Like a Kid In a Candy Store...
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Some things never cease to amaze. The Aurora Borealis in Alaska. The Great Pyramid of Giza. NECA's studio in New Jersey. Alright, perhaps NECA's studio isn't THAT amazing, but to a passionate action figure collector like myself, it's like being a kid let loose in a candy store. While I had been here before (read all about my first NECA visit HERE), the perpetual flow of newly licensed toys always holds a surprise. Aliens, Pacific Rim, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Kick @$$ 2... the amount of new licenses I saw being worked on and on display was staggering. And you want to know the best part? I get to share most all of it with you.
Accompanied by my lovely wife, we once again made the five hour+ road trip from Virginia, the home of George Washington and the Dave Matthews Band (yawn), to the exciting land of the Cake Boss and "The Boss" - New Jersey. I don't think I'll ever get used to the overabundance of toll roads, but I will say the journey - aside from the auto chaos of D.C. - is a very fast and direct one. Knowing exactly what building to go to this time (bypassing the boring 'ol sales department), we entered NECA's studio with bated breath. Greeted by Randy Falk, NECA's Head of Product Development, we settled in for sensory overload.
Where only six members of the NECA team were on hand on my last visit, EIGHT were hard at work this time around. My first stop was with Stephen Mazurek, NECA's resident Photographer. Stephen used to work in NECA's main building, but was just recently relocated to the studio so that he had easier access to the new prototypes and to work closer with Randy. With his professional photog skills and some help from Adobe Photoshop, Stephen is responsible for all of the product shots that get sent to retailers. His work also graces many of NECA's action figure packages, including some of his favorites Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th, Predator and Gremlins. Lately he's had the fun opportunity to shoot figures using custom dioramas, the cool environments - such as the Predator ship interior he had out on my visit - lending a more realistic atmosphere to the final product shots. Look for his name on the packaging credits, one of the small perks Stephen appreciates with his job at NECA.
Secondly I spoke with a familiar face: Chris Gawrych, a Sculptor and NECA's Overseas Factory Product Supervisor (read our past interview with him HERE). Chris was sculpting away on a new Team Fortress 2 Series 3 action figure, which you heard here first: THE SPY! More details in my Team Fortress report later in this story. As mentioned, Chris also has the great responsibility of traveling overseas and making sure all NECA's action figures are the best they can be. His long travels and hard work come with some nice perks however, like being able to pick up cool import toys at a much cheaper price. He was showing off Takara's Masterpiece Soundwave, one of my favorite G1 Transformers. I have to get the Hasbro release of this, amazing!
Next on my tour was the one and only Brad Haskins, NECA's Lead Fabricator (read our past interview with him HERE). Brad was sporting a slick new look, his recently shaved head earning $800 towards Children's Cancer research! A philanthropist and a talented artist, Brad was working his machine-like magic on a new weapon: a pistol for Team Fortress 2 Series 3's ENGINEER. I'd say he's nailed it (as if there was any doubt)! Another project Brad recently finished was the fantastic ED-209 from Robocop. A fabricator's dream job, Brad spent a good two months working on this iconic robot, tweaking it out to perfection by adding in all sorts of screen accurate details that aren't on the high-end Hot Toys version, such as wires on the legs and elbows, the missile launcher... just tons of stuff fans are going to geek out on when this figure ships this summer.
Moving right along we come to Jon Wardell, NECA's Lead Painter. Jon was painting an all-new Kenner Predator (not the Left4Dead Boomer in the team pic above, we staged that. I can't reveal what Predator it is yet, but the green is looking mighty fetching. One thing that surprised me with Jon's work - aside from his incredible talent - was the paints he used. Just basic acrylics you can pick up at any craft store. Using an airbrush for a uniform base coat and soft details, Jon is given plenty of freedom to create the look he wants. While it varies from figure to figure, the amount of color applications has greatly increased from figures painted in the past. Basically each new color, tamp stamp, etc. equates to what is called a "Paint Hit". With figures like NECA's Gears of War featuring 150+ paint hits a pop, that leaves Jon Wardell tons of room to play with color. His only frustration is that it's often a challenge getting the final production figure looking exactly like his gorgeous Paint Master work. Things like the language barrier with the Chinese factory is just one of the hurdles Jon must overcome. From the figures I've seen, I'd have to say he's doing a very good job at it.
