How to create a successful toy character
Creating a toy is effectively the successful physical realization of character design; To create a successful and memorable character, you need to have an interesting story for your character to work within. It's not the character that the audience will relate to, but his or her story; Where are they from? What do they do? Who are their friends? Who are their foes? The deeper the back story, the deeper the character. The reason that the Pixar films are so successful is not because they are the best at visualizing a movie, but because they are the best story tellers. So the first step of creating your toy is to create your story.
The next step is to then visualize your character. It is so important to create something that is cool, unique and memorable. Try not to be directly influenced by anything or anyone else; Originality is key, and there are already enough Kidrobot swagger jackers out there. We spend a huge amount of time developing the aesthetic of our characters - the Robot VC3 took four years to design - because it is so important to create something that will stand the test of time. The character needs to have longevity, so an appealing design is essential.
The next phase is turning initial sketches and doodles into a 3D model, either with 3D CAD software or with a hand-made sculpture. When you see your character for the first time in 3D you will realize that there are a lot of areas in which you will want to refine your design - sometimes something that looks good in 2D does not necessarily translate to 3D. It will also give you the chance to evaluate the functionality of the figure, like weight distribution, points of articulation and potential manufacturing obstacles.
Once you are happy with your model, it is time to find a manufacturer. Now, most of these are based in China and it is very hard to find somebody that you can trust and that can produce your toy to an exceptional level, so plenty of research is essential. You also need to find a manufacturer that has a proficient English speaker, as there will be plenty of dialogue over the coming months. Once you find somebody, it is important that you sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before you share any of your designs. When all the formalities are finalized, designs are shared and quotes approved, the manufacturer will produce a prototype for approval, and once that is complete, production will commence! This stage of the process usually takes about 6 - 8 weeks, which gives you plenty of time to come up with a marketing plan for your brand new toy. Approach websites, books, magazines and blogs, hit all the social networks and use all of your resources to get your creation out there. As a first time toy maker with no fan-base you will need to earn your exposure. You need to be passionate about your toy and try to engage your target audience as creatively as possible… only then can you aspire to be the next Michael Lau. Good Luck!