Gearheads Interview Neca’s Randy Falk

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Randy Falk (left) with TMNT co-creator, Peter Laird (right), at the NYCC Comic-Con ’08

This interview has been in the works for a while now. I first met Randy Falk, Head of Product Development at Neca, during last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Randy is absolutely one of the most down-to-Earth and approachable guys that you’ll ever meet in the toy industry. He not only works his ass off to bring fans the goods, but he’s a huge movie, comic, and videogame fan as well.

During this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the Neca booth was just buzzing with electricity from their debut of so many cool and exciting lines from Gears of War, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), a slew of videogame-related IPs, to iconic movie characters such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan, Regan of the Exorcist, AVP2, Beetlejuice, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd, and so much more. Check out their website for the list of licenses: Neca’s Endless Licenses Randy and company were really busy with not only selling that awesome Comic-Con exclusive Gears of War Anthony Carmine action figure along with other sweet offerings, but hosting the cast of the upcoming Warner Bro.’s movie, Watchmen, and TMNT co-creator, Kevin Eastman. Randy was cool enough to indulge the Gears community by answering exhausting interview questions that I emailed to him. Thanks again for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to keep the legions of Gears fans salivating for more, Randy! Keep up the fantastic work in bringing our dreams and wishes in plastic! Without further ado, read on because there’s a ton of juicy information. And remember, you read it at GearheadsofWar.com first!

It’s obvious to see why Epic Games awarded NECA the license for their Gears of War IP. The level of detail and skill that is shown on each piece that NECA has created is unparalleled. I know that NECA believes in sculpting your products old-school (by hand). It’s amazing to see your final product’s likeness to their movie, videogame, and musician counterparts. Outstanding job! Also, I’d like to personally commend you for being inducted into the ToyFare Hall of Fame. I can’t even begin to thank you for bringing all of these awesome franchises to reality. So many fans and collectors have had their geek dreams fulfilled because of your hardwork for securing these licenses. Congratulations! Much deserved!

Randy Falk (RF): Thank you, first and foremost, I’m a fan so I know that I am very fortunate to get to work on so many cool projects. I have assembled a great team here of talented artists and we have had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest and best names in film, music, and video games.

• You and your sculptors have worked very closely to Chris Perna. Can you tell us if that relationship has fostered into NECA influencing Epic’s designs for Gears 2?

RF: Chris Perna has been a great help to us. The quality of reference and his fantastic art direction has been tremendously helpful. I don’t think we could do it at this level without him. As far as NECA influencing any Epic designs, that has not happened. As a matter of fact when I first met with Epic in the Summer of ’07 to secure the license for Gears of War they were very far along with the designs for Gears 2 already. Epic continues to come up with such cool weapons, villains, characters, I love the universe they have created and I enjoy being able to play in it by making the toys and action figures.

• How involved is Epic Games with the creation of these action figures? Have they or Microsoft stepped in to tell you guys that you’re way over the top, and tame some of your designs (i.e. the headshotted Locust; which by the way is marvelous)?

RF: Epic is very involved in the process and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Before we even start sculpting NECA and Epic work out character selection, signature poses, points of articulation, possible accessories, etc. Once we start sculpting the models I send everything through Chris via e-mail and every few months I travel down to North Carolina to review new prototypes in person and to get a further glimpse into Gears 2. Epic has been totally supportive of anything we suggest like the “Headshot” Locust or the upcoming “Chainsaw” 2 pack.

• What has proven to be the most challenging aspect of bringing these virtual characters to life?

RF: The amount of detail and the time it takes to re-create it. There is so much detail on all of these characters and designs that involve very clean mechanical elements like armor where everything needs to match up perfectly and be symmetrical, that takes a lot more time then a guy in a sweater or business suit for example. There is just so much going on with each characters look and design and we want to capture it all faithfully, no compromising. That is where it becomes the most challenging and the most talented sculptors rise to the occasion, those who have the ability to really study the reference and see it through to the end.
Aside from that, I would say the second biggest hurdle is making these massive heavy figures in the 7″ scale with all the detail and deco for an affordable price.

• Generally, female figures are a hard sell to Joe Public. Yet, iconic videogame figures such as Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and Halo’s Cortana are quickly scooped up. Can we expect an Anya Stroud and/or Maria Santiago (Dom’s estranged wife)?

RF: Sorry, no plans for either of those at this time.

• Which figure is your favorite and why?

