randy's favorite new spot - Muscle Maker Grill (I had the yummy Santa Fe wrap - only 690 calories!) - we were all healthy, full and ready to get back to the land of toys. This brings us to the next stop on our tour: a quick lesson in how action figures are made. While it's good to dream, making every single character from every single property is not reality. The hard truth is that it takes LOTS of money and LOTS of time to produce just one figure. Double digit thousands to be more precise, and that's just for the metal or steel tooling - the injection molding that allows the figure to be mass produced in plastic. With that number in mind, lets say 20K, you must then factor in all the other work involved. First, there is the original clay or wax sculpt which can take 4 – 6 weeks per character to create in it's 2-UP or 1:6 scale form. This is the stuff NECA's sculptors were working diligently on during our visit. Rough articulation is added in this stage to give the factories an idea of where to add joints and what kind of joints will be implemented for the actual toy. Once this sculpt is completed, molded, and cast into resin hard copies it is sent to China to be re-sized and prepped for production. The first phase of this process results in what is known as a Rough Cut. This is a stage that was totally new to me. Cast in gypsum or ceramic, this crude looking figure is used to gauge the figure's final size once scaled down to it's actual production size. It's cast at 105% - 5% larger than the final figure. Next is the more detailed tooling master, or Fine Cut, where all the articulation and detail from the original sculpt is put back in at the smaller production size.
Evolution of an action figure (from left to right): Rough Cut, Fine Cut, Test Shot, Final Production
From there it is sent back overseas where the steel tooling is cut and injection molding can take place resulting in a First Shot, or Test Shot, which is literally the first pieces that are injected into plastic from the steel tooling. These are sent to NECA in NJ to be more closely examined for any type of defects; bubbles in the plastic, details that didn't come through, distortion or shrinkage in plastic, issues with articulation etc. This is almost like having the finished figure, sans paint. It's cast at 100% - the final size the figure will be - and features fully functional articulation. Some fans have seen these sold on the secondary market, sometimes in odd colors of red and blue. Basically the manufacturer uses whatever scrap plastic they have around at this stage. What you see being sold is often legit, but not exactly approved by NECA. The fact that most are sold way after the final figure has shipped has alot to do with NECA looking the other way. Now if these leaked BEFORE production, I think some heads would roll. Probably with Brad's Butcher Cleaver.
So close, but so far away... Unproduced TMNT
Once everything is approved, final production can begin. Here paint applications are applied based on a Paint Master NECA provides. These can get pretty complex. For example, NECA's Gears of War figures feature 150+ paint applications per figure, most all done by hand in the Chinese factories. That's alot of work to make one figure - about 6 - 9 months from start to finish. It's amazing what we take for granted, a $15 action figure bought at our convenience and pleasure. Still, it is a business and money must be made. It's just not profitable (or logical) to produce one figure because several hundred fans desire it. The costs involved require a lot of careful planning along with the right mix of sculpt, detail, articulation.
The Ghost of Sparta: Unproduced God of War 3 Kratos
In closing our incredible day-long tour, we took a seat in Randy's office to address the fans, the people that help make NECA the successful company it is today. Without you there would be no reason to make cool collectibles. What follows is a fan Q&A concluded with a nice "Thank You" from NECA: the chance to win a very cool Japanese Exclusive Biohazard action figure!
genefactor asks: Dear NECA, over the years you have produced action figures to some of the most popular video games to date. However there are a couple we've yet to see figures for. Have you any plans to make figures to games like Uncharted or inFamous? And have you ever considered producing another Sam Fisher figure in his black Third Echelon uniform?
mikvnd asks: What are the chances of characters from Valve games such as Portal's GLaDOS, Half-Life 2's G-man and Combine Metro Cop, and the Spy and Engineer (with turrets) from Team Fortress 2?
Randy: Sorry to say that we’re not currently doing any Sony or SCEA based licenses. We have considered another Sam Fisher but just haven’t had time to slot it into the schedule.
d2eux asks: It maybe to too early to say, but any prospects for making Mass Effect figures to coincide with the release of ME3?
Randy: Too early to reveal specifics, but many of those are on our list. We have many titles and many characters to pull from with Valve so we need to find a balance that keeps fans of all the various games happy.
Blanka asks: Now that NECA is getting into stores like TRU... Has Nintendo changed their stance on allowing NECA to have their master license? Need to have a NECA made Link!
Randy: No plans for Mass Effect at all.
sinostrius asks: Ok, I'm 32 and ever since I was a kid I've dreamed of Legend of Zelda figures. A few companies have tried and all have failed. Do you posses the power to make a child's dream come true 20 some years later?
Randy: As far as I know the collector market is still not a focus for Nintendo so we have made no progress on securing any of the classic Nintendo licenses.
