SDCC 2014: Hasbro Q&A with Star Wars Product Design Manager Bill Rawley

We asked Bill Rawley, product design manager for the Hasbro
Star Wars team, several of our questions about the line.

SSG: You’re more on the design side, right?

BR: I am product design manager on the Star Wars toys. I do all the Black Series and Command. That’s all that I’m doing that’s here.

SSG: By design, you mean layout and concept – not sculpting, right?

BR: Right, so I work with sculpting and packaging, basically the design stewards on the brand. We take the reference from our partners over at Lucasfilm and we then incorporate that reference and we sit down with our sculpting team and we’ll talk about the kinds of articulation we want, the accessories, how we want things to click in and fit together, what things are important for the figures, such as opening jaws vs. softer durometer pieces to the fabric to allow for articulation. We’ll work with sculpting to then sculpt that figure and then we work with our partners over at Lucasfilm to get them approved. And then we’ll go ahead and pick colors and we’ll do what’s called a deco sheet. Then we work with our model shop to go ahead and paint those models and then we’ll send those models over to Lucasfilm again for approval. Once everything gets the thumbs up, then they get sent off to our factories over in China and they get made. So we’re kind of the steward that kind of holds its hand from original conception all the way to the final product.

SSG: Great. So, a couple questions. The new Dagobah Luke Black Series 3 3/4″ figure has the double-jointed elbows for the first time. Is that something we’ll be seeing more, or is it a one-time feature for this figure?

BR: I think we could see that wherever it makes sense. It’s really up to the designer who sits down with the sculptor and they sit through double-jointed versus a single joint in the elbow. I know a lot of the fans weren’t exicted by that because it’s skin and you’re seeing so many cuts in the arm, but you do get a lot of posability out of there that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

SSG: Absolutely. In the Black Series 6″, we’ve seen that same articulation on the troopers. Is there a reason we haven’t seen that on the non-trooper figures?

BR: It really comes down to cost. I hate to say that word. When you start to do guys that have lower deco or paint – a Stormtrooper has less paint on him – I can afford more pieces. But on Bossk, I can’t really go ahead and throw all the articulation I might want on there. I would have loved to articulate the hands or to give him an alternate set of hands. So we have to limit the articulation or the pieces we put the figure together with in order to afford all that paint. Bossk is really expensive paint-wise. We can’t raise the price per figure.

SSG: Speaking of paint, some fans have noted that some of the paint on the in-store samples aren’t as tight as it used to be or, like on the new Bastila Shan, seems a little bit thinner. Is that a cost issue?

BR: No, it’s not a cost issue. It’s probably just a quality control issue. It’s really up to everyone on the team to make sure we’re at the highest standards possible. Sometimes things, I hate to say, are moving so quickly that it’s hard to capture some things. With pushes with our new entertainment like Rebels, we tend to jump on the newer stuff rather than worrying about something that’s been done in the past, like a retool or re-release. But we should always and we usually are on top of our deco and our paint. I apologize if any of that has slipped through. We are cognizant of it, like sometimes the eyes aren’t as perfect as they have been. But really we’re a victim of ourselves. We can go back every day and say, “Fix these eyes, fix these eyes, fix these eyes,” and if they’re not fixing them, I can’t hold people’s hands and then go over there physically and say, “You’re not fixing these pupils right” because I’m actually moving on to the next figure. I make my comments and hopefully they get addressed. If they’re not addressed, I can make them again, then if they’re not addressed, I’m losing time. Time is our enemy a lot of time with our schedules.

SSG: In the Guardians of the Galaxy line – I know you guys are separate – instead of putting out 3 3/4″ they put out those little 2″ guys. Hasbro put those out in a limited wave for Episode I back in ’99. Is that something you’re sort of testing with Guardians maybe to bring into Star Wars in the future?

BR: We’ve played with different scales before and we’re always looking at different scales. The Episode I 2″ figures did not sell very well. Whenever we go down to that scale in concept stage, that always comes back up. One of the great things about Star Wars is the figure-vehicle integration. Being able to play with your figures and your vehicles is really what Star Wars is all about. Having that smaller figure would allow you to get more vehicles and really blow out the “war” in Star Wars. We’ve kind of taken that approach in Command. This is your way to really start to reenact or reimagine that war and collect those smaller figures at that scale. We have no plans of doing an articulated figure at 2″.

