Learning the Lingo

When my nieces have important teenage gossip they don’t want the adult faction in our family to overhear, they simply transition from English to “gibberish” – it’s like Pig Latin(for another generation), except I can’t figure it out. They don’t have to leave the room to share their deepest secrets, and they smile knowing they’ve effectively bypassed all parental comprehension. So, it’s with sincere empathy that this blog topic covers the unique lingo associated with developing and manufacturing with some specifics on collectible figurines and artifacts. Idea Planet has some experience here, and we’re fluent.

The overall process of creating amazing product is both a science and an art. Informed license holders, game developers, and publishers are our best clients because we work closely together, in partnership, to achieve the desired vision. And communication is the crux of a successful project. While terminology will be different depending on the item made (an art book vs. a snow globe, for instance), we’ll focus our glossary today on figurines and statues. We’ll work through basic lingo in chronological fashion, following the steps needed to get from idea to reality.


Let’s begin with the assumption that Idea Planet has been asked to concept an action pose of a game character as a Limited Edition statue for a new game/film release. The client has briefed us on the game environment and story and has provided imagery of the character.


In order to design the pose from every side, it’s important to know what the character looks like from every angle. Where he wears his weapons, the texture of his attire, location of special symbols, etc. Turnarounds are images of the character that depict this detail from the front, back and sides.


Can be 2D or 3D, renderings are “sketches” of what the proposed figurine will look like. They can be drawn by hand or created by computer aided design (CAD) software. The goal is to get approval on the character’s pose, the action shown and the base environment before quoting the project.


While this could certainly be its own blog topic, it’s essential that the formal estimate should specifically indicate what is and what is not included in the total cost of the project. Tax? Testing? Shipping? Packaging? Batteries?, level of decoration?


Depending on the type of collectible/product, process, and material selection, the number needed may be dramatically different. Very high end, “uber” editions typically have a significantly lower order volume. At these small amounts, it’s good to be aware of the minimum quantity a factory requires to accept the project.


We move into development when the client has approved the quote and is ready to take the agreed-upon pose to the next level. It’s at this stage that we create a detailed sample sculpture and or functioning model.


This is the French word for scale model – it’s the 3D rough draft or preliminary version of the unfinished sculpture that will be used to create the final version.


Ideally, the development process begins with a 3D file of the character standing literally in a “T” pose, with arms outstretched, complete with all his accouterments (weapons, accessories, etc.) in place. This file can be manipulated to reposition the character to the needed pose. This is typically provided by the studio as the characters are developed in 3-D in for game and film.


Think of 3D files as a “skin” of the character. If this digital skin or mesh is not completely “closed” (meaning it has cracks or holes where the digital dots are not connected), features of the character statue will be missing or appear as unidentifiable “blocks.” A watertight file, then, is a specific 3D file type, created with no digital holes. It’s used in the next step, to create an output of the figurine.


Computer Numerical Control. A computer converts the watertight 3D design file into numbers, which are used as coordinates of a dimensional graph. A machine cutter recognizes these points and “shaves” un-needed pieces from a block to create the sculpture output. This piece is reviewed and changes are made, if needed, prior to continuing development.


A final, approved output is painted by hand as the representative “master” to show the factory how the mass produced version should look. All colors and special effects (grunge, shine, etc.) will be replicated on the assembly line, so it’s crucial to ensure all the details are accurate.


If the statue has any working parts, such as LEDs or moving arms, an additional sample is engineered to function like the final product.


Conducted early in product development as part of quality control, this discovery phase anticipates potential issues, which can then be addressed in the CTQ document, defined below.


Now that we have an amazing statue sample, it’s time to work with the factory to recreate it on a mass scale. It’s imperative, at this point, to ensure the factory understands the level of quality expected and what constitutes unacceptable variances.


The factory recreates the Paint Master by simulating how it will be done through the actual manufacturing process. Mass production, by nature, must be a more automated, efficient procedure vs. the more time intensive hand painting used to create the original Paint Master.


These manufacturing molds/forms are custom made to serve as the cavities for each part of the statue. Material, such as resin, fills these cavities to create the pieces, which are decorated prior to assembly. There are many different types of molds depending on the type of production (injection molding, compression molding, runner molds, etc.) – again, a subject for another day! That said, it’s good to know tools take about 45 days to create.


The factory sets up a production line, usually during engineering or development, to test the methods and processes that will be used during mass production. Basically, it’s to work the kinks out of the system.

The steps or stations in the production line needed to deco the pieces to match the counter sample. Depending on the complexity of the detail, a statue might have 500+ “paint ops”.


A Critical To Quality document lists, by product component, the issues or defects that may show up in production that would impact overall quality. It describes acceptable product variations from the perfect sample and puts process controls in place to achieve high quality.


With any mass production process when millions of units are being produced, there are normal variations to the standard that occur. These are limit samples: acceptable and understandable variations to the perfect sample that occur during mass production. Some limits are measurable limits and some are subjective such as color tone.


They are the first products to come out of the molds and are used to ensure the molds are filling properly. They are also used to ensure the object assembles properly and has the correct product detail.


While it may seem obvious that this is the full-on production run using multiple assembly lines, it also includes multiple inspection points (interventions) to ensure the factory is holding true to the CTQ and Limit Samples.


Different than quality inspections, testing is typically conducted by outside labs to check the safety of the materials and compliance to any governmental regulations, which will vary depending on the type of product, age grade and where it will be distributed.


This involves a series of protocols to ensure the product arrives without damage to its final destination. Drop and shake simulations, for example, ensure the packaging effectively protects the product.


Success! We have product! Now the plan is to get the inventory from the factory to multiple distributions centers for the client. Our logistics team can do this in their sleep (just kidding, but not really…), however it can be a complex endeavor.


The factory packs the finished product in boxes, or master cartons, to secure them for shipping. All four sides of the master cartons are printed with product identification and tracking information called Carton Markings.


This is the date the finished product is ready to leave the factory loading dock to be transferred to port to ship by boat or sent via other transportation methods.


The consignee is the buyer of the product, financially responsible for the receipt of the shipment.


Freight on Board refers to the point at which ownership of the product (freight) changes hands from the shipper to consignee. In other words, Idea Planet would pay for the transportation from the factory to the port, and the client would take ownership at the port and pay for sea shipping to the final destination.


Also called Sea Containers, these are standard-sized rectangular crates used to transport freight by ship, rail and highway. Master cartons of product are loaded in them for transport. FCL stands for Full Container Load.


This client-provided document informs both the factory and customs officials that Idea Planet has authorization to manufacture the statue. It helps control creation of rogue product.

Whew! No worries, there’s not a quiz at the end of this blog!

OK, friends, we could literally fill a book with more terms, but we don’t want you to jump out a window! As you might expect, there are also many manufacturing subspecialties, each with their own set of phrases and words, similar to regional dialects. The great news is that you don’t have to know it all – just work with a trusted partner!

When you live in the world of manufacturing custom product, collectables, and limited editions, the lingo is just another part of a fun collaborative process. It becomes second nature (we even dream in “manufacturing speak”).


Mike Flecker


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