Mel Birnkrant's
Mel Birnkrant's
All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Continue to NEXT PAGE                     Return to CONTENTS
          This concept bore the lame name, “Mini Models.” Never did a presentation this humble garner more attention than this one.  It was conceived in two variations, one for girls and one for boys. The year was 1990. It was an example of my propensity for packaging a plaything in a familiar container, destined to become obsolete. Maxx FX was conceived with changeable monster costumes packed in VCR cassettes.  And Mini Models were conceived as Play Sets and model kits, crammed into common tape cassettes.

The girls version of Mini Models featured a series of pocket sized play sets.  Each transparent cassette would contain all the characters and accessories neccessary to reenact miniature stories based on popular licensed characters.  In a sense, Mini Models were 3 Dimensional Colorforms play sets packed in a small cassette.  KISCOM’s book of product history indicates that this idea got a lot of play.  It went through a final review at Hasbro twice. The general consensus was that the tooling and production might prove to be prohibitive. 

  All the presentation sketches for the girl’s sets were lost, but I still have this one prototype. It represents Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was called a “Pocket Play Set.” The sell line was: “An Adventure in Your Pocket!”
          The cover image would double as the cover of a simple folding brochure that told the story. And the back of the Cassette displayed the characters, resting in a vacuum formed tray that supplied the perfect place to put the pieces away. The ability to store the pieces in their original positions was one of the best features of Colorforms play sets. This made putting the toy away as much fun as playing with it.
          All of the presentation boards for the Boys version of Mini Models, except one that you will see below, were lost as well. Nonetheless, a few of the original pencil drawings survived. One of these was quite complex. Seeing it again, after all these years, tells me that there was once a time when there was very little that I could not draw or visualize.  As a draftsman, I was that fabled Jack of all trades, and could draw just about anything, good enough to convey a thought, but not quite not suitable to frame. By the way I rather like the lines:  “A Workshop in Your Pocket." and "They go together in a SNAP!”
           This sketch indicates the way one might merchandise the cassettes, mounted on a hanging card.
         And this drawing indicates the possibility that the lid, when popped up could form a background, using an image from the booklet and a display base derived from the bottom of the platform.
          There is one aspect of this concept that I find somewhat amazing. Years later, I was to encounter and meet my good friend Matt Doughty. A decade, or so ago, Matt created his very own toy company, based on his own invention, Glyos.  Glyos is a unique system of plugs and sockets that can be adapted universally to create, mix, and match an infinite variety of action figures.  It was thanks to Matt and Glyos that The Outer Space Men could be recreated, with sculpting by the fabulous Four Horsemen, and manufacturing by Matt Doughty.

Matt tends to be profoundly mystical, and he believes that our existence on this planet has a mysterious greater meaning. He senses that our destinies, his and mine, for instance, are intertwined, and he entertains the possibility that we were friends in a former lifetime.  With that in mind, I offer this, the only original Mini Model presentation board that survived.  It soon became apparent that the only interest that Mini Models was generating in the boy’s category was strictly automotive. So this colored board that featured a line of snap together action figures was removed from the presentation. Now, all the other boards are lost, and this alone survives.

Amazingly, this drawing is uncannily like Glyos.  The concept was called Cassette Commandos, The ultimate Pocket Warrior.  The caption reads: “Assemble him! Snap on his Wild Armor and Accessories! Mix Him, Match Him, Pose Him! He’s ready for Action!” If ever there was a concept floating in the ether, waiting to happen, this was it.  Could it be that young Matt was sipping from the same well of inspiration as yours truly? 
          The most effective Selling tool I fabricated for the Mini Model concept was a relatively slick prototype.  It was instrumental in selling the concept to the model kit manufacturer, “Revell,” for a 5% royalty and a $25,000. advance and guarantee. That’s quite an accomplishment, like bringing coal to New Castle!  The model was a slick one if I do say so myself. 
          Here the cassette was transformed to an octagonal base, that doubled as a display stand. I invested in a rather expensive Porsche emblem to decorate it with class. 
          The contents also included a transparent arm that plugged into the base and held the newly assembled model suspended in space, hovering above the emblem of the base.
          Although it was never used, or even seen, there exists a short silent video tape. When I finished the prototype, I suspected that once it left my hands, I would never see it again.  So I grabbed the video camera that lay nearby, and shot a quick video, without sound or editing.  I was essentially using the video camera as a still camera, just so I would have a record of what the prototype looked like.  The still photos included here were derived from that tape.

And here is the actual tape, It originally had no sound, title, or editing. Now, seventeen years later, having nothing much to do on this pleasant Sunday afternoon, I decided to add those missing elements, and post the video on You Tube.
         I don’t know what happened to this item. The notes in my partner’s product book indicate that Revell was supposed to introduce Mini Models at Toy Fair 1991. Then, they changed their mind. The president of the company told us that they were delaying Mini Models, but intended to introduce them the following year.  A year passed, and Mini Models never appeared. So, that was that!  All that remains of this concept today is a tiny Snow White play set, four drawings, one presentation board, some fading memories, and an unused video.