TNI Talks With NECA's Randy Falk About TMNT, Assassin’s Creed II, Street Fighter & More

by Jay Cochran
March 29, 2010
We had a chance to sit down with Randy Falk, the Director of Product Development at NECA, to talk about one of his favorite subjects, action figures.

A life-long toy fanatic, Randy got into the action figure industry in 2000 doing Research & Development for McFarlane Toys on their licensed toy lines. In 2002, he moved to NECA where he started to build a team of sculptors, designers, painters and other artists. To achieve his goal to make NECA a major player in the action figure business, Randy assembled a very talented team that worked hard to bring key licenses like Hellraiser, Gremlins, and Nightmare Before Christmas to life. With primary responsibility for the development of all action figures at NECA, Randy works with the sculptors on each figure, poses, articulation, accessories, and at the same time works with the licensors on getting reference and approvals through each step. Once sculpts are complete, he oversees packaging and all of the manufacturing in China.

With NECA’s reputation for catering to adult collectors with high-quality sculpted figures, we asked Randy to walk us through the process for obtaining licenses and developing products. NECA’s bottom line for any figure? Is it “toyetic”, Randy’s word for a good action figure based on design, popularity, and fan interest? The company looks for an edge to what they take on since many of their licenses are related to M-rated games and R-rated films. NECA’s extensive licensing roster has been assembled through a combination of outreach and marketing. In some cases, NECA will approach a studio with an offer. In others, studios and publishers approach NECA based on the company’s reputation.

Once a deal is in place, they work closely with the licensor to determine character selection, series lineups, accessories, and all the specifics that make up a toy series. Once the details are in place, sculpting begins. The licensor is involved in development at key points during design and production, usually reviewing and critiquing a roughed out sculpt, a final clay sculpt, and a paintmaster. Why do some licenses have multiple sets of characters while others barely get one? It goes back to “toyetics”. NECA looks at the marketability of any particular figure based on popularity and fan interest. For Assassin’s Creed, Altair was the only character compelling enough or toy worthy enough to reach production. Ezio from Assassin’s 2 also made the cut. For Conan, the company produced four different Conan figures plus an SDCC exclusive. Although Randy would have loved to create more Conan figures, sales weren’t strong enough to support the cost. NECA also tries to share and re-use parts whenever possible since tooling and development costs are so high. Whenever a license lends itself to multi-uses, the figures are less expensive to develop and produce.

NECA’s distribution strategy matches its product lines well. Rather than trying to attract and retain mass market retailers like Wal-Mart or Target for properties attached to M-rated or R-rated source material, NECA concentrated on building a network of retailers like Toys ‘R Us, FYE, Hot Topic, Hastings, Amazon, and tons of comic, specialty and online destinations. With distribution in the United States, Canada, and around the world, figures are available to fans anywhere. Toys ‘R Us in particular has been a great partner. With the number of locations they offer, fans and collectors are able to go in and find NECA figures at affordable prices along with a great selection of other toys, video games, and the like.

Getting down to the specifics of various NECA lines, we asked Randy about plans for some of their licenses. Here is a summary of what is coming up:

Jonah Hex: NECA is licensed for the movie and plans to create action figures and some prop replicas. The license is not exclusive, and Randy is unsure whether DC Direct or Mattel will be doing anything from the comic or movie.

God of War: Sony moved this license to DC Direct. They were looking for a partner who would produce figures from a variety of Sony titles. NECA had a great run with Kratos, and Randy still enjoys the God of War games.

Street Fighter: NECA plans to produce the Street Fighter figures displayed at Toy Fair in the displayed colors and some alternate colors. No additional figures are planned.

TMNT: NECA is looking for opportunities to broaden the line at retail so they can make Shredder and the villains. Unfortunately, costs are too high for the line to survive at comic and specialty locations alone so the company is looking for other locations to carry the TMNT figures. No specific news is available on the fate of April or Shredder and co.

Assassin’s Creed II: Two versions of Ezio are coming soon.

Resident Evil V: Nothing new is planned for this line.

Convention Exclusives: Naturally, NECA will be at SDCC this year and has finalized three exclusives. Two are video game-based while the third is the Liquid Metal T-1000 from Terminator 2. NECA may be at NYCC this fall, but plans are not final yet.

Thanks to Randy for taking the time to sit down with us.
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