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Mel Birnkrant's “Annotated Archives”
Interview: The Name of the Game, page 2
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Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of THE OUTER SPACE MEN , THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE
       and other Products and Images, created by Mel Birnkrant, are Copyright (c) MEL BIRNKRANT
 
TRYING TO SELL TOY PRODUCTS IS LIKE MUSICAL CHAIRS.  NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE PRODUCT IS, YOU HAVE TO BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE, WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS.

NOW YOU'RE IN A PLACE, WHERE IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE SELL. IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW GOOD THE TOY IS AT ALL.


IT'S A TOUGH BUSINESS.  TO SELL THE SPACEMEN, TODAY, YOU WOULD HAVE TO WALK IN WITH 65 HALF-HOURS OF TELEVISION, FINANCED.

WHAT A SHAME. WE SAW IT HAPPEN IN THE 1970'S WITH THE CONTROL OF MEDIA. RISK TAKING WAS AT A MINIMUM. YOU TALKED BEFORE ABOUT THE LETDOWN OF SPACE EXPLORATION. I THINK THEY WERE DEFINITELY RELATED. IN THE 70'S THERE WAS A BIG UPROAR ABOUT THE MONIES SPENT ON SPACE. EVERYBODY PULLED AND SHRIEKED BACK INTO THE CONVENTIONAL.

THE PROCESS OF MAKING THE ORIGINAL SCULPTURES WAS QUITE FRUSTRATING.  WORKING OFF MY
ORIGINAL SKETCHES, I SPENT SEVERAL WEEKS DRAFTING A SET OF MECHANICAL DRAWINGS FOR EACH OF THE SEVEN FIGURES.  THESE WERE THEN SENT TO THE ORIENT TO BE SCULPTED.

THE MODELS THEY SENT BACK WERE MADE OF A STRANGE FRAGILE CLAY, AND WERE MOSTLY BROKEN WHEN I GOT THEM.  WORSE YET, THEY WERE AWFUL!  THESE AWESOME DEITIES I HAD WORKED SO HARD TO DESIGN - AND WAITED SO LONG FOR, WERE SO BADLY SCULPTED IT WAS COMICAL.  WHEN I FIRST OPENED THE SHIPPING CASE, SOME MADE ME LAUGH OUT LOUD, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, LIKE THE SHATTERED FRAGMENTS BEFORE ME, MY HEART WAS BROKEN, TOO!

IT WAS "SCARY LIGHT" TIME ALL OVER AGAIN.  THEY HAD AN ORGANIC-NESS ABOUT THEM AND LACKED THE INHERENT GEOMETRY OF MY DESIGNS.
THUS, I BEGAN THE ARDUOUS TASK OF RESCULPTING THEM, DAY AND NIGHT, FOR 3 WEEKS.  I FREQUENTLY HAD TO START FROM SCRATCH AND TOTALLY RE-SCULPT THE MODELS, ALTHOUGH, I ALWAYS EMPLOYED THE BRASS TURNINGS FOR THE JOINTS.

WHEN THEY WERE FINISHED, WE FOUND A GUY, HERE IN NEW JERSEY, TO MAKE MOULDS AND PRODUCE EPOXY RECASTS.  THREE OF EACH FIGURE WERE DONE, ONE TO WORK OUT COLOR SCHEME, AND TWO THAT WERE FULLY FINISHED.  AFTER DETAILING THESE, I SENT ONE PAINTED SET AND THE RE-SCULPTED ORIGINALS TO THE ORIENT, AND KEPT ONE SET FOR REFERENCE.

MY RE-SCULPTED MODELS WERE USED TO ENGRAVE THE ACTUAL STEEL MOLDS, WHILE THE BEST RECAST SET WAS USED FOR THE PAINTING AND COLOR SCHEME.  ONE PROBLEM SOON DEVELOPED,
AND THAT WAS THE THICKNESS OF THE FIGURES.  BECAUSE OF SHRINKAGE, INHERENT IN THE VINYL, INNER CORES HAD TO BE DESIGNED TO MAINTAIN THE FIGURES SHAPE.  WE NEVER REALLY COULD COME UP WITH A SOLUTION TO THE FEET POSITIONING.  THE WIRE FRAMES THAT ARE CAST INTO THESE FIGURES REST ON THIN SHAFTS THAT ARE ON THE BACKSIDES OF THE MOLD.  FOR THIS REASON, THE WIRES MUST ALL BE IN THE SAME PLANE, AND THUS, SIDEWAYS FEET.

MINOR DETRACTION AT BEST. WHAT ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER ORIGINS?