David Silva was next on my tour, the skilled Sculptor diligently working away on - you saw it here first - a new AvP Predator. David is NECA's go-to guy for creatures and animals, his past work including Jabba the Hutt for Hasbro and being a designer for McFarlane's fantastic Dragons. Some of his more recent work for NECA includes the spiky, seriously underrated Predator Hound and the horses for the upcoming 3 3/4" Lone Ranger figures. Given the intricate amount of detail that goes into a sculpt, I asked David if there was any pressure getting the job done. He replied that all of NECA's sculptors have a very laid back approach to work assignments; each artist taking the job seriously. If for some reason there is a crunch time, say around Toy Fair, the team unites and focuses on whatever project needs to get done. It's the very definition of teamwork. An example of this camaraderie can be found in each artistís skillset. While Brad Haskins is Lead Fabricator, many of NECA's sculptors exhibit the ability to do some fabrication work. David Silva, for example, was honing his fabrication skills on the new AvP Predator on items such as the Plasma Caster and computerized Wrist Gauntlet. Always looking to improve their action figures, NECA's new AvP Predators will feature an opening Wrist Gauntlet.
Thomas Gywn, another gifted NECA Sculptor, was working on an all-new Valve licensed action figure, slated for release sometime this fall, but I unfortunately can't show you the prototypes or divulge the lineup yet. I will say that the character Thomas was sculpting is pretty dang cool. Some other projects Thomas has been busy with include Ezio's Eagle (read our review HERE), the Flamethrower for TF Pyro (another example of team fabrication), and the upcoming "MF" from Kick @$$ 2. Thomas is also instrumental in engineering some of the more innovative features in recent NECA toys including Robocop's spring loaded holster. Tom is also credited as the mastermind behind the Gremlin Mogwai's rotating eyeball feature. When Randy asked the team to figure out a way to make their eyes move, Thomas developed the clever system we see on the figures today. Pictured above is the early model he developed to test the action gimmick out (it's essentially three balls - two for the eyes and one between them that acts as a lever).
And the hits keep on coming! Alex Heinke was my next stop, the accomplished Sculptor working on another top secret Valve figure. In addition to sculpting, Alex provides art direction and articulation solutions for many of NECA's current figures. Some of Alex's achievements include Duke Nukem, David from Prometheus, Bioshock Infinite's Boys of Silence and the body for the upcoming Automatic Patriot (David did the head). Alex also recently finished Team Fortress 2 Series 3's Engineer and an all-new figure for Kick @$$ 2 Series 2: Colonel Stars and Stripes! The figure, which will include his dog Sophia, still has to go through approval, but I don't foresee any issues. It's dead-on Jim Carrey accurate.
At long last we come to the other half of NECA's Painting duo, Geoff Trapp. Geoff and Jon have some friendly competition with their sculpting comrades, Geoff joking on how they can turn out at least three or four Paint Masters a month compared to a measly one sculpt in the same time period. It's all in good fun, both sides are good friends and dead serious about the jobs at hand. Geoff was getting ready to start painting a new Colonel Marine. To be included in Aliens Series 2 (details in just a little bit), this yet to be announced character will include the Flamer. Despite having already painted two Colonel Marine figures (Hicks and Hudson), Geoff was tasked at painting the intricate camouflage pattern on this new figure. Geoff also created the cool camo on Dutch, his deft design work turned into a tampo stamp at the overseas factory for a consistent and uniform camo pattern on each figure. Can you imagine painting the camo on every figure by hand? Well Geoff does, but he doesn't have thousands to paint... excellent work.
Speaking of Aliens, I think now is a good time to go over all the upcoming licensed properties I'm allowed to talk about. That's right, it's time for the BIG REVEALS!
CLICK HERE FOR MORE ALIENS PHOTOS!
Aliens Series 1, due out in June, will consist of an Alien Warrior (Brown), Hicks (with calm head sculpt) and Hudson (with "Game Over" head). Both head sculpts here will be featured without a helmet. Coming at the end of the Summer and into Fall, two Marines vs Aliens 2-packs will see release, each set pairing a Marine with a battle-damaged Alien Warrior (Blue, Exploding Head w/ Hicks; Brown, Torso Damage w/ Hudson). Hicks and Hudson in these sets will include additional accessories and star all-new head sculpts. These are the two "screaming" portraits shown on the stands in the picture above. These heads WILL come with helmets on them - the helmet will not be removable.
However, the first Aliens 2-pack that will see release this summer will be Aliens: Genocide. Based on the Dark Horse comic, this set will include black Aliens Warrior squaring off against a Red Aliens Warrior.
Aliens Series 2 will include an Alien Warrior (Blue Highlights), a brand new version of the 1979 Original Alien with new and improved articulation, and a new Colonial Marine with Flamer. Details on the Marine will be announced at San Diego Comic-Con.
The Alien Queen, which was not on display at NECA's studio (sculptor Kyle Windrix is sculpting away on this at another location), is still coming along nicely. NECA hopes to have it ready for the Holidays, if not, in early 2014.
