Well, we have been promising this for several weeks now and we can finally go ahead and bring you part one of the conversation Samuron and I had with Mattel Brand Manager Scott “Toy Guru” Neitlich and Lead Designer Bill Benecke. The guys were nice enough to indulge us for over an hour so we will be bringing this to you in several installments over the next several days. We had a chance to discuss the current work slate, DCUC, Masters of the Universe Classics, Ghostbusters, the Green Lantern live action movie and a lot more. Now, be warned or be excited, this was a solid session of fan boy chatter, so get ready! In Part I we get warmed up with SDCC talk, some background process and start into all things Eternia.
Fwoosh: Okay, guys – thanks so much for taking a few minutes to sit down with us. Of course Scott “Toy Guru” Neitlich and Bill Benecke, a Lead Designer at Mattel. You are lead design on DC I know, but it sounds like you have taken on a bit more.
Bill Benecke: Yeah, I’m the project designer on DCU
F: All of DCU?
Scott Neitlich: And Masters.
F: And Masters now?
SN: And Ghostbusters, well, you were but now Carl is on it.
BB: I was but now Carl is really embracing it
SN: But you’ve done a lot of Ghostbusters work
BB: Carl has really embraced it
SN: and he designs the prop replicas
BB: So I do 6 inch, JLU, Infinite Heroes, Retro Action, Action League
BB: Brave and the Bold Minis
BB: I don’t do Polly Pocket.
SN: He doesn’t do Polly Pocket.
BB: But I like Polly Pocket!
F: So, for the Con and this whole past year, how do you even have time to breathe anymore?
SN: I don’t.
F: And you had time to have a kid too, congratulations.
SN: Thank you very much. We missed her rolling over for the first time. She’s with my parents and she rolled over. Barbara and I are like, so sad. Can’t wait to see her tomorrow.
F: So how’s the Con been for you so far this year?
SN: Smoothest convention we’ve had in years. Sales went great. I mean, there’s not even a line right now. We still have Starro and the spores, but selling fast. We sold out of Plastic Man and Orko. The pre-sale went very smoothly. I know there were some lines, but it still, I think really helped a lot. Obviously there’s still some work to do to get it even smoother, but compared to last year, I would think I haven’t had a single fan come up to me angry because of lines the entire time.
BB: It changed so much from previous years where we would hear rumors about pitchforks and torches.
SN: Honestly I’ve had very few issues to deal with this year other then keeping it rolling. We have a great team. There’s always room for improvement and we will continue to do so, but I think this is the smoothest convention we’ve had.
F: It seems like you guys have a big team going this year as well.
SN: Yeah, Yeah, major props to Robin DeJesus and Danielle Mclachlan for getting the show together. They both work for me on the Mattycollector stuff. Danielle is known as “Fangirl 2.0”, you’ll see her a lot on the boards. She just came onboard 2-3 months ago. Robin’s been with us for about 2 years, she does a lot of the logistics work. She should get major props. She’s the one who makes sure that product gets where it needs to be.
F: Oh, right
SN: She does all the behind the scenes stuff. But yeah, we have a great team. We have a full retail staff. We have a full PR team here this year. It’s great.
BB: We really take it seriously
SN: We do
BB: And it requires a big team
SN: I’ve been taking it seriously for 10 years, whereas everyone else hasn’t! (laughs)
BB: The rest of the world has caught up.
F: You’re just ahead of the curve
BB: I mean, this is our Toy Fair, this is it
SN: This is our Superbowl
F: Absolutely. Ok, so I guess we can just kick it off with Masters of the Universe and go right into that first. Seriously, all of the things that you guys showed this year just, not only the figures themselves, but the new executions and how everything is going to be all in with the subs. Were you guys planning this for awhile or is this stuff that just because recently the line has just been this whole year, been selling out over and over again and it’s giving opportunity for other things?
SN: Yeah, the better it sells. I mean, we went, first year we added Beast so now we’re looking at adding a vehicle at the end of 2011. I mean, the line is selling way more than we ever expected basically, to say the least. And we’re always working on increasing production, we know that’s a thing too.
BB: And keeping quality high.
SN: Yeah, I mean the fact it’s all because fans have supported it. We originally planned the line as three 6-packs.
SN: And then a Faker repaint, that was it. But the line, we did break them up into single figures, but, because it’s done so well, it’s letting us do more. The more people support the line, the more we can do, essentially.
BB: And it’s been terrific seeing and knowing that there is such a strong support for Masters. Knowing it and seeing it are two different things.
