Poe’s Point > Poe Ghostal’s Super-Articulation Manifesto

tick-shocker-toys-articulation

In some of my more recent reviews, I’ve noted that a number of purported “super-articulated” figures tend to have one or two disappointing aspects to their articulation that detract from an otherwise great figure. For some figures, the articulation decisions are flat-out bizarre, with some joints too limited and others unnecessarily included. So I decided the time had come to issue this, Poe Ghostal’s Super-Articulation Manifesto.

Please not, this is not directed toward all action figure lines. I’m not here to argue for more articulation on action figures. I’m also not here to talk about 3.75″ or 4″ lines, which operate on a slightly different set of rules. These are guidelines for 6″-8″ lines that already aspire to great amounts of articulation, such as:

  • Marvel Legends
  • Star Wars Black 6″
  • Mattel Movie Masters
  • DC Universe Classics / Club Infinite Earths
  • DC Collectibles (sometimes)
  • Diamond Select
  • NECA’s more recent Predator and Aliens figures as well as other lines
  • Funko Legacy

Admittedly it might be a stretch to classify all these lines as “super” articulated, if you go with a very narrow early 2000s-Toy-Biz definition. But I think all of these lines are trying to provide what one could call “collector-level” articulation.

With Funko still developing their 6″ Legacy line, NECA’s articulation still evolving, and Hasbro’s Star Wars Black 6″ just gaining momentum, I though I’d gently nudge these companies to think about the best way to implement articulation for any given character.

THE MANIFESTO

All figures should have ball-jointed heads/necks.

king_hssss_head

If you want to call your line “super-articulated” this is mandatory (with obvious exceptions, e.g., R2D2). There are a few different options, but ball-and-socket or ball/hinge are the two most common. And on a related note…

Flying characters must always be able to look straight up.

Superman in Flight_0018_sig

Superman in Flight_0018_sig by Fadde Photography, on Flickr

Anything else is disappointing.

All figure should have ball-jointed shoulders.

duke-nukem-neca-shoulders

Again, this is an obvious but non-negotiable one.

For muscled, bare-armed (or spandex-wearing) characters, swivel biceps are to be used instead of ball-hinge elbows.

neca-predator

Bend your arm at the elbow and make an L-shape. Tense your biceps. Now hold your elbow still and move your arm to the side. You’ll notice your biceps move in the direction of your arm, in line with your forearm. The ball/hinge elbow (colloquially known as an “elbro”) joint leaves the biceps always facing forward.

luke-elbow

For characters wearing loose or bulky clothing, this isn’t really an issue; a ball/hinge elbow might even be a better idea than trying to work out a biceps swivel through the clothing folds. But on characters with bare arms or skintight outfits – such as superheroes - the swivel-hinge elbow looks weird and makes for awkward poses. I understand their use is often a cost-saving measure, but for muscled characters (especially those in the 6″-8″ range), ball/hinge elbows are to be avoided whenever possible.

Double-hinged knees are pointless without good thigh articulation and deep ankle articulation (or articulated toes).

This is as much as the Predator can squat.

This is as much as the Predator can squat.

As far as I’m concerned, the main motivation to give a figure double-hinged knees is so that figure can squat properly. If the thighs can’t come forward very far and/or the ankles can’t bend forward until the shins are nearly parallel to the ground while the feet are flush (or bend via a hinge joint on the ball of the foot), then the double-knee articulation is a waste of money. At best, the character seems to be doing a sumo wrestler’s squat.

wolverine-squat

Much better.

The Star Wars Black 6″ Boba Fett and the recent NECA Predator body are examples where double-jointed knees were fairly useless. In both cases, the double-knees are particularly useless because the loincloth on the Predator and the pouches on Boba Fett prevent any real forward movement by the thighs. While I’d love it if the Predator could do the “gargoyle squat,” I’d happily have taken double-elbows over double-knees on both figures.

Also better.

Also better.

All characters who wield hand weapons (swords, guns, etc.) should have double-jointed elbows and ball-jointed/hinged wrists.

sandtrooper-double-elbow

Awesome.

