An Interview with Re-Action Figures Toy Designer Brian Flynn

Chris talks to one of the masterminds behind the retrotastic Re-Action Figure toy line.

As toy industry lore has it, Kenner was so thrilled with their acquisition of the Star Wars license that their desire to land the next big thing led them to acquiring the rights for a new sci-fi film that 20th Century Fox was producing called Alien. The only problem was that Alien wasn’t exactly the family friendly feel-good flick that George Lucas’ space opera was, so Kenner’s toys sat unloved and unwanted on toy shelves. The company decided to scrap their plans for a 3 ¾ line of figures that would bring Ripley, Ash, Dallas, Kane and an Alien — lovingly nicknamed the “Big Chap” — to rec rooms and schoolyards everywhere (not to mention provide nightmare fodder for an entire generation of kids).

Throughout the years, the Alien prototypes have left toy collectors everywhere feeling mournful about what could have been. One of these enthusiasts was Brian Flynn. An acclaimed toy designer who works with Hybrid Design and Super 7 toys, he was unwilling to let these unproduced masterpieces fade into history. So he decided he’d help make them himself. His efforts helped launch the Re-Action figure line, a collaboration between Funko and Super 7 that promises to offer up retro-stylized versions of a variety of movie characters. For their initial offering, Funko/Super 7 has finally made the Kenner’s would-be Alien figures available to collectors. The resulting toys are endlessly cool, and not just because you can finally have a 3 ¾-sized Alien hanging around in your Creature Cantina dioramas.  They merge the past and future together in such a way that looking at the toys feels like a miniature version of time travel. Awesome.

We recently had a chance to speak with Brian Flynn about the Re-Action figure line. Here’s what he had to say:

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What was the genesis of the Re-Action Figures line?

I have been collecting toys for almost 25 years now. In the summer of 1991 I decided that I wanted my old Star Wars figures again. So I started going to flea markets, and that was right when Action Figure News and Toy Review was just getting started. Not too long after that they published a story about the unproduced Alien prototypes action figures. Back then, the 18” Alien was one of those pre-Internet coveted things that you thought you would never find. Now you can Google and buy one in five minutes, but then the idea of these prototypes was just this bananas thing. Like “what the hell is that? Oh my God!”  They were one of those things that held my fascination for the last 20 years.

A couple of years ago after we did the Super Shogun Stormtrooper we had figured out a way that we could start making action figures. But we had to figure out a way to do what was interesting, because where action figures were heading in general just wasn’t interesting to me. We were just shooting the breeze one day and we were talking about it and we said “you know it would be awesome is those old prototype Alien figures.” And they we said “well why don’t we do it?” By the time we got to that point we knew a lot of the prototype collectors. So we just started asking around anybody knew who had the prototypes. We were lucky enough to be able to buy a couple and then get photos of the others and we had people let us take a look at the prototypes. So some we were able to cast directly off the originals and some we were able to just basically do side by side comparisons and copy them because the guys who actually owned them were like, “no you can’t cast my one of a kind prototype, I don’t it want to get screwed up.”

It was just basically “let’s make the thing that we want,” and that was the genesis of it. What do I want? I want the Alien action figures that I could never have that I’ve been drooling over for 20 years.

What really surprises me is how the Kane figure seems very sophisticated. How close was that figure to the original mold?

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The first piece we got was the Kane. It is surprising the amount of detail that it has in the sculpt for a 1979 Kenner figure, but at the same time it retains with that sort of simplistic point of view. It has a little more detail than you would typically see in the Kenner figure. If you look at Ripley and Ash and Dallas they are very simple, especially in how their clothing is rendered. I think it is just because there were details that they could do, like you can’t make fabric, texture and folds very easily, but if you look at the photos of Kane’s suit there are clear vertical delineations in the lines and the padding. I think it just made Kenner able to put a little more detail in it. But when you get in the head and it is like “bonk!” (Laughs). The Alien has a surprising level of detail for the time as well.

