The Making of OOTC
The original design sketch of Fearsome Phantos that I had created.
From Drawing to Discouragement
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The idea for the Overlords of the Cosmos has been covered here: https://www.overlordsofthecosmos.com/what-is-ootc
Taking the idea and building it out... that's the fun part. I knew that for this "universe" of characters to really bring forth nostalgic feelings, the inspiration needed to be clear. Having a long term affection for Masters of the Universe and other action figure lines from my childhood made creating these characters and their stories a true delight, and I believed that this would shine through to others like me.
First things first... tackling our hero, Fearsome Phantos. In the novel, F.P. needed to be both intimidating AND likeable. So his power set would need to be able to create situations that could be either exciting or humorous. Eventually I settled on illusion... a capability of fooling enemies while also lending itself to copious amounts of holographic tomfoolery.
I put pencil to paper and got to work. My first attempt at creating F.P.'s design ended up being my only one. It was unusual for me to start piecing together a character and NOT have to scrap at least some elements. If I had already settled on his look in my mind, I wasn't consciously aware of it. Nonetheless, I think this was the case. His holographic head was the real star. It could be used to create countless comical situations in the novel, and Anthony (the writer) did not disappoint in that regard.
THE ISSUE OF THE BUDGET
I was pleased with my final design. Still am. But I wish I had known a little more about the manufacturing process before deciding on it. Understanding how molds are machined, how material color and paint application is balanced, and how precise joints need to be... this would have benefited me greatly at the time of creating designs. It would be my suggestion that anyone considering creating their own line have some understanding of these processes before jumping into design. Nothing major... just a surface grasp would do.
Then there is the issue of the budget. There was a reason that so many Master of the Universe figures used the same parts and accessories. I knew this going in, but I didn't care. I wanted this universe to be populated by totally different characters... not only in personality but in design. I did not want each character reusing the parts of another. That is all well and good, but I would soon understand the toll this decision could potentially exact on my wallet.
If you follow or contribute to any action figure Kickstarter campaigns, you will notice that the figures in those campaigns tend to use repainted parts or add-on accessories in order to produce new looks. This is the smart way to go, especially if you have no clue what the demand will be for your product.
Despite the cost, I wanted to design these characters with no limits. Each one having their own completely unique design. Then, if I discovered that doing this would simply be impossible, I would have to start again from scratch.
MILOS THE MAGNIFICENT
As I continued to flesh out the roster of characters, I took some time to begin researching manufacturers. I had known for a long time that it was going to be necessary to work with a manufacturer overseas. I poured over a mind-numbing amount of information on sites like Alibaba and Global Sources. I made lists of overseas manufacturer websites from Google searches. And then I started sending out the requests for quotes.
It became apparent that simply sending my design sketches out for a quote was not going to be sufficient. Most manufacturers needed 3D files. This meant I was going to need to find somebody to turn my ink and digital paint into a 3D render. But not just that... this person would need to be familiar enough with the industry to create files that could be directly manufactured from. This type of file is known as an .STL file. Basically, I needed somebody to create an actual action figure in 3D space. If you are familiar with 3D printing, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Having used sites like Upwork and Freelancer many times through the years, I immediately posted jobs on them to start receiving bids. One person in particular stood out... Milos Markovic, or as I call him, Milos The Magnificent.
Milos had all the necessary skills, but it wasn't until I had actually hired him that I discovered just how special he was. This was what he wanted to do full time... make action figures. And that meant he already had knowledge beyond the typical CAD nerd. I hit the jackpot.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
While all this was going on, I had been following up on a company here stateside. This company had given me a surprisingly affordable quote, and like a numbskull... I jumped on it. How great it was going to be for me to work with somebody here in the states! Easy to reach, shipping would be cheap, my requests and changes would be easily understood... it was a miracle. They even accepted my single design sketch, and would develop the 3D version themselves. It wasn't long before they had sent me renders of a 3D Fearsome Phantos, and although it wasn't exactly how I had pictured it, it still looked great. The ball was rolling already, and I was hyped.
As I'm sure you're expecting, this was too good to be true. The quote that had been sent to me only covered the 3D design and prototype. Never were the costs of injection molds mentioned until I had done more research and asked for myself if they were covered. They were not. This meant that I had way overpaid for a 3D file and a single prototype. This was extremely disheartening. After that experience I gave up on American manufacturing. And for anyone seeking advice... what you've heard is true; American manufacturing is too expensive. If you want an action figure line made on a reasonable budget, you're going to have to deal with someone in China. It's just a fact.
The first 3D render of Fearsome Phantos from a stateside manufacturer.
