Hasbro’s Steve Evans Talks About the Difficult Alchemy of Action Figures at SWCE
This past year has been a massive one for Hasbro's Star Wars lines. From the collector favorite Star Wars Black Series to the 3.75" figures and everything in between, you can hardly find a Hasbro aisle anywhere in the country that isn't jammed with figures from a galaxy far, far away. While at Star Wars Celebration Europe this past weekend, we caught up Steve Evans, design director for Hasbro's Star Wars figures, to talk about what's new, what's coming, and how Hasbro plans on keeping the line fresh headed into Rogue One later this year.
We also have some new images of the upcoming Black Series wave, due to arrive later this fall, along with new 3.75" figures and vehicles featuring your favorite Star Wars Rebels characters.
ComicsAlliance: Okay, so going with the hardest question first...
Steve Evans: Oh, good. (Laughs)
CA: Last year, Force Friday was a success. There was a lot of run up to The Force Awakens, and then we kind of hit a wall with regards to distribution of some figures and waves. I'm just curious to know what Hasbro is intending to try to do to alleviate that from happening with this year's fall and winter waves.
SE: I'm not directly involved with distribution --- obviously with designing the actual product --- but I know that there was an issue. Everyone's admitted that. It's all about early planning. There are some things where we can't always meet demand. We don't know what demand is going to be, but you never quite know until it's there, and demand was just huge, just massive.
Doing that globally --- America, Europe, Australia, everywhere --- is tricky. We've gotten better at it. It's still a long way to go, and it's always going to be a constant challenge to us. In terms of how or the methodology for doing that, I couldn't tell you. I don't know how they plan that stuff. All I know is that we --- myself and my team --- work as early as we can to make sure it's designed with Lucasfilm, and everything is designed and decoed and sculpted and finished on time to get it manufactured and on a ship and out to the stores.
That's kind of my critical path, just to get earlier and earlier, and as there's a movie a year that is an ongoing challenge. We're never stopping; we're going and going and going.
CA: I do have to commend Hasbro though, for having the largest female presence in the upcoming wave. You have Jyn Erso coming, and you'll have three leading ladies in there. That's going to be a big wave.
SE: Yeah, thank you.
CA: To speak to the development process, I think it's fair to say a lot of general consumers don't necessarily know the timeline leading up and during development of these figures. Obviously you're on a crunch to hit movie premieres and such, but typically for a figure, what are we looking at from start to finish, 10 months?
SE: From the point in time when we say, "Let's do Jyn," for example, it's usually about 12-18 months. It's quite a while. Within that you've got discussions with Lucasfilm upfront, like who do we do, what's the right thing to do, which character do we do, which ship do we do, when do we do it? Then we start working out what are the accessories, how do we make this, how do we sculpt it? Obviously we need assets from Lucasfilm to say, "This is what Jyn looks like. This is what she's wearing. These are her costumes."
We'll get scans of the actors --- they scan when they're shooting, and that takes a long time. Then you get to the deco stage, okay? What paint are we going to do, how many ops are we putting on? Every stage is approved with Lucasfilm input, and we get through the design stage which may take eight months of constant back and forth to get it right.
Then it's on to the manufacturing where we send out to the factory, okay. They've got to build these tools, invest the money in those, and then ramp that up. Then we have to troubleshoot that. The first pre-production figure may not be right; it may be loose, it may be badly painted. Well, now we to do this and change that, and that might take another three months.
Then you're into the actual manufacturing of it, where they're actually running it through the factory. We may make up to 100,000 of a figure, and that takes a lot of time. Then you've got to get it on a ship and on the water. It's a long time. It takes a long time from concept to shelf.
CA: And while a character like Jyn is in progress, you guys are also working on the next wave on top of that and so on.
SE: Yeah, it's constant. It's a constant wave. There's always new entertainment coming out, which is great. We've had more content than we've ever had for like 40 years. And there are still things to do from the original trilogy and the prequels. Like Old Ben, we've still got to fit those in where it makes sense. We're kept busy.
