'Toy Vault is a company focused on producing high quality action figures and other toys,
based primarily on literary, video and comic book related properties.'
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Jon Huston, creative director at ToyVault.
Jon had some interesting things to say, including New Line's take on action figures and
ToyVault's future plans. Personally I can't wait to take my Liv Tyler Arwen doll home and
make her play house with Darth Maul...
Xoanon: Jon, Why don't we start off with a little info about yourself.
Jon Huston: About myself? I'm the creative director for ToyVault, and my jobs include
choosing which licenses the company wants to get, then when a license is obtained,
deciding what figures are going to be released. Working with various artists, and
having the control (concept) art done, proofs done, and approving the paint jobs
and working with the factory in China as to making sure the figures come out the
way they are supposed to.
X: How many people do you have on your team?
JH: At this point we're working with probably 800 people.
X: Are you keeping up to date with the film?
JH: We can't really do anything with the film per se, because they (New Line)
aren't giving any information out. All the information that we're finding is gleamed
very carefully from different sources. A couple of interviews by the director, as well
as a couple of announcements from them, but otherwise everything is being kept pretty
much under wraps. Therefore we have to proceed as if we don't know anything about the
film, because we don't.
X: Will you be issuing any film-related figures? Like an Elijah Wood Frodo?
JH: Our license is for all figures based on Middle-earth with the exception of any
future movies that are to be released after the day that we obtained our license, which
was last year. Therefore we have to obtain a separate license with New Line. And we
actually did meet with New Line Cinema last year, we put forth a proposal to make the
figures, and we are listed with them as one of the prospected companies that are being
considered. At this point they have not decided whether or not they will have figures,
I think it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that they will. So they can go with a company
like us with a lot of experience in the area, or they can go with a very major company that
would have a lot of TV advertising potential like 'Hasbro'
X: In making a new figure, what do you look for as far as inspiration?
JH: We had pretty much an open-ended license to do the figures. I have recently decided
not to do figures based on 'The Hobbit' (Cartoon) we decided to do them strictly based on the
books themselves. We solicited control art based on descriptions from the book and then based
on the control art that's how we start doing our figures. The first 5 figures that we released
were based on my judgement as to the accuracy of the drawings. However starting from Gollum
on we started posting the control art of the figures on our website. We solicited through the
action figure newsgroup and our website and people on the Tolkien newsgroup telling them that
they can come to our website look at the artwork. They email me with their opinion as to the
accuracy of the work and how much of that art represents their definition of the character. Through
that, changes were made on the Gollum figure, and now it reflects more on how the people feel the
figurine should look. And we are now doing the same with Legolas and Aragorn, Elrond, Saruman and
the other future figures (which) are all going to be run by this gauntlet of fans and they will
help us in making sure they meet the accuracy of what the people out there like.
X: So you really take to heart what the fans say?
JH: Yes, we believe we're the first action figure company to ever do this, period.
X: Seeing the attraction that Star Wars figures/toys had recently, do you think Lord of
the Rings will attract the same business?
JH: Well, certainly the company, New Line, feels that they have a potential levy property
that could be the equal of 'Star Wars' or at least match it in that type of effect. Certainly
they're drawing on an enormous base of fans that are very well versed in 'Middle-earth'. I don't
know if anyone has done a market survey to find out how many people know what a 'Hobbit' is,
it's got to be 75 to 80% of people that know. Overall the marketing of Star Wars has turned out
not to be quite what people had come to expect, both on the sales side and the way the movie
came out itself. The marketing, I think it would actually if New Line were to try to compare
themselves to Star Wars a lot of people, despite the enormous access of money consider
that Star Wars didn't meet the objectives that they felt that it was going to meet. If we take
it independently of that in its own right I think that if you just compare it to the amount of
money they're going to spend on it and the type of effort they're doing to produce the movie.
I think in that respect it'll be an enormous success. I would actually prefer if LOTR didn't
have the same 'success' as Star Wars.
X: The Pizza Hut campaign didn't exactly have a great effect.
JH: No, I've read articles that said that the sales of merchandise will be 25% less than
expected. I do know that a lot of the peripheral merchandise did not sell. And as you know
the reviews of the movie were very mixed.
X: You folks at ToyVault are into other things as well, tell me a bit about some other projects.
JH: We do other items, we have a particular fondness for fantasy material. We have, right
now, a license to do action figures based on the comic book called 'Astro City', but aside
from that we recently got a license to do action figures based on Kufulu, which is of course
a core property. And we haven't done a public announcement yet but we also have a license to
do action figures based on Elrick, by Michael Moorcock, which as you know, is almost as famous
as Middle-earth in the fantasy circles. We're also doing cold-cast resin pieces for 'Alice in
Wonderland' which is, probably the original fantasy. In the works right now, we have been working
for the last 4 months on another fantasy project, which we hope to be able to announce in the
near future. That we feel is really good fantasy property with a very good action figure
X: No hints as to what that is?
JH: (laughs) we shall see if we get the contract.
X: No problem, Now you yourself, are you an artist?
JH: I have no artistic talent whatsoever. That's actually been a great bonus to the people I
work with because I don't come with a pre-conceived notion that I know anything that I'm doing.
So I can be very open-minded, some of the figures we've gotten out, people tend to think that
perhaps they're not as superb as they could have been, for the first figures we've done we've been
pretty successful. In less than 1 year of operation, we are the first toy company to a) have based
action figures purely based on a literary property b) get them into a mass market store.
X: The next project, the item that's on your desk right now, what is it?
JH: Gollum and Gimli are shipping in the next few weeks. They are already done; they are just
waiting to ship from China. After that, probably in November we should be shipping Lord of the
Nazguls, which will come in the deluxe box set. It will cost about $19.95 (American) it'll come
with a sword and a cloak and so on. And then after that the next two regular action figures will be
Galadriel and a Barrow Wight. Following that, it's indeterminate, I'm looking at probably doing
Legolas and Aragorn.
X: When you decide, like you said you would be doing Legolas. How do you go about choosing colors,
for his cloak perhaps?
JH: If the book says he has a green cloak, then it's a green cloak. If it just says he has a cloak,
then we choose whatever color we want. Of course we want it to look right. We've had some people say,
for example, 'why did you put a beard on Boromir? It never said he had a beard' well it didn't say he
didn't have one either! And it made him look right, so we put a beard on him.
Sketch 1 - 122k
Sketch 2 - 86k
Sketch 3 - 189k
Final - 22k
X: Do you have any concept art you're willing to show on the site?
JH: Yeah! You'd need to send me an email telling me which art you'd like.
X: Personally I love concept art, so you can send me anything you'd like, but I know the fans have
a particular fondness for Galadriel.
JH: No problem
X: Thanks for the interview Jon, it was great talking with you