Alasdair Dewar Interview
Exclusive Interview with Alasdair Dewar, Product Development Director of Character Group Plc, Maker of
Doctor Who Action Figures
This interview is Strictly Copyright © doctorwhotoys.net, All Rights Reserved; may not be reproduced in full or part.
All images are copyright © doctorwhotoys.net
- Question: Who decides which figures get made?
Answer: Alasdair Dewar – Me basically ... But the formula is fairly basic. Our target consumer is the kids not the collectors so we usually concentrate on Villains and or Monsters rather than humans ..with the exception of the main companion of the day. This list I then go to Ed [Edmund Barnett-Ward, Director of Sculpting at Designworks Windsor] with and we talk about what his thoughts are and if any considerations have to be taken into account ... On most things we agree however we diverge occasionally on things like celery and er....question mark umbrellas?? for instance! Lol
- What are the kind of considerations that go into deciding which new figure to make?
Al – Was it, he or she memorable?..Were they the main advesary?.... Are they of the right size to make a figure? What is their clothing like?..I generally hate figures in robes and tend to call them lack of action figures as they make putting articulation in the legs etc utterly pointless .... But then you do get some brilliant exceptions like Jabe or the Time Lords!!!
- Why do you use Designworks?
Al – We just like spending an inordinate amount of cash! ..... Lol ..(In joke between Ed, Sean and I). Simply ...they are the best. I’ve used them since I first took over the Development side of the Character toys and from that moment on we (Designworks and Character Options) have knocked every other figure range in the market into a hat!... They have a 95-97 percent 1st time character likeness hit rate ... The sculpting is stunning and the attention to detail is meticulous ...They are competitively priced ... So not cheap BUT ...you get what you pay for at the end of the day. They are also some of the most professional guys I’ve ever worked with commitment wise ...
- Sometimes its understood that sculpts are commissioned but the figure never gets produced; why is this?
Al – It varies ..... 1. Cost ... The sculpt costs say 3K but to tool it and get it to market costs another 25-30K (before you even make one) so its simply not economic if its felt it won’t sell well. 2. Sometimes it gets rejected by the particular licensor or artist and simply misses its chance or they won’t sign it off ...this has only happened once ... 3. Sometimes in hindsight it just wasn’t a good figure to do .... As we’ve developed the range we’ve seen what figures sell well and which don’t and therefore by the time you’ve started a new one some info may arrive that tells you it was a bad direction so you ‘can’ it!
- Once a sculpt gets approval what are the next steps in its transformation into a finished product?
Al – It goes to the Far East and a tooling model is created. This is identical to the sculpt but made with all the separate injection moulded parts moulded in resin. These parts are then used to cut the steel and make the cavities.
- How do you select a manufacturer and how important is the manufacturer's input?
Al – We use the same manufacturer ..Well we use the same manufacturer on all the figure ranges I work on. They are a very good factory with a great eye for detail and can do a good amount of hand finishing. We use a specialised tool maker to create the tools and then these are sent to the Factory.
- What is the tooling stage? How exactly does the manufacturer make a figure? Could you break down each part of the process?
- Sculpting (UK)
- Casting of the sculpts (Duplicates & Paintmasters)
- Sculpts sent to Hong Kong
- Tooling models created
- Tooling models Approved (UK)
- Tooling (cutting/burning into the steel to create the cavity)
- 1st shot plastics (before tool is complete) to check look and fit
- Tool debug (making corrections and or improving the tool)
- 2nd shots
- Tool finalised and case hardened (heated to temper the steel)
- Tools shipped to factory
- Pre production plastics (to check fit and assembly)
- Spray masks made (for each spray operation up to 250)
- Pre prod plastics with deco
- What kind of complications arise from putting in the articulation?
Al – The balance of aesthetics against function ... Its my job here to decide what has to be lost in order to make the figure function as a toy. Its a compromise at the end of the day ... You’ll notice later figures have far more articulation than some early ones.
- How do Character manage to keep so much of the detail from the sculpt in the final figure?
Al – Easy Rule ..... DETAILS DETAILS DETAILS ... The Devil is quite literally in those ...if you hand over a great sculpt and then blithely let an engineering department or Factory decide what stays and what goes then don’t be surprised if what you get back is a pile of c**p! ... I’ve seen this time and again ..I could mention names but I won’t ...The engineers in the Far East are brilliant so don’t get the idea I don’t trust them or value their work BUT .. Its imperitive to guide the process and that way ensure you get the best result... Don’t get me wrong I screw up sometimes too ..its VERY easy to do .. But for the most part I think we get it right more often than not ... the Team of people working on Dr Who (Marketing, Engineering, Designers and myself) are all passionate about getting the best end result ... when for instance we make the tooling model its clearly a duplicate of the parts of the original...each time you duplicate you get degradation so ...we have always used the original sculpted Designworks head whenever we tool ..that way its a 2nd generation dupe on the head and that makes the difference ... I’m proud of our reputation in the figure market these days and it would be wrong not to do the sculpts justice.