A last thing to note is the Alien Egg (open and closed) and Facehugger. These three accessories revealed on my tour will NOT come with Aliens Series 1 or the 2-packs. NECA has yet to decide their method of release. I hope they figure it out soon, that Alien Egg is awesome!
CLICK HERE FOR MORE BATMAN PHOTOS!
First shown at Toy Fair (HERE), NECA had the Michael Keaton as Batman (1989) quarter scale figure in their studio. They're tweaking the figure and getting it ready for its summer launch (August/September). Final touches are also being made to the Adam West Batman which should see release this July.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE FREDDY PHOTOS!
NECA had on display 2-Up prototypes of their recently announced A Nightmare on Elm Street Series 4 action figures. Due out this September, this assortment stars Springwood Slasher and Powerglove Freddy.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE GRAVITY GUN PHOTOS!
Later this month NECA will release the anticipated Half Life 2 Prop Replica Gravity Gun. The collectible has a fixed price of $149.99. It measures 2 feet in length and features glowing orange LEDs, 2 handles, 2 triggers, and 4 unique sounds directly from the game. As a bonus, a carefully concealed fold away kick-stand allows you to display your device on the shelf or desktop when not in use. Requires 3 ďCĒ Batteries, not included. NECA's even throwing in an optional piece of duct tape to place on the gauge towards the rear of the device, if one so chooses, for a more game accurate look. I played around with the production model and it's rather impressive, Half-Life fans will be thrilled.
KICK @$$ 2:
CLICK HERE FOR MORE KICK @$$ 2 PHOTOS!
Hitting retail this summer just in time for the movie's August debut will be NECA's first series of Kick @$$ 2 action figures. Large and in charge with great sculpts and screen accurate costumes and weapons, this wave will star Kick-@$$ himself, Hit-Girl and MF, better known as The Mother ******. 2-Up prototypes were on display for all three, with new head sculpts revealed for Kick-@$$ and Hit-Girl. NECA hasn't decided how these new head sculpts will be released yet. Most exciting was the unveiling of Kick @$$ 2 Series 2. This assortment due out later this year will include Armored Kick-@$$ and Colonel Stars and Stripes (w/ his dog Sophia).
THE LONE RANGER:
CLICK HERE FOR MORE LONE RANGER PHOTOS!
As revealed at Toy Fair, NECA will be releasing Lone Ranger action figures based on the major motion picture hitting theaters July 3rd. NECA's pair of 7-inch scale figures will include Tonto (Johnny Depp) and the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer). 1/4 scale figures of the Lone Ranger and Tonto all for movie release. We will also see the release of 3 3/4" figures of Tonto and the Lone Ranger with their horses. These are due out with the home video release of the movie later this year.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE PACIFIC RIM PHOTOS!
I cannot wait to see Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro's epic vision of towering robots (Jaegers) fighting off a monster menace (Kaiju). Series 1 7-inch scale action figures, due out in June, will include Jaeger's Crimson Typhoon and Gipsy Danger, along with the yet to revealed Kaiju, Knifehead. The studio is keeping the Kaiju a surprise as long as they can, but I will say that what I saw looked AWESOME. I got to play around with Randy's favorite Jaeger figure, China's Crimson Typhoon and I have to say that photos do not do these figures justice. Nice and chunky and loaded with fun articulation and detail, these Pacific Rim figures are sure to please the most discerning mecha fan. In addition to Series 1, collectors will be treated to a massive 18-inch figure of the Gipsy Danger later this summer and a second three figure assortment of 7-inch figures is also on tap for release (Striker Eureka is one).
CLICK HERE FOR MORE PREDATOR PHOTOS!
There seems to be no stopping NECA's popular Predator series, the line getting ready to see its ninth assortment next month. Predator Series 9, releasing in June, features Jungle Disguise Dutch, Jungle Encounter Dutch, and Water Emergence Predator. Fans that can't get enough of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch Schaefer will be pleased to know that two additional 7-inch Dutch figures are in the works (I'm sworn to secrecy, but I saw both in the studio) and that a quarter scale Dutch is planned for release either later this year, early 2014.
Other Predators on display at NECA's studio was Series 10. This Kenner tribute series will star Nightstorm, Lava Planet and Hive Warrior. This summer at San Diego Comic-Con, fans will be treated to the Albino Predator from the fan film Dead End.
NECA showed me several other top secret Predator figures in the works that are going to amaze fans. And of course there are the AVP: Alien vs. Predator characters to look forward to in 2014. There appears to be no shortage of Predator designs for NECA to produce and for figure fans to enjoy.
TEAM FORTRESS 2:
CLICK HERE FOR MORE TEAM FORTRESS 2 PHOTOS!