SN: We had to turn people away from our fan panel.
SN: That’s a first for us.
F: We hung out right after the DC one, and we were just going to sit outside and surf internet and then people just started going in and going in and we were like, “we’d better go in there to make sure we’re going to be able to get a seat this year”.
BB: Well, and there were so many faces. It’s like, wait a minute, he was just in the DC and he was sitting right about there, I don’t think people are actually leaving!
SN: How was that Archie panel?
F: Ha Ha Ha, um there’s going to be Josie and the Pussycats cosplay costumes coming soon.
F: That was the main thing I was looking forward to.
SN: Halloween is getting more fun.
SN: For those of you at home, that was the panel between our two panels, it was an Archie panel.
F: Yeah. Several things that I want to touch on. One is the vehicle, but I’ll get to that in a second, but first, are those Eternian Guard two-packs downstairs, are those production or close to production?
SN: Close to production
F: One of those Eternian guards looks a little familiar to me…
SN: Yeah, it’s one of chief Carnivus’ people so he’s got the lion face. Oh, you mean the..
F: Um-hm. Hmm… It’s like I’m, it’s like he’s in the room right now.
SN: Oh no, no, that was our secret. When we were designing that, we knew that we wanted to do four heads. One would be caucasian, one would be is it African American, Eternian American.
SN: Then we wanted to do two others that were Eternian races and I knew that CB (Cornboy) had sculpted himself as a McFarlane figure a couple of years back, and Eric Treadaway was Dr Frankenstein also in a McFarlane thing.
F: I think Chris Dahlburg was just a severed head
SN: A severed head, yeah.
BB: As was, I think, Jim. I think he was likewise a severed head, or was the head sitting in the chest of one of the figures?
F: Ha, ha, ha.
SN: So, um, yeah, I asked them, I said “Hey guys, what would you think if I was the white guy?”. And they were like, “Oh, totally, are you kidding?!?!”.
F: Forever in plastic in the MOTUC line.
SN: Haha, yeah. And obviously, my main job at Mattel is, well now, running Green Lantern movie line.
SN: And it was DC Universe. Now that Danielle is here, she’s taken that over. And, honestly, Masters is something that I do with a lot of my spare time. I mean, I do it at work, but it’s not my main, you know, I do it out of love.
BB: It’s your passion
SN: Yeah, it’s my passion project, and the Horsemen were like, you know, absolutely, are you kidding, we’d love to do that. So, uh, I did get my fanboy dream, come true, and I will forever be, I think we named him Lieutenant Spector on package.
F: Ahhhh. Might need to swipe Egon’s glasses.
SN: He’s the one with the Lieutenant insignia as opposed to the Private insignia.
SN: So he will be now, the next Masters of the Universe figure. The Horsemen actually painted up a bronze version of him that they gave me at New York Toy Fair.
F: Oh, okay – commemorative edition.
SN: Back in February, and I’ve had him sitting on my mantel for the last eight months. So I have a non-articulated statue version of him, but I’m really excited now. My mother doesn’t think it looks like me though. I showed her and she was like “I guess it looks like you”.
BB: They never do, they never do.
SN: But I’m just thrilled to be part of the process.
F: So have you ever had your likeness done in plastic form?
BB: I’ve been very tempted on several occasions, uh
SN: I asked you, but you said no.
BB: No, no, I kind of prefer to have my input when it comes to certain features, certain characters that I’ve always loved. It may come as a surprise – I’m a huge Starro fan. I’ve always wanted a Starro figure, so, I prefer to keep the influence going that way. But you never know, you never know.
F: Right on. So, uh, the Battleram that’s currently-
SN: At the Horsemen booth?
F: Yeah, sitting at the Four Horsemen booth.
BB: It’s cool!
SN: That’s just something they did. Without, anything to do with our plans or anything.
SN: Yeah, they do that a lot.
BB: Yeah, they are the best partners in the business to work with. They constantly surprise us with just, incredible.
SN: Sending the original He-Man for this line. They just showed up with that.
BB: Yeah, and they love to do it. I mean when we talk about our love, and our passion for this, those guys are just phenomenal. They’ll shock us constantly
SN: They are the best guys to work with.
BB: They’ll shock us constantly with where they see taking this.
F: And even where they find the time to throw stuff that’s not even in the plan to work on that because they are so busy right now.
BB: I don’t know how they do it. They’ve warped time so there’s at least 28 hours in the day, because…
SN: How they had time to finish King Hiss and the Legion of Superheroes for Comic Con is beyond me. We gave them so much work this year. They are super. They are the superheroes.