- How is the painting done? Is something called a 'spray mask' used? What is this? How are the colours chosen?
Al – Designworks supply me with a paintmaster (literally a painted sculpt) ...this is the paint guide for the figure ... The colours are matched exactly to this. But problems can arise when the licensors paintmaster does not always match the Far East paintmaster as seldom do the two get created at the same time ...just due to volume of work and the need for speedy approvals ... Problems can happen when the paintmaster is handled too much in the factory ..matt surfaces get shiny, dirt from hands darkens colours etc ..its important once we have a deco sample that we’re happy with to keep it pristine ..the factory then have a production sample that they know I’m happy with so that they can match it in the future on another production run ...sometimes changes are made in production ..its not uncommon ..such as the Judoon or the Sontarans ...figures are subjective and even though they might match the paintmaster the licensor or I might just go ...that's not right... Its just a minor thing .... We had a problem for example on Dr Constantine where it just didn’t look right to me so I re-specified the colours of his clothing from scratch from the screen because it looked too bright.
Each (yes each) spray is a single operation. Example - eyebrows... The factory worker has a piece of beaten copper plate that’s very thin..this is formed to the shape of the piece being sprayed, eg the head, and the shape of the eyebrows is then cut out of this so that the spray creates the eyebrow shape in exactly the right position on the component ...otherwise you’d end up with too much variance in spraying.... Some items though are hand finished like ‘wash n wipe’ effects for weathering effects or aging.
- How important is quality control?
Al – Very ...we try and ensure that nothing gets through that’s faulty or incorrect but you have to put it in perspective ..its a line of workers trained to do one specific job each, not robots and occasionally they make mistakes ..its human... We try to pick these up on the line...then at testing stage, then through random sampling before shipping ... There are many tests to ensure things are OK but to test everything is impossible so you have to random test .. On the line its easier as if a component is duff it gets binned there and then or reworked .. Once assembled its more tricky as its a random test ..but if you’ve just produced 20,000 K1 robots you can only inspect 10% max realistically .. And that’s still 2000 pcs. Also there is a lot in the press about toy safety now and we are constantly complying to new legislation ....
- How, when and where are the figures packaged?
Al – In the factory ..... And as soon as possible ..factory space is limited and no factory wants boxes of figures lying around ..they go out the door as soon as possible.
- Are the packaging designs done by Character?
Al – Yes to a style guide supplied by the licensor/s BUT we do adapt them as we need ..so you’ll have noticed the Who range evolve from blister packs to more environmentally friendly Clamshells etc ...
- How do the figures travel from China to the UK/US?
Al – By Sea freight
- Where do they go when they arrive?
Al – into a warehouse where they are inspected again and distributed
- How do the figures arrive in the shops?
Al – Depends .. Usually in a CDU or Mastercarton
- You must be very proud of the line. Do you have a favourite figure and why?
Yup ...very. I’m a massive Who fan and I challenge anyone to say we have not produced one of the best quality figure lines ever!... Favourite figure ...the 2006 Cybermen and 2008 Sontarans because of their AWESOME articulation, the K1 just because its .. Well its THE Giant Robot!.... ... But mostly the 6th Doctor .. Well just because well ‘we done im proud Guv!’ and he was a good Doctor done a great injustice by poor production values, and bloody awful writing ... BUT ... Big finish and the BBC books have rescued his reputation. We had three goes at that head and I think Ed hated me by the end of it but we got a great figure and coincedentally THE most expensive action figure we’ve ever made because of that bloody coat!!!!!!
- Does the success of the Doctor Who line surprise you?
Al – Nope!....Its an amazing programme and hugely popular.
- It must sometimes be a challenge to accommodate the wishes of younger fans and collectors alike?
Al – Nope – We cater for kids and the mass market. Always have always will ...the collectors are never a consideration. They can’t be as its too small a category. Its Tesco, Woolies and TRU ...everything else (Albeit Brilliant!!!) has to be considered icing on the cake. You really have to think mass market or it doesn’t work. I don’t mean to belittle anyone by that its just a fact.....
That said the collectors are on the most part very friendly passionate people and make an impact on our business without doubt ..I’m simply trying to make it clear..because sometimes they don’t understand, that our focus has to be the mass retail market ... But that doesn’t mean we put any less into it... Trust me.
- What do you think of the 'Roman Soldier' figure in the Fires of Pompeii Set?
Al – Its c**p! ... Some beardy hippie type! Christ knows where Ed dragged that one up from!!!!! Lol ..Anyone in the know will understand that the figure in question is in fact based on Ed from Designworks .... And its a very good figure ..though the face is seriously dodgy!!!!
- What did you make of the whole 'Celery Gate' affair? Where do you stand on the Fifth Doctor celery debate?
Al – Ooh goody ... This one. Well I told Ed we were not doing the celery right from the start ..I hated it ... It was s**t .. Really really utterly crap .....its where the rot set in on Dr Who in my opinion re the garish costumes so it was my call and I said it was not being done .. I have to admit I knew that it would cause a riot on OG ... Then to make matters worse I gave the Americans the celery in the Time Crash Set .lol ... Ooh I can feel the hatred. But I stand by the decision ....
