All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
When my adventures in art began, all artwork had to be done by hand. To put it in terms, easy to understand, everything began with a pencil sketch. This was often refined by redrawing it several times. I had a huge projection device called a “Lucy,” which was short for a “Camera Lucida.” This sizeable monstrosity occupied a corner of my studio. It projected images on a piece of glass, so one could change an image’s size, and then, trace it again. Then, the final art was traced one more time, in ink. And that drawing was colored by hand, to become the one and only piece of final art. As time went by, I got a Minolta copier. This could turn a pencil drawing into what resembled a pen line, and change its size at the same time. I learned to color these Minolta copies, with marking pens, and they became the finished art. If I made a mistake, I could either patch it, or start all over again with another perfect print. And thus, nothing was lost, but time. Because there was no computer, to make backup copies at that time, additional copies were made on the Minolta copier, in black and white.
Several years ago, I undertook a herculean effort to clean out the storage area behind my desk. I went through the many boxes of old artwork stored there, and threw out several thousand Minolta copies. But, whenever I came across an original pencil sketch, without regard to whether it was just a fragment, or an elaborate major effort, I tossed it into a big box.
When the art was dramatically pared down, I placed the considerably condensed artwork that was left, back through the door under my left desk, and into the storage space, behind the wall, again.
Among the artwork that I placed there, were two large bankers boxes, full of pencil drawings. These are what I’m looking through, on the ambitious archaeological dig I recently embarked upon, in quest of long lost product concepts. Many of the often elaborate finished presentations that followed these spontaneous moments of conception are gone now. Nonetheless, their modest beginnings, the first pencil sketches remain.
Thus, I am rediscovering and remembering long lost projects, and reliving the very moments they were created. In many cases, I had forgotten that many of these attempts at toy inventing ever existed, in the first place, let alone the fact that they progressed to become full-fledged presentations. “Energy Eaters” is a perfect example of such a situation.
Once a week, my partners and I got together, here at the schoolhouse. Much as in the case of Baby Buds, Energy Eaters began as visual notes, hurriedly rendered, during one of these meetings. As each suggestion for a potential product idea came up, I made an instantaneous little sketch, a quickly scribbled note of how on first impression, I visualized each concept we discussed. It’s clear to see that on this particular day, our thinking was quite literally, all over the page!
Judging from the drawing at the very top, we must have been discussing some sort of modular fairytale village. I can recognize Cinderella, her Prince, and the pumpkin coach, as well as the Three Little Pigs, beside their house of bricks. Farther down the page, are a couple of kids, one holds a kitten. And to the right of them, are some tumbling “Buggies.” They were destined to appear again. And suddenly, from God knows where, there appeared a concept we, at first, called “Power Guzzlers” or “Power Eaters.”
As the meeting continued, my drawings degenerated into doodles. Then, once again, in the middle of the page, another Energy Eater appeared, this one resembled a Roman general or the Sphinx.
The sketches that I did later, at my leisure, differed little from this first impressions. This is the initial page of drawings that I made, for my eyes only, when I began thinking through the concept.
The premise of Energy Eaters, which is what we came to call them, was simple. Energy Eaters were intended to be a series of vehicles, and other things, like lights and radios that consumed electricity, electricity that was fed to them in the form of batteries. But, instead of hiding the batteries inside them, they would feed upon them visibly.
This page depicts a battery powered alarm clock and two radios.
The upper figure here, appears to be a tape recorder, and the one below, is simply a toy motorcycle.
This, of course, is a black and white Police car. With a flashing light on the top.
Among the Energy Eater drawings, I also discovered this one. It appears to be a variation on Mr. Power, a character from Brainiacs. This version portrays him as a sort of robotic Superhero.
Here is a clearer tape recorder.
And I also seem to have the drawings for three variations of a swimming toy. Two of these are wearing shark fins. All three are powered by a propeller in the butt!
Some of the above pencil sketches became part of the presentation, which would have consisted of full colored illustrations. What we are seeing here is, not just the beginning, it is also, the leftovers. And I wouldn’t consider showing them at all, if not for the fact that I found decent photos of the prototype that I made to demonstrate the concept. Strangely, this object sat on my desk for many years. Just now, I spent half an hour looking for it. I felt sure that it was still there. Well, I will not let that stop me from doing this page. Any of these missing things, from the electric vehicle to the colored drawings, might show up any day.
These drawings depicted just a few vehicles. I know that there were originally many more. In fact, the sketch for this, the actual prototype I chose to make, is missing as well.
This prototype worked perfectly. His nose was the power switch. And the battery really did supply the power he needed to go. These photos also disclose a visual feature that the black and white drawings did not show. Namely, the fact that his hands were boldly color coded to represent the opposite electrical poles, red for positive, and blue for negative. So, as you can see, Energy Eaters were educational. They taught the basics of electricity.
It always seemed a shame to me that interesting looking batteries were always hidden inside the object whose power they supplied. With Energy Eaters, these batteries became a key element of the design.