THE STRANGE ONE REALLY WAS THE LITTLE GUY FROM MARS.  TODAY, IN A FUNNY KIND OF WAY, THAT WOULD SEEM THE MOST OBVIOUS AND STEREOTYPICAL OF THE LOT.  THAT REALLY WAS ONE OF THE MOST ORIGINAL ONES, BECAUSE IN 1968, THERE WAS NO VISUAL PRECEDENT FOR THAT CHARACTER.

WHEN I WAS A KID, I ATTEMPTED TO MAKE ANIMATED CARTOONS.  FRANKENSTEIN WAS ALWAYS A FAVORITE SUBJECT, AND I MADE SEVERAL DRAWINGS OF A VERY INTELLIGENT MAD SCIENTIST WITH A HEAD SHAPED LIKE A LIGHT-BULB, WHICH IS ABOUT AS FAR AS THAT ATTEMPT GOT.  "ALPHA-7" IS THE REMAINDER OF THAT FORM.  BUT A STRANGE THING HAPPENED.  A FRIEND FROM NYU MEDICAL RESEARCH CENTER, UPON SEEING THE GUY FROM MARS, GOT UPSET AND TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. "YOU HAVE TO HAVE SEEN THE BODY TANK AT NYU!"  I ASKED HIM WHAT THE HELL HE WAS TALKING ABOUT.  APPARENTLY, THERE ARE BABIES THERE, FLOATING IN FORMALDAHYDE THAT LOOK EXACTLY LIKE "ALPHA-7", EVEN TO THE POINT THAT THEY HAVE FEELERS COMING OUT OF THEIR HEADS.

WHAT ARE THEY?

STILL BIRTHS, NOT ALIENS SCOOPED UP FROM THE WRECK OF A FLYING SAUCER!   ALPHA 7 RESEMBLED STILLBORN INFANTS THAT WERE DEFORMED.  AND I HAD, APPARENTLY, CAPTURED THE TOTAL DEFORMITY OF THESE BABIES.  HE FREAKED OUT.

WELL, WHAT DID THAT MEAN TO YOU?

I STARTED GETTING VERY UNEASY ABOUT THE WHOLE THING.  WHEN I WAS DRAWING THESE THINGS, I FOUND I COULD SEE THEM, BEFORE THEY EXISTED.  IN SOME CASES THE PEN WOULD ALMOST MOVE BY ITSELF.  I WOULD GO THROUGH THESE SPOOKED STAGES OF FEELING THAT I WAS GETTING MESSAGES FROM SOMEWHERE.  HOW NAIVE ALL THAT IS.  HERE I WAS LOOKING AT THESE MONSTER MAGAZINES!

MAN KEEPS LOOKING FOR THINGS OUT BEYOND EARTH AND FAILS TO REALIZE THE INFINITY WITHIN ALL OF US. IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE YOU TAPPED INTO SOME HEAVY ARCHITYPAL IMAGES.

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  THAT BRINGS US TO ANOTHER TOTAL FREAK OUT POINT.  I WAS DOING DOZENS AND DOZENS OF DRAWINGS, SOME OF WHICH HAD THEIR ORIGIN WITHIN FAMOUS MONSTERS. THIS WAS NOT A CASE OF LOOKING AND COPYING.  THIS WAS "HERE'S AN IDEA" AND TAKING IT FROM THERE.

COMBINING AND REWORKING THE DIFFERENT DESIGN FEATURES?

MORE, LIKE LOOKING AT AN IMAGE, AND SAYING TO MYSELF, "HOW ABOUT A GUY WITH...? THEN, LOOKING AWAY, AND EXPANDING ON IT, WITHOUT LOOKING BACK AT IT AGAIN.  I DIDN'T SIT DOWN AND SIMPLY TRY TO COPY.  I COULD STILL BELIEVE THESE CHARACTERS WERE OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD, AND MY GLANCE, THEN TURN AWAY AND DRAW MEATHOD OF WORKING MADE THEM SEEM ORIGINAL TO ME.

THE FINAL SEVEN WERE CHOSEN OUT OF 75.  I PERHAPS, LIKED CERTAIN ONES, BECAUSE I WAS FAMILIAR WITH THEM.  BUT I WAS AMAZED AT THE FACILITY, WITH WHICH I WAS POURING THESE THINGS OUT.  I WONDERED WHERE THE IDEAS WERE COMING FROM.  THEY WENT BEYOND THE MAGAZINE.  AND I MARVELED AT MY ABILITY TO DRAW THEM FROM ALL VIEWS, AS IF I COULD ACTUALLY SEE THEM.

