Star Wars Celebration Anaheim: Hasbro Q&A with Joe Ninivaggi

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We spoke with Joe Ninivaggi, the senior brand manager of global marketing for the Hasbro Star Wars team, and asked him several of our questions about the line.

Celebration_keyart_tall-682x1024SSG: We understand you probably can’t go into too much detail, but how much do your designers and sculptors use modern technologies like digital sculpting and 3D printing when designing the current line?  Do you start with traditionally sculpted prototypes or is the entire process digital now?

JN: It depends on the designer and the sculptor.  It’s sort of a mix.  There’s definitely a lot more digital sculpting used now, but there’s also a lot of traditional.  We have a real good relationship with Lucasfilm, so we get to see a lot of the archival stuff and make sure that we’re looking at movie set reference so there’s more of that kind of traditional, tactile kind of reference.  And then the sculpting either happens physically or digitally.  It really depends on the product and the person involved.

SSG: Can you say if you use ZBrush or some other software?

JN: You know, I honestly don’t know.  That’s kind of a different pay grade from me.  [laughs]  If David Vennemeyer, our sculptor, were here, he’d tell you for sure.

SSG: A lot of the figures lately, like some of the Han Solos, seem to share sculpt aspects—like their shirt wrinkles are the same between figures.  Does the digital process make that easier, or is that just something you’re trying to integrate more just to keep it more consistent?

JN: For us, if there’s an opportunity to use shared parts, it just helps get more out there a little bit more efficiently, especially in The Black Series line.  We do try to minimize that to get the most uniqueness as possible.  It’s not so much a digital versus physical sculpting thing, it’s sort of a shared resource.

SSG: A lot of the Hasbro packaging, especially on the Saga Legends figures and the vehicles, include multiple languages now.  I understand that’s across all of Hasbro’s lines.  Do you know why this change was made?

JN: Yeah, a lot of companies are doing it.  As we become even more of a global company and Star Wars becomes a bigger property globally, it’s more efficient for us to just be able to bucket our products into multiple languages since they are going to live in a number of different countries.  It’s certainly not unique to Hasbro, but it’s something that we’ve seen as a best practice and it’s something we’re going to continue to do.

SSG: Cool.  Speaking of packaging, on the new Saga Legends and Mission Series figures, they no longer say “Saga Legends” and “Mission Series,”  but they still say “SL” and “MS” on the package.  Was there a reason for that change?

JN: There’s a lot on the pack, especially now—we’re identifying what movie property each is coming from.  We wanted to create a unique and consistent line look—something that Rebels and movie product could fall within—so it’s just one of those things that was just sort of an extraneous element.  The fans know what they stand for, and they know what to look for, so that’s why we did that.

SSG: Have you already shown and released everything in that particular packaging style before the fall?

JN: Pretty much the last time we showed anything new was New York Comic-Con.  Everything that’s been revealed is from that line look, and then we’ll have something new for fall this year.

SSG: Okay, cool.  In the new Black Series figures, there have been a couple of scale issues on some of the recent figures.  The 3¾” Clone Troopers are different sizes, and the 6” Boushh Leia is taller than the slave Leia.  Were they intentionally designed this way to get more detail, or was this a mistake at the factory level?

JN: The clones, yeah, there is definitely a slight difference, and we’ll bring that back—we’ve been hearing it a lot at the show, so we’ll bring it back to our design team and figure out what happened there.  I know for sure, the Leia—when we released slave Leia, she was the exact proportion that Carrie Fisher is in real life proportionate to the other characters.  Some of the fan feedback that we did get was that she was just a little bit less than they’d expect in Black Series in terms of plastic and presence.  So what we did with Boushh is—even though she’s mimicking a character that’s bigger, so she’s bigger in general—we did upscale her a bit, so she’s not exact to scale.  It’ll be interesting to see what your feedback is on that.  I think she’s a phenomenal figure.  She’s beautiful.  You know, is there enough of an issue with her not being exact to scale, or is it the fact that you’re getting more plastic, a little bit more presence, a little bit more for your money, that you’re happy with?  Give us your feedback on the boards.  We’re always looking, so we’ll see what happens.  But that was intentional, yeah.

SSG: Good to hear it.  Disney has announced a number of exclusive droid figures using similar parts based on your molds, in Droid Factory in addition to a few exclusives.  Do you coordinate with them on that or is it kind of up to them?

JN: Their Droid Factory stuff is independent now.  We work really closely with them.  We know what they’re doing, they know what we’re doing, and obviously we’re their licensee.  But that is independent.  We love Droid Factory.  It’s something that we definitely have on our list to bring back.  We know the fans love it and we have a lot of heritage there, but it would be sort of independent from what Disney does.

SSG: I was wondering in particular, because Mace’s droid [R8-B7], which you guys revealed and then had to cancel a couple years ago, now is showing up at the Disney parks.  Was that your guys’ input?