Shadowless asks: With the success of games series such as the Elder Scrolls and Red Faction, is there ever a chance we might see figures from Elder Scroll 5: Skyrim and Red Faction Armageddon?
Randy: We can do it, but Nintendo has to see the collector desire and need for this type of product line. Need to let them know you want it and let them know who you want to see NECA make it.
Chivorocks asks: Dear NECA, With the success your video game toy line, do you have a plan on extending it such like Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, more Resident Evil? Many thanks.
Randy: Always possible, it has been discussed here before but we aren’t doing those titles currently, hopefully in the future.
NataN77 asks: Dear NECA, unlike the game, the Duke Nukem action figure you guys put out is getting real good reviews despite early criticism of Duke's face sculpt. Can we expect some aliens to go with Duke? They should be hot sellers seeing as they are quite iconic re-designs.
Randy: You’re welcome. We are expanding Assassin’s Creed but still focusing on Ezio and his different versions.
alexandertyler asks: Can we please get the Gears of War Gold Retro Lancer in the USA? If we can get it here, where will we be able to buy it from?
Randy: That would be nice but with our schedule being full and the response to the game being lukewarm at best I don’t know if we will be going back to this one.
MitchellRhem asks: Dear NECA, are there any plans for releasing new figures in the Castlevania series? A Gabriel Belmont figure would be plain awesomeness!
Randy: Sorry, we don’t know yet. This is still under discussion.
evilekim33 asks: What is your plans for Friday the 13th? Could you add Splatterhouse to your video game action figure line?
Randy: It’s being discussed, but nothing concrete to announce yet.
Lincoln asks: What is the deal with the sculpted robed Scream figure? Any chance of you guys putting it up on your Amazon store? Thanks.
Randy: No plans for Friday the 13th currently, but hoping we can get back to it next year. No plans for Splatterhouse.
mattyb311 asks: Will you ever bring back the "Cult Classics" line?
Randy: It is shipping to those who ordered it currently. I will talk to those who handle the Amazon account.
Malevolus asks: Any chance of NECA getting the Re-Animator license? I'd love to see them do their amazing job creating a world of products like figures, scenes, prop replicas (the solution in bottle and syringe), and other items (Rufus the cat, the finger/eye creation from the second movie)!
Randy: It never left. We have been doing the ICONS "Best Of" at Toys"R"Us and the other Cult Classics-type characters have been giving their own lines and assortments, such as Freddy, Terminator, Predators, and Gremlins.
MovieManiac asks: Dear NECA, your company has produced many action figures of popular horror icons, such as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. Having just acquired the Evil Dead 2 license - in which, on a personal note, I can't wait for! - do you have plans to acquire other horror movie licenses in the near-future, such as Leprechaun and/or Re-Animator? Thank You.
Randy: Cool movie, but it is too niche. Maybe 5 or 6 years ago this could have happened, but costs have risen drastically and I know we can not sell enough of a license like this to make a profit.
Beanspan asks: I'm curious if NECA has any interest in producing a 1:4 scale Predator 2 figure. The three Predators you have released in that scale from the first movie certainly seem to be a success (sold out practically everywhere), so I hope so!
Randy: Sorry, no plans for either of those (see answer above).
crazypredator2 asks: Dear NECA, are you going to re-release a Series 1 Falconer Predator with a robot bird as his accessory?
Randy: Of course we would like to but the costs involved are astronomical. We are looking at our 1:4 scale plans for 2012 and beyond and this is on the list of possibilities.
Randy: Currently we have no available slot to release this in, our lineup is booked through 2012. If an opportunity opens up, like a retail exclusive, we’ll consider it. We would have done of the bird originally as an accessory but it was a digital effect that was not completed until 6 months after we did all of our Predators sculpting.
I’d also like to thank the fans for the support and their questions and encourage them to engage us on twitter as we try to answer all the questions we can there on a daily basis.
Follow us on twitter neca_toys
and Like us on Facebook.com/necaofficial
NECA Japanese Exclusive BIOHAZARD Giveaway!
Thanks to NECA, two (2) lucky winners will receive a very rare promotional figure: a Japanese exclusive Executioner Majini! This cool figure features an all-new window box with "Biohazard" branded on it (the Japanese name for "Resident Evil"). This version of the Executioner Majini was released ONLY in Japan by Capcom and Sony as a promo for the Blu-ray and DVD release of Resident Evil: Afterlife. Now it can be yours! Giveaway ends July 13th.
GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED
A HUGE THANK YOU
to Randy Falk for the amazing studio tour, lunch and cool company. A big thank you to the entire sculpting/ fabricating/ painting department as well, it was a pleasure meeting you all. Keep up the incredible work (and be nice to Brad)!
Story and Photos by Jeff Saylor