AFTER THE LINE WAS OUT ON THE MARKET, COLORFORMS STARTED GETTING CORRESPONDENCE FROM AN INDIAN RESEARCH ORGANIZATION.  THEIR WHOLE THESIS WAS BASED ON JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY, THE BELIEF THAT WE HAVE A FEELING WITHIN OUR GENES OF ALL MYTHOLOGY, HISTORY...

FROM THE AMOEBA ON UP, ALL LOCKED IN THE GENETIC CODE?

YES. AND HOW IN EVERY CULTURE, THERE WILL BE A SIMILAR STORY FOR THE ORIGIN OF FIRE AND OTHER MYTHS.  HOW ALL CULTURES SEEM TO HAVE SOME KIND OF KINSHIP, POSSIBLY, SOMETHING INHERITED, AND NOT LEARNED.  THEIR AREA OF STUDY WAS INDIAN MYTHOLOGICAL IMAGES, AS MANIFESTED IN WESTERN SOCIETY.  THEY FREAKED OUT WHEN THEY SAW "ASTRO-NAUTILUS" THE GUY FROM NEPTUNE.  THEY SENT A LONG LETTER AND SAID HE WAS A MAJOR HIGH-POWERED INDIAN GOD. WHILE I SAW A RAY HARRYHAUSEN CONK SHELL, AS A STARTING POINT, I HAD NEVER SEEN THEIR INDIAN GOD.  THIS GOD, IT SEEMS, HAS THE "TRUNK" OF AN ELEPHANT, AND THIS WAS SOMETHING THAT HAD NEVER OCCURRED TO ME.  I THOUGHT OF IT AS USING A TENTACLE FOR A NOSE.  THE DIETY ALSO HAS FOUR ARMS, CONSISTING OF TENTACLES, A HEAD SHAPED LIKE A CONK SHELL.  IT EVEN CARRIES A TRIDENT, AND IS AMBIVALENT, BOTH A GOOD GOD AND BAD GOD.
I AM NOT KIDDING YOU.   WHAT A CHILLING SIGHT THAT WAS.

IT'S A POWERFUL FORM, PERHAPS, LIKE, A PRISM OR A RESONATOR?

I CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR IT.  WHATEVER IT IS, IT'S BEYOND MY CAPABILITIES.  WHETHER IT IS THE KINETIC ENERGY THAT I WAS DIRECTING, BECAUSE I WAS SO UPTIGHT ABOUT NOT LETTING THE FIGURE FALL OVER, OR SOMETHING ELSE.  ADDING TO THE STRANGENESS WAS HOW EQUALLY PLACED THE JARS WERE.  OF COURSE, I SHOULD ADD THAT THE LOFT WAS A HUGE OPEN SPACE 29 FEET WIDE BY 80 FEET LONG, AND I WAS, NOT ONLY, ALONE, BUT I COULD SEE THE ENTIRE UNOBSTRUCTED AREA, AT ALL TIMES.

IT'S A WEIRD WORLD.

ALL THIS DID TEND TO DISTURB ME.  THE IMPACT OF THIS SIMPLE EVENT WAS AS GREAT AS IF AN ALIEN HAD JUST STEPPED THROUGH THE WINDOW.

WHAT WERE THE ORIGINS OF THE OTHER FIGURES?

THE GUY FROM SATURN ("XODIAC") WAS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL FREE-FORM DOODLES, AND WAS NOT CONSCIOUSLY BASED ON ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR.   THE "COLOSSUS REX" WAS ADAPTED FROM AN AD IN FAMOUS MONSTERS FOR A BOOK OF FRANK FRAZETTA'S ART.  HE HAD DONE A SEA CREATURE WITH A PROTRUDING CHEST; I REALLY LIKED THAT ONE PARTICULAR FEATURE.  THE PICTURE WAS VERY SMALL, AND I COULD BARELY MAKE IT OUT.  YEARS LATER, I SAW THE PICTURE, FULL SIZE.  I WAS AMAZED AT HOW MUCH I HAD CAPTURED OF THE ESSENCE, AND HOW MUCH I HAD IMAGINED DIFFERENTLY AS FAR AS THE DETAILING WAS CONCERNED.
OH, I THINK YOU COVERED ALL OF THOSE IN THE FIRST SET.

WITHIN THE SECOND SERIES, THE CYCLOPS WAS HARRYHAUSEN INFLUENCED.  ALTHOUGH, IT WAS NOT UNTIL YEARS LATER, THAT I CONSCIOUSLY REALIZED THIS.