This joints are required for optimal posing with the accessories. It drives me crazy that Star Wars Black 6″ Boba Fett can’t cradle his rifle as he does in his first appearance in ESB, or hold the rifle up near his face in realistic fashion. Dutch also deserves double-jointed elbows.

arm-double-hinge-1

The Terminator. The Tooncinator.

More than double-jointed knees, double-jointed elbows seem to present an aesthetic issue for toymakers. I think NECA in particular doesn’t like the way double-jointed elbows break up arm sculpts, although they gave them to the Aliens Xenomorph Warrior this year.

Acrobatic characters should always have double-jointed elbows, abdomen articulation, and double-jointed knees.

I’m talking about your Spider-man, your Batman and Robin, your Jedi Luke. Beefier or less active characters (the Hulk, John Constantine) can feature less articulation, saving money on production costs for the more-articulated characters.

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man by advocatepinoy, on Flickr

NECA’s basic Predator sculpts would be fantastic if they added a new torso with a ball-jointed abdomen into the retool mix. That, combined with double-jointed elbows and jointed toes, would make their Predator figures perfect.

Hips joints need to peg horizontally into the lower torso and not vertically up into the abdomen.

athor05

This broken figure happens to show off the vertical-torso peg quite well – even if the peg has snapped.

This is largely a Hasbro thing with Marvel Legends (although they seem to be getting better), but Marvel Select does it now and again too (such as Rhino). Since the vertical peg goes up into the torso, the pivot point changes so that front and back movement is limited to the “cone” the ball-joint is capable of covering. It can go forward (or backward), but not as far as a the horizontal peg like a t-crotch. If you want side-to-side movement, to kick the leg out at the hip, then the swivel has to be parallel to the figure’s torso, and no front or back movement is possible. It’s the new V-crotch.

Ankles must have some sort of side-to-side motion.

jungle-patrol-dutch-neca-poe-ghostal-review-5

There are a lot of ways to do so-called “rocker” ankles – hinges, ball-and-socket, reverse-hinge plugs like Star Wars Black. However a company chooses to implement it, a super-articulated figure must be able to do wider stances.

36 Comments »

Comments now closed (36)

  • Wow! You've really thought this through. I love how you've avoided a simple "complaining" post, and yo've actually provided rationale and recommendations. Nice.

  • I'd never thought much about the bicep swivel versus ball jointed elbow issue. Really well thought article.

    An articulation issue that drives me crazy (and definitely isn't superaticulated) is when a collector targeted figure features fantastic leg or arm articulation but no ball jointed shoulders. What good are hinged ankles and knees and boot and thigh swivels when the hips are only swivels as well? I see this fairly often, strangely.

  • Man, I love that Marvel Legends Spider-Man! I forgot about how great of a figure it is.

    All around great points, especially the last one. I remember back in the early 90s when Playmates skimped on the leg ball joints by using a different kind of plastic and it caused a bunch of figures to break.

    • The white plastic bit holding on my childhood Ray Fillet's legs broke a few months ago. I actually got another Ray Fillet, cracked his torso and stole that white bit to repair my childhood Ray – I cared that much about the specific one from my childhood :)

  • It drives me crazy that Star Wars Black 6″ Boba Fett can’t cradle his rifle as he does in his first appearance in ESB, or hold the rifle up near his face in realistic fashion.

    Much as I'd prefer that Fett had the same arm-ticulation as the Sandtrooper, I think that these particular issues are more the fault of his blaster's stock being too long.

  • One thing that's always annoyed me are figures with double jointed elbows that can't even use them properly (ex: Classic Bebop and Rocksteady).

    Otherwise, great list Poe!

  • I can NOT agree more about double-elbows (especially "versus" double knees)!!!

    Excellent points, too, on the bicep swivel and especially the hip-peg placement, hadn't even occurred to me!

  • I'm a "depends" guy with the elbows. I like them on superheroes but hate them on very muscular or more realistic figures. They elongate the arm and can look very odd. I am actually against movie characters having double-elbows at all, especially Dutch.

