Mattel Q&A Part 1
Ever meet a man who spends his day surrounded by upwards of 300 to 400 action figure pieces and parts? How about two?
Among a mere handful of individuals responsible for all WWE products are lead designer Derek Handy and fellow key design point man at Mattel, Bill Miekina. With a combined 17 years of experience in toy creative, design and execution, the pair juggles everything from sculpting and mechanical architecture (Handy's handiwork) to paint deco and accuracy (Miekina's expertise).
In an exclusive interview with WWE.com, Handy and Miekina detailed their crucial roles within the plastic-molding pantheon at Mattel -- those responsible for the greatest WWE toys in the history of the squared circle.
WWE.COM: It's finally 2010 and Mattel's WWE toy takeover has begun. What is your initial reaction to the WWE-Mattel team and its plastic offspring?
Bill Miekina: I think overall, I'm really happy with [the WWE Mattel line], to see it all come together. We've been working on it for about a year now. [Derek and I have] both been working in the industry for a while, and it's nice to see how much Mattel's put behind this. We've worked on a lot of lines where we put out six figures for the launch and that'll be it. This is a long-term project. We're launching with a lot of product to really round things out.
BM: It's the biggest launch in Mattel history, in the history of the company. That's huge. I came from a toy invention firm in Chicago where most of the work was based on pitches. You'll work on stuff and it will never see the light of day. Every single minute I put in here is going to toward a product that will be released, and released around the world. People in Australia will see my work. Japan. All over.
WWE.COM: How did you come to work on the WWE franchise for Mattel?
BM: I was hired specifically to work on the [WWE] line. I was working in Chicago and came out to San Diego Comic Con in 2008. Mattel had a poster looking for toy designers that were WWE fans and I looked at the poster and thought, "Well, I'm a big WWE fan. I'm a toy designer. I should apply for this job!" (laughs) I interviewed and took along my portfolio and took pictures of my action figure collection, which is rather large and extensive. Mattel realized, "This is the right guy. He knows what's come before; he knows what level of quality is expected."
Derek Handy: For me, I came from more of a collectibles background, busts and statues. It was all fairly limited runs. Coming to Mattel was a big transition because it was dealing with things on a much larger scale on a much longer timeline. Also, I knew this was pretty much a once in a lifetime chance to work on something where you know from the start it's going to be a long-term project. We've been able to do a lot of the things you wouldn't in a small production line where you've got to make sure one body works for six other guys. There's a lot more flexibility on this line that you really wouldn't have with other projects.
BM: I've been hardcore collecting wrestling action figures for 13 years, since '96. I can't believe I'm in a position where now I'm shaping a wrestling action figure line. Some days you wake up and you're like, "I can't believe they let me do this job."
WWE.COM: What is your personal favorite WWE Mattel toy design and why?
BM: There are two. Entrance Greats, just because that level of figure has never been done before and we pulled it off. When you look at the Rey Mysterio, Triple H and Shawn Michaels [figures], they're at a level that hasn't been seen before. (Entrance Greats photos)
Another one that's a favorite of mine is the Elite [Series] CM Punk figure. I'm from Chicago, so there's a little bias there. The tattoo work that we were able to pull off on the sleeves … his arms look like coloring books and that was never represented until we did the Elite Collection. The people who have seen it have asked how we've been able to do this. It's a lot of hard work, but for something like this, it's all worth it. (Elite photos)
DH: Specifically, the Entrance Greats Rey Mysterio really came out well and it's showing what Mattel can bring to the table. We're working on a lot of Elite stuff for the fall that's really awesome. It's just one of those things that I think with each wave, people will be like "Yes, he's awesome, he's my favorite." Then, the next wave will come out and they'll be like, "Oh, now he's my favorite." We'll have a John Morrison that's awesome and a Great Khali that looks, well, great. Then we'll have a Hornswoggle.
We keep trying to one-up what we did in the previous wave. We're always going to be striving for perfection.
WWE.COM: What has been the most challenging aspect of capturing WWE and its Superstars for this revolutionary toy line?
BM: Randy Orton has proven difficult, just because of his sleeve tattoos. We wanted to get it right, you know, with the color and different shades and placement. We wanted to get the wrap right. Anyone with tattoo sleeves is more difficult than anyone else in the line. CM Punk, Undertaker, Randy Orton and then MVP has a sleeve on his left arm, which we've started to work on now. One challenge is color, making sure it looks right.
DH: Overall, working with WWE has been great. It's been pretty fluid.
BM: I love working with the WWE photo department. I've asked for photos to be shot after TV tapings for costume changes or body art changes and they're on top of it.
DH: Especially with WWE, where there are constantly new shows, we run the risk of guys appearing with new outfits, but we're constantly trying to chase guys with new outfits, goatees and new tattoos. It's ever-evolving. That's probably the biggest challenge: Making sure stuff is up to date.
WWE.COM: How do you tackle a toy design and execute a figure plan of attack?
BM: For the action figures, what you try to figure out for a wave is who to include. If a guy's on TV a lot, we aim to include them in a line. Sheamus or Drew McIntryre and other guys are obviously more of a priority than they were two months ago. The need to get them in a line is much greater now. [Editor's note: In his photo above, Miekine is hard at work, preparing for McIntyre's upcoming figure.]
Another challenge is balancing decos in assortments. If we have a person with heavy deco, we try to balance it by including Superstars with costumes who are simple, while also appealing to the fans.
DH: We're not only going to try to include Superstars that kids will pick up, but the collectors don't want. We want some depth, not just put out a whole bunch of Cena and whole bunch of Rey, like those other guys.
BM: We follow the shows, costume changes, look changes. And just keep on top of it.
WWE.COM: Spending long days with toys, do you actually find yourself playing with the pieces you produce?
DH: At least for me, that usually happens in meetings, which is probably the worst time. (laughs) Yea, I grew up playing with action figures and I love this stuff. We wouldn't be in this business if this wasn't a part of our lives.
BM: We probably wouldn't be good at our jobs if we weren't eight-year olds at heart. I have a massive amount of shelves in my apartment filled with action figures. I can't imagine not having them there.
WWE.COM: As creators, what have been the strongest influences for you in designing the WWE Mattel figure line?
BM: My biggest influence is probably the Marvel Legends [Toy Biz] line of action figures. I think they're one of the highest quality action figure lines that have ever been put out. Those were the best possible action figures of those characters. And I want the Elite Series to be similar, the best possible action figures any company could ever make of these Superstars. That's the level I want to uphold.
DH: Obviously, we have a benchmark that we're working against. One of the keys is that we give everybody a reason to go and pick up Mattel's WWE stuff. One of the worst things we could hear is for somebody to walk into a store and go, "Ehhhh, what I have is better so I'm not going to pick that one up."
WWE.COM: What childhood toys have proven most influential to you and inspired you in your careers?
BM: I played with a lot of Star Wars toys and a lot of G.I. Joe. The hooks were in at an early age. As I've grown up, I've collected all sorts of lines; Marvel Legends, Lord of the Rings, WWE. Actually, ‘94 I started trying to compete a collection of the old Hasbro figures, the 5-inchers, because I thought they were really cool action figures.
Jakks [Pacific] started coming out in '96 and at first I was hesitant. I think a lot of people, initially, are hesitant about a new company taking over. But once new product starts coming out, if you're a collector, that's what you do. You can't help it.
DH: I was a big G.I. Joe and Lego fan. I would build little tanks for my G.I. Joes to rove around in. I was all about trying to create new and different things each time, then breaking it down to make something new again.
The Q&A continues in part two of WWE.com's exclusive interview.