They look good next to your computer monitor. They look good on your bookshelf, guarding your Star Wars library. They look good in your collectibles display case. They’re simultaneously funny and cool and retro and modern. I can only be talking, of course, about Funko Pop! figures — the big-head, short-body, super-cute vinyl toy series that has become a favorite of geek culture. And Star Wars Pop!s are particularly popular among the galactic faithful (including those at Lucasfilm — take a walk around the offices, and there’s essentially a 100% chance that you’ll spot one every five feet), spanning the entire saga and faithfully capturing character and appearance. That’s why StarWars.com is thrilled to reveal two exclusive figures — Jyn Erso (in mountain gear) and Death Trooper — coming in the next Smuggler’s Bounty subscription box, which is Rogue One-themed and ships November 16. Marking this reveal, and in advance of the Rogue One Pop!s hitting stores on September 30, StarWars.com e-mailed with Funko’s senior product designer Reis O’Brien to talk about why the Pop! design is so effective, the creation of the Smuggler’s Bounty Rogue One figures, and evolving the look of the line.
StarWars.com: In one of our earlier e-mails, you said to me, “I also quickly established myself as ‘the Star Wars guy’ when I first started working here, which led to me leading the Force Awakens and now Rogue One projects. It was a deliberate and calculated move. I make no apologies about it.” That sounds very wise. Two questions: A) How exactly did you establish yourself as the Star Wars guy, and B) what entails leading these projects?
Reis O’Brien: Well, my borderline encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars (the original trilogy, at least) certainly helped, but once I covered both of my hands from the wrists down in Star Wars tattoos, it was pretty unarguable. There’s nothing like having S-T-A-R W-A-R-S inked across your knuckles to really let people know you’re a fan.
With the Force Awakens and Rogue One projects, I started off by designing the Pop!s, which includes rendering the initial concept designs and translating them into the Pop! format, overseeing the progress on the sculpts, calling out the paint colors, checking the paint samples, and just basically following the progress of the project all the way through to the end. Many of the non-Pop! products, like the Wobblers, plush, etc., were concepted and executed by other Funko designers and sculptors, while I just sort of looked over their shoulders occasionally, making sure that everything was staying true to the Star Wars aesthetic.
We devoted a solid team of creative people to our recent Star Wars projects and I just did my best to get my eyeballs on everything throughout the various steps in the process. I’m sure I was totally annoying everyone.
StarWars.com: What do you think it is about the Pop! design that fits so well with the Star Wars aesthetic?
Reis O’Brien: The Pop! format is just a fun format to play around in, and has this odd ability to allow various characters to comfortably inhabit its visual world. Pop!s have certain strict design rules (head-to-body size ratios, squarish rounded heads, those big black eyes), but the format also allows a lot of wiggle room for interpreting well-known characters. I think that Star Wars characters work especially well because we’ve now had almost 40 years of seeing Star Wars characters interpreted by a multitude of artists, illustrators, product styles, and toy designers. So I think that seeing these characters re-imagined in the Pop! format is an easily understood next step in the greater history of Star Wars products. Also, many people like to see the characters they love interpreted as even more lovable versions. I mean, Chewie is cute, we all know that, but a Pop! Chewie is adorable.
StarWars.com: Let’s dive into two new Rogue One figures in the upcoming Smuggler’s Bounty subscription box. First, Jyn Erso in her mountain gear. What was the creative process for Jyn? What assets were you given from Lucasfilm to inform her look, and how did you develop her to get the right look and pose in the final figure?
Reis O’Brien: We were fortunate enough to get amazing reference photos from Lucasfilm, which is something that toy designers dream about, believe me! The photos we received left out no detail, so we were able to go into this pretty confidently.
As far as “capturing the character” goes, that’s a bit trickier. When I first started designing the initial concepts, we hadn’t seen the first trailer yet, so I had no idea how these characters moved or sounded or carried themselves. So there was a lot of guess work.
StarWars.com: What did that guess work involve? Was there a lot of trial and error before you felt like you nailed it?
Reis O’Brien: Looking at the pictures of Jyn in her costumes, I just sort of got this feeling that she was the type of person that shook things up, maybe had a touch of attitude. So I tried to show that in something as subtle and seemingly unimportant as a lean onto one hip. And honestly, that’s about as much as you’re going to get out of a Pop!, which by nature are very rigidly posed. But we’re starting to push that more and more and experiment with action poses and whatnot, so I imagine that we’ll be able to show more personality in future figures. It wasn’t so much a matter of trial and error, since I just went with my gut and, luckily, Lucasfilm liked what they saw.
StarWars.com: Now, the Death Trooper. Was it a challenge to keep him (or her?) looking menacing while incorporating the Pop! style?
Reis O’Brien: Actually, no. When a Pop! has its face exposed, and there you are, looking at these big black teddy-bear eyes, it can be very difficult to make a character look menacing. But when I first saw the design of the death troopers’ helmets, I knew that I didn’t need to be overly concerned with cuteness. The helmet’s design is simply dripping with menace! All I had to do was make sure that I captured the right elements that gave it that creepy look.
StarWars.com: A lot of fans were immediately drawn to the death troopers in the trailer. Was it particularly fun bringing to life as a Pop!?
Reis O’Brien: Absolutely! When we first got the images of the characters, a small team of people who would be working on the project gathered around to check out the new faces. As soon as I clicked on the death trooper images we all gave out a collective “Whoa!” They’re truly stunning.
StarWars.com: It seems to me like the Pop! style has changed a bit with this line — characters look a little slimmer or taller than in the past. If I’m not wrong (which I may well be), did you want to evolve the look? Why?
Reis O’Brien: No, that’s a totally accurate observation. Pop!s in general have been evolving over the years. They had started out as these sort of squat, almost chubby little figures in one certain pose (which we call the “hero pose” in-house). But over time we found that many characters just didn’t fit into that mold. Sometimes you’d have a character that is maybe extremely lithe and agile, or have a thin, bendable, willowy feel to their frames. We would find ourselves pushing the look of them more and more, born out of a quest to better represent the characters, to the point that the original “hero pose” started to take a back seat.
With the Rogue One Pop!s, I tried to find a nice “transitional” look that bridged the old “hero pose” (which is what we’ve traditionally used with previous Star Wars Pop!s) to the newer, more realistic style. So, you’ll notice that the Death Trooper is still in that sort of wrestler stance, but I tried to straighten his legs a little and adjust the arms so that he wasn’t squatting so much as he was ready for action.
StarWars.com: Regarding the Rogue One line overall, it features almost entirely new characters and designs. Was it an exciting line to work on?
Reis O’Brien: Beyond exciting. It was similar to the same feeling I felt with Force Awakens, at least where the new characters were concerned. But in this case, they are all new characters! There was no Leia or Han to distract me from these completely new heroes and villains in this universe that I have loved for so long.
What was even more surprising to me was how “Star Wars” it all still felt. Here we have this completely new story in the Star Wars universe, packed with all-new characters we have never seen before, yet it still felt like the Tatooine we’ve always remembered is just a small lightspeed jump away.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer and editor of the StarWars.com blog. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.