It's about time, right? I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down (well, not sit so much as chat over the phone) with Thomas Scott, the lead designer on the Vinylmation creative team for Disney Parks to talk about his work, what got him into designer toys, some background information on recently-released Park Starz and Alice in Wonderland figures, and more.
We've never really had an artist spotlight for a Vinylmation designer before, but I thought it would be interesting to get to know some of them better!
Of course, the first thing I had to ask Thomas about was whether he had designed toys prior to being assigned to Vinylmation and what kind of artwork he does. His response was pretty in depth. 14 years ago he was hired as a print graphic designer for the Disney Parks, working on posters, menus and merchandise packaging, especially when the Animal Kingdom opened up, the Mission Space ride in EPCOT and even working with Disney Hong Kong (for four years!) back when it first opened and lacked a design team of their own.
In 2009, he was assigned to Vinylmation with no prior toy design experience, and is now as I mentioned earlier the lead designer on the creative team for the Parks. He's responsible for concepts and strategies, designing the actual toys as well as directing other artists, designing the packaging for the figures themselves, and is currently working more closely with limited edition, event specific and Vinylmation Jr series. He rounded it all off saying he basically works on all the blind box series released by the Parks. Wow.
This led into the topic of the "process." I wanted to know how it works: which designs get picked, how and why? And of course, the all-important: why are there so many dang releases all the time, anyway?
The answer to the first question is, especially with the Urban series, the artists get to pitch their own ideas and the series curator, which has been Thomas starting with Urban 4, works with the product developer to determine which designs will be a part of the series, decide on variants and try to create a set that is as varied as possible. It's intentional that the Urban series in particular will contain a few "cute" designs, a few more "edgy" designs and everything in between so that there will be something in there which appeals to someone.
Thomas says that Disney doesn't expect anyone to try and collect every figure from every series and are trying to create a broad appeal with the product line. It's intentional that you're going to love a few figures and not be interested in others. He also brought up that some series, like Occupations, Astrology, Celebrations and NFL are definitely situational purchases, good for presents, but not designed to be collected as a set.
That's a whole lot about Vinylmation design and not so much about Thomas, right? I asked Thomas about Park Starz, since that was the big deal recently in terms of releases. I love that they decided to 'break the mold' and create a whole series around characters we know and love from the parks, but who do not have any specific merchandise of their own.
Apparently, Thomas initiated this way back when he was first assigned to Vinylmation, and it's just taken this long for he and Casey Jones, who collaborated with him in this series, to really make the project as good as it could be. They are intentionally simple molds, colors and designs, all unique but when put together they look fantastic. Thomas and Casey worked so closely together that the Park Starz aren't signed since it was a truly collaborative effort, though Casey did most of the drawing.
The next series Thomas brought up were the Vinylmation Juniors. He calls it one of his 'babies.' The Jr set is cool because they could be functional key chains and zipper pulls, and are pretty detailed even for their small size. Each series is different, some unique (in design) and some very obviously Disney-inspired like the recently released Small World set. He mentioned he really hopes that while they don't seem like a "big" collectible, more people will pay attention to them in time.
The other major release that came up was Alice in Wonderland. It's the first series that was designed around a movie, even though The Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean saw their release before Alice did. Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland may be 60 years old, but the story has remained strong in pop culture and there are just so many characters to choose from that it made sense. Alice herself didn't make it in to the series (since she's already in Animation #1), but other characters that didn't make it will probably pop up in future sets. Going with the principle that Urban follows, there are a few characters you'd expect (Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit) and a few odd balls as well (Hedgehog, Oyster Baby).
You could also expect a bit of an expansion of the characters in the limited edition sets, like the 9" Walrus coming with a 3" Carpenter (and more that haven't been announced). Thinking about the 9" figures though, I had to bring up the original Mad Hatter figure which was released a while back, who unfortunately I felt really wasn't a strong figure. Thomas' response to that was a practical one: The original artist had to work with the constraints of the mold to fit the character and his hat, but when Thomas designed it for the 3" set, it was a no-brainer to give him an accessory hat.
Accessories are cool! I had to ask: what about accessories for those who want to buy stuff for their figures or work on custom Vinylmation? I mean, they sell the molds in different colors, sell decals and such for those who aren't artistically inclined. What gives? All I got was, "It's been/being talked about." Unfortunately, it looks like that's still in the hush-hush category, but at least we know they're thinking about it.
Lastly, I wanted to ask him about what kind of toys he collects, since he's pulling into the scene now. He chuckled while responding that he likes to collect his own figures and enjoys "the hunt." This really surprised me, and as it turns out the artists don't actually get samples of their own figures, so a lot of them do actually relate to Vinylmation collectors in that they also participate in and know the "joy of the hunt!" It also helps that the folks who are designing the sets and deciding on run numbers, rarity and other things also know how it works for the collector.
It was definitely nice chatting it up with Thomas Scott and getting to know a bit more about him and how the process generally works for Vinylmation releases with the Parks! Hopefully I'll be able to spotlight some other artists soon, and in case you're also interested in pal-ing it up with Thomas, he's pretty active on Twitter.
Thanks again to Thomas for taking the time to talk to us here at Tomopop!
[all images in the gallery via Vinylmation Blog]
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