China Trip Part 2- Painting Process and First Deco Samples
It's been a while since the last update so there's a lot to talk about.
The production process is moving along at a fast pace now. Between sending comments on samples to the factory and prepping the final packaging, these past six weeks have been intense. Kind of makes me wish I was only running a Kickstarter campaign. On second thought, no no not really.
Anyway as promised, here's a look at the second half of my trip in China, so get ready as it's time for another information filled update! Be sure to read all the way through- I promise to make it worth your while.
Preparing for Production
Upon visiting the production factory back in May, tooling was being finalized and the raptors were still in the early stages with not a lot going on yet in terms of painting and mass production. My main purpose was to help see them off to a good start by discussing the level of paint detail I was looking to achieve as well as going over packaging options and toy functionality.
Luckily for me, they were able to prepare paint samples for all of the Accessory Packs and the Nestlings for review. Meticulous notes were taken as I described what needed to be done for each piece. The meetings were very encouraging and I got the impression that they really wanted to get everything just how I wanted.
Since the molds were still being worked on at that time, the production factory had to rely on whatever test shot parts were sent from the tooling factory, and this meant showing me a few incomplete raptor paint samples, but it was enough to get us started.
Despite arriving there at the beginning of my own project, I still had the opportunity to witness the rest of the production process first-hand via other projects. My China trip part 1 update was all about the test shot and tooling process and now it's time for the second part of that story. Here's what happens after the tooling is approved.
The Paint and Assembly Process
Paint (Deco) Samples
As mentioned, paint samples are often made initially from early test shot parts. These figures may have been cast before tooling was approved, so looseness and a few mismatched or missing parts are not too uncommon at this stage. Such issues are easy to correct later.- the paint is the the real focus of these figures.
When making these first paint, or 'deco' samples (short for 'decoration'), painting techniques and processes are created for both colors and patterns in order to replicate the unique look of each figure type.
Once established, these painting methods will be used for thousands of figures and are much different than hand-brushing a single resin figure for an undetermined amount of time as Matt and myself had done with the prototypes. The factory work needs to be fast and efficient while still maintaining the same look as the original and for that, different tools are required.
A combination of hand brushing, air brush, and paint masks are used to paint each figure part. Paint mask clamps are a key tool for this stage of mass production work. These metal clamps are custom made to whatever area they need to cover on a piece for creating a specific shape or pattern over and over again. Often times a factory will have a person who specializes in creating the paint masks for each job. Fashioning an effective paint mask is considered an art in and of itself.
The initial paint stage is often a process that requires a few rounds of revisions to get the look for each figure as close to the original as possible. Each application, a.k.a. paint operation, is documented and factored into the overall production cost. In order to match my original prototypes, the number of paint operations for Beasts of the Mesozoic needed to be higher than that of the average toy line.
Some subtle variation is to be expected between the figures they produce and my prototypes as they use such different tools and methods. For the most part though, the final versions should look very close to the original prototype.
Now at this point in the process, we'll need to look beyond Beasts of the Mesozoic to see what lies ahead...
Note: the items in the next set of photos won't be named in effort to avoid any licensing issues, but many of you can probably recognize what's there.
Once the deco samples are approved and the paint operations are established, large amounts of new parts are cast for mass production. The painting process begins by sectioning out the parts and distributing them among several people to be painted, each person being responsible for specific parts.
How do they keep all of those parts straight, you ask? Well for each figure, a layout key is created using the full molded parts sprues with each part labeled. This is important not only to help with paint and color injection, but assembly as well.
When parts are completed, the painted pieces are collected in their own bins to be assembled later. Each bin contains one specific part and usually a lot of them.
To avoid confusion, one figure type, or SKU (short for 'stockkeeping unit') will be painted at a time. A room of workers can complete paint work for a large number of figures in a single day. Once all of the parts are painted, they are moved on to assembly.
To assemble the figures, parts are often heated under lamps to help make them pliable enough to fit together easily without stressing the pieces. The plastic will then harden quickly at room temperature. Glue is also added at this stage as needed.
From here the figures are put aside for pack-out where they will be placed in their designated packaging with accessories to be added as needed.
The packaging has it's own separate process during this time as well, from the graphic design to the box printing and even the fitted plastic trays. Everything is made at around the same time to help make mass production as time-efficient as possible.
So that's the second half of toy production in a nutshell. And that will lead right into the next update which will focus on the packaging for the Beasts of the Mesozoic figures so stay tuned.