TO FIND HIM A HOME
Following the huge disappointment dealing with an American manufacturer, I focused solely on the work Milos was doing. His version of Fearsome Phantos much more closely resembled my design sketch. This was the F.P. I had envisioned, and now I just needed to find him a home.
Milos Markovic's version of Fearsome Phantos. A much closer resemblance to the original design.
Over the course of several weeks, I went back and forth with Chinese manufacturers. I received quotes that ranged from stupidly overpriced, to too low not to be a scam of some kind.
That is something that became quite clear... there are scams out there. More than once I received really amazing quotes, only to do some research on the manufacturer and discover negative reviews on Yelp or sites dedicated to calling out terrible manufacturers. How could someone in my position tell the difference without these resources?
This part of the journey was by far the most discouraging and draining. But it was also the most important. The right manufacturer could make or break this fantasy of bringing an action figure line to life. I needed some help, and I had an idea of where I might get it.
While my own desire to get a line of figures made was becoming reality, a dynamic duo of friends from New Jersey were already way ahead of me. James and Joe of Fox Forge Toys had been trying to garner interest in a line of science fiction action figures known as Star Dusk for a couple of years before heading to Kickstarter to round up the funds. I had contributed to their campaign, and they were kind enough to answer some of my most pressing questions.
With their help, I got requests for quotes out to some reliable manufacturers. It was something I should have done much earlier... ask those who had come before me for some help. I couldn't have been more grateful for their valuable information.
Ultimately though, the manufacturers who I had been referred to would not budge below a minimum of 3,000 figures. That was just too many. I did not want to be stuck with a couple thousand action figures that nobody would ever buy if this thing didn't take off like I'd hoped.
During this time, I had been speaking back and forth with a company I had found in a Google search of Chinese manufacturers. This company did not specialize in toys, but they had indeed produced some. The company was called UIDEA. The representative I had been speaking with via email, Moby Lui, was very kind, very helpful, and his English was nearly perfect. Not only that, but when I finally got a quote from him for the number of figures I would need to have made in order to utilize injection molding (the most common way of producing figures), the quote was within a good budget. This was the first time I had felt like I hit paydirt with an overseas manufacturer.
As my relationship with UIDEA emerged as the most hopeful solution, I focused attention on making the novel and this action figure line accessible to the the internet at large. The first step would be creating a web presence that suitably represented both.
Having spent many hours creating websites using Wix before, I used that experience to produce the first few pages of OverlordsoftheCosmos.com. Nabbing the URL, producing some nice imagery, and mapping out the pages were only the beginning. I knew I would need some better art than I could produce, especially since I wanted to give things as much of an '80s fantasy feel as possible. This meant trying to find capable artists who could at least try to emulate the style of Earl Norem or Frank Frazetta. I hired 3 talented artists who I located on art sites like ArtStation and DeviantArt, or on art subreddits. They produced the splendid images of the characters that grace the website and figure packaging.
Artists like Pedro Puglisi, Glenn Tejano, and Gabriel Angelo produced much of the promotional art.
As Milo plugged away on the 3D versions of characters like Munch Mouth, EyeSpy, Skullagar, and Masculon, I began to consider what "extras" should be created to help flesh out the world of the OOTC.
A set of mini-comics seemed like a no brainer, but this would entail a whole new set of burdens. Finding an artist (that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg), writing the scripts, getting them published (again, sparing the arm and leg), and so forth. Still... it was not out of the question. Almost necessary actually, considering the influences.
But beyond that, there would need to be some convincing promotional video. This would be an absolute requirement for something like a Kickstarter, which I was considering launching down the road. But I didn't want it to be low key and generic like one might expect. I had a vision of what would take place in it, and it was going to be grand. So grand in fact, that it would have to be animated. Like... fully animated. This would be a fun combination of '80s cartoon intro and music video.
I already had the music. A bass-filled synthwave tune that I had purchased rights to from Audiojungle some months prior. I don't even remember what project it was intended to be for. But it was going to be perfect for this one.
Once I had written a script of sorts to determine what action would be taking place at certain points in the song, I just had to find an animator. I wanted to commission an animator, as that seemed like a much less costly option compared to hiring a studio. And while that is the case, finding somebody who can animate well on a commission basis quickly proved difficult. I had posted jobs, emailed animators from YouTube and Reddit, and Google searched for days. But either the animator could not, or simply would not, take the job. The good animators working on commission were backed up with too many projects already. And the animators who weren't, didn't have the talent, style, or both necessary.
As with manufacturing, farming out animation to studios when you are on a budget demands you search overseas. In this case, I was focused on Europe and India. No matter where I received quotes from, the prices were steep. It was clear that animation was even more expensive than manufacturing. But I really felt like I needed this to really push the project over the top.
Finally I settled on a studio in India called Prayat Animation.