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The Making of a Toy: Toy Pirates' Bio-Goji & Biollante Figure Set

By Wayne W. Ho, Edited By Richard Cox (2001)

Collecting toy kaiju vinyls has been a great passion of mine for over 4 years, since that fateful giant slug Namegon caught my eye back when you only get about 20 hits when you type in 'ultraman' on an eBay search. My collection has been growing ever since, while the black hole on the bottom of my wallet got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger...

It all goes back to the mid-late 90's. Being both an artist and an avid toy collector I thought it'd be great if I were able to combine both of my passions in some way. But, being a "foreigner", I really didnít think that dream would be realized. I began to think that I could go the American comic route or go sculpting wrestler figures or making Ken dolls for Mattel (hey that might be fun!) but I'm just not cut out for stuff like that.

Mitsuru Kitamura from J-Axion (who's responsible for the planning and organizing and all that crap for this project) and I became pretty good buddies after years of my harassing him over various toys. I remember we would often sit around and chat about toys, life, and whatnot. Eventually, of course, the subject of producing Japanese kaiju toys surfaced several times, but we never really took it seriously. He knew I was an artist but I had never shown him my work. So time passed on and we continued to talk about making our dream toys one day.

Early March 2001

The subject of making our toys came up again in talking with Mitsuru. He didnít want to just work for someone for the rest of his life, plus he was just recently informed by one of his contacts, Toy Pirates, a registered toy company/manufacturer in Japan, that they were looking to launch a new line of toys. Well hey, I was there, so I proposed to do some vinyl kaiju designs.

Since Bandai Japan has pretty much cornered the realistic looking kaiju and M-1, Marmit, Bare Model are producing the stylized, 'retro-vinyls', our only chance was to create something that no one's seen before, combined with characters rarely produced as toys.

On 03/12/2001 I posted the below to the GodzillaC e-mail list:

ok guys,

me and my friend are thinking about doing this project
now what are the kaijus in the toho, daiei, and tsubaraya line
that have NOT been made into any form of VINYL toys yet?

or a little easier what are the kaijus that have only been made 
relatively low in quantity by only 1 or 2 companies? and that we 
LIKE them and WANT them as VINYLs?

help help!

wayne

The first characters we considered were Gezora, Ganime and Kameba from Yog, whom only Bullmark and Bare Model have attempted over the years. From there, it was decided to do them in a 'shampoo bottle' style. At this point I began to produce a few sketches. Unfortunately, this idea was quickly canned, as the general public wouldn't really know the kaiju or get very excited about them. Even Mitsu didnít know, and he supposedly grew up with that stuff. And then came the idea to try out Godzilla.

WHO could beat Godzilla, really? When it comes down to popularity both here in America AND Japan? Nothing and nobody. So, having decided upon Godzilla, the next step was getting the license. And if we tackle the King of the Monsters we could have to climb the mountain that is Toho. And that is one GIANT, steep, uphill climb.

So I went ahead and started combing through the Toho kaijus to see which ones we should do, now that we had decided that we were going to give Godzilla a shot. I also talked to Jim Cirronella of Club Daikaiju in order to have some of his feedback and advice. After all, by this point he'd already come out with the M-1/Club D Reptilicus and RatBat was on the way.

Biollante Sketch
Rose Biollante Original Sketch

Meanwhile, Mitsu and Toy Pirates had to contact Toho and present the ideas, designs, and sculpts in order to get approval, as well as to find a show in which to present and sell the prospective figures. Originally we were thinking of the August Wonderfest in Tokyo, but it was already March and the deadline for the show-exclusive toys application had already passed, so we settled for the much smaller September World Hobby Festival instead. With Mitsu and Toy Pirates dealing with all of the planning and arrangements (it really really helped that they're ALL Japanese) I began the designs and preliminary sketches, and ended up deciding on RoseBiollante and Bio-Goji. While M-1 produced a retro-style Biollante there were NO RoseBiollante figures produced as full-scale vinyl figures, PERIOD! Plus, I love Biollante. So the choice was really obvious. When Toy Pirates saw my designs they were really happy, and accepted them. So, by the end of March, 2001, the project was officially a go. We just needed to find out about the costs, expenses, and all that stuff.