    • are you familiar with a line from medicos called the "super action statues?" they've done mostly stuff from jojo's bizarre adventures, but also a few kinnikuman characters, and i like the elbow joints a lot. it's a double elbow, only, each side of the elbow is a ball fit into the bicep and forearm area, so you flex on both sides as well as bend. posing, it works like a friggin dream, though the longevity of the joint depends greatly on materials and fit tolerance, and not every fig i have from them is consistent in these areas. but if you ask around and can lay hands on one to check out, i recommend it. might really open your eyes to new possibilities. i don't think they're a great fit for nude-armed characters, but for clothed or armored arms, they look great. also makes it easy to sculpt in elbow armor or pads if needed without compromising the range of motion at all.

  • Excellent list indeed and I strongly support the majority of views expressed here. The one aspect I would question is the statement about having the more acrobatic characters with more articulation and the stodgier ones having less. Is this advocating having differing articulation levels within the same line? I personally like uniformity of articulation, classic RAH G.I. Joes being the prime example of this once you get past the 'straight arm' years. Yes it may be an economic factor and let's face it, that's a major factor nowadays, but I'd hate to see (as an extreme example) a 5-point articulated Hulk in the same line as a super-articulated Spider-Man with that sort of justification.

    • Well, as the poster just above you said, he doesn't like the look of the double-elbows on very muscular heroes. I do think they tend to give certain characters a kind of gawky, stringy look.

      But my main reason for that comment regarding beefier or less athletic characters having a bit less articulation is indeed the economic factor. If every figure could have double-hinged elbows, I'd be very happy.

  • it's moments like these when i love you most poe. you're right on the money here about the articulation needing to be character-minded, especially if a line wants that coveted "adult collectible" label. for me, if you're not making these kinds of observations and doing the work to make them fruitful, you're making an expensive kid's toy.

    for the follow up article to this, we need some real analysis on the body articulation. i content that cloth costume types need the waist swivel/ab crunch combo while ball torso is more suited for robots/armored types, but there also needs to exist some standard of performance for each type of joint, as i've bought figs figured both styles that failed to do much at all for the posability of the figure.

    • Dutch has the ball-jointed torso and I think it works for him. SWB6" has ball-jointed torsos too, although they're largely hidden by the sculpt and definitely more limited than other types. On the other hand, they are well hidden, and ab crunches can sometimes look really bad, depending on how they're executed.

      • i like dutch, i do, and on him, the ball torso works… well. it's not great though, i find the range of motion not exemplary, and aesthetically, it's jarring. it looks like he's been in a terrible car accident and been can opened by a piece of shreded oldsmobile. i contend the two best ball torso's i have are on foxbots, the cleatus 2.0 being my second favorite, and the best being the baseball bot. his ball torso gets the best all around range of any one i own.

        the SWB 6 inchers have a nice ball torso too, but they look better than say dutch because of the outfits. the baggy cloth and armor plates mean the articulation point is mostly blended in. they're not winning any awards for range though.

        the best of the ab crunch/waist swivel combos i own is hands down marvel legends hyperion. his flexion and extension are simply unmatched, and don't look awful either (though i confess, not the most beautiful ab crunch i've ever seen. i think that goes arguably to the pitt BAF, his cut just blends so well, it looks great) unlike jester apparently, i'm not that put off by the usual look of the ab crunch, though i admit some do it better than others. the dcu stuff for example, doesn't offend visually, but it doesn't wow either, and most of the mattel ab crunches offer lackluster range of motion. their WWE figs especially, which in just about every other way i love, have almost pointless flexion and extension in those ab crunches. the goal of every ab crunch should be to at least let the guy see low enough to know if a dwarf is about to dick punch him. if he can't pull that off, back to the engineering room.

        i think in a perfect world, the right answer would be double ball articulation, in the chest just below the diaphragm, then in the pelvis socketed up into the lower abdominal region. that would offer a range that is truly within real human capability, but no one has engineered that yet. and now that i've said this, the third party guys reading this will hopefully work that out! :) but again, the range is key, if the torso can't lean forward like the guy's reaching towards his ankles, then the whole execution is pointless.