3 3/4″ is our scale for collectors and even our kids. We lowered the articulation level for some of the Rebels stuff and for Mission and Saga in order to keep the price point low. For 10 bucks, a kid can go into a store and buy two figures and really start to get into our brand. We’re trying to get more and more kids into our brand because they’ll be the fans that buy the Black Series 10, 15 years from now. So we’re constantly trying to hook new fans and keep the existing fans excited about the brand, which Black Series is hopefully doing, keeping all the fans and hardcore collectors excited. Some of them can be excited about the other stuff as well. [Saga Legends and Mission Series are] really an offering that has less deco and less articulation but that, again, is so we can maintain the playability. Kids can put that figure into a vehicle by just bending his legs up and he slides right in. The highly articulated guys, it’s a little bit harder. Six- or seven-year-olds are fumbling with those legs to try to slide him into an X-wing. We have a play testing facility at Hasbro and we start to see how kids play with our toys and that’s when it starts to click where maybe seven-year-olds don’t know how to play with these toys and let’s change some things.

SSG: Great. Companies like Funko and Super7 have started selling those ReAction figures based on the sculpting aesthetics of the ’70s and ’80s. It has similar articulation and feel as Saga Legends, but would you ever think of moving into a similar subline?

BR: I don’t think so. It’s not in our plan currently but I don’t see us going that way. The future’s so bright with everything we have. We’re not going to look back too much, we’re going to look forward. The design team consistently comes up with new ideas on how to reignite the brand with new concepts or cool new features and new ways to play with action figures. I don’t really see us going in that direction.

SSG: Okay. You mentioned not looking back but looking forward. There was discussion or rumors that Lucasfilm asked you not to focus on the prequels or The Clone Wars so much. Is that the case going forward, or is more that they want to focus on the new stuff coming out?

BR: We can’t talk about any Ep. VII stuff, but new entertainment – Rebels and anything beyond – is probably going to be our focus. That’s not to say that we won’t go back and cherry-pick from the past. There’s some good figures that I would like to do. Jango Fett’s up there at the top of my list [for 6″], I’d like to see him at some point. There’s some other things from the prequels that I would like to see. Also Clone Wars – there’s a lot of great stuff in Season Six that’s on Netflix and we’re starting to sprinkle those into 3 3/4″ but I’d love to see a Wolffe figure up in 6″ because he looks pretty amazing, I think.

SSG: So on 6″ right now it’s mostly focused on collector favorites that we already know. If Rebels takes off pretty quick, would Rebels characters end up showing up in 6″?

BR: Yes. I would say it’s definitely not in our plans right now but I could absolutely see us doing one or two here and there if people really embrace those characters, which we think they will. I mean, Zeb is turning out to be one of my favorite characters. He’s pretty awesome, even though he’s got an Australian accent – at first I was like, “That’s kind of weird for an alien.” But then again all the bad guys have British accents.

SSG: The clones had New Zealand accents so it’s kind of in the same region.

BR: There you go. But I would completely embrace them in the 6″ and I’d be able to get some great articulation and some great paint. Zeb has a lot of deco all over him, and to be honest it’s really difficult for us to get into those [Saga Legends] figures there. But if I had him in the 6″, I could blow that out and I could make him very cool.

SSG: So the new Battle on Endor Black Series set with the AT-ST seems to be focused for collectors, but everything in there has
been released over the past few years. Were there any plans to update or change any of that?

BR: No. That particular offering was something we needed to get put together and we couldn’t invest in any new tools. We had to use existing tools. That’s actually my set. I sat down with all of the design team and we cherry-picked everything we could possibly fit into a pack and made sense and was a compelling story to tell in a box. So that was all stuff, yes, that’s been out in
the last couple years, but we put it together in a new way that hasn’t been shown. Originally I wanted to retool the door so you actually could buy the door, but that got nixed out of there and that would have made the box bigger, which would have brought up the price point and everything else. It’s a pretty cool set all together but it is, like you said, something that fans would already have.

SSG: One quick question – is the Dagobah Vader’s head removable, or just the faceplate?

BR: It’s just the faceplate, it comes off. This particular model has it as removable but I don’t think it’s in there in the final production. The new guy took it over – I’ll have to double-check, but it shouldn’t be.


Thanks to Hasbro and Bill Rawley for answering our questions.  The second part of our Q&A is available here.

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  1. Thanks for the great work on this, JabbaJohn, you definitely took this to the next level, it was good to work with you on this. I can’t wait to see your next one.

    Also, a big thanks to Justin at Hunter for getting this interview to happen.

    And of course, massive thanks to Bill Rawley for a great interview.

  2. Thanks, JT! It was great to work with you as well.

    I’ve just published the Jeff interview and included a link at the bottom of this article.

    Thanks, RendarStillLives. We were kept to a 10-minute limit for this round, but between both interviews we were able to get to just about every question that folks asked here, so I’m happy.

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