“Dune” might not be out for another year, but the action figures from the film are already here for those seeking holiday gifts.
Comic book artist and founder of McFarlane Toys Todd McFarlane doesn’t know if the film’s stars — Timothee Chalamet, Stellan Skarsgard and Javier Bardem — have seen the finished product, but as someone who has made action figures for decades, he’s used to that. And every action figure is different; sometimes he gets to do a bar code scan of the actor, and other times, he has to rely on studio scans. In the case of “Dune,” he had to use the latter.
McFarlane talks with Variety about the creative process and time it takes to build movie tie-in action figures.
Where does the creative process begin when you’re making a Timothee Chalamet action figure?
There are two ways I tackle a project: there’s the one where I lean on my career as an artist and say, “Hey, let’s just come up with cool stuff, and let’s make it as awesome as possible, and let’s put it out there.” Then there’s the other side where I don’t have to invent anything or create it, as was the case with “Dune.”
I don’t have to create it because it’s already been built. Somebody already imagined all of it, and our job is to get it as accurate as possible. That’s what we have to do.
You have to nail this as much as possible because they have the reference for it. The first question with “Dune” was “How much do you have that we can see and do you have computer files so that we don’t have to invent it?”
That way, with those files, we can get as close as possible an output to what is a miniature version of what you see in the film.
You mention accuracy. How does that work when you’re creating a Timothee Chalamet action figure or a Javier Bardem one? I’m assuming they’re not sitting down and you’re doing casts of them.
There are two ways. Sometimes the studio takes facial scans, and other times, we have gone to the set. You’d be surprised at how fast those scans can be done. It’s not overwhelming at all. It takes about eight minutes and we can move people in pretty quickly. Think of it as photography, except we are doing it with a machine that is like reading a bar code at the grocery store, except it instantly creates a wireframe of their face.
When I get access to that, I get them to give me four or five smiles and reactions. The downside of when the studio supplies those scans is they sometimes don’t get the emotion.
In the case of “Dune,” the movie studio scans were cleaned up and sculpted over and around the scanned image by our design team specializing in digital portrait work.
The body and accessories are created from photos, which again were provided by the studio, and once it’s approved, we rapid prototype, print a model and cast it to make the prototypes to create the hand-painted paint masters to produce the final product.
How long does it take to typically do something like getting the detail of clothing or uniform and armor?
Usually, we tell people that it takes 10 months from the time we begin to when a person can buy it off the shelf and getting it to stores.
Toy making is a long process because it’s laborious. Even if you end up with a perfect mold, you have to make sure the parts can move. In “Dune” when they have armor, you can put cuts in perfect places for the action figure to move around. The parts are all assembled and painted, and put together.
Do you know if Timothee has seen the action figure yet?
I’ve found the actors overall love getting an action figure of themselves, but I don’t know if he’s seen it or not. I know actors who get an action figure for the first time who haven’t had this happen before find it cool.