Sunday, June 12, 2011

Raiders of the Lost Ark 30th Anniversary

It's hard to believe that it was 30 years ago this week that Indiana Jones first made his way through the jungles and onto the big screen, forever changing the face of adventure. I'm not sure my young heart ever raced so fast as it did when the giant boulder chased Indy out of the Hovitos temple. Those first 5 minutes of film redefined cinema for me, and it's majesty and subtly echo through my mind as I focus on my own productions.

I was inspired by the story, the characters, the history and culture, and of course, the design. Even the posters! The image above by famed illustrator Drew Struzan, was highly influential in spurring my desire to pursue a career in art.

I wouldn't get to be officially involved with the Indy franchise until my brief animatronic snake project for The Last Crusade, but I created many pieces of Indy art before that. When I wasn't attempting (unsuccessfully) to emulate the master works of Drew through illustration, I worked on honing my sculpting skills with fan homages such as this Indy garage kit I did in '87.

I made a few dozen copies of the kit that I sold or traded at model shows, and somewhere along the line, my Indy got re-cast and ended up all over the place. To this day, I still find copies, or parts of copies, popping up on ebay and at conventions. Most commonly reproduced is my version of the idol. I have a collection of other people's re-casts of my sculpt, ranging from this "1/6th scale accessory" to an official Lucasfilm action figure release that includes an injection molded version in the packaging!

When Disney World opened the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, I was called in to do some merchandising. I was pretty excited to be able to make some official Indy product. At first, the Consumer Products division in charge of the project said, "You're a diehard fan! You tell us what we should offer our guests!" I put together an entire presentation, trying to fill in the gaps of the original Kenner Indy action figure lines. I proposed 2 figures from each of the films, a total of 6 in all. Indy, of course, and Toth with a melting face from Raiders, Shortround w/ crocadile and Mola Ram w/ stones and skull goblet, and Professor Henry Jones and the Grail Knight from The last Crusade. I was hoping to be able to expand the line to include Willie, Elsa, and Marcus Brody.

Unfortunately, you will never see my version of those figure. I do believe that at least a few of those characters and concepts are available now from different companies, but after getting everybody excited, myself included, Disney decided that they would get the most sales if the figures represented the characters audiences just saw perform in the live show. So the line up became Indy, Marion, a German Soldier, the German Mechanic, and a Cairo Swordsman.

The gray Indy is my original sculpt, and the off-white is the Hong Kong prototype cast. The red marks are actually a putty the factory uses to "tool in" the joint connections.

I also originally sculpted Indy with his iconic jacket, but he doesn't wear it in the stunt show, so I had to strip it off. I actually have a cast of his jacketed upper body, but I couldn't find it at the time of this blog! I'll re-post when I come across it...

This is the first "test shot" of the Indy figure and accessories. A test shot is an unpainted cast from the first run out of the steel injection molds. They send a few copies to me, and some to Disney (or whomever is in charge of the project) to make sure that everything is correct. It is often too late to make changes at this point, because that would mean re-tooling the steel molds, which is very expensive, but if something is wrong, this is the last chance to notice it before full production begins.

The final Indiana Jones figure for my Walt Disney Parks exclusive series.

This is the original and tooling master for Marion. Something happened to this poor figure along the way, and the subtle pose I put her in became very awkward. I blame that red putty.

I stared at these photos a lot during production, trying to figure out what went wrong. As best as I could sumise without actually going to China to review the assembly line, the bodies of my figures molded by milling solid steel, but the heads were molded using a nickle plating process directly on the tooling master. This allows for the details to be captured more accurately, but the final part often shrinks. If it is decided ahead of time that this process will be used, the original sculpts are done at 8% to 10% larger to allow for shrinkage. Since I did my sculpts at 100%, and the heads and bodies used two different processes, the proportions of the figures changed. A very small percent, granted, but enough to drive me crazy!

The uncomfortable Miss Ravenwood! Gotta love the monkey, though!

Here is the original and tooling master for the swordsman.

I originally designed his cloak with a seperate lower "skirt", which was maintained in production, but the idea was for it to be a softer, more flexible material. That part got nixed due to cost, so the figure looks cool with his giant swords, but if Indy ever runs into him, he doesn't have to worry about being chased. The Cairo Swordsman has very limited leg mobility!

I probably would have packaged him with a sword in that hand...

Original and tooling master for the German Mechanic.

I made all the accessories, too. I was able to get away with a bunch for Indy, but the rest of the characters were limited to 2 or 3. So I tried to make them big!

Another awkward packaging pose!

And lastly, the German soldier. This photo is of the paint master. I always send 2 copies to the factory, the mold master and a paint master. This is what they will use as a guide to paint all of the figures.

Another big accessory, the Ark crate.

The German Soldier is the rarest of this series, as it was pulled from the park stores shortly after the collection arrived due to it's controversial nature. I'm not sure if the inventory was warehoused of destroyed, but they are really hard to come across. Hopefully you have one in your Indy collection!


  1. Wow, so cool that you got to be part of that! Interesting how the toy design process works. What snake did you do for Last Crusade? I'd like to hear about that.

  2. The more I read your blog, the more I admire your awesomeness.

    I, too, am curious to hear more about the Last Crusade snake.