As revealed earlier, the Team Fortress 2 action figure line will continue with a third assortment. Following Team Red Heavy and Soldier this August, as well as the two in Team Blu colors will be Team Fortress 2 Series 3: Team Red Spy and Engineer. A full list of accessories hasn't been revealed yet, but Engineer will come packing a pistol, wrench and gear box. If these are successful in Team Red colors, Blu will see release.
Last but not least, NECA revealed the big news that they will be launching a direct to consumer program. While full details are expected to be announced soon, the goal is to provide fans with items that otherwise wouldn't see retail release. Items confirmed include a Predator Trophy Skull 10-Pack and a Bioshock Splicer 2-Pack featuring the Crawler and variant Ladysmith. There are some plans for Borderlands as well. Stay tuned for a full announcement, but this is amazing news for figures that would normally not see release at traditional retail locations.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. As I conclude my behind the scenes tour of NECA's studio, I leave you with a fan Q&A. Thanks for coming along and stay tuned for more NECA reveals as San Diego Comic-Con approaches July 17-21. Fans can also keep track with NECA via Facebook and Twitter.
AEAFalloon asks: I see that NECA is not shy when it comes to trying out new things in the articulation department, Duke Nukem's bicep hinge for example, but I'm curious as to why NECA went with the style of elbow joint they are using on their human Prometheus figures which also featured on their prototype for their upcoming Team Fortress 2 Soldier? It seems counter-intuitive to have the pin going into the forearm instead of the bicep as that eliminates any side to side motion of the lower arm. Can NECA change this joint at this stage before the third series of Prometheus figures and the second series of Team Fortress 2 figures?
Vincent Root asks: Afterthoughts on the whole Django mess?Randy: All articulation is determined on a case by case basis, it depends on the character design, the licensor approvals, the cost, and many other factors. There is no one standard or set rules for how we will articulate a figure. We do what works best for each character factoring in all the aforementioned factors.
The future of the Bioshock line?Randy: No comment.
What type of repaints will Prometheus series 3 be and Is there still going to be a boxset Alien? Queen and or Power Loader?Randy: We are focusing on Infinite now and have many more figures in the pipeline. Patriot later this Summer, Booker this Fall, more Patriots, Handyman, and a different Liz are all possible as long as sales are strong and retailers support the line.
Tony Fowler asks: Will we see a 1/12 Aliens Power Loader from NECA so I don't have to sell a kidney to buy the Aoshima version?Randy: As already teased, we have shown a Holographic Engineer for Prometheus Series 3 and the Engineer comes with a great new accessory as well, the ampule which has a removable lid and can be opened. We are planning an Alien Queen, currently being sculpted, if possible XMAS release, if not sometime in early 2014
No plans for a Power Loader, without Ripley it seems like a waste of tooling dollars (we can not produce Ripley because Fox does not have the rights to SW likeness).
Michael Banjas asks: Will NECA return the Dead Space line?Randy: answered above
Randy: No, donít have the license anymore and sales of game were not strong so we donít plan on returning to the franchise.
Robert Davis asks: When will ED-209 pre-orders go up & is there any further news on the figure stands NECA is producing?
Jess Horsley asks: HULK 1/4 Scale?Randy: Hopefully ED-209 solicitations will go out in June. Figure stands are in development still.
Scott Rubin asks: What is NECA's relationship with WizKids and what it's like making games?Randy: Definitely want to do it, comes down to costs and schedule, have not started but it is on our "let's try to make this happen" list.
What other licenses might we see in the 1/4 scale?Randy: NECA owns Wizkids, but it is a different segment of the company working on this product line.
Any more DC Comics beyond movie Superman and movie/TV Batman?Randy: DC, Marvel, Predator, Lone Ranger, and maybe more TBA at SDCC.
After Gears, what can we look forward to from NECA in the (awesome) 3 3/4 inch scale?Randy: Yes.
1/4 scale Dutch and Freddy?Randy: For now Gears and Lone Ranger.
C.J. Stunkard asks: When is the Willow "Martigan versus General Kale" 2-pack coming? And can you throw in the Kevin Pollak Brownie character while you're at it. Oh, and how about a Willow and Migosh down the line, too, with princess Illora and the old lady witch in either her ferret or goat form.Randy: Definitely Dutch either late this year or early next year, no plans for Freddy right now.
Randy: Sorry, Willow is not in our plans.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Randy Falk for the amazing studio tour and cool company. Another big THANK YOU to the entire sculpting/ fabricating/ painting/ photography department as well, it was a pleasure talking with you all! Keep up the incredible work!
Story and Photos by Jeff Saylor