THEY WROTE, AND THEN CALLED, AND FINALLY, DECIDED THAT THIS WAS THE MOST CONVINCING MANIFESTATION, THAT HAD, YET, ENCOUNTERED, TO PROVE THEIR THESIS, THAT EASTERN DIETIES CAN LURK IN THE SUBCONSCIOUS GENETIC MEMORY OF A WESTERN MIND. ALL THESE LITTLE OCCURANCES WERE MAKING ME BELIEVE THAT SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING.  IN FACT, I HAD THE ONLY PARANORMAL EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE, WORKING ON THE SECOND SERIES.  IT WAS A TOTAL NON-EVENT, IN A SENSE, BUT THE SIGHT OF IT, ABSOLUTELY, CHILLED ME, LIKE NOTHING EVER HAD, BEFORE.

THE MODELS WERE SO DELICATE, I FOUND THE ONLY WAY TO FINISH THEM WAS FOR ME TO WORK ON SEPARATE BODY SEGMENTS AND THEN GLUE THEM ALL BACK TOGETHER.  EACH BRASS JOINT AND EVERY BODY SEGMENT WAS A SEPARATE PIECE, ALL OF WHICH HAD TO BE REASSEMBLED.  THE ONLY GLUE THAT WORKED WAS DUCO CEMENT.  IT TAKES A LONG TIME FOR THIS STUFF TO DRY.  I WAS GLUING THE LEGS ON THE CYCLOPS, AND THEY HAD TO BE "JUST RIGHT", OR THE WIRES WOULD NOT FIT PROPERLY.  TO DO THIS, I HAD HIM BALANCED IN A STANDING POSITION;  IF HE HAD FALLEN OVER, HE WOULD HAVE SHATTERED.

(MB NOW STANDS UP THE CYCLOPS PROTO ON THE TABLE IN FRONT OF US)

I HAD SPENT ABOUT 3 DAYS CARVING IT, AND DID NOT WANT TO SEE IT FALL.  HE COULD JUST BARELY BALANCE, SO I PUT JARS ALL AROUND THE FIGURE, BARELY TOUCHING IT, TO CATCH HIM IF HE SHOULD TIP.  THIS WAS A VERY FRAGILE SITUATION.  I HAD JUST PLACED HIM PROPERLY, WHEN THE PHONE RANG.  HOLDING MY BREATH, I TIPTOED AWAY FROM THE TABLE, TO ANSWER IT, AT THE OTHER END OF MY LOFT.  AFTER AN HOUR LONG CONVERSATION I WALKED TO THE BACK TO MY DESK.   WHAT I FOUND WAS THIS!   ALL THE JARS HAD MOVED AWAY, BY THEMSELVES!             

(MB NOW BACKS OFF THE JARS 6" FROM THE CYCLOPS)
I GOT THE IDEA FOR THE TWO HEADED GUY ("GEMINI" FROM A "TWILIGHT ZONE" EPISODE.

MR. DINGLE THE STRONG, I BELIEVE.
YEAH, PERHAPS, THAT'S THE ONE.  I NEVER WAS A BIG FAN OF THE SHOW.  ALIENS FROM MARS WOULD LAND, AND VISIT A DINER, OR ASTRONAUTS FROM EARTH WOULD LAND ON MARS, AND FIND A DINER!  THE OTHER FOUR FIGURES IN THE SECOND SET WERE ALL OF MY OWN CREATION.  THE HOLLOW EARTH GUY ("MYSTRON") WAS STYLED AS THE ANTITHESIS OF THE GUY FROM VENUS ("COMMANDER COMET").

"METAMORPHO" FEATURED A 3-FACED HEAD THAT YOU COULD ROTATE FROM THE TOP OF THE HELMET.  HE HAD ONE GOOD, ONE NEUTRAL, AND ONE EVIL FACE.  THE GUY FROM MERCURY ("INFERNO") I GAVE A LIGHT-UP FEATURE.   AND THE 4TH DIMENSIONAL GUY ("GAMMA-X") I GLOWED-IN-THE-DARK.

WITH THE FIRST SERIES, THE FORM, GENERALLY, CAME BEFORE THE IDEAS.  WHEN I DID THOSE, I WAS SCARED, AS HELL, THAT I COULDN'T "CUT IT". I HAD VERY LITTLE CONFIDENCE, BUT WAS GLADLY SURPRISED, WHEN THEY TURNED OUT SO WELL.  BY THE TIME IT DID THE SECOND SERIES, I COULD, CONFIDENTLY, WORK THEM OUT DIRECTLY FROM MY OWN IMAGINATION, IDEAS FIRST, FORM LATER.

THEY, ARE MASTERPIECES Of INDUSTRIAL DESIGN.


THANK YOU.  THEY WERE MUCH MORE FULLY DEVELOPED, WITH ALL THE ADDITIONAL ACCESSORIES.