First Raptor Deco Samples
The first round of deco samples are always an important step in the production process. Here's an overview of the very first raptor deco sample comparisons with their respective paint masters (labeled 'deco master' in the photos). For this update, we'll focus on the main deluxe-sized raptor figures. (The Nestlings and Accessory Packs will be shown off with their packaging in the next update.) Some here are closer to final than others, but for a first go at it, they've provided a very good starting point.
And for the record, these photos were not taken by me but come direct from the factory... it'll make sense as you read on.
So that gives you all an idea of what I'm looking at initially. In most cases, I'm sent anywhere from 5-10 photos of a particular sample both with and without the deco master in the shot. You'll find many more photos of each of these on my Creative Beast Studio Facebook page, but keeping the length of this update in-mind (obviously), I decided to only show key photos for each. It's at this point I take the photos into photoshop and make my comments for what needs to be changed or improved upon. Here are some examples of the notes I've sent back in response.
After receiving my feedback, they make the adjustments and then the deco sample is shipped to me for review. Here's a batch of samples I received recently:
At this point it's a matter of a few more tweaks and then the approved version becomes the standard for all of the production on that particular SKU. The steps they followed to achieve the look for each approved figure have been noted and are to be followed for the remaining figures of that type moving forward. As of now all deco samples have been created and the Nestlings and Accessory Packs have all been approved with mass production beginning soon on those. Six deluxe raptor samples have been sent to me for final notes so far with more arriving each week until all of the figures are approved.
Having some of these samples in-hand now, all necessary toy 'testing' aside, I couldn't resist putting them together with the new packaging proofs. Below was my very first look at a Beasts of the Mesozoic raptor in-package, and it was cooler than I could have imagined.
What all goes into the package, from start to finish? I'm looking forward to sharing that experience with you all in the next update.
Shipping Estimate Update- September
In other news... I've been getting a lot of questions lately regarding the ship dates for the Beasts of the Mesozoic figures and understandably so. Luckily so far the production process has not had any major set backs and we've been moving along mostly as expected. There have been a few minor tooling and paint revisions here and there, but nothing serious. As mentioned, production is beginning soon on the Accessory Pack sets as well as Nestlings and I expect full production on the main raptors to begin sometime next month which will take several weeks. Factor into that any adjustments during that time and then from there it will be 2-3 weeks for the product to arrive at the US port in California via boat from China. After a few days in customs, the product will then head to the fulfillment center for final distribution.
As of this writing, it has become more clear now that shipping rewards out to backers by the end of August is highly doubtful and shipping in September is much more likely. Please know that this is still an estimate based on current circumstances and is subject to change. It's hard to know what challenges lie ahead for this project, but it's important to make sure everything is done as well as it can be done and for a project this big, that does take some time. That being said, considering the amount of product being produced at once and the complexity involved, I feel the progress is going quite well.
Orders containing Kickstarter rewards will have priority to ship first and then on to the pre-orders. If you have any questions about shipping dates or process, please let me know and I'll answer them as best I can. Your patience and support is much appreciated- I'm optimistic that the wait won't be too much longer.
Combining Orders and Address Changes
As we close in on the final part of production, my correspondence with the factory during the reviewing process is critical becoming very involved and time-consuming. With so much of my attention focused on production right now, I have a favor to ask of you all.
For those needing assistance with address changes, combining orders, or adding items onto your existing order, it would really help me out if you could please contact the friendly people at BackerKit (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) regarding these issues as they would be more than happy to assist you. This will allow me to put a little more time into the production of this project.
The BackerKit team has proven to be very competent and responsive during this entire project and they'll likely be more effective at helping than myself because who knows their system better than them? If for some reason they can not assist you or they are unavailable, please feel free to contact me about it and I will help as best I can. Thank you all in advance.
One more thing...
I want to invite you all to take a look at a new action figure-based Kickstarter campaign by one of my favorite creators (and Beasts of the Mesozoic backer), Sandy Collora called SOULS OF THE ABYSS: The Tiburonera Tribe! Some of you may know of Sandy's work in the film industry but he's also worked in the toy industry as well as a sculptor and designer. Now he's creating a line of action figures based on the Tiburonera creature design from his critically acclaimed short film, Shallow Water. Check it out!
That'll do it for now- please don't forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all of the latest news and photos for this project and more. And if you're just finding out about this project, the Beasts of the Mesozoic BackerKit pre-order store can be found HERE.
Thanks everyone, until next time!