Interview > Matt Doughty of Onell Design (Part I: Onell)

Real Name: Matt Doughty
Specialty: Toymaker
Base of Operations: Onell Design
History: Onell Design is a small, family run toy company that strives to create an environment filled with creative potential. Building out just a little bit every year, each person involved in the day to day operations does their work with a passion matched by a desire to connect with those that enjoy what Onell has to offer, however tiny it may be! Matt Doughty, Michelle Doughty and Marc Beaudette love running Onell, and it continues to grow only because of the incredible people out there who support all the crazy projects they get into! So get ready for more interchangeable figures, 8-bit games, special collaborations and sporadic blog posts as 2010 rolls on…and remember to stay creative!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Doughty, founder of Onell Design and collaborator with the Four Horsemen on the upcoming Outer Space Men, in person at his home. With his wife Michelle and the help of a few other colleagues, Matt runs Onell and its line of increasingly popular Glyos action figures. In addition, Matt serves as a consultant to Beantown Toys and has done freelance work for Hasbro and other companies.

During the interview, Matt showed me his extensive collection of vintage toys as well as giving me a sneak preview of an upcoming vinyl piece, as well as a mold master of an Outer Space Man. On a more personal note, Mr. Doughty is a very friendly, laid-back host who absolutely loves toys–playing with them, talking about them, and most of all, making them.

Note: Matt asked me to explain that the Grizzly Adams beard seen in the photos is due to intense preparation for the latest Glyos release. –PG

Matt at his work desk.

Were there particular toy lines you liked as a kid?

My favorite lines were the Fisher Price Adventure People, Star Wars…Micronauts was an obvious one. And then in the 1980s I loved G.I. Joe, all the major lines that we all loved. They’re part of me as an artist: Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, Joe, Transformers. Strangely, I wasn’t huge into Transformers until the 1990s. I had been exposed to the Japanese stuff when I was very young, so I actually thought it was a ripoff when I first saw it. I remember seeing a Seaspray when I was a kid and being mad, because it seemed like they had lost the soul. In retrospect it’s ridiculous.

I had a Japanese neighbor growing up, so they would go to Japan three times a year and come back with stuff, and my mother would let us go down there and play. I was exposed to [Super] Sentai in 1980, I was playing with the Power Rangers [in the 1980s] before the Power Rangers were here. So I had a weird pedigree in exposure to foreign toys, as well as domestic, from a really young age.

Matt poses alongside just a small portion of his collection.

How did you get into the toymaking business?

I always liked making stuff since I was little. I graduated from college with an illustration degree. I had about two years off when I didn’t really collect much, and then I got insanely into collecting–Joes at the time, and some old vintage stuff. I happened to have a roommate who was an avid collector, which was kind of rare at the time–this was in ’92–and I just started collecting stuff and going to Toys R Us. I had always played with toys, even carried them through high school, always had some in my pocket, even during that time when you tend to hide it from your peers.

I ended up leaving college, farting around painting houses for a year, making money to buy toys–not books, just toys–and then I ended up taking a job in California at an upstart animation company called Metropolis Digital. I went out there and started doing design work for them, sleeping on a couch at a buddy’s place–no money, living out of my car. This was in 1997/1998. Then I found out [Metropolis] had this thirteen-story building that had a floor they had shut down. It had all this crazy wax masters and clay stuff that they were doing points on, to do digital work. There was all this sculpting equipment, too.

And that was when I really discovered plumber’s compound. Which sounds completely boring, but as a child I was searching for something I could sculpt onto wire armatures that would dry instantly and not crumble to pieces. I never found a clay that could do it, so I always used medical tape, tinfoil, Q-tips, whatever. When I discovered the plumber’s compound, a whole new world opened up, because I could sculpt quick and fast–I’m a reductive sculptor, I’d make a shape and then cut all the way into it, versus sort of layering and straight-up sculpting with a hot blade. So while I was in California, I started sculpting a ton.

One of Matt’s early cracks at an articulated figure.

And then I decided to come home for Christmas and I hooked up with Michelle. We had known each other growing up. And then I got offered a promotion at Digital, but I turned it down and went to Washington, D.C. with Michelle. We both lived there for a bit. At the time [1999], everyone thought the world was going to end. Her family had run a business selling generators, and their business quadrupled. So we said we’d come back and help out a little bit.

But the entire time I still drew, I still sculpted at night, and I came to the realization that I wanted to make a toy. I was already sculpting little guys. One thing led to another and I ended up meeting this ex-prototyper for Hasbro named Ron Daley. I had come in with this small figure–smaller than what we do now–and I showed it to him. We had a connection, and he helped me figure out how to do stuff. He showed me mold-making. He was my Yoda. He was like a master who took in a bonehead who had a little bit of ability.