CA: Kylo was probably your first big mixed-media figure with the cloth and fabric, and you've since done that with New Hope Luke and the upcoming New Hope Leia, New Hope Ben. Is that something you've found successful and that you'll keep mixing it up like that?
SE: It's a very difficult alchemy. Should it be PVC? Should it be soft goods? Some people like PVC, and some people like the soft goods. Some people hate PVC, and some people hate soft goods. A good example is Kylo. Personally, I think Kylo came out really well for soft goods. It's reasonably easy to form, his cloak is a straight panel. His hood is helped by the fact that we could do a PVC shawl, so this helped root it and keep the shape. If we were to do him without this plastic shawl, that hood would be a lot different.
With Luke and Leia, as we've seen, there's a challenge there because it's one piece. It's really hard at that scale. The micro-weave can be expensive, and within the $19.99 price point, you don't have the widest choice of materials. Jyn's a good a example because to do that shawl in soft goods, it would be a mess. It would be all over the place, and you've have to stitch it so tightly, the amount of labor into that just would never make sense.
It's a balance, and we look at them case by case, do we do a Jedi robe, do we not do a Jedi robe? What moment of the movie is this figure from? Does it need it?
CA: I imagine it's a bit more of a challenge too for the 3.75" Black series figures that have been mixed in. You've got Luke in his robe, and it's much smaller so you've got more constrictions at that scale.
SE: Yeah, the smaller it is, the more difficult it is. Six-inch is better, but it's still not 12" or 24", so it's really hard.
CA: We've seen a lot of the upcoming wave, with the Fan's Choice characters Darth Revan and Sabine Wren in there. You've just launched the latest Fan's Choice. Why is it so important to take the input from fans to get the figures they want in the line in there, as well as trying to figure out how to fill out the wave with characters that haven't gotten a shot yet?
SE: It's nigh on impossible to give everyone everything they want. There's hundreds of thousands of characters that someone love, like Aurra Sing, or someone might not love Aurra Sing. So to be able to do everything is really hard. Obviously we, and rightly so, support the most recent entertainment. So whatever movie is coming out, we need to bring Jyn and all the others from Rogue One, but we pepper in classic figures we haven't done and fan favorites when we can.
There is this need from the fan community, and rightly so, that they want more unusual ones. How do we do those? We can't always do those as we have this new entertainment always chasing us, and we should do that, so the fan vote is the obvious way to handle it.
I enjoy it, and it's successful. It's nice to hear what people like, and even though the ones that don't make it inform us. You know, Darth Revan made it by a landslide, but with Sabine --- and there were other ones in there --- it was like, "Oh, okay. Those are the ones that are resonating." It helps inform what we pepper in going forward.
CA: The characters from the Fan's Choice have been in the 6" variety at this point. Is Hasbro ever going to pepper them into the smaller Black series?
SE: It's interesting because we did this last year for the 6" figures, and it was like, "Oh, Black series is 6"." Obviously that's mainline, and the 3.75" are exclusive. So the 6" line is the obvious one to do for the Fan's Choice. I've had people come up to me today and ask for me to do them in the 3.75". It's an interesting idea, and I'm not saying we're going to do that, but it's certainly being heard.
We'd just need to work out how we would do that. It's not quite as simplistic as the 6" because of the way it's distributed and the exclusivity. I'd be up for it. I don't see anything wrong with that at all.
CA: With regards to the 3.75" Black series, is that still up to you as to which characters make that line, or is there a little bit of back and forth with Walmart [in the US] as to how you fill those lines out?
SE: There are conversations. A lot of them are quite obvious choices because it usually supports the new entertainment. But there are discussions with Lucasfilm and Walmart about who we should do.
The other guiding light is getting feedback from fans. There are very specific, super-articulate 3.75" figures that people want that perhaps came and went too quickly, like Ahsoka or the Royal Guard. So we listen to that, and the community is very vocal about what they want to see. It's not hard to find out what people want. Again, it's alchemy. We've got this and this, and these people want this, so it's about finding the right kind of mix. We do our very best, and we listen and do what we can.