- How important is the Doctor Who line to the success of the Character Group?
Al – Very .. It was a great license to get and I’m glad we did but its not the only string in the bow and when Dr Who wains as it will then we’ll have something else to take its place .. Although I must admit I would miss it ....
- Are the sales going well in the US?
Al – I believe so ...the US market is tough and Dr Who (although a fledgling series) is doing well. But UK shows always struggle to an extent there ... But this is where (going back to earlier) the collector market does make its mark as the USA retail sector for Who is collectors not kids at the moment ..its horses for courses really and Underground Toys are making good inroads
- Character's recent trading update referred to the challenging retail environment - has this impacted on the number or volume of new releases?
Al – Yes and no ... Yes because we’re thinking more about exactly what products we do without doubt. No because some products sell well anyway and Dr Who is going to have a lean year in 2009 because of the hiatus in programming. Clearly we’ve done a lot of figures but stories generate the figure line and so limited stories means limited new releases ... So I think you’ll see some rereleases of older figures but with a ‘Value Added’ aspect such as the Collect and Build approach.
- Will there be any more Sarah Jane Adventures figures and toys?
Al – you’ll see these move closer to the Who line going forward but currently the figure range we have is where we are ...
- Has the Doctor Who Micro Universe line been discontinued?
Al – Yes development on this range has ceased but watch out for ‘Time Squad’ ... This is a new item with a different approach. Enough said.
- Will there be any more 12" (non RC) Doctor Who figures? Did the 12" figures prove less popular than the 5" and just commercially not viable?
Al – they were more expensive to develop and to be honest although they were great we found that offered a choice the consumer wanted the 5 inch figures ... I loved the 12 inch range but it was more of a collector market item in hindsight....
- It must be a lot of fun your job? But is it sometimes hard to seperate being a fan from the commercial decisions you have to take?
Al – Actually no. I learned a long time ago to keep my heart and passion for developing the product, but the business and retail market dictate the line and the products that get made.
- How do you see the Doctor Who figure and toy line developing in the future?
Al – It depends on the continuing success of the Series to be honest. Its a great brand. As a fan I believe absolutely that historically Doctor Who has been invigorated and refreshed whenever the production team and or lead actors change and so I think the production team and writing team change is definitely due... The year rest will give us a gap also and leave us desperate for New Who ... Its such a brilliant concept it would be hard to see it not going forward.
From a business point of view it will depend if we retain the license ... Who knows??? lol
- Are you a fan of digital sculpting?
Al – Honestly ... No! ... I love seeing a physical sculpt ..I can really see the details and get a feel if its right ... I struggle with that in digital sculpting ..However Davros was done all digitally and just wait till you see him ... Mind you it has its place .. Cybermen, Sontarans etc
- Who is your favourite Doctor?
Al – Ooh OK. This is difficult. Let me explain...
On TV – Tom Baker and Christopher Ecclestone ... They both have a gravitas that really grabs you. Tom Baker has that astounding voice and intellect.With Christopher E ... Just Look at Season 1 of the New Series without the constant mugging to camera and the amount of CGI we now have and just see how the drama .. not the effects holds you.
On audio Peter Davison and Colin Baker .... Colin Baker is absolutely astounding as the Dr on audio .. He is just brilliant compared with his screen persona ... Colin's Doctor was a wordsmith ... He loves language and it comes over brilliantly ....
On paper in the BBC books the 8th doctor .. He ran for 8 years in this format and the BBC books lead someway to understanding how the doctor went from the 7th Doctor in the TV movie to the person we meet in ‘Rose’.
- Favourite creature?
Al – Cybermen ... But not the latest ‘Lets use the human brain as a CPU to run the robot suit Cybus types' ... No the original Mondas Cybermen .. Those virtual animated corpses that we saw in the 10th planet with cybernetic implants and devoid of feeling .. They are chilling yet pitiful ..the ultimate interpretation of the phrase ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ ... They improved themselves to survive and in the process of it cut away what actually made them human(oid) .... The only thing they still possess is what all organic creatures have ,... That inextinguishable drive to survive!.. Go listen to Big Finish ‘Spare Parts’ .... Its seriosly brilliant!!!! ..... Cybermen ........ These guys were the Borg long before Star Trek came along and nicked the idea! Lol .....
- Will we see any Classic Series companions?
Al – No .. Its monsters and villains! ....
- What would you say about doctorwhotoys.net?
Al – Marvellous chaps! .. All of them!
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Product Development Director
Character Group Plc
This interview took place in England on the 10th September 2008 and is Strictly Copyright © doctorwhotoys.net, All Rights Reserved; may not be reproduced in full or part. All images are copyright © Character Options, doctorwhotoys.net, Hoosier Whovian, Cameron & Jack
Go to The Alasdair Dewar Interview: Part 2
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