When E.T. phoned home, he was calling to tell his friends to come to Hollywood, where new jobs were being created by the hundreds for aliens, puppets and animated and computer generated characters. With E.T.’s return to the movie screens on March 22, 2002, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, it is remarkable to consider the alien’s impact on the use of and increasing reliance on non-human and computer generated characters in movies such as Shrek, Buzz Lightyear, Antz, Lord of the Rings and the Star Wars series. The corresponding growth of merchandise sales has created awesome opportunities for toy companies capable of designing and manufacturing toys and associated products that appear as lifelike as the characters on film, if they can be quickly brought to market at low cost during tight windows of consumer interest.
To capitalize on these opportunities, cost-conscious toy companies are increasingly turning to custom rotomolding. Enticing product development executives with low tooling and development costs – often 10% of injection molding – skilled rotational molders produce high quality products in complex shapes with multiple walls and molded-in fasteners and graphics without committing to excessive production runs. This enables toy companies to ship a wide range of products to market while movies are popular and minimizes inventory risk without incurring high up front costs.
Although dozens of miniature dolls, figures and other products were created during the E.T. frenzy, the Orbitron division of Meese Orbitron Dunne (MOD) is the only company to develop a life-sized duplicate of the lovable alien. Working with one of the world’s premier toy companies, MOD engineers rotomolded E.T. from polyethylene into a clothes hamper in a seamless design of uniform color that precisely mimicked each wrinkle and curve from the tips of the eyebrows to the toenails. A steel hinge with a magnet in the back enabled the four-foot tall E.T. to be opened and closed from the front for the placement and removal of clothing, helping children to keep their rooms neat and clean. The eyes were painted to match the deep blue from the big screen and the arms and feet were attached with hidden rivets. “The color match was especially important to Steven Spielberg and we were told he needed to personally approve it on the prototype before production could move forward,” says Bob Dunne of MOD.
By custom rotomolding large parts such as E.T. in seamless, one-piece designs, MOD engineers eliminate many of the assembly and secondary steps that inflate labor and production costs and delay shipping to retail. In addition, by eliminating or molding in fasteners, MOD engineers cut the use of and access to the small parts that promote product liability issues.
“The use of oddly shaped, computer generated characters in movies, video games and other media will only accelerate as technology advances,” says Dunne. “If toy companies, retailers and point-of-purchase firms want to continue to profit from merchandising, they need to recognize that both the complexity of these characters and the skill required to accurately manufacture them in plastic will accelerate accordingly.”