CA: With the show exclusives this year, you have Kylo Ren here at SWCE with some nice little accessories, and at San Diego Comic-Con Obi-Wan will have some as well. In the development process of figuring out these exclusives and what goes inside, how much tinkering do you do within the company to figure out whether or not things like Vader's melted helmet makes it in there?
SE: The exclusives are cool because we can create something different, and we can vary the price point and flex to be whatever it needs to be to match the product. We knew we needed to do an unmasked Kylo. We had the scan of Adam Driver, and he'd taken his helmet off in the movie so we could show him as he really looked. But yeah, it came from the Vader. We knew we needed to put the melted helmet in there, and knew that it'd be really fun.
We'd been playing around with this idea of little scenes or sets or vignettes, so we looked at the First Order banner to create a little vignette. Same with the Ben. We included the table with the holographic layer, so we're starting to test that out with exclusives. It's the fun stuff. Everyone loves to sit around and do convention stuff.
CA: With these exclusives, do they also have a year of build-up?
SE: It depends what it is. Obviously with the Kylo, the outfit and the body is the standard Kylo, and we've only got the new head and accessories. So he might be a little bit shorter. Ben took nearly as long because we had to put electronics in it as well. You know, it varies. We come at it from a story point as well. The fact that the exclusives are Ben and Ben is kind of tenuous, but it's fun. The convention stuff is just fun.
CA: You've started doing the multi-packs now, too, and that's something the Marvel Legends side has had some success with in getting characters you might not ordinarily see in a single-pack at retail. Is that something Hasbro is going to continue?
SE: Yeah, I enjoy that. It's that thing where we want to be able to deliver those slightly unusual characters that may not be as high profile for a single figure pack, so we can put them in these multi-packs. A lot of those, it works best as exclusives because we have more flexibility with the offerings and the price. I like doing those because you can get the unusual characters in there. Expect to still see multipacks coming through.
CA: How often did you guys vote in the fan vote to get your favorites to the top of the charts?
SE: (Laughs) Oh, thousands and thousands of times. I don't even know if I did vote. I don't think I could. I wouldn't have voted for Revan. I would have voted for Old Ben or something like that. Just so happens that we're doing him anyway, so that's good. I'd have no time to do any work if I spent all that time upvoting.
CA: In that same vein, there are constantly new characters you're dealing with, and a lot of older characters that are coming and you're working on now. Which character is one that probably never get a single figure that you would want to push out if you could?
SE: Can I say Zuvio? (Laughs) Goodness. I tell you what, I'm a little bit of a sucker for the protocol droids. The Hoth base one, K-3PO, I'm interested in him. I was interested in him as a kid. It was cool that there was another 3PO, and this one was white. It was cool. Those sort of background characters I like. I don't know whether we would sell individual ones, but I like that kind of thing.
How would we do an Ugnaught? That's another sort of weird one because it's an odd size. Everything is possible.
CA: Sure, but when you're putting out a six-figure wave...
SE: Oh yeah, you've got to go with the A-list and pepper in the others. To a point, we use the multipacks to get those more unusual ones in.
CA: Because you brought up the protocol droid, it reminded me of the evil protocol droid from Darth Vader, Triple-0. Is that something maybe Hasbro is looking at doing?
SE: Yeah, we look at the comics as well. Anything that's canon is open season for us. Particularly as an exclusive, that's the time you can get those. To your point, it's a matter of what would sell in retail? We have a mixture of fans our age, but also there's lots of teenage fledgling collectors, and there's also a lot of casual fans that just buy it for the character. When you put in Triple-0, me and you and the fans go, "Oh great!" The more casual people would be like, "Who's that?" Whether that's right for retail or right for an exclusive, it's a balancing act.
Yeah, comics we look at a lot. The Vader comic was really good. Triple-0 and BT-1 are great.