Meanwhile in Minnesota, Schaper proved to be a “pretty good” toy company, where all the folks were nice, but, alas, not all the products were good looking. ANIMAX was a groundbreaking venture for them. Their limited in-house resources made it necessary to rely on a variety of outside talent to put ANIMAX together. And, the quality of what they got ranged from bad to brilliant.
Somewhere between great and gruesome was Product Dynamics, a model making shop located in Levittown Pennsylvania. Shaper hired them to transform my somewhat awkward drawings into tangible toy product. Eventually, my partners and I were invited there to see the work in progress. We were welcomed with all the cautious trepidation one might extend to a pack of rodents, touring a cheese factory. After all, this was a place of secrecy. Schaper was not their only client, and they feared industrial espionage.
In lieu of blindfolding us, which they might have preferred, we were led down a corridor of closed doors to a secret isolation chamber. And there all spread out on a table were the nearly completed models. Wow! On a scale of one to ten they were an eight in my opinion, which was eight times better than I could ever dare to hope for in my wildest dreams. Apart from a slight feeling of rigidity and reserve about them, they were really quite spectacular.
Amid the “oohs” and “ahhs”, the only negative I dared to mention was that the horse, which, to put it mildly, resembled a bloated dolphin, “seemed a little chubby”. It immediately became clear by their overwrought reaction that Product Dynamics was in no way open to criticism. Nonetheless, at my insistence, they brought out the wax model and with knife in hand, right there and then, I shaved the neck down a little.
Later, when Product Dynamics fell several weeks behind in schedule, an insider at Schaper revealed to me on the “QT” that Product Dynamics was blaming me, telling Schaper it was all my fault they were late, because I had “made changes”.
Speaking of changes, Product Dynamics made some major ones themselves in interpreting the designs. Some of these might have been for cost considerations, or to save time, like the fact that the motors all became the same. Other major alterations might have been made with Minnesotan Good Taste in mind. This being most apparent in the most radically reinterpreted of all the vehicles, the “Obliterator”, in which the human scull-like elements were obliterated, and Product Dynamics rammed through their own ram-like design.
Eventually, the first six pristine white epoxy models were sent to me for painting. Another not so hot shot shows them newly finished on my desk.
This blurry Polaroid offers a tantalizing glimpse of what these unpainted prototypes were like.
My camera, at the time, was broken, so I borrowed my partner Andy’s Nikon to capture these images for posterity.
Several weeks later, the second group of unpainted models arrived, “Power Horse”, “Obliterator”, “T-Wrex”, and the “Humongous Hauler”, as well as “The Bridge of Doom”. By this time I had purchased a new Pentax camera and used it to record the results of several days of painting. Then I carefully packed the finished models and sent them back to Schaper. When I removed the film to mail it to Kodak, [that’s how slides were developed in those days] I discovered that the new camera had been shipped with a card inserted between the shutter and the lens. Thus this one and only opportunity to document the finished models was missed and lost forever.
The photo of “Power Horse”, below, was actually shot yesterday. It is one of the few original models that survived. The spray painted paper it was photographed against is the very sheet I used 30 years ago to photograph the rest.
The photos that follow are Photoshop enhanced Polaroids, that, except for one of “T Wrex”, were taken by Schaper in Minneapolis. They are not great, but they are all that have survived.
The “Humongous Hauler” had a rather tricky feature, a complicated combination trap door and folding ramp that allowed ANIMAX to drive up to the upper level.
The Polaroid below is the only remaining photo of T-Wrex as he looked after I painted him. As simple as the paint job appears, it points out an ongoing battle I fought with Schaper throughout the finishing process. The weakest link in the creative process proved to be Schaper, themselves. and their miserly approach to color.
Each spray of color, be it large or small, cost them about a penny. It was here they chose to dig in and draw the line. Twenty years experience of trimming manufacturing costs down at Colorforms had taught me how to save a dime and where to spend a penny. I used every gimmick in my bag of tricks to create the illusion of full color with a severely limited palette. But the product manager, who was otherwise a pretty nice guy, chose to stubbornly fight me over a single penny’s worth of color on every item. And he would not yield an inch. Thus, I was forced to make a ridiculously stupid choice each time. The Road Tamers could have either painted eyes or painted hair, not both. The lion , Jungle Max, could have either white teeth and muzzle, or a pink tongue, not both. So on that one I opted for the teeth. The interior of his mouth remained unpainted yellow. We were always one important color short on every item. Schaper really fell down on this final issue. They thought it unimportant. I maintained it conveyed a cheesy look and a lack of detail that every kid would notice.
The photo above shows T-Wrex with white teeth. Below is T-Wrex as Schaper intended to produce him. His eyes alone were colored red, but his olive green teeth remained unpainted, a penny foolishly saved.
This studio photo shows the basic line, with final colors, as Schaper intended to produce it.
Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of ANAMAX and other Products and Images created by Mel Birnkrant, are Copyright (c) BIRNKRANT KISCOM/ The OBB
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