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Ask a toymaker!

Postby ToyVaultZac » Fri Nov 14, 2014 11:19 pm

Over in this topic - http://fireflyprops.net/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=1450&start=10 - I explained a little bit of the process that goes into dealing with plush prototypes and how the final product can be a bit of a crapshoot if you aren't dealing with a good factory you can trust. There seemed to be a little interest in knowing more about the behind-the-scenes stuff, so at the risk of being a bit "look at me! look at me!", I've started this topic if anyone wants to know anything else about the toymaking process. Feel free to ask specific Firefly product-related questions, though understand that various professional obligations may prevent me from disclosing some things.

In the other topic, taimdala asked this:
I'm especially interested in the box art/illustration side of things. (Naturally!) Who decides who does what for illustrative work? What if something's wrong with it? Does it get sent back to be fixed/redone? Does the artist even get to examine the product they're illustrating? Or do they get a description and hope they got it right?


Dealing with the art on a game, particularly on big games (like, for example, the massive upcoming Firefly game we're really really close to announcing), is a very interesting, taxing, and always-unique process. Once the gameplay itself has been decided upon and it's ready for art, the first thing I - as the art director - do is close my eyes, go into my mind-palace and just visualize the game and build it in my head. Now, usually the aesthetic style of the game comes to me subconsciously as I learn more about the game and see the prototypes that the original designer has made, so by the point where I'm really really thinking about it I tend to have a relatively clear idea of how I want it to "look".

And when I speak of the "look" of the game, what I'm referring to is oftentimes something a lot of non-artsy people might not even think about. Think about 'Apples to Apples' for example. Someone had to decide, "Well, let's put it in a big red box and have cartoony anthropomorphic apples as the mascots", when they could have just as easily made it look like it was, say, in a wooden apple crate, or have real photographs of apples. This is what I refer to as the "aesthetic atmosphere" because I, too, can be very pretentious at times, and it is what binds the whole game together as one collective unit.

Now, I've sidetracked a bit from the original question, but I guess I'm saying all this to explain that first and foremost, usually, that "aesthetic atmosphere" is what is decided upon by me (obviously with input from others at the company and people I talk to) before any artists get picked up. There are certainly exceptions to this - sometimes a game designer happens to already have the aesthetic in mind themselves and is fully capable of doing their own artwork.

What follows from that point then is I will decide whether to do the artwork myself (some of it, all of it, none of it, usually depending on my personal interest and ability, and time) and what to hire out. I'll peruse my list of go-to artists and see who has a style in the vein of what we're looking for, also keeping in mind their fandom interests because I love hiring fans, or I'll seek it out if I'm looking for something specific. Sometimes I need an illustrator who can do cartoony stuff, or maybe a painter who does realistic, or a graphic designer with a good eye for laying out lots of information, etc.

All this relates to the packaging because, deep down, doing the layout for the box isn't much different than a gameboard, or a rulebook, ya know?

Once I've got an artist, I find it really important to keep as open a dialogue as I can with them. I started at this company as a freelancer myself, plus plenty of other freelance work, so I know how aggravating it can be to not have enough information up front or to be expected to just come up with something and hope it's close to the bullseye of what the employer is wanting. So I'll talk to my potential artist, give them as much info as I can, let them know where they can have the most freedom and where some things need to be specific. What follows, ideally, is a lot of back and forth where they're showing me their progress, asking questions, etc, and I'm able to say early into the process, "this is perfect, just like this!" or "can you fix this before you get too far into it?". That way there's no where near as much risk of them wasting their time or anyone being unhappy.

Again, I know I'm speaking pretty vaguely about the whole process instead of specifically the packaging like you asked, but as I said, when you're putting together a massive game, the box itself is just like any other piece of art within the game. I will say, though, that generally I've found that it's more often me working on the packaging whether or not the rest of the game was largely done by other artists. Mostly this just has to do with 1) the tedium of many essential elements of the packaging, like bar codes, legal mumbo-jumbo, choking hazard info, etc., 2) it needs to be scrutinized the most in terms of making sure it'll show and say the right things to help it sell, and 3) a good deal of the imagery on the packaging is of final components within the game, so oftentimes the box is very last thing done.

In a few weeks once our super big game is announced, I may be able to come back to this specific subject and give some prime examples because, as our biggest game yet by far, it has the combined artwork of - I believe - 6 different artists scattered throughout, myself included, which certainly was a real challenge when it came to making sure the end product felt like one unit, but I think turned out quite nicely in the end.
Project Director & In-House Artist for Toy Vault, Inc. --- https://www.facebook.com/toyvaultinc
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby AZSneed » Sat Nov 15, 2014 3:36 am

I found this to be very educational. I know the box art is critical, in order to catch the eye of the customer. If it was sold in a plain cardboard box, who would notice? Thanks for the tour, and in some that you describe, it sound like you are strong in the ForceTM.


P.S. PLEASE! No quiz test.
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby ToyVaultZac » Sat Nov 15, 2014 4:37 am

Books closed boys and girls: pop quiz time!
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby taimdala » Sat Nov 22, 2014 12:22 am

Oh man, Zac, sorry for the tardiness of my reply--I got slammed a little with extra stuff. I LOVE your post!!!! THANK YOU for posting it.
"Never, never, never give in ... except to convictions of honor and good sense."
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby ToyVaultZac » Sat Nov 22, 2014 5:45 am

I wouldn't blame you if it just took you this long finish it - I didn't mean to write a novel!
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby AZSneed » Sat Nov 22, 2014 7:14 am

I liked the novel, next I want to see the motion picture...TV movie...OK, hand puppets.
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby ToyVaultZac » Sat Nov 22, 2014 5:34 pm

Strangely enough, my book about the process of making Firefly stuff falls under a totally different license, so don't expect the Pop! vinyl figure of me typing at my keyboard until maybe next Christmas.
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby taimdala » Sat Nov 22, 2014 6:41 pm

ToyVaultZac wrote:Strangely enough, my book about the process of making Firefly stuff falls under a totally different license, so don't expect the Pop! vinyl figure of me typing at my keyboard until maybe next Christmas.


When it gets released, let us know Zac! I like the idea of a figure of you typing at your keyboard. It describes so many of us geeks these days, it's practically iconic. :D
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Re: Ask a toymaker!

Postby AZSneed » Sat Nov 22, 2014 9:53 pm

Zac the figure, cool!
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