JN: No, it wasn’t.  I’m sure that they looked and saw that was something that the fans sought out, and we had to cancel Droid Factory, which none of us wanted to do.  They saw it as a opportunity, and good for them.  It’s great that he’s going to get out there.

Sandtroopers.com revealed the image in May 2014. Obi-Wan is second row, sixth column. The Royal guard is third row, fourth column.

SSG: Great.  A Disney Store event last year revealed plans for a Saga Legends Royal Guard and a Rebels Obi-Wan, and then the only Obi-Wan we’ve seen is the holographic version.  Do you know if those were ever in the works?

JN: I don’t remember a Royal Guard.  We definitely did a Jedi Temple Guard, and he’s out there.  I don’t want to say that somebody’s mistaken, and I’m not sure what the leak was, but there was never a Royal Guard in the plans.  It’s an awesome figure; we’re definitely going to get him out there again.

SSG: Then as far as Obi-Wan, was he only ever planned to be the holographic version?

JN: Yeah, he was.  In Rebels, that’s all he ever shows up as so far, so we wanted to be accurate to the show.  We’ll see what happens in season two.

SSG: Saga Legends was largely created to get kids into the line at the low $6 price point, and now several major retailers have bumped up the price.  Toys R Us has them at $10 or higher, unfortunately, and even HasbroToyShop had them at $7 for a little bit; I think they’re back at $6 now.  Jeff mentioned at Toy Fair that some of the other price increases were due to the retailers wanting to charge more, not necessarily manufacturing issues.  Is that the same issue here?

JN: We always publish what we think the SRP is, and for that it’s $5.99 for the Saga Legends and $9.99 for Mission Series.  It’s really up to the retailers on a case-by-case basis to charge what they feel is right.  It’s not something we have control over.  You’ll see it differing from retailer to retailer.  That’s really it.

SSG: I wanted to ask about a few of the things you revealed at New York Comic-Con.  You showed a few more Command sets, like a Naboo set, Jabba’s palace, and a Cikatro Vizago set.  Are those still making it out or is the line done now?

JN: Those are going to make it out.  What we’ve revealed will make it out.  The line will be going away fall ’15.  It had kind of a limited run.  We did with it what we wanted to, and we’ll have some new stuff on tap.

SSG: You also revealed an Angry Birds Star Wars Rebels set last year at [San Diego] Comic-Con.  Is that still coming out or not?

JN: It actually hit shelf already.  That did come out.  I know, it might be limited—the one with Ezra in it, and Sabine.  That did come out.  I honestly don’t know if there’s any more plans for shipments on that, but I know it’s been released.

SSG: You’re offering several new takes on the role play lightsaber this year, with foam, and the Bladebuilders line.  I see you have the current Force FX lightsabers down there.  Are there plans to continue the Ultimate FX or the Force FX lines, or connect them with the Bladebuilders at all?

JN: For Ultimate FX, what we have on display right now is really the only kid-focused, fan-focused lightsabers that we can really talk to.  Force FX, what you see is what’s in our existing line.  We love Force FX.  You can expect that to continue, and we’ll definitely have some fresh stuff.

SSG: Great to hear.  Are there any plans to continue the Hero Series vehicles?  You had the X-wing, the Falcon—the hollow ones.

JN: It is one of those things where we can’t really talk to specifically.  We love vehicles.  You guys can expect to see some great vehicles in our line this fall.

SSG: Here at the show, Toys R Us revealed that they’re doing a Midnight Madness for The Force Awakens.  Are you guys coordinating with them on that, or is that their own thing?

JN: They’re kind of doing their own thing in terms of their publicity for that, but you can expect every retailer to make a massive deal out of the launch in the fall when it comes.  I don’t really honestly have specifics on what they’re doing, but I’m sure it will be consistent with what was done for The Clone Wars and stuff like that.  We’re all really excited to finally tell you when the date will be when we can.  It’s going to be something you’re going to want to get in line for.

SSG: So Lucasfilm does have a timeline of when you can reveal stuff?  Has that been kind of prohibitive to you guys?

JN: Well, not prohibitive.  We’re in lock-step with them—J.J., Kathy, everybody; it’s all one one universe.  Lucasfilm has a vision for how they’re going to unfold the movie and product and everything, so there is a plan in place.  We’re following it, and we’re happy to follow it.  When we can tell you guys stuff, we will, and it’ll be a big deal.

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Thanks again to Joe Ninivaggi and Hasbro for taking the time to answer our questions!  Thanks also to Justin Aclin and Brandon Rohwer of Hunter PR for arranging the interview!

Check out our previous Hasbro Q&A session from Toy Fair 2015, as well as our 2014 sessions from Toy Fair, San Diego Comic-Con (part 2), and New York Comic-Con.

If you have a question you want us to ask Hasbro at a future event, please post it in our forums!

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