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  COST-CONSCIOUS TOY DESIGNERS TRANSFORM MOVIE CHARACTERS INTO MERCHANDISE WHILE CUTTING TOOLING COSTS AND MINIMIZING INVENTORY RISK
Life-size E.T. Toy Showcases Strengths Of Rotational Molding

Photo courtesy Playworld SystemsWhen 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 rotational molding. 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, according to accomplished product engineer Alan Girard, Manager of Engineering and Quality Assurance for Meese Orbitron Dunne Co., Saddle Brook, New Jersey, a founding member of the Association of Rotational Molders and a recipient of its "Product of the Year" award.

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 Tom Cooper, who spearheaded the project.

By molding 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 Mr. Girard, who led the development of hundreds of toys with Little Tikes prior to joining MOD. "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."