This month, we'll be running a series of special features on The Walking Dead collectibles. This is an area of The Walking Dead that has really exploded over the last year, with dozens (hundreds?) of collectibles planned to be released over the course of 2013.
For the first feature, I talked with Funko toy designer Reis O'Brien. He gave me details on upcoming Walking Dead toys, talked about the creation process, and let our readers know how they can suggest characters that Funko should work on next.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with Daily Dead. Can you tell our readers about your job at Funko?
Reis O'Brien: I’m the newest Funko toy designer. I was originally brought on to develop new product lines such as papercraft playsets and collectible tins, but it didn’t take long before I started designing Pops, Wacky Wobblers and blind box toys as well.
When it comes to the license Funko has for The Walking Dead, can you make figures based on any of the TV series characters?
Reis O'Brien: At the moment, as far as the blind box series goes, our licensing deal keeps us from designing any of the main characters that are in both the comic and the TV show. That’s why we are allowed to do Merle and Daryl, since they’re TV show-only characters. We are hopeful, though, that if the figures do well, we may be able to add the main characters to series 2. However, we’re pretty much free to design anyone from the show in Pop and Wacky Wobbler form.
How many people are involved on the creation of a single figure and how long does the creative process take?
Reis O'Brien: For the most part, one person designs a figure, but to be honest, I’ve yet to see a figure make it to the finish line where someone else in the art department doesn’t help out with ideas and pointers. In fact, that’s one of the things I love the best about our crew.
Can you walk our readers through the development process of an individual figure?
Reis O'Brien: Well, once we’re assigned a character, we start out by finding as many photo references as possible, whether that means photos from the internet, or perhaps images provided by the licensor, or sometimes even using screen grabs from the show itself.
Once we’ve studied the character’s look, we start designing on a basic Pop figure in Adobe Illustrator. With Pops, you have to find a balance between detail and simplicity, and that can be really tricky.
After we feel the design is finished, we send the concept to the licensor for approval. If it gets approved, we then do “turns”, which are front, side and back views of the figure.
The turns get sent to one of our sculptors, who sculpt in in wax. We then go over the wax sculpts, and request changes here and there until we’ve got it dead on. After that, it’s off to production, and that’s when we start designing the box art and any other necessary graphics.
I understand that you are working on The Walking Dead Blind Box series. For our readers who are not familiar with this type of figure, can you tell what makes these different from the Pop figures?
Reis O'Brien: Blind Box toys are basically the three dimensional version of trading cards. You don’t know what you’re going to get when you buy it, and you’re always rooting for one that you need to complete your collection, and this includes some figures that are rarer than others.
Design-wise, the Walking Dead Blind Box figures are considerably different than the Pops in that they are much smaller (approximately 2.5”) and are done in a completely new style that I came up with specifically for this series.
How many of the blind box figures have you worked on so far and which is your favorite?
Reis O'Brien: I’ve designed all of the blind box figures, and was thrilled to be able to do them in a style that I love, so the lame answer is that they’re all my babies and I love them all equally. But if I was pressed to pick a favorite, I’m pretty jazzed about how well the armor turned out on the Prison Guard Walker. But I also love the fact that we did the Little Girl Walker from the first episode. And I also love Daryl and Merle! Man, I can’t choose.
Do you know when the blind box figures will be available and how many will be released in the first wave?
Reis O'Brien: We’re shooting for a Summer 2013 release. There’s a total of 16 figures. 10 different figures with some blood-splattered and glow-in-the-dark variants.
You mentioned that you're also working on the Pop! Vinyl Series 3 figures. Are you working on a specific figure or the entire series?
Reis O'Brien: I personally designed the upcoming Prison Yard Rick, Prison Guard Walker and Merle Pops. My fellow designer, Tim, designed an absolutely killer Governor (no pun intended).
When it comes to selecting figures that appear in the series, is that something that's pretty much set in stone ahead of time, or do you develop many figures at the same time and pick favorites?
Reis O'Brien: Nothing is set in stone. When it’s time to design a new series, we usually just stop and go, “So, who would the fans want next?” And we only design one series at a time. But speaking for myself, and I imagine that many of my fellows designers could say the same, when you’re in the middle of designing a figure, say Prison Yard Rick, for example, you can’t help but sort of loosely design other characters in your head, like Andrea or Tyreese. So if we ever do get around to these other characters, we sort of have an idea of how they’d look in Pop form in our heads. Well, I do anyway.
Does AMC provide much feedback and ask for figure changes or are you free to make whatever you want within reason?
Reis O'Brien: AMC gives feedback every now and then, but only if there is something not accurate about a character’s look. Actually, they’ve been a pleasure to work with. They seem to trust us and we work hard to keep that trust.
Have you been able to get the Funko figures in the hands of any of The Walking Dead actors? What did they think of their figure?
Reis O'Brien: Nobody here has been able to do it personally, but I have seen pictures on the internet of Norman Reedus with his Daryl Pop and I’ve seen Pops signed by other actors on the show on various forums and blogs, so I know they are aware of them. As far as what they think of them, I have no idea. I certainly hope they like them. Making a toy of a living person, to us anyway, is more than just getting a toy out there that will sell. It’s an homage to the characters and the actors that portray them.
When it comes to the license for The Walking Dead, is Funko only covering the TV series or is it possible that they will get into the comic book versions of characters as well?
Reis O'Brien: Currently, our licensing deal only involves the television series. Whether we eventually extend our license to include characters from the comics remains to be seen. But there aren’t any plans for that now. At least, not that I know of.
We already know the line-up for Series 2 and 3 Pop Vinyl. Can you tease some of the other figures we can look forward to later this year?
Reis O'Brien: Actually, in all honestly, we haven’t even start of thinking about the next series. Maybe we should have a poll on our Facebook page or something. See what the fans want. I’d personally like to see a Maggie and a Carl.
If fans wanted to request a specific character, is that something that Funko takes into account when selecting upcoming lineups?
Reis O'Brien: We absolutely listen to fans and collectors! We keep a close eye on our Facebook page and the Funko Funatics forum and hear what people are telling us. Above all else, we want collectors to get the figures they want. They are why we do what we do.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Reis O'Brien: I’d just like to let the Walking Dead fans out there know that we are just as big of fans of the show, comics, games and novels as they are. We do a lot of talking on Monday mornings about what we saw the night before! So rest assured that this license is in good hands and we can’t wait to bring you more awesome Walking Dead toys in the future.
For more information on all of Funko's toys, visit their official website at: http://www.funko.com/ We have an early look at the blind figures below, and keep an eye out for more details and contests in the future. Upcoming features for The Walking Dead collectibles include an interview with Gentle Giant and Diamond Select Toys.