HOW MUCH TIME PASSED BETWEEN THE DESIGN OF THE TWO SETS? HOW MANY UNITS HAD SOLD, BEFORE VOU COMMITTED TO THE SECOND SET OF FIGURES?

THE FIRST SET WAS DESIGNED OFF THE DRAWINGS, SCULPTED, CAST, PAINTED, AND SENT TO THE ORIENT. OUR FIRST ATTEMPT WAS PRETTY DISASTROUS. THESE FIGURES WERE PRECEDENT SETTING, IN SEVERAL WAYS.  THEY HAD BULK TO THEM, UNLIKE OTHER BENDABLE FIGURES SUCH, AS MATT MASON.  WE HAD TO EXPERIMENT WITH INNER CORES, AND ALL THE WHILE, PRODUCTION COSTS WERE GROWING.

IN THE MEANTIME, THE PEOPLE AT COLORFORMS HADN'T EVEN SEEN OR HEARD OF THE PRODUCT. HARRY DID ALL THIS IN SECRECY.  HE KNEW THAT IF THOSE GUYS SAW THIS STUFF, THEY'D GO CRAZY.  THIS WAS ABOUT THE FARTHEST HE HAD GONE FROM WHAT COLORFORMS WAS AND SHOULD BE DOING.  AT SOME POINT THEY SAW THEM, AND BY THAT TIME I WAS ALREADY WORKING ON THE SECOND SET.
SO THERE WAS NO MARKET FEEDBACK?

WE WERE SO SURE THEY WERE GOING TO BE GREAT, I WAS ALREADY WORKING ON THE SECOND SERIES, BEFORE THE FIRST EVEN HIT THE MARKET.  I NEVER STOPPED WORKING ON THEM.  THE MINUTE WE STARTED GETTING TEST SHOTS OF THE MOLDS BACK, I STARTED DOING SET-UPS FOR THE PACKAGES OF THE FIRST SERIES.  I SPENT THE BETTER PART OF A YEAR, WORKING ON THOSE LITTLE SCENES ON EACH CARD.  I WORKED A LONG TIME ON THEM, AND IT TOOK OVER MY ENTIRE LOFT.  ALL THESE LITTLE SCENES SPREAD AROUND.  JUST STUFF I HAD METICULOUSLY SET UP, AND THEY ONLY LOOKED GOOD FROM A CERTAIN CAMERA ANGLE.  IT WAS MOSTLY JUNK - THE VENUSIAN DOME ON COMMANDER COMETS CARD, FOR INSTANCE, WAS THE LAMP OFF OUR COFFEE TABLE.                                                

I NEVER DID QUITE LIKE COMMANDER COMET'S FACE IN THE FINAL PRODUCTION ISSUE.  SO, I USED MY ORIGINAL EPOXEY MODELS, ON THE CARD PHOTOGRAPHS.  THAT'S WHY HE'S FLYING, BECAUSE I'M STUCK WITH A GUY WITH HIS ARMS STRAIGHT OUT.

SO I DID ALL THE PHOTOGRAPHS AND DESIGN FOR THE PACKAGES, AND A FRIEND, BILL BASSO, HELPED WITH THE FINAL PAST-UPS AND MECHANICALS.  AS SOON AS THOSE PACKAGES WERE DONE, I STARTED ON THE SECOND SERIES.

AND THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN IN…?

1968.

WHEN THE FIRST 200,000 UNITS CAME IN, THEY DID A COMMERCIAL.  IRONICALLY, COLORFORMS SHOULD BE A HUGE COMPANY BY NOW.  IT'S NOT, BUT IT HAD EVERY CHANCE OF BEING HUGE, BECAUSE HARRY HAD THE FORESIGHT TO A BE ONE OF THE FIRST TO USE TV ADVERTISING, BEGINNING WITH THE POPEYE COLORFORMS.

COMMERCIALS COULD BE VERY EXPENSIVE, SO THE COMMERCIAL FOR THE OUTER SPACEMEN WAS DONE ON VIDEOTAPE, INSTEAD OF FILM.  I REMEMBER DOING THE COMMERCIAL FOR THE SPACEMEN. IN IT, IT IS MY HAND, THAT IS WIGGLING THE FIGURES AROUND.
Mouse over for a REINACTMENT
There were actually two commercials. The one I was referring to above was by far the more elaborate of the two. The first commercial, which is now available "on line" was no more than a badly edited pan and scan.  The second was a big production, although it made the OSM look small. It featured them actual size, popping up here and there around the house, and adults registering surprise.  I recall one shot of my hand fishing Astro-Nautilus out of an aquarium.  A portion of the advertising agency's first "story board" is shown below.