My specific thing is I do character design and sculpt final work. Ron can make you a perfectly symmetrical body to carve into. And he’s a master mold maker, he’ll create a silicon mold, take a master and make a mold, and I’ll go in and I’ll run urethane parts. Anything I’ve ever done he’s helped me with or had a hand in, and I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without him. He’s a family member to me. So I was sort of taught by one of the old masters.

So how did Onell get started?

I started Onell with Michelle–the name is derived from a nickname for her. We wanted to do comics together. She drew as a kid, and she started drawing again and came up with this character named Sidrick, and this concept called Monsters vs. Robots (when Monsters vs. Aliens came out her jaw hit the floor, it bummed her out). But Monsters vs. Robots was a story that Sidrick read in his comic–so, a comic within a comic–that took place within Glyos. When we decided to make a toy, we didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of money, but we had enough saved, and then eventually did some small urethane figures. I would go to the conventions and sell them. This was in 2003-2004. I started doing these little books and sold them as well as the urethane figures at the conventions, and it just slowly gained momentum.

The first-ever Pheyden.

And on a side note, Pheyden was our first toy. That was made for Michelle for Christmas, and it was based on one of her characters, a mechanical ghost of her character Noboto from Monsters vs. Robots. But it was also a character I’d made up when I was nine…I’ve had this long-running story since I was a kid. I tried to blend them.

So I made it for her and she liked it, and then I brought it to a convention and the reaction, strangely, was very strong for that particular aesthetic. I had other figures, but he was the one that resonated. So we made urethanes of them, sold them out pretty quick at a show–there was no online sales at the time. We decided we were going to make Pheyden the first toy.

The production Pheyden.

At the time I had also started to work with Ron on prototypes. He would get a lot of jobs and I would work with him on stuff, for Mattel or Hasbro–it was never figures, it was always like accessories stuff or playset parts, nothing like the Horsemen get to do. But it was fun, because I was working on an Optimus Prime mask, or an Avatar arm gauntlet or these weird chess pieces. I r0lled the dice and went full-time working with Ron. As I was sourcing that Pheyden figure I met the Beantown guys, and Ron and I ended up sculpting all their figures.

Glyos figures (parts mixed ‘n matched by the author).

So that’s sort of my abbreviated time in the industry. I’ve always been on the outskirts. We created Onell because we wanted to create toys without vetting anything out. We’ve had two offers for the company. As you go you learn that a lot of the things that people say and do are bullshit, because they just want your IP. You have to try to become familiar with the legalese of things.

It’s just a few of us here–it’s me, it’s Marc Beaudette, and Jesse [Moore, of Callgrim.com], he’s a brother to me, and so is Marc. And there’s Ron, who I do all the prototyping with. And then Michelle–when she’s not raising our two children, she does all bookkeeping and the billing and everything.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of the interview, featuring the Outer Space Men!

Comments now closed (18)

  • Wow, no mention of Shockinis and how we spoke at the shows when you started Matt =/. Still great interview though and great stuff. I am looking forward to the 4H line that you teamed up on.

    ~G

  • Man… GREAT interview, Poe! You gotta love Matt and all he does. He's one of the most humble guys I have ever dealt with, and he's as generous as he is kind. You can tell everything he does is about love: love for his wife, his family, his friends, his customers, and his toys. He's classy beyond words– a lot of toy makers could learn a lesson from him.

  • Ooh. I'd love to see Matt take another crack at that early human soldier figure. I dig the design. Great interview, Poe!

  • Matt is one of those guys, I'm just thrilled to know. I can email matt and know I'm going to get a response and best wishes. He loves the people who show interest in his stuff, even if some of us haven't bought in years.

  • Good stuff. Very interesting path, & so far, very informative. Can't wait for part two.

    I had no idea, prior to the Outer Spacemen announcement, what the Glyos system was, but I'll definitely be on the supportive side now. Plus, dude has a Photon figure on his shelf… you just have to appreciate that.

  • Matt, your passion and perseverence in this industry are commendable. More than anything, I'm just glad to see someone doing their own original thing, as opposed to just releasing essentially the same toys over and over.

    But beyond that…holy crap, that collection of yours is amazing. I can't make out everything, but kudos to you for owning vintage examples of Twincast and Soundblaster as well as a few Laser Beasts!

  • man… he is easily one of the most awesome people I've ever met. just watching him at a show, HANDING his toys, for free, to little kids who showed interest… its amazing.

    there's a reason I'm a fanatic of his little guys, and I am really looking forward to the Outer Space Men

  • That was a great interview, and I can't wait to read Part 2. If you get a chance to do another interview with Matt, can you see if he'd give more info on the Human Soldier ?

    (LOL, I'm pretty sure TRDouble & the other collectors at POA are tired of me posting pics of all my new Glyos acquisitions)

  • Matt is a gent and an amazing human being I'm so glad I took the plunge and ordered my glyos just over a year ago it opened me up to not only great figures but a great community of people and all because of Matt's great generosity and the fantastic example he sets. I salute you sir!

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