Prototypes aren't used exclusively by IS departments|
by David Gaule
Prototypes aren't used exclusively by IS departments. Toy manufactures also use many different stages of prototypes in toy development. The following describes how Kenner Toys made their Star Wars figures from the mid 70's to mid 80's.
Production begins with movie photos and blue prints as seen in these patent drawings. From these drawings kit bashed versions of the toy can be produced (see, for example,
http://www.toysrgus.com/images-conce/proto-fett.html). These are early examples of what an end product will look like using old parts from existing products. Most of the time however, the creator begins by making a wax carving. This process is very similar to making custom jewelry.
Since wax is very fragile, rubber molds are made to produce the next level of the prototype. This level is called the hardcopy because it is produced from a durable substance called dynacast. (I believe this is also used in dental products). At this point executives, toolmakers and patent holders can approve/disapprove of the figures design and features. The torso and limbs are held together with pins to allow for easy switching and replacement of parts.
From the hardcopy a metal mold is made. Whatever plastic is handy at the time is used to test these molds. These "test shots" serve as another level of prototyping. In this step toy makers are checking to see if their design will work in a metal mold designed for mass production. The red figure in the middle is an example of this step.
Once the mold has been approved the color of the plastic must be approved. This step requires another test shot, this time using the correct colors. Finally a hand painted sample of the figure is produced. Here again the colors must be tested and approved. These hand-painted tests are also used in promotional photographs and for display at toy manufacture trade shows. (Hard copies may also can be hand-painted if a deadline must be met). The color swatches were included to help communicate the desired characteristics to the production factories located in Hong Kong and other foreign locations.
Packaging also goes through a number of prototypes as well. Black and white and color printer's proofs are made to make sure the toy is appealing to potential customers. Finally, a cardboard prototype is made for the package, and the plastic protective bubbles are designed.
The final step in the action figure prototype series is the sign-off. In this step a sample is made of the finished product. This is then passed around to all of the individuals who had a part in creating the figure. These people then literally sign a card giving their approval of the finished product. It should be noted that many prototypes never make this stage of production.
Once this approval is received mass production begins. At this point most prototypes were either melted down to be used again, thrown away, or destroyed in the production process.
Today these existing toy prototypes command high prices on the collector's market. You may want to hold on to your class project because who knows, maybe IS prototypes will be tomorrow's hot collectibles.
For more examples of Star Wars toys prototypes, check out the toysrgus site or the swca site.