Definitions

Action figure

Action figure

An action figure is a posable character figurine, made of plastic or other materials, and often based upon a movie, comic book, video game, or television program. These action figures are usually marketed towards boys. Redressable action figures are sometimes referred to as action dolls as a distinction from those which have all or most of their clothes molded on. Action figures are particularly popular with boys because they represent traditional masculine traits and are closely associated with the public sphere which is represented by items such as tools, transportation, garages, machines, and military equipment .

History

1960s-1970s

The term "action figure" was first used by Hasbro in 1964, to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who wouldn't play with dolls. G.I. Joe was initially a military-themed 11.5-inch figure proposed by marketing and toy idea-man Stan Weston. It featured changeable clothes with various uniforms to suit different purposes. In a move that would create global popularity for this type of toy, Hasbro also licensed the product to companies in other markets.

These different licensees had a combination of uniforms and accessories that were usually identical to the ones manufactured for the US market by Hasbro, along with some sets that were unique to the local market.

The Japanese had at least two examples where a Hasbro licensee also issued sublicenses for related products. For example, Palitoy issued a sublicense to Tsukuda, a company in Japan, to manufacture and sell Action Man accessories in the Japanese market. Takara also issued a sublicense to Medicom for the manufacture of action figures.

Takara, still under license by Hasbro to make and sell G.I. Joe toys in Japan, also manufactured an action figure incorporating the licensed GI Joe torso for Henshin Cyborg-1, using transparent plastic revealing cyborg innards, and a chrome head and cyborg feet. During the oil supply crisis of the 1970s, like many other manufacturers of action figures, Takara was struggling with the costs associated with making the large 11 ½ inch figures, So, a smaller version of the cyborg toy was developed, standing at 3-3/4 inches high, and was first sold in 1974 as Microman. The Microman line was also novel in its use of interchangeable parts. This laid the foundation for both the smaller action figure size and the transforming robot toy. Takara began producing characters in the Microman line with increasingly robotic features, including Robotman, a 12" robot with room for a Microman pilot, and Mini-Robotman, a 3-3/4" version of Robotman. These toys also featured interchangeable parts, with emphasis placed on the transformation and combination of the characters.

In 1971, Mego began licensing and making American Marvel and DC comic book superhero figures which had highly successful sales and are considered highly collectible by many adults today. They eventually brought the Microman toy line to the United States as the Micronauts, but Mego eventually lost control of the market after rejecting the license to produce Star Wars toys in 1976. The widespread success of Kenner's Star Wars 3-3/4" toy line made the newer, smaller size the industry standard. Instead of a single character with outfits that changed for different applications, toy lines included teams of characters with special functions. Led by Star Wars-themed sales, collectible action figures quickly became a multi-million dollar secondary business for movie studios.

1980s-1990s

The 1980s spawned all sorts of popular action figure lines, many based on cartoon series' which were one of the largest marketing tools for toy companies. Some of the most successful to come about were Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, and Super Powers Collection, to name just a few. As the '80s were ending, more and more collectors started to surface, buying up the toys to keep in their original packaging for display purposes and for future collectability. This led to flooding of the action figure toy market. One of the most popular action figure lines of the late '80s and early '90s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures were produced in such high quantities that the value for most figures would never be higher than a few dollars. In the mid 1990s, a new Star Wars figure line had surfaced and Spawn figures flooded the toy store shelves, proving action figures were not just for kids anymore.

It was during this time that popular characters were increasingly getting specialized costume and variant figures. Batman quickly became most notorious for this (i.e. Arctic Batman, Piranha Blade Batman, Neon Armor Batman). Rather than individual characters, these variants would make up the bulk of many action figure lines and often make use of the old figure and accessory molds. Glow-in-the-dark figures and accessories also became popular in the early '90s with lines like Toxic Crusaders and Swamp Thing.

In the early 1980s, the burgeoning popularity of Japanese robot cartoons such as Gundam encouraged Takara to reinvent the Microman line as the Micro Robots, moving from the cyborg action figure concept to the concept of the living robot. This led to the Micro Change line of toys: objects that could "transform" into robots. In 1984, Hasbro licensed Micro Change and another Takara line, the Diaclone transforming cars, and combined them in the US as the Transformers, spawning a still-continuing family of animated cartoons.