Toy Pirates started looking for a sculptor in Japan to finish the project, basing the molds upon my designs, to keep it Japanese somewhat..... (is that what they were really thinking? I donít know) My Bio-G sketches were sent to Japan for sculpting quotes they failed to locate a good sculptor to execute my designs after a few weeks. We were running out of time, with both production and application deadlines to meet, so I agreed to attempt to sculpt my designs personally.

April, 2001

Biollante

In mid April 2001 I started sculpting the '89 Godzilla's head. I chose sculpy for it's great flexibility, and used wires and aluminum foil for the bulk of the body to keep it lightweight. In late April I met up with Toy Pirates for the first time in order to present the Godzilla head that I'd sculpted. They were quite taken with it, and so I Officially became not only the concept designer for this project but the sculptor as well.

We then went over the details of producing the toys, from molding cost to packaging and number of figures to produce. The plan that emerged was to make 700-1000 for the show. Mitsu planned the whole deal, while I acted as an advisor in addition to being the designer/sculptor. It was also decided to have 3 sets of color schemes:

Color A: Dark Gray Goji with Dark Gray Biollante (purple rose bud): 150 sets
Color B: Dark Green Goji w/ Tea Green Biollante (red rose bud): 150 sets
Color C: Painted Glow-in-the-Dark: 75 sets

Each color set was to be sold as prepackaged pairs, totaling 375 sets at the show. At one point we were even thinking of having a boxed package, but I thought that'd increased the cost too much, and advised against it, thus we decided to go with the traditional header/bag. All the time I continued to work on the Bio-G sculpt, during this period adding and completing the basic body. I also began work on the Biollante rose as well. Meanwhile we were having small meetings here and there to improve the figures...etc.

May 2001

I got into a motorcycle accident on 05/08/01, the day before I was scheduled to finish up both sculpts for 2nd stage approval. This was to include the whole Godzilla for the first time as well as introducing them to my Biollante. The project then got put on hold until my left hand healed somewhat. We had to go over production delays and additional costs which accrued due this incident. Why did that guy have to run a red light?

Original Sculpts
Original Sculpts

June 2001

Toy Pirates informed WHF of our plan to produce/sell the licensed Godzilla soft vinyl figures at WHF Ariake 9/2/01, and were told that we should obtain a regular license from Toho Pictures (such as Bare Model's) instead of a one-day pass. Toy Pirates then met up with representatives of Toho and went over the licensing issues. Toho stated that they cannot release the regular license to "whom does not have the past history of making Godzilla" How does THAT work? Does that mean that we have to make bootlegs or unauthorized Godzilla figures, until we have a HISTORY? Then we could get a license? Well, good thing it's NOT as bad as all of that, for we were allowed to make any of the following products:

  1. Resin kit or Cold cast kit with small quantity
  2. Deformed shape soft vinyl smaller than standard size small quantity

Ah-ha! That's why the figures turned out SD, and with only 375 produced sets. To make things even more difficult, Godzilla has to bear the resemblance of Godzilla but it could not look too much like Godzilla (i.e. realistic) or Bandai would have a cow. Which leads right into...

July 2001

Toho contacted us and arranged yet another meeting with their licensing personnel. Toy Pirates met with the Toho representatives, bringing with them images of my in-progress Gojira/ Bio-Rose sculpts. Mitsu reported from he meeting that:

He said that Biollante is ok, but Godzilla is too detailed. If we make too detailed soft vinyl Godzilla, Bandai will claim to us and Toho Pictures. So, I told Wayne that not to make too detailed.

Incidentally, Toho told Toy Pirates that they cannot give us the regular license, as we do have to have a prior history of producing Godzilla toys, no matter how good our sculpts are. However, they did agree to give us the one-day license for a limited quantity to be produced for World Hobby Festival. Now we needed to apply through WHF. However, in order for that to happen, they needed to see the revised, final sculpts. We applied for a one-day license for WHF on 7/2/01, which was the due date for the license for WHF Ariake on 9/2/01. Meanwhile, the sculpts were about 75% completed when I was notified by Mitsu that Toho wanted to see them in person. I quickly wrapped the prototypes up and had them sent to Japan, whereupon Toy Pirates presented them in what was their third meeting with Toho. At this point TP were given some kind of a verbal agreement from Toho and WHF licensing personnel that we would get approval for those Godzilla/Biollante.

