Andrew Franks has worked in the toy business for years, including a stint as a product designer for Hasbro. Now a design manager for Boss Fight Studio, an independent design studio for toys and collectibles, Mr. Franks was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experience in the industry.
What do you do, i.e., what is your part in the toy-making process?
I was formerly a product designer at Hasbro, which meant that I was potentially responsible for overseeing all aspects of any given item – concept, aesthetic, function, decoration, etc, and keeping the vision of the product intact when coordinating with all of the other talented folks who have a role to play – sculptors, engineers, package designers, copywriters, hand painters, etc. In my new role, I’m partner and design manager of Boss Fight Studio. My partners and I are all equally responsible for the running of the business, chasing down freelance work, and conceptualizing and creating our own original product.
How did you get into the business?
I went to school in Savannah, GA, where I played around a bit with some toy design ideas, but mostly majored in comics. A few years after college, I sort of found that the whole comics thing was fun, but wasn’t really clicking for me, so I decided to give some serious effort to getting into toy design. After putting together some portfolio material and shopping myself around, I scored my first freelance gig putting together some concepts for a line of Fantastic Four figures at Toy Biz that never saw the light of day. Through a former coworker, I ended up meeting Dave Proctor who at that time was sculpting freelance for Hasbro, and he got my stuff in front of the right people. I did quite a bit of freelance work on GI Joe, Marvel and Star Wars, and eventually got brought in on a temp position under Brian Parrish on Star Wars. This was an incredible learning experience working with some of the top folks in the industry, and when I had the opportunity to come in full time on Star Wars, I jumped on it. I worked for a number of years on Star Wars – primarily the Clone Wars animation stuff – before spending some time on the retail exclusive product, which was a whole different kind of challenge. There I got to work on a huge variety of stuff – from Transformers to Marvel to GI Joe and more. After that I struck out on my own again to tackle some new challenges. This past Spring the circumstances were right to form up with some of my best friends – Erik and Catrina Arana and Dave Proctor, and really put some muscle behind carving our own path.
What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on, and why?
Hard to choose! For Star Wars, I was very pleased to get in right when the Clone Wars animation product was starting up, so I was really able to put my own stamp on a lot of that. My favorites were the Bounty Hunter Embo and IG Assassin Droid figures as well as the Y-Wing Scout Bomber mini-vehicle – it was a huge challenge to create a new vehicle that fit into the Star Wars Universe like that, but a very rewarding one. On Transformers, I got to feed my G2 obsession with the Ultimate Gift Pack that contained homages to Prime and Jazz figures from that era, but it was really cool to help out on creating the Wreckers combiner figures too. I’m very happy with the work Boss Fight has been able to do with Fun Publications on their exclusive Joe product – those guys at Fun Pub are honestly a joy to work with. Hopefully, when Boss Fight is ready to show off our own stuff that we’ve got cookin’, it’ll blow all of it out of the water!
What are some the things that go on behind-the-scenes in the toy-making business that you wish collectors were more aware of? Do you think collectors are unfairly critic of toy companies, or do they (in some cases) have a point?
The whole process is so much more complex then just “pick character and make toy”. There’s a lot of different considerations that have to go into each and every decision at a big company, and I’m not gonna lie – sometimes that can be as frustrating for those of us on the creative side as it is for the consumers. When you see something that isn’t exactly how you want it, remember considerations like budget, safety and communication with factories in China are among the many things that factor into it.
That said, yeah, sometimes collectors do have a point. Sometimes things get missed or messed up, and that’s upsetting. If you seem like you hate on everything though, nobody’s going to want to listen to your opinion.
What were some of your favorite lines growing up, and what do you collect nowadays?
I was a kid who was really into sampling a whole bunch of stuff! GI Joe: ARAH was, of course, the stalwart and ever-present yard stick by which most other things were measured. The creativity of so many of the toylines from the 80’s and 90’s shouldn’t be underestimated though – the crazy imagination it took to create the Power Lords characters always wowed me, the clean aesthetic of Super Powers was very appealing, and the whimsy of Ninja Turtles really stood out. Transformers was in a class by itself. It’s really a shame that today’s market doesn’t allow for product as rich, imaginative and diverse as it was back then.
These days I’m *super* into 3A’s stuff and have a very ridiculous, very expensive collection of it. The work Takara/Tomy’s doing on the newer Masterpiece Transformers is unbelievable – those guys are geniuses. Anything the Four Horsemen touch is gold – especially the MOTU Classics. NECA’s been doing some great stuff too – those Aliens figures are very sharp.