Steve Evans, Star Wars design director at Hasbro, takes StarWars.com inside the fan-favorite action figure line.
It's still about nine weeks before the theatrical debut of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but an army of pint-sized Jyn Ersos are already popping up on store shelves. Working in tandem with Lucasfilm, the designers at Hasbro have spent the last year and a half sculpting, painting, and manufacturing a highly articulated, finely detailed 6-inch plastic likeness of Mon Mothma's newest recruit. Steve Evans, Hasbro's Star Wars design director, recently gave us a glimpse behind the scenes in the making of the brand's coveted Black Series.
When the line debuted in 2013, three or four new figures hit the shelves each season recreating classic characters with more flexibility than the traditional 3.75 figures could muster. Back then, Black Series designers were using wax to mold prototypes by hand, and relying on movie stills and other reference materials to perfect the sculpt. In the years since, technological advances and the necessity of churning out the core characters for brand new films on an annual basis has helped refine the process. The team has it down to a science, Evans says, with three-dimensional scans of actors and costumes beamed directly from on-set to aid in the authentic creation of the toys. “We do it, I won’t say easily, but we do it pretty fluidly. The devil’s in the details.”
For Jyn, the hardest part was getting her head scarf just right, Evans says. He studied the prop, considering a fabric counterpart shrunken to scale. “Would it fold right? Would fans have a problem wrapping it around the head?” he wondered. “We played around with that for quite awhile and decided to go to soft PVC.” Even then, designers wrestled with molding an accessory that was functional, fitting over the figure's head, without looking outsized and bulky, relying on subtle splits at the back of the piece to keep it pliable. “Things like this keep me up at night!” Evans says with a laugh.
Figures start out as a concept artist's sketch, then undergo a meticulous 18-month creative process to get to the store shelf. Main characters are obvious picks, but Evans also likes to pepper in a few lesser-known characters, with smaller roles but action-figure-ready looks. Because Hasbro is working on the toy line as the film's are still in production, Evans and his team don't see the final cut until the premiere. “We don’t see the movie any earlier, really, than the fans.” That was how designers ended up creating a figure for the bounty hunter Constable Zuvio for The Force Awakens, even though the character is only in the background of a marketplace scene for a moment. “I love that it represents that we’re working together,” Evans says, and Zuvio has since gained a cult following. It's no different from the original Kenner line that featured the inhabitants of the Mos Eisley Cantina, despite their brief screen time. “I can’t imagine having my Star Wars collection from 1979 without Hammer Head,” Evans says.
For the Black Series, the sculpting process alone, a digitized leap from two to three dimensions, takes about a month, “making sure we have the likenesses correct, the folds of the material, that kind of stuff. If there’s anything slightly wrong with the face, the eye and the brain recognize it right away,” Evans says. “When you see it in plastic, you know exactly who that is.” The figures average 28 points of articulation, for optimal flexibility and a range of lifelike poses, but those joints must be carefully incorporated into the figure so as not to protrude and appear out of place.