Baking the Sculpts

On 07/07, I finally resumed work on the sculpts after receiving them back from Tokyo. Goji got a bit beat up and some of the rose petals on Biollante got flattened (which was a pain to fix), but soon the prototype sculpts were fixed, finished, and shipped to back to Tokyo for mold preparation on 07/13/2001, provided that we receive our approval on time. By this point the show was only 1-1/2 months away.

By late July I started working on the paint schemes for each set. I started out with the glow color scheme, followed by each of the 2 colored sets. Somewhere along the way we also decided that we would have two eye color variations for our Godzillas (red eyes with black pupil and yellow eyes with black pupil and red outline) since there's no additional cost, and it will allow for more options for collectors. As it later turned out, different folk prefer different eye colors, while some don't really care as much. I think we made a good decision.

Then came anxiety and uncertainty....

August 2001

More than a month had passed since we sent the application to WHF, and we had not yet received any written proof of the license approval. Without those documents, we could not produce any of those figures. But we were running out of time, and had to start making the mold and finished paint samples in order for us to be on time to produce all the planned pieces by the show.

Finally we received a written approval from WHF on 8/10/01. Phew! We had only about 2 weeks left for final production. The president of Toy Pirates (who is also the president of Suziki Corp.) had to step in at this point and talk to Toho. Apparently he or his father was buddy-buddy with some top Toho official or something.... It all runs back to the old days in Toho Studios. Anyway, this taught us a big lesson; even in the toy world, at least in Japan, a lot of politics are involved... just like the real world. Mitsu points out that Toho/WHF gave us hard time for the production and promotion and marketing.

So I finished up the color schemes, and went over them very carefully with Mitsu, so that he could and instruct and oversee the production efforts personally when he returned to Japan. Final molds were made, cut lines for the neck were decided upon (Should we make the neck line horizontally flat or at a slant? That may help the neck turn better?), and the molds were cut; Biollante along the rosebud, and Godzilla horizontally across the neck with an insertion ring inside the neck to make it rotatable. We were even able to make the two vine-horn thingies of Biollante rotatable, which was more than we had hoped for. Mitsu and I then each picked out metallic pantone chips that we thought would be most suitable to my color scheme. Mitsu left for Japan.

Color Samples
Color Samples

Finally on 08/20 Mitsu returned from Japan with pics of the painted color samples. After the initial excitement, I gave Mitsu updated, final paint alteration instructions for the final pieces the very next day. Stuff like making it less glossy, more silver paint, bigger pupils, and the like. Overall I was very pleased with the molds except that some of the toes should be sharper, but it's not something that I couldn't live with.

During this period I started sketching the header card kaijus, and finished inking on the same night; 8 process pics were posted online to GodzillaC and feedback started pouring in within two hours. The next day I finished the header card, met up with Mitsu, and delivered it to be printed in Japan.

I then stirred up a little wave in the U.S. Godzilla community with the help of Aaron's Monster Zero news byte, Richard and Mike's Club Tokyo news, and Matt's ToyBox DX Rumble. It's all very cool. Thanks guys! By the end of August, final vinyls were completed along with the header cards.

September 2001

Biollante Comparison
M1 and Toy Pirates
Biollante Figures

09/02 - World Hobby Festival in Tokyo- showtime! I see 11 sets of the figures make it up to Yahoo! Japan the very next day. With little to no advertising and taking into consideration the small size of the show we did pretty well. Since then we've received many bits of praise and encouragement from collectors and distributors alike both in Japan and here in the States. Big Japanese distributors such as Irisawa have begun to show interest in producing '54 Goji 'prototype' pieces and/or special Irisawa brown versions of the Biollante /BioGoji sets.

On a final note, the name "shampoo bottle style" may have given people the false impression that the figures are small, but they're actually very compatible next to M-1s or Marmits.

October 2001

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

So again, thanks for all the support from my friends. Please do not hesitate to contact me and let me know what you think. I'm extremely happy to have a fully authorized/ licensed, show exclusive Gojira product in our hands! To end with Mitsu's words, without whom this project would still be a dream:

Anyway, we made the license Godzilla product. We hope that history helps for us to get the regular license for other product in the future.

Only a few companies get Toho Godzilla license for making soft vinyl figures, Bandai, M-1, BareModel, Marmit. The people in those companies are ex-employee of Toho or Bandai, or they know Toho people well like Yuji. Bandai own the license of Godzilla/Toho Kaiju soft vinyl figures, so nobody cannot make the similar items that Bandai made.