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Hasbro

How Hasbro Created its 6-inch Jabba the Hutt Action Figure

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Hasbro

When attendees line up outside Comic Con International for tonight’s preview, there’s one exclusive they’ll be probably more eager to get their hands on than any others: Jabba the Hutt, the first figure in Hasbro’s Star Wars Deluxe Black Series. The 6-inch action figure comes in a replica of the character’s throne room—complete with space for last year's SDCC exclusive, Han Solo in carbonite!—and includes Jabba’s hookah and his cackling sidekick, Salacious Crumb.

It was easy to choose which character would be the first to get the 6-inch treatment in the new Deluxe Black Series line. “Jabba’s sort of a no brainer for ‘deluxe,’” Sam Smith, Senior Product Designer of the Star Wars brand at Hasbro, says. “He’s such a quintessential Star Wars character and we knew he would be awesome at this scale.”

MAKING THE BLACK SERIES

Top: Photo reference for Jabba's Hookah. Bottom: Photo reference for the frog in Jabba's hookah.

No matter which character they’re making a figure of, the team always starts by gathering reference. Usually, that means amassing as many photos of the character and its accessories as possible to ensure film-level accuracy. “Many of the classic archival items are based on image turns rather than 3D scans or renderings [of puppets] since the costumes are delicate and, in most cases, require a person to be in them to capture the images,” Smith says. “Instead we refer back to the many on-set photos, film screen shots, and Lucasfilm-approved reproduction art. In some cases, there are so many images and pieces of reference out there that you start to notice subtle differences in features, accessories, etc. Here we work closely with Lucasfilm to ensure we are replicating the approved, on-canon elements.”

After determining how much articulation the figure will have and deciding on its features and accessories, all the information the team gathered goes to the sculptors, who develop a model. “This is a close partnership that consists of a lot of back and forth and attention to the small details,” Smith says. “We’ve also moved to a completely digital sculpt environment. In the past, we would go through a lot of wax stages, but everything created for Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series has been done digitally, which makes the process more fluid.” During this period, the team is in constant contact with Lucasfilm for input and approvals at each stage of the figure’s development.

Top: An image of Jabba's sidekick, Salacious Crumb, from the movie. Bottom: Hasbro's 3D sculpt of the Crumb figure.

After the final digital sculpt is approved, the team develops a “tooling copy”—an initial prototype of what will hopefully be the final functioning action figure, and which serves as a blueprint for the final figure—with its Hong Kong-based factory. “During this stage, we are developing deco [i.e., paint, graphics, etc.] based on painstaking review of reference,” Smith says. Finer details, like a figure's eyes, are painted, while larger areas of the figure, like legs in pants, are molded in a certain color plastic, and details are applied in paint. Graphics are applied in a process called tampo printing; they’re tapped or pressed onto an item with a soft-tipped, automated arm/finger.

“When deco is approved and we have our final paint master model,” Smith says, “we then hand the model over to our factory to reproduce it in a consumer format.” The process consists of multiple rounds of reviews to ensure that the figure is an accurate replica of the approved model; Smith says that during this time, the team is evaluating the mold layout and colors, draft angles, deco application, soft goods application, and even the packaging layout. Once Hasbro and Lucasfilm have approved a pre-production sample from the actual line, they proceed with the final production.

Modern technology has made the whole process much easier than it was a few decades ago. “We have the advantage of being able to quickly obtain assets and concept art much earlier in the entertainment development stage,” Smith says. Instead of drawing sketches with pencils, designers use Cintiq drawing tablets, and concepts are vetted digitally instead of on physical boards. Wax and physical models have been replaced with digital modeling and 3D printing, which allows the team to “test out new concepts, new articulation, etc. and can make changes on the fly,” Smith says. “We can also rapidly deploy new concepts and get much faster approvals internally and with Lucasfilm. Gone are the days where we are left waiting for faxed input and approvals.”

JABBA’S CLOSEUP


Photo reference for Jabba the Hutt.

Besides his sheer awesomeness, there were a few other reasons why Hasbro chose Jabba to be its first 6-inch figure. “He’s big enough to work within the scale and create a commanding presence when placed alongside our other 6-inch figures, but he’s not too huge like a Rancor, which wouldn’t fit on shelf at your local retailer,” Smith says. “We also like that he allows the 6-inch line to break the typical humanoid form. Apart from R2-D2 all of our previous offerings have been bipeds.”

And because Tatooine's slug-like kingpin loves to chat about his palace and carbonite-encased conquests, the figure also provided the designers a fun opportunity for an action feature: When you push down on Jabba’s arm, his mouth moves. To pull it off, “his whole upper body needed to be sculpted from a softer rubber material,” Smith says. “We also installed geared linkage between his arm sockets and the mouth to get the effect. But this is Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series, so it wasn’t enough to include this feature. We had to include it in a way that still allowed the arms to articulate for the kind of display flexibility our customers have come to expect from the line.”


The 3-D exploded sculpt of the Jabba figure.

The figures in the Deluxe line include oversized aliens and figures with vehicles and, Smith says, “Scale is the biggest challenge. We have to generate packaging off of the tallest and deepest characters. Bigger characters also mean heavier plastic weight and require a more defined center of gravity to ensure they will display and articulate properly.”

And then there’s the details; 6-inch figures just have more of them. “At this scale we can really run wild in a way that 3.75-inches doesn’t afford,” Smith says. “Hair especially gets much more attention and detail to ensure we’re getting the right highlights and patterns that normally wouldn’t be included in smaller scales. Surface textures are more intricate because they can really be seen and appreciated. We also try to get more weathering and wear on the figures to get closer to film accuracy.”

There are more deco ops, or paint applications, than on the 3.75-inch figures, and more tampo hits, too. And there’s much more detail on all of the accessories, from buckles to buttons to blasters: “A blaster in 3.75-inch may have been in a single molded color,” Smith says, “but in 6-inch, we add the finer details that really bring it all together.”


The SDCC exclusive throne-room set. A stand-alone Jabba figure will also be available.

In all, making a new figure is a process that involves a number of designers, engineers and product managers, a sculpting team, the model shop, a factory 14 time zones away from the Hasbro crew, and branding and marketing teams. “It takes a village,” Smith says. “ A village of super-obsessed Star Wars fans.”

Not going to Comic Con, but want one of these sets for yourself? You're in luck! A limited number of Hasbro's Comic-Con International 2014 special edition "Jabba" sets will be made available on HasbroToyShop.com following the convention.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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