Rich Johnston, the comic industry commentator who writes an insider column for Comic Book Resources, reports that McFarlane Toys may be undergoing some serious downsizing.
McFarlane Toys, the company owned by comic creator Todd McFarlane, has had a long history and reputation for increasing the quality of design of action figure dolls, transforming them from the simplistic posed plastic characters of my youth to the intricately designed and articulated figures commonplace today.
However, of late, the company have had a few problems. And has internally announced a third round of redundancies far more severe than the previous two.
The company is split into two, design studios in New Jersey and administration in Arizona offices. I understand that Ed Frank, President of the NJ group and founder of the original company before it was bought and renamed by Todd fifteen years ago read a letter out to the New Jersey staff, visibly uncomfortable.
The studios will see forty staff drop to thirteen. Major operations will be shut down, including the mold, paint, sculpting, and model departments.
The only department to survive will be the digital department, and only two of its members will be held on, and a couple of traditional sculptors are being trained up to handle digital sculpting.
The plan as it currently stands is that most new sculpts will be scans of actual people (posed standing up, making a T shape,) cleaned up digitally, armour and accessories assembled and added digitally (think Mr Potato Head,) mixing and matching from other sculpts, and then the files sent to China for 3D printing, cleaning, touching up, sculpting, articulation and the rest. New Jersey will only generate digital output from now on. This is still a very experimental process, however.
The New Jersey complex will be reduced from four buildings to one, with the equipment either being sold of shipped to China. As for Arizona, they will shrink from seventy people to around thirty-five.
The phasing out off staff will occur sometime between now and June, though no specific dates of personnel of departments have been given. When asked about severance, a human resources representative stated that “allowing you to work until June should be looked at as your severance package.”
This is what you call a developing story…
I can’t say this surprises me. Aside from sports figures and maybe Halo, McFarlane hasn’t been a relevant force in the action figure industry for most of the decade. They bet on collectors wanting super-detailed sculpts of new or original licenses with minimal articulation, while the market actually moved toward nostalgia properties (G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, comic book superheroes) with increased articulation.
When McFarlane finally had a chance to compete with their highly-articulated Halo line, they punted the ball by making them 5″ tall–incompatible with both popular scales of 3 ¾” and 6″. The importance of this shouldn’t be dismissed. Collectors are often very loyal to particular scales, regardless of whether they plan to display figures next to one another or share vehicles with another line. I know that had Halo been in 6″ scale, I would have bought a lot more than just one Master Chief and one Grunt.
It seems to me McFarlane continued to believe they could appeal to the so-called casual action figure collector–a theoretically larger market than us hardcore collectors–with their various fantasy and military lines, but the casual collector is exactly where the market has contracted over the last five years. If, for example, their military line been 6″ and highly articulated, like Plan-B Toys’ Special Forces figures, I suspect the line might have had much greater success. (Of course, I don’t actually have access to any of the numbers, so I can’t say how successful or not McFarlane’s military lines have been–all I have for evidence is the racks of them at my local TRU and the fact that I don’t know anyone who collects them).
So now it appears McFarlane will be making nothing but immobile sports figures and videogame-based figures they can produce using 3D-modelling software. We action figure collectors will remain indebted to McFarlane Toys for revolutionizing the industry in the 1990s. It’s a shame they lost that edge and went in the complete wrong direction in the last decade.