A 1999 study found that "the figures have grown much more muscular over time, with many contemporary figures far exceeding the muscularity of even the largest human bodybuilders" and that the changing cultural expectations reflected by those changes may contribute to body image disorders in both sexes.

2000s

Today, the adult collector market for action figures is expanding with companies like McFarlane Toys, Palisades, and NECA. Said companies have given numerous movie characters, musicians, and athletes their very first highly detailed figures. These are commonly intended as statuesque display pieces rather than toys; however, child-oriented lines such as the Masters of the Universe revival and Justice League Unlimited still evoke adult collector followings as well. Comic book firms are also able to get figures of their characters produced, regardless of whether or not they appeared in movies or animated cartoons. Examples of companies that produce comic figures and merchandise almost exclusively include Toy Biz and DC Direct.

Since 1997, ToyFare magazine has become a popular read for mature collectors in providing news and embracing nostalgia with a comedic twist. In the same vein, former ToyFare staffer Doug Goldstein and actor Seth Green produce the TV series Robot Chicken, which utilizes stop motion for satirical effect. Popular websites such as Toy News International also bring collectors information on upcoming figures and merchandise.

Adult-oriented figure lines are often exclusive to specific chain stores rather than mass retail. Popular lines often have figures available exclusively through mail-in offers and comic conventions which raise their value significantly. Ploys such as packaging "errors" and "short-packed" figures have also been used by toy companies to increase collector interest.

How action figures are made

Raw materials

Aluminum wire, modeling clay, and various sculpting tools are used to create the prototype. The actual figure is molded from a plastic resin, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). This is a harder plastic used to form the main body. Softer plastics, like polypropylene and polyethylene, are commonly used to mold smaller accessory and costume pieces. Various fabrics, such as rayon and nylon, may be used for costume components including body suits, capes, and face masks. As a final decoration, acrylic paints of various colors may be used to decorate the figure. In addition, more elaborate toys may contain miniature electronic components that provide light and sound effects.

Design

Once the character has been selected, the actual design process begins with sketches of the proposed figure. The next step is the creation of a clay prototype. This model is made by bending aluminum wires to form the backbone of the figure, known as an armature. The wire form includes the outline of the arms and legs posed in the general stance that the figure will assume. The sculptor then adds clay to the armature to give the basic weight and shape that is desired. The clay may be baked slightly during the prototyping process to harden it. Then, the sculptor uses various tools, such as a wire loop, to carve the clay and shape details on the figure.

After creating the basic form, the sculptor may choose to remove the arms and work on them separately for later attachment. This gives the sculptor more control and allows him to produce finer details on the proto-type. Working with blunt tools, the sculptor shapes the body with as much detail as is desired. During this process, photo and sketch references are used to ensure the figure is as realistic as possible. Some sculptors may even use human models to guide their design work.

After the general body shape is complete, the sculptor adds the finer details, paying close attention to the eyes, nose, and mouth that give the figure its life-like expression. The designer may attach a rough lump of clay on the main figure as a temporary head while the real head is sculpted on a separate armature. This allows the sculptor to finish the figure's facial expressions independently of the body. At this point, the finished head can be attached to the main armature and joined to the body with additional clay. Once the head is attached, the neck and hair are sculpted to properly fit to the figure. Then, depending on the design of the figure, the costume may be sculpted directly onto the body. However, if a cloth costume or uniform will be added later, the prototype is sculpted without any costume details. During this process, parts of the clay may be covered with aluminum foil to keep it from prematurely drying out. Once everything is completed, the entire figure is baked to harden the clay.

The sculpted prototype is then sent for approval to the manufacturer. Once all design details have been finalized, the prototype is used to make the molds that will form the plastic pieces for the mass-produced figure. The entire sculpting process may take about two weeks, depending on the skill and speed of the sculptor. This process may be repeated several times if revisions must be made to the figure. Several months are typically allowed for this design phase.

Notable action figures

An action figure can be appreciated or criticized for its sculpt, articulation, paints, detail, and/or likeness to the character; or by how successfully the manufacturer combines these often logistically exclusive elements.


See also

References

External links

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