Kane was the one that really took me off guard because the level of detail on the suit is just that really astonishing. Especially when you look at it next to Ash, who is a very standard figure.

Ash is what you’d expect. Exactly. Both the Alien and the Kane in the Space Suit both are a little more detailed, almost the amount of detail that you would see in a Return of the Jedi or Power of the Force level-figure rather than a Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back figure.

So now that these figures are completed how do you feel about them? What other the characters in would you want to include in a possible second wave?

Well we are super excited about them. It has taken us about two years to get this thing up and going, and I’m very excited to just let them hit the shelves.  I want to hear other people’s excitement about them. I think that there is definitely a,  I wouldn’t say untapped market because that just sounds wrong, but I think there are a whole lot of us who  grew up on that stuff  .We go to Target and Toys “R” Us and we buy action figures to this day because we love them. But at the same time do I really need my 330th variation of Darth Vader at this point? Maybe not. So I think the nostalgia and the charm of these are something that all of us have been looking for and not quite able to grasp. I think it is going to be great. As far as next wave, we have a whole bunch of plans in place but I don’t want to spoil the party.  Please buy this wave so we can make the next one!

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That is definitely a point that needs to get out there, not only for the future of the Alien figures but for the other proposed Re-Action figure lines as well.  Is it true you will be doing an Escape from New York line, or is that fanboy dreaming at this point?

Oh no. Escape is coming. We have all wanted a Snake Plissken.

The Escape from L.A. Snake from McFarlane’s Movie Mania line didn’t quite cut it.  

(Laughs) This will be awkwardly nostalgic as well.

As a designer what are the challenges you face on making brand new toys that capture the retro feel you want from the Re-Action figure line?

It is interesting because there is a wide breath of 3 ¾ figure. As you span from 1977-78 out through 1983-85 and even into the late 80s of how people approach the (action figure) format. If you look at Kenner’s first 21 Star Wars figures, they are very simplistic. The paint is super thick. Almost all of the paint is held in the mold of the figure. Most of the figures are two colors. Think about the Cantina aliens — they’re all designed to be two colors, minimal spray apps, very simple. By the time you get to Empire you are dealing with a much higher level of detail, especially if you think about the Luke in Hoth Gear with the billowing scarf figure or something like that. Then you contrast that with how the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Clash of the Titans, or Battlestar Galactica figures were handled. They were much thinner and they all didn’t have T-jointed waists . Then figures start getting into a huge range of variations, especially in weight and thickness.

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But what I always come back to is what is my nostalgia level? What am I interested in? And I think it’s the very simple gestures that happen in the Star Wars line, those first 21 figures, and even some of the early Empire figures like Han in his coat. They are simplified. The hardest part about it is just really coming back to the reduction and not getting caught up in all the details. For me, I come back to those 21 figures and use them as the guide posts for complexity.

What are some of the other lines that you are planning?

Come Toy Fair we will have a lot of announcements ,and I’m going to be a little bit vague only because Funko  has more elaborate plans on how their debuting them  there. But The Terminator and Escape from New York will be next two that hit the shelves. Then after that we have been talking about Aliens, The Goonies, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Firefly. We have been talking about a gazillion licenses.

What about like the spin off product like glass tumblers? Will you be doing any more neat little promos things like the print catalogs to promote the Alien figures?

We will definitely be doing some more print catalog-type items. Obviously there was the Alien Early Bird kit which was a great nod. For San Diego this year we have something completely unexpected that I think will blow people away. As far as the glasses, I’m literary swapping emails with the Star Wars people right now.  We are going to do Star Wars glasses, but we are not going to do movie glasses.  If you think about the old character glasses like Batman, Aquaman, Tom and Jerry, etc., we are going to do Star Wars glasses in that style. We are going to be doing glasses that are nostalgic; things that didn’t get made back in the day that should have. Also, we have our own Star Wars apparel license. So we have got some really crazy stuff that other people aren’t making.

It sounds like you have the best job ever.

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I’m trying to make it that.  If I’m going to work on stuff I might as well make stuff that I want to do!

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