Continuing our series of features looking at the companies that produce The Walking Dead collectibles, we have our interview with Diamond Select Toys Marketing Supervisor, Zach Oat. DST is known for their series of The Walking Dead Minimates, and Zach walks us through the creation process, teases upcoming figures, and tells us about some of their non-Minimates collectibles. We also have some never-before-seen Minimates design sheets and photos.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with Daily Dead. Can you tell our readers about your job at Diamond Select Toys?
Zach Oat: I'm the marketing coordinator, which means I talk to the fans and the press and let everyone know what's coming out from Diamond Select Toys and Art Asylum. I also run all of the social media sites and blogs, and write all of the ads and packaging text. I try to take photos of all of the new products, as well.
Diamond Select Toys has released a number of Minimates based on The Walking Dead comic book series. Is DST allowed to create Minimates based on any figure that appeared in the comic series? Are there any restrictions?
Zach Oat: If the character appeared in the comic book, we can do it! Robert Kirkman has been very supportive, and as long as we do a good job capturing Charlie Adlard's character designs in the 2-inch Minimate style, we haven't had any issues. In fact, we've started working with Robert on Minimates for two of his other books, as well: Thief of Thieves and Invincible.
How many people are involved in the creation of a single figure? How long does the creation/approval process take?
Zach Oat: Each tiny Minimate actually involves a variety of artists and the entire DST staff, so it's upwards of a dozen people, not counting the factory's various employees. But since we have Minimates down to a science at this point, development moves pretty fast, and we have a great relationship with Skybound, so approvals happen fairly quickly. Throughout the process, DST's Jason Whitney is in constant contact with them, showing them each stage of development, and they let us know what to change. Barring any hiccups, design to prototype approval can be as little as two months. After the prototypes are approved, there's a gap of time where we solicit orders, design packaging, and gear up for production, but the thing that takes the most time is getting them from the factory to the stores!
Does Robert Kirkman and/or Skybound provide much feedback or suggest characters they'd like to see when you propose the figure designs?
Zach Oat: The team at Skybound offers feedback on all of the figures, and makes comments on the art and colors, but doesn't often suggest characters. I think they trust us to give the collectors what they want and what makes sense for the line.
Can you take our readers through the development process of an individual figure?
First, DST's Chris Schaff compiles a list of characters who make sense for the new assortment, then DST director Chuck Terceira works out the line plan, figuring out who on that list is exclusive to comic shops, who is at Toys "R" Us, and who is shared between the two outlets. Once Skybound approves that line-up, product manager Robert Yee sends it to artist Yuri Tming, who creates the line art that transforms the comic character into a Minimate. Lead designer Barry Bradfield then renders that artwork for production and colors it according to the factory-used color system. Once that final art is okayed by Skybound, our team of sculptors uses that art to create the additional parts needed for each figure.
Once Robert has castings of those parts in hand and has made sure they all match the control art and work together, he passes them off to painters Jason Wires and Jeff Stephens, who paint each part and apply the decals to make the paint master. Our art director Steve Rowan then photographs the painted prototypes to send to Skybound. Once they're approved, we give the factory the go-ahead to begin tooling – creating the metal tools (or molds) that are used to mass-produce each figure. The initial unpainted samples we get are called first shots, followed by first painted samples and finally production samples. Robert sends back notes on each round, until they're perfect.
In the meantime, Steve's prototype photos are used to solicit the product to specialty retailers and comic shops via Diamond Comic Distributors' Previews catalog. Once all of the orders are in, we give the factory a purchase order, and they begin mass production. I write bios for all the characters, plus the "survival tips," and Steve uses those, along with the prototype photos and control art, to design the packaging. A few weeks later they're on a boat to Los Angeles!
An Amazon.com-exclusive Minimates set was recently released. Does DST have more of these retailer-exclusive figures planned? Can we expect to see an exclusive offering at SDCC?
Zach Oat: We continue to offer exclusive two-packs at North American Toys "R" Us stores (and on toysrus.com), but there are currently no more retailer-exclusive box sets planned past the Prison Break set. That said, we're always game to work with a retailer on an exclusive, as long as they can meet the minimum quantity needed for production. And yes, we do have a set in the works for San Diego Comic-Con. Last year's two-pack sold better than we could have hoped, and was gone before any of our other exclusives, so hopefully the new four-pack will fill some holes in people's collections!
Can you give us a tease of some of the figures that are currently in the works? How many more figures should we expect to see from DST this year?
Zach Oat: I think we've revealed most of the figures we have planned except the San Diego Comic-Con box set. Series 4 will have the Governor, but most people don't know that we're doing a battle-damaged governor for Toys "R" Us in addition to the first appearance Governor. We'll also have a shaggy, winter-clothes Rick in the TRU assortment. After Series 4, I think we hope to have one or two more assortments out this year, so expect to see around 50 or so Minimates to hit this year.
What are some of the most requested Minimates characters from The Walking Dead? What's the best way for readers to suggest figures to DST?
Zach Oat: Glenn did very well as a Toys "R" Us exclusive in Series 1, and everybody wants more Glenns, so we're making another Glenn in Series 3. And people have been asking about Tyreese since we showed him at Toy Fair 2012. But the number-one requested figure is obviously the Governor; we're making two Governors in Series 4, one at specialty and one at Toys "R" Us, so hopefully that will satisfy the demand. And if there are characters any fans would specifically like to see, they can ask Chuck, the director of DST, via his weekly Ask DST Q&A sessions. You can find the submission form at http://www.artasylum.com
Right now, the figures coming out are based around the prison story arc. Will it take a while for us to see a Negan figure?
Zach Oat: We've discussed how we want to go forward with the line, whether we want to continue to move chronologically or not, and that would probably influence how soon we see a Negan figure. A lot happens between the prison and his arrival, and I think we might try to get to other, earlier storylines before that one. But we plan to keep the line going for a while, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Negan down the road.
We're sure that many Walking Dead fans would like to see figures based on the Dixon brothers. Are figures from the TV series a possibility?
Zach Oat: Not right now, but as soon as Daryl or Merle finally makes it into the comic book, we will plug them into an assortment faster than you can load a crossbow.
Aside from the Minimates, DST has a number of interesting Walking Dead collectibles available. Can you tell our readers about the silicone tray and gelatin mold? Are there other types of products like this in development? When will they be available?
Zach Oat: We've recently started designing silicone trays for many of our licenses -- Marvel Comics, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future -- and a tray for Walking Dead just seemed like a lot of fun. You can cast up little body parts made out of ice, chocolate, gelatin, whatever you like. And the big zombie-head gelatin mold was just too gross an idea for us to pass up. Both of those are available now, but we've also designed a couple of solid metal bottle openers that look like zombie heads. They came out pretty great, by which I mean horrific, so I think the fans will get a kick out of them when the first one hits this summer.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Zach Oat: Just to thank them for making the Minimates line such a success. We knew the toys would come out cool, but we didn't know how people would react to them, and the response has been phenomenal. So thank you! We hope you like some of the other items we come up with.
I'd like to thank Zach Oat for taking the time to work with us on this feature. He's provide us with some never-before-seen design images below, and the last photo is a custom Minimate made for Chris Hardwick. We'll also be giving away some of the silicone trays and gelatin molds mentioned above in an upcoming contest. To read our previous collectibles feature, visit: http://dailydead.com/the-walking-dead-collectibles-exclusive-interview-with-funko-toy-designer-reis-obrien/
For more information on Diamond Select Toys and their upcoming figures, visit: