Over the past two years, Disney Infinity has blown into a huge family-friendly phenomenon. It's expanded from Disney's hefty slew of homegrown properties and grown to envelop the massive multi-billion franchises that the House of Mouse acquired over the past couple of years. Later this year, Disney Infinity will introduce the Star Wars universe into its toy box to go along with the various Disney film and animation properties and the superheroes of the Marvel Universe. While that means new opportunities to explore different adventures or simply play with the set pieces in the game's Toy Box mode, it also means that collectors will soon have more of the game's exquisite figurines to place on their shelf.
So what goes into creating these figures? What goes into creating these objects of affection that has some collectors simply forgoing the Disney Infinity game entirely just for the sake of having these keepsakes in their collection? As it turns out, it's part of Disney Interactive's continuing collaboration with some of gaming's best developer houses. Jeff Bunker is the Studio Art Director for Avalanche Software, a developer that has worked with Disney for many titles in the past prior to its ongoing stint on Disney Infinity.
"I've been part of Avalanche for almost 20 years," Bunker began. "I've been on Infinity from the very beginning."
Bunker is the man that spearheads the effort to piece together Disney Infinity's many figurines and he took some time to speak to Shacknews about what goes into crafting these collectible wonders. Of course, before discussing the process itself, there was some time to marvel over the vast playground placed before him.
"The first thing that you have to have is great characters to work with, which obviously, these are the best," Bunker explained. "You can't do any better than getting Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars characters. We have amazing talent in our studio. Our designers are just super talented. They just work on caricatures of all the different characters and as we start getting a caricature that we think is very appealing, we'll send it to the filmmaker and get their feedback. And we'll keep on sketching it again and again until we all agree that we've got one that we like."
The next step is determining a character's pose. Part of what makes Disney Infinity's figure collection so remarkable is the array of poses from each character. Whether it's Donald's cross-armed temperamental stare, Iron Man's heroic mid-repulsor blast stance, or Elsa's majestic wave, determining the best pose is a process in itself.
"At the same time that we're [waiting on filmmaker feedback], we're working on a pose that we think is iconic of that character," Bunker continued. "There's a lot of research. We do a lot of watching the movies the characters are from, we look at marketing material, as much as we can get about that character. And we just try and pick the pose that's most iconic of that character. Like, what better pose to have for Iron Man? Or what better pose for Hulk? So we just try and get something that's dynamic and that's on-character."
One of the other lengthy processes involved in crafting a figure is coloring. A figure's beauty has a lot to do with its color scheme, one that matches the character and also helps bring it to life. Bunker notes that standard art processes don't entirely apply in the case of Disney Infinity figures.
"It's kind of funny, because most toys use pantone colors," Bunker explained. "Pantone colors is a book of colors, thousands of color chips, and they ask you to pick your colors from those pantone colors. We don't use pantone colors and we drive people crazy. Because even though there's a wide range, there's not a perfect color that we're looking for. So for every one of our characters, every one of the colors is custom-picked for them, so they can be just right for them. We try to do anything possible to make it the best version of the character we can possibly make."
As Bunker and I wandered around a full set of completed Disney Infinity figures, pulling from the wide range of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars properties, there were also some other artistic items on display. There was a full-blown 3D clay caricature model for Chewbacca and Darth Vader. There were also 2D sketches -- a black-and-white one for Han Solo and a colored one for Joy from Disney/Pixar's Inside Out. Bunker noted that all of these different stages were crucial to the figure creation process as a whole.
"We'll do sketches and then those sketches sometimes, like this example for Star Wars, we'll do clay maquettes," Bunker added. "There's a lot of things that make sense in 2D, like [the Han Solo sketch], that when you take it into 3D, it doesn't make sense. So we try to bring it into 3D and figure out what works and what doesn't work. Then when we get done with this, we take it to the computer and make it 3D in the computer.
"We do a black-and-white sketch, a color sketch, and then we do this [clay maquette]. The thing we don't have here is, we then take it into the computer and we do a 3D version of it."
With the figure creation process as long as it is, I then asked Bunker how the team ultimately decides on a final design. After all, even as the team produces sketches and 3D models, there are bound to be designs that get scratched and more instances where the team goes back to the drawing board. So what determines what ends up on a store shelf?
"The ultimate decider is… would I want to put this on my shelf at home," Bunker answered. "Do I like it? Is it something that I, as an artist, think is worthy of being on my shelf? So we just work as hard as we can to make sure that the vision we have for the character makes it all the way through the process, so that when you buy it from the store, you're getting what we intended."
As a parting shot, I asked Bunker if there was a character he was looking to work with in the future that has yet to hit the Disney Infinity collection. His answer ended up being something of a tease for the future.
"We've actually hit all of my favorite characters," Bunker said. "I will say that there are movies coming up, movies you haven't seen yet, that are just super awesome movies. Inside Out is a good example, but there's movies beyond that we're starting to work on, whose characters I'm just super excited to work on."
Disney Infinity 3.0 is set to arrive this fall on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and mobile devices. Look for more information on upcoming play sets (including ones based on Star Wars) in the coming weeks.