Up in arms over an Android Series 03 update!

Series 03 design: Pandroid, by Kelly Denato

Hello everyone! Sorry for the delayed update, I wanted to get some firm information from the factory before I posted anything related to a timeline for release! (Sorry Hitoshi!)

As you know we had hoped to release Series 3 end of Q2 this year (late June).. obviously that has come and gone! Unfortunately we got a little over 2 months behind on our production schedule.The good news is that we are basically done and will be releasing by the end of Q3. I’ll let you know when they are en route, and maybe I’ll even post the boat information so we can interactively track their journey across the ocean! :)
…Now for some excuses exciting information!

Series 03 features some really fun designs and quite a few complex paint applications that take a long time to get just right. However, the biggest delay can be attributed to the re-engineered arm joints that we’re debuting with Series 03.

The standard joint is made of one simple piece, and can just turn in one direction. The new joint is comprised of three pieces: a ball peg and two arm halves that are assembled around the ball peg. This allows for a much larger range of motion as the arm can be turned forwards, backwards, in and out as well as around as usual.

This also means 3x + as much work to produce and assemble the final products. The effects may seem subtle, but in our opinion they’re definitely worth it! The ability to adjust the arms just so really brings a lot of emotion to the figures. The feedback from fans who got their hands on a few SDCC preview sets has been great! We’ll be using ball joints for Artists Series as well as selectively on special editions in the future where appropriate.

P.S. Self promotion time! I have a little art show opening Tomorrow night in Brooklyn! Check out the info here!

Android mini production – Part 5: A fresh coat of paint

Long time no update! Sorry about that, things have been very busy over here. For those looking to buy some more figures, you’ll be happy to know that they have arrived and will be available for sale soon! The first few cases will be accompanying me to San Diego for the International Comic-Con (Booth 1335/1337), with the rest going on sale online upon my return. We’re setting up a new shop and doing smaller timed ‘drops’ to ensure that more people than last time have a chance to get some figures!

Back to the progress! This is what a finished, cooled off, assembled and completely naked Android looks like. Please try not to stare.

That is much better. The standard green Android is a pretty straight-forward matter of spray-painting the correct colors in the correct areas. The more interesting part here is that little strip of color swatches on the right.

All you non-designers out there may not be familiar with how hard it is to match ‘on-screen’ colors to ‘real world’ colors. Those color swatches are part of an industry-wide color reference system from PANTONE. Basically the factory has a copy of that book, I have a copy of the same book, and we can all agree on what the final color should look like without having to worry about anyone properly color-calibrating monitors or printers between offices (and countries). In every design file for each Android variation I make note of which specific color codes to reference (by the way, Android green is PANTONE code 376!).

For designs that go beyond basic painting we turn to the mighty machine for assistance. This one is called a “pad printer”, because it uses rubber pads to transfer paint onto curved and irregular surfaces. The artwork is etched onto the pad much like a traditional rubber stamp, but this pad is much softer. When the pad is pulled down onto the Android it deforms over the shape, depositing the paint in all the right places (hopefully).

Despite all the metal, this is still a mostly manual operation. The operator has to be quite skilled in order to line up all of the tiny details on the more complex designs. Some of the Androids use dozens of different pads in conjunction with complicated spray paint masks.

Next Time: Shape up, ship out and party down!

Android mini production – Part 4: Molds and Pulls

Hello again everyone! The behind the scenes look continues, and now we’re getting to the messy bits!

Multiple copies of the a metal molds are created from the original master mold.

These molds are then attached to a frame built specifically for a roto-casting (aka rotational casting) machine. These particular frames pictured hold 12 android body molds. Hot liquid vinyl is poured into each form on the frame.

The molds are then capped off and inserted into a large roto-casting machine. This machine is essentially a large oven that spins the molds around in different directions while they bake. By spinning the molds we can ensure that the liquid vinyl coats all of the inside surfaces of the molds evenly and fully. Rotocasting also requires far less material than solid molding, and results in a lighter and more flexible product.

After a quick cool-down, the raw forms are still warm and soft enough to easily be pulled out of their molds. The excess material around the seams is trimmed off.

Sometimes the figures will become somewhat warped when they are pulled out of the molds. A quick trip to a heating rack makes them pop back into their original heat-formed shape.

Arms and antennae are too small and precise to be rotationally molded, those are created by a process called injection molding. Here the material is injected under extreme heat and pressure into a two part mold made from a solid aluminum block. Here you can see half the antennae on the left and half an arm on the right. That “gunk” you see helps lubricate the mold and ensure a good solid seal between the two parts.

Next Time: Painting pretty colors!

Android mini production – Part 3: Sculpting and Packaging

Time to move on to the physical production stage! With the reference design finalized, we start on a sculpt. Sometimes I’ll work out a rough in clay myself, but given the precise and geometric nature of this project I decided to leave it to an expert! Prototypes are typically 5-8% larger than the target production size to compensate for the shrinking that occurs due to mold production and material cooling.

A few revisions later and we’re getting pretty close. I went back and forth with the sculptor a few times annotating photos of the prototype in order to get the arms, legs and antennae just right.

Once the sculpt is finalized, a copy of the prototype body is cast in wax for final clean-up and mold creation. The body will be made of rotational-cast vinyl and the wax will be melted out when the mold is formed (molds pics in next update!).