  • Wow, I realize only now that I'm not as well-informed about articulation as I'd always assumed. Nice essay.

    For my part, I am bitterly disappointed at the almost nonexistent up-and-down range of the average modern G.I. Joe neck.

    • It's always worse when articulation is taken away. Somewhere around DCUC Wave 5, Mattel messed with the neck articulation and many figures lost the ability to have much range in the neck. Good ball-jointed neck articulation should – as the Manifesto states – be standard.

  • I added two things I forgot – ball-jointed heads and rocker ankles. One was so obvious I think I figured it was a foregone conclusion, the other I just forgot about.

  • Please forward this list to Playmates Toys for use in designing their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Retro-Classics action figures!

    The lower body on Bebop and Rocksteady has to be one of the worst examples of so-called "super articulation" in recent toy making times. If Shredder or the Foot Soldiers suffer a similar fate, then Playmates might as well cancel the line before it even really gets started (despite its potential to rival MOTUC if Playmates got their act into gear).

  • The ankle thing is also my biggest pet-peeve. One thing I hated about DCUC was that all these characters had to either have closed stances or balance on the edge of their feet, which looks really weird. Rocker ankles add so much to a figure.

    • to that end, i love the new ankle socket we've seen from marvel select and marvel legends (though i think that debuted with the SOTA SF run, did it not? zangeif i think, had that articulation) as it allows plantar and dorsal flexion as well as pronation and supination, all while looking like a solid piece. the motuc teela foot might have a better range of motion, but it's a damned sight uglier to get it too. if the switched the "foot" from an angled post to a ball, that ML/MS joint would be friggin perfect.

      does anyone know what the hell that articulation is called? i suppose it's just a mushroom peg in socket, but peg in socket as a descriptor doesn't really do much to sell the potential of the joint point. it's not a traditional ball in socket either, as it's not a ball (or at least, the one's i've seen cracked open thusfar are not a ball, i suppose that could easily change though)… if there's not already an official name for it, we need to invent something sexier than "peg in socket" just as a marketing/branding thing.

  • last thing i'll say on this topic (can you tell i'm an articulation junkie yet?) is, i think the best overall hips i've ever purchased (and repurchased, and repurchased, and etc…) is the jakks pacific deluxe aggression hips. it was a ball in socket hips with a peg into the thigh, so the compound effect gave a nice aesthetic (the ball fit in the hip, unlike the balloon balls marvel legends did so often) while offering a range of motion i find unchallenged all the way up the cleatus 2.0 foxbot. his hips, likewise a ball in socket, have an insane range, largely due to the open design of the hips. but that jakks hip, for human-type characters, is just unsurpassed for me. i've bought that hip configuration in three scales and it's worked marvelously in all three. jakks still uses that hip type in their TNA figures, but finding those is a god damned chore.

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  • I don't want to be the negative guy, but I have to be the realistic one: These things will never universally happen, because there will always be someone on the design teams who "knows better" or has a "great idea", and because collector's will never fully unite on it – for instance, as soon as I read this:

    "Acrobatic characters should always have double-jointed elbows, abdomen articulation, and double-jointed knees.
    I’m talking about your Spider-man, your Batman and Robin, your Jedi Luke. Beefier or less active characters (the Hulk, John Constantine) can feature less articulation, saving money on production costs for the more-articulated characters."

    I thought, "What about He-Man, or Thor – beefy characters shown to be capable of quick and, yes, acrobatic action?"

    There just isn't a catchall articulation scheme, and the manufacturers are apparently not willing to address character-specific articulation schemes (That Boba is a real shame, especially when his line mate can do all he cannot. And I am not even a fan!).

    • I thought, "What about He-Man, or Thor – beefy characters shown to be capable of quick and, yes, acrobatic action?"

      You're never going to please all of the people all of the time. There are definitely fans who want every action figure in existence to be exactly as articulated as a circa-2004 ToyBiz Spider-man.

      As I stated in the title, this is my manifesto. People are free to argue with it all they want, but while there may not be a catch-all articulation scheme, I think it's something worth aspiring to.

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