RF: Tough question, I’m going to have to say Marcus because he is Marcus, the badass, the leader. We just did a new head that is Gears 2 based for Marcus that reflects the subtle changes to his likeness and we have given him a much more aggressive expression this time out and I love the way he looks.

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Marcus Fenix’s new face sculpt for Version 2

• Since the “Anthony” Carmine figure is exclusive only to the SDCC event, are there any plans to re-release him in a boxed set or individually carded figure to the general retail? By the way, I must say that the cryptic description on the packaging was a stroke of genius. Since the numerous Gears 2 gameplay videos are all over the Net now, we’ve all seen the new COG redshirt or Benjamin Carmine (Anthony’s brother), was this the reason for making “Anthony” exclusive to this event?

RF: Yes, we were aware that in Gears 2 there would be generic COG soldiers or “redshirts” and some new COG helmets so we figured that Carmine would make a good con exclusive especially since he has somewhat of a cult following and we could release another COG to retail in 2009. We will be offering a COG soldier in our next series (all based on Gears of War 2) and the COG for retail will sport a new helmet and new arms with additional ball-hinge elbow articulation. That way we preserve the “exclusive” or “special” element of the SDCC Carmine and the retail COG soldier is a different item.

• The Lord of the Ring’s Balrog was a work of art, as well as a small miracle. Are there any chances that we could see larger Locust-types such as the Boomer or Berserker? Come on Randy, we want that Boomshot!

RF: Thanks, the Balrog took years to make happen and I think it aged me tenfold.
I want a Boomer too and I think it is possible in Spring of ’09. As long as the line continues to perform well and has a good sell-through this holiday it should happen. Sales and interest in our line have been strong and I think it will increase once Gears of War 2 is out this November. I will do everything I can to make a Boomer figure. We already made the Boomshot weapon, so it needs someone to wield it. 🙂

• The 1:1 scale electronic Lancer rifle and Gears 2 game bundle which is exclusive to Amazon.com was a stroke of genius. We thought Cliff might have misspoken when he announced it at the Comic-Con Gears 2 Panel discussion. We shouldn’t have doubted him. How in the world are you guys making any profit off of this deal? Since the LoTR Balrog took up so much shelf space for retailers, this deal with Amazon for the Lancer rifle makes complete sense. Will we see more offerings like this in the future from the Neca and Amazon partnership?

RF: Thanks, again this works because like you said by doing it with Amazon shelf space is not a concern and the Lancer is probably the most iconic thing in Gears of War so it was like let’s do this, let’s make it happen and see what the response is. So far orders and fan feedback from when we showed the prototype in San Diego have been great. Cliff has been awesome by plugging it and doing photo ops at Comic-Con. I think this is the beginning of a NECA and Amazon relationship that will offer lots of cool figures and collectibles in the future.

Almost as cool as Blank’s COG tags. Almost… 😉

• Since Anthony Carmine is a COG-redshirt, it’s an automatic army builder like the Locust Drone. Could we conceivably see a weapons pack offering of Lancers, Hammerbursts, etc. (i.e. old-school Kenner Star Wars & Hasbro GI Joe weapons packs)? How about the Sonic Resonator device that Cole carries on his back? Additional figures like Wretches would definitely whet the fans’ appetites.

RF: I would love to see this happen, but retail does not respond well to the weapon/accessory packs. I grew up with the JOE and MOTU weapon packs and have great memories of them but there is not enough support for this item to live on its own at retail. However we have added some extra weapons in our multi-pack gift sets that contain 4 figures. For example this Fall we will have a Delta Squad boxed set exclusively at Toys R Us that will contain Cole, Marcus, Dom, and Baird but we did not just pack in the weapons the carded versions came with, we added a Torquebow, Longshot, Hammer of Dawn, in addition to 4 Lancers, pistols, basically a whole arsenal for your squad.
In a perfect world I would love to do a mail-in offer for an accessory pack because I love mail-away programs and grew up with them (Boba Fett, Zuckuss, Cobra Commander, etc). I don’t know if enough Gears heads would clip and save their UPCs would they?

• Can we expect dioramas and prop replicas from the Gears of War? What does the granting of the license for Tri-Force with Sid Garrand of Nightmare Armor Studios to produce 1:1 replicas of the armor, helmets, and weapons do for your plans?

RF: The license with Tri-Force does not really affect us, or our plans because the markets and price points are so different and from what I have seen so far their approach is more stylized where we are striving for totally realistic to the game.