Work on the packaging starts during figure production so that everything can be ready to go at once! Here is an individual box layout, nothing too exciting to see here but it is kind of neat to see it all flat.

A separate layer in the artwork file denotes areas that are to get a hit of glossy clear coating. This makes the boxes eye catching and also gives them a nice physical texture when you hold them.

Each figure is wrapped in an individual foil bag. This helps protect the figure from scuffing, but it also helps prevent tampering with blind-boxes. Originally the Androids had this neat printed pattern on their foil bags. Unfortunately the bag printer had just switched ink suppliers and hadn’t fully tested the new inks with the foil. Opening a few boxes led to little flakes of black paint all over your fingers, table and clothing, not good! At the last minute I had to ditch the printed bags and go back to plain old “ooohh shiny!”.  I think a few of these printed bags may have slipped through into the final production cases, consider yourself lucky if you found one, and go wash your hands.

Next Installment: Molds, hot vinyl!

Android mini production – Part 2: design layout

Hello again everyone! Last time we were laying the groundwork for the project to move forward, now the real fun begins as a final figure is fleshed out.

Once we had settled on the basic design, I created this line art “turnaround” reference. This layout includes basic scale measurements and detail notations for the sculptor as well as joint notations for the factory. It was also the first time I was able to show the rest of the guys working on the project exactly what I had in mind from all angles… which meant this was the first time that they had seen their mascot with my “fat” legs design.

This naturally lead to a discussion on the best way to create a compelling figure while staying as true to form as possible. Using brand-accurate rounded cylindrical legs would pose a problem, our little Android wouldn’t be able to stand up on his own! Being an avid collector myself, figures flopping over and taking Olympic caliber Shelf Dives is one of my pet peeves. The collector in me also knew that a stand is usually just an extraneous piece of plastic bound to be lost or broken. So I presented the team with a number of options including the above “fat” leg, which is brand-accurate from the front and at an angle, but not from the side; a short-round leg which was cylindrical, but had to be comically short to maintain a low center of gravity; and thin semi-rounded legs that could be longer, but would need to be angled to create a more stable triangular base.

Here is the final template, you can see which legs won in the end! I am still confident that this was the best balance of brand accuracy and real-world practicality. You can see on the lower right an area marked “Pantone reference”. For those unfamiliar with design in general, Pantone is an industry standard color reference guide. On-screen colors are often quite different from physical paint colors, so it is important to have an agreed-upon color goal. Typically a designer will have a book of color swatches and a factory will have the same book along with a formula guide to reproduce that exact color in paint.

Ok, maybe NOW the real fun has started. Designs are roughed out, refined and placed into the standard layout template. Here’s an edition of Creature Android that was a little too busy, we dropped the cityscape and the flames, but most of the design remained intact through the final round. Some other designs weren’t so lucky…

This guy never made it past revision 1. With plenty of design ideas around and a limited number we could produce, it was important to balance variety, novelty and fun. There were some good designs that hit the Series 1 cutting room floor, but hopefully we’ll be able to revisit a few of those in the future!

Next Installment: Sculpting, packaging.

Android mini production – Part 1: groundwork

While we all sit quietly and wait patiently for the next shipment of Android Series 1 mini figures to arrive, I thought I would entertain / inform you with a series of posts chronicling the creation of these little guys from start to finish!

It all started with this logo and a couple of designers working on the Android platform. Like many designers these days, they had become fans of the growing genre of limited edition vinyl figures created by artists specifically for an art-collecting adult audience. With a great mascot, a love of all things collectible, and a desire to do something cool, they set about to bring their idea to life.

Luckily another friend of theirs at Android happened to know someone with experience in vinyl collectible production, which is where I came in!

At the end of 2008 we started talking about the best way to go from logo to collectible. Could we adjust Android to an existing platform? Should we do a large expensive collectible? Can they all have different heads? Would a mini series be cool? Is blind box a fun format for tech centric people who may not be as familiar with the concept as traditional toy collectors? During the course of our discussions I threw together this mock-up of what a figure of the logo could actually look like.

It seemed that we were heading in the right direction with a multiple design mini series. I quickly created a set of simple concepts to illustrate that a series would give us the opportunity to create a variety of designs and showcase the versatility of their deceptively simple mascot. Even though these were early concepts, you can see that a few of the ideas and design elements made it all the way to the final products. Some designs (such as BSOD-BOT shown here) were scrapped for pretty obvious PR / legal reasons. Still, it was worth a shot!

With the concept hammered out and an OK from the big Android himself Andy Rubin, the project was a go! We were all set to create a mini series with a relatively small budget for a small quantity of figures destined for internal promotions and giveaways. Yes, originally these guys were not necessarily going to find their way into the hands of fans and collectors (and some of you would argue that they still haven’t!). This was shaping up to be a fun project, and I knew it would have some appeal in the world at large, although how much appeal was hard to judge. Selling collectibles based on mobile operating systems was an untested market to say the least. Thanks to the enthusiasm (and legal wrangling) of the guys at Android, we were able to work out a deal wherein I could produce a few more units to be sold directly to fans and shops.

Next Installment: Getting down to business on design.