Disney Infinity is a platform that relies heavily on the fidelity and visual energy of its toys. The design of those toys is a complicated process that demands a certain affinity to Star Wars and to the people who love Star Wars, especially kids.
With new Star Wars sets coming this year, Disney is introducing a host of beloved characters, such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Darth Vader from the original trilogy and Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Darth Maul from an earlier period in the saga.
The play-sets come with games that seek to individually reflect the timbre of those stories. Twilight of the Republic is the prequel game and features lots of lightsabers and magic in locations like Naboo, Coruscant and Tatooine. There are also set pieces like the pod race. Rise Against the Empire is more about space-combat and shooting as well as big battles like Endor and Hoth.
These games are designed for kids and families and offer simple fun in familiar locations. Disney knows how to mix nostalgia with wonder. It's not likely that the scripted games will offer much in the way of design innovation but they do afford lots of ways to relive the movies. Disney Infinity games tend to be strongest in open-world creative-play, and in the toys themselves.
Many parents of children who own so-called play-to-life games will have observed that the toys are very often played separately from the video games. This is especially true for parents who seek to limit screen-time. It's important that the toys offer a sense of Star Wars' magic, and of the individual characters' dynamism.
Jeff Bunker is studio art director at Avalanche / Disney Interactive Studios. He has spent his career designing video game worlds and characters. Now he's in the business of creating toys.
"I had to jump in the deep end and start figuring it out," he says. "It's been a blast. We worked closely with all the filmmakers and had a great opportunity to meet each one of them directly and understand what they care about in their characters."
The process starts with watching the movies and looking for an archetypal moment that befits each character, that speaks to their individuality, their appeal and their function in the world. Looking at the models, they all create a visual message.
- Chewbacca is enraged and dangerous.
- Leia is defensive, pensive.
- Luke has the pose of a practised martial artist, cunning.
- Han is macho and confident.
- Obi-Wan, on one knee, suggests humility and power.
- Darth Maul is aggressive and points right at you.
"We want the pose to be the pose that only that character would do," says Bunker. "It wouldn't make sense for another character to make that expression or stand in that position. We go through films to see if we can find the right moment that says, 'oh, that's Yoda right there.'"
Yoda radiates energy and, well, force. He is intense and serious and ready to spring into action. (Disney provided a model of Yoda to media attending a recent Infinity event.)
Bunker says his team work from an iconic moment in the movie and then make dozens of sketches, which are sent to Lucasfilm (a Disney subsidiary) for discussion. "Obviously Lucasfilm has a long history of action figures with all our toy partners," says head of business development Ada Duan. "It's fantastic to work on Infinity. A lot of that is working with Jeff's team on what the specific action poses are for these characters. Once the characters themselves were determined, we worked on how they were posed, how they were colored, where the shading was, everything."
After the sketches come the 3D computer models, in which details are added. Then the big test of actually printing the 3D model. Usually, says Bunker, this process instigates radical rethinks.
"When you're looking on a computer monitor, everything is equal. You're up close," he says. "But it relates differently when you scale it down to four inches. Suddenly all that detail you were putting in, some of it is too much, some of it isn't enough. You start having to push things and delete things. A big part of the process is doing the 3D printing."
Practical considerations are always a way bigger deal in toy design than game character creation. Yoda's shade of green, for example.
"My experience working with manufacturers is that they're very used to working with Pantone colors," says Bunker. "Here's your Pantone book, tell us what colors to use. We learned, from the very first characters, that we didn't like any of the colors that were given to us to choose from. We were driving everybody crazy. We kept on asking for custom colors.We don't use any Pantone colors."
Princess Leia's model stands holding a pistol in the air. The tip of the pistol to the base of her model fit exactly inside the packaging.
"She's as tall as any character can possibly be with the point of that [pistol]," says Disney Infinity vice president John Vignocchi. "Obviously this is an iconic pose out of the film. Your mind goes right to it when you think of who Leia is.
"We'd have conversations about, who is Leia? We'd really get into this. She's a very empowered woman. She's running the rebellion. All these kinds of things. We had other poses where she was more demure, but with the blaster in her hand; that's the pose that captures the leader of the rebellion. Then we get into the manufacturing, and what we can put in packaging. Will she be the right scale and height to everyone else?
"The important thing is that we capture these characters in the very moment when they are about to act."
The Star Wars Rise Against the Empire play-set includes Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa figures. Han Solo, Chewbacca and Darth Vader are sold separately. The Star Wars "Twilight of the Republic" play set is included in the Disney Infinity 3.0 Starter Pack available this fall for $64.99. It includes Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker character figures.
Infinity: Disney Infinity 3.0 announcement trailer