• Companies such as Master Replicas, Sideshow, & First 4 Figures have produced scaled replicas of weapons for the Halo, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Hellboy, & Doom franchises. I have a few suggestions that might be interesting. Please bear with me as I try my best to describe them. How about offering scaled replicas weapons assortment mounted on a plaque similar to what Sideshow did with the Lord of the Rings’ weapons? You could separate them by COG and Locust weapons. On the COG weapons plaque there would be an embossed “COG” symbol (not to be confused with the Crimson Omen- Gears of War logo) and a “Locust” symbol on the Locust weapons plaque. The scale would most likely be in 1:4 scale to capture the detail. These weapons would be mounted on the plaque and be non-removable which still technically constitutes them as statues. Some weapons assortment collections could possibly be:
• COG collection #1 would consist of the Gnasher (shotgun), Lancer, Longshot, and Snub Pistol.
• COG collection #2 would consist of the Mulcher (gatling cannon), Scorcher (flamethrower), Hammer of Dawn, and Frag Bolo Grenade.
• Locust collection #1 would consist of the Hammerburst, Torquebow, Gorgon Burst Pistol, and Poison Grenade.
* Locust collection #2 would consist of the Boomshot, Boltok Pistol, Boomer Chained Mace, and Smoke Grenade.
It would be a no-brainer on how popular these would be with the Gears community since the franchises’ universe is so rich.

RF: All good suggestions and something we have considered as we head into 2009. For 2008 our focus was on the figures (close to 20 by year’s end) and the full size Lancer and of course having these items out for the release of Gears of War 2. Now that we are developing for Spring and Summer of 2009 your suggestions would make for a nice extension to the line.

• Since Lt. Minh Kim’s sculpt was revealed at the New York Comic-Con, what are your plans for offering him? On that same vane, will he be offered through an exclusive deal with Amazon.com like the Locust “Headshot” Drone figure?

RF: We’re considering an assortment of 2 packs at the moment that could include General Raam vs. Lt. Minh Kim and the “Chainsaw” 2 pack of Marcus vs. Locust as part of the assortment. These should be available at retail and not part of any exclusive program.

• Since NECA has pulled the trigger on the 12″ Marcus Fenix figure, can we expect to see the rest of the usual suspects of Delta Squad? You know Marcus needs his buddy, Dom, along with Cole and Baird.

RF: That will depend on sales, the 12″ figures cost a lot to produce so I don’t think we could justify Cole or Baird, but maybe Dom could happen. We are considering a re-fresh of Marcus with the new Gears 2-based head and LED’s in the shoulder armor in place of the sound chip.

• The two-packed figures of Marcus chainsawing a Locust in the chest is brilliant. I remember you telling me about it during last year’s convention. Now that the public can see the prototype, can we expect other action-diorama pieces to follow?

RF: I hope so, a Chainsaw duel could be cool or maybe something that would allow us to do some scenery pieces to use as cover elements for the figures.

• There’s no doubt that these figures are awesome. However, I question the use of the cut joints and non-hinged elbows. Was that purely a design decision or can we expect to see better poseable articulation in future iterations? I think that it’s safe to say that we want these figures to assume any position like Altaiir from Assassin’s Creed which is awesome, and the upcoming Shaw Brothers’ figures.

RF: I think you will see more articulation added in as the line progresses. Initially Epic seemed concerned about articulation compromising the aesthetics so we were more conservative at first, but if you compare Series 1 to Series 2 there have been some major improvements in the articulation of Marcus and from the Locusts in Series 1 to the Therons in Series 2. We will keep pushing the limits to add more in while retaining the look of the character in game.

• How is the line selling thus far?

RF: I think I touched on this earlier, so far so good. I hope to see an increase with the release of Gears of War 2. Also having the figures at Toys R Us for a more affordable price and on Amazon has been a big help in reaching a larger audience.

• Any hints on what to expect, Randy? Come on, whet the appetite of all those Gearheads out there! Thanks so much for your time and we look forward to the tons of great things to come from Neca.

RF: I would love to share more, but for now I have to play it safe as may new items we have done still need to be priced out for production and I don’t want to mention anything specifically that may change. We are continuing to work on lots of figures and weapons from Gears of War and we have Series 3 and Series 4 (both of which are Gears 2 based)
completed and we’re planning for Comic-Con ’09 already.

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