F: So it looks like the end of the year for Masters is going to be very classic-y with, Grizzlor and Roboto and Buzzoff, so I think a lot of fans are going to be really thrilled about that, and I just want to say Whiplash… when I first saw him, even with Trapjaw coming out this year, I think Whiplash is probably the most amazing Masters figure that you guys have done so far.
BB: Whiplash worked out really well.
F: And Buzzoff goes right along
SN: And they actually were originally reversed. But the Horsemen wanted to do Whiplash first because they wanted to work out how the tail was going to attach logistically.
BB: Mechanically, before we got to the wings.
SN: Mechanically, that’s the word. So we just flip flopped them, yeah.
F: Well, my birthday’s in August so I’m glad that Whiplash is coming in August.
BB: Happy Birthday. I’m glad we could give you a good present!
F: But the one figure that I think I’m going to walk away with best in show for me personally, just because it was kind of a surprise, and it was kind of the Masters figure that I think everybody was maybe tentative about seeing come to fruition is well – Bow. I’ll say it, Bow is amazing. He kicks ass.
BB: Bow is amazing. I remember a long time ago, like a very distant memory, Cornboy had said this was a figure that he was really looking forward to.
SN: He actually said that in the Toyfare magazine article, remember the one with Skeletor on the cover.
SN: It shipped in November of 09 .
SN: I know.
BB: I knew it was a ways back
SN: Yeah, I have a good memory. That’s how I can keep track of twelve toy lines. Yeah, he said Bow was the figure he most wanted to do and it made sense to do it as the next one.
BB: Yeah, no, he looks great. I think the variant heads are very cool and this one we put a lot of thought into the articulation, the new body parts.
SN: He will have the same arm articulation that Green Arrow has. So his hands are on the ball joints.
BB: he’s got the wrist
F: I noticed that.
SN: They actually sculpted three heads for him.
SN: They sculpted the mustache head, the head that has the headband, and then a head without the headband because everyone always lost it.
SN: But we could only afford to do two. They wind up, they actually sculpt a lot of extra parts, it winds up being what we can afford, and so we’re actually sitting at a table, voting on which two heads. At the end of the day, well we have to, the classic head had the headband, so we’ll go with the headband and you’ve got to do the ‘stache.
F: Well, I was noticing too, the arrow heads are all different card suits.
F: On the back, that’s so cool.
BB: It’s all beautiful detail. Really beautiful detail.
SN: Yeah, and the interchangeable chest piece, the heart or the circle.
BB: Yup, so it’s nice.
SN: And he does not have He-Ro’s boots despite, I remember when He-Ro came out, it was like, oh, those are Bow’s boots.
F: No, no, his boots look more like little new adventures He-Man, a little bit more.
SN: Yeah, there’s also some other parts of him that we did reuse from New Adventures parts.
BB: Yep, yep yep
F: Because he seems to be a little bit more detailed, like when you look at She-Ra and then you go to Bow, he seems to, like they worked out some more armor, nuances and things. She-Ra was perfectly appropriate to the designs of the style guide and whatnot, but I think they stepped a little bit more in with Bow.
BB: Exactly, yep, it’s a constantly evolving process. And as the series goes, I think you’re just going to continue to see more and more cool touches and interpretations, like looking at the Battle Ram. The idea of taking the stickers and turning them into fully sculpted gliff elements, it’s amazing.
SN: Yeah, I was pretty blown away. They showed that to us at breakfast. They literally were having breakfast with that, they pulled out and put it on the table. I was like, what the heck is this? Where did that come in?
BB: Right between waffles and omelets was Battle Ram. So it’s like, wow, thats…
F: That’s the main course!
SN: Bill and I are passing it around the table, and Danielle is sitting there, watching us geek out!
SN: And she’s looking at Bill and I just geeking out over the Battle Ram, she’s like, what is this thing?
BB: Yeah, giggling and laughing.
SN: Why are you so excited about a tank? We were like, look at the detail. This this is amazing. We will see where it all goes, that is the cool thing about Masters – the direction and how far we can push it is totally up to the fan support. Really, where it is today has so much to do with the fans. We want Masters to just keep going and going and going.
*Thus concludes Part I. Come back for Part II where we will continue our Masters discussion and venture into the vast (and expanding) DC Universe. Also be on the look out for Part I of our conversation with Packaging Genius Frank Varela, also coming soon!