Published on September 8th, 2013 | by James Whittington
Doctor Who Figurine Collection’s Ben Robinson
Eaglemoss recently released a rather snazzy new partwork, the Doctor Who Figurine Collection which, over a reported 80 or so issues will build up into an incredibly vast and wonderfully detailed collection of favourite characters from the TV series.
Here Managing Editor at Eaglemoss Ben Robinson chats about this and other titles he’s working on.
What exactly does your job at Eaglemoss entail?
I work across a large number of projects but I have a particular expertise in what are loosely described as ‘genre’ projects. At the moment that means Star Trek Starships, Doctor Who Figurines an upcoming Hobbit figurine collection and the Marvel Fact Files, which is a massive pull apart and file encyclopaedia. In the past I’ve worked on several different James Bond projects – a collection of 1:43 scale cars in movie dioramas, a DVD collection for Japan and a massive buildup DB5, which is the famous car from Goldfinger; Doctor Who and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading card collections; the Star Trek Fact Files, which was another pull apart and file encyclopaedia; the official Star Trek magazine in the US; and countless DVD series including Midsomer Murders, Doctor Who and Stargate. I also oversee our Batmobile collection and DC and Marvel Chess series, though I am one remove away on those since my colleague Richard Jackson looks after them on a day-to-day basis.
[pullquote align=right]When I started to work in publishing 17 or 18 years ago I was working at DK on interactive CDs and at the time people were predicting that they would replace books and magazines. It hasn’t happened yet and to be honest I can’t see it happening any time soon.
People like to own things.[/pullquote]What do I actually do? There’s a question. In the very briefest terms, I develop the projects and then supervise the teams that are producing them. In terms of the printed element that’s about working out what kind of content we want to produce and how it should be structured. That can get right down to the detail of what size font we should be using for captions, but it’s also about where to find material, making the best use of it, and sourcing artists. Once the formats are set, I then step back to reading those and making sure things stay on track. On the figurines and model ship projects I tend to stay more involved with the actual models, briefing sculptors and the factories and offering an ongoing stream of feedback.
Since almost all our projects are licensed, I spend a lot of time working with our licensors to make sure that everything we do is fully approved by them and negotiating with them for rights to new projects. All of this involves reporting back to my boss, our editorial director, Maggie Calmels, who sets the editorial direction for everything we do and makes sure that we do the best work we possibly can. She works on 10 times as many projects as I do, across a whole range of areas from women’s interest to hi-tech models and I always know that she’s there whenever we have to solve a problem or just another pair of eyes on things. And, of course, she’s the first audience that sees any of our products. If she likes what we’re doing then we know we’re in with a good chance of making a successful product.
It’s actually somewhat more involved than that, but I’m not sure anybody in their right mind would want to know the rest of it!
How did the Doctor Who Figurine collection come about?
We’ve been working on Doctor Who projects almost since the show came back. I remember going down to Cardiff while they were filming the second season and showing David Tennant his trading card when he was filming his third or fourth and long before he appeared on screen. We have had some kind of Doctor Who project running ever since. We always thought we’d do a variety of different projects as the show’s new fanbase grew older. After eight years and two other partworks, it was time for a figurine collection. Of course, Eaglemoss has enormous experience with figurines – having produced Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC collections. We really do have the best sculptors and the best factories so it made perfect sense to do the same for Doctor Who, which has such amazing monsters.
Who designed the figures?
The glib answer is the BBC. All the figurines are based on some pretty exhaustive photography and some very intense scrutiny of the episodes. “All” we have to do is specify a pose. That’s done by me and the project’s editor, Neil Corry, who knows more about Doctor Who than most know about themselves. Of course, specifying a pose isn’t actually that easy. You need a strong sense of what will work well – not every pose looks good when it’s replicated as a figurine – and to come up with a pose, and a moment, that sums up the character. When you get it absolutely right you should have a little intake of breath when you see the physical figurine. We’ve got some coming up that really did that for me. In particular the Silent and our first character from the classic episodes, Omega. We use a variety of sculptors, depending on what the figurine is. They all have their own strengths, whether that’s an ability to capture a likeness or an intuitive understanding of the series.
I’ve got to say how amazing our Dalek sculptor Gavin Rymill is. We contacted him because he had already built every Dalek that ever there was as a 3D model. Because of the way we work, we can take those files, run them through a 3D printer and turn them into physical objects. When you look at those figurines, you can just tell that they were produced by someone who loves Daleks. The detail is unbelievably good and no one could put that much effort into something if they were doing it on a purely commercial basis, there’s a love there, as well as a level of skill that takes them to another level. I have just been stunned by how good his work is. Of course, the same is true of a lot of people who work on Doctor Who, but Gav has been a real find.
Are there any Doctor Who characters you couldn’t get the rights to produce for this range?
The only things we aren’t allowed to do are characters from the two Peter Cushing movies that were made in the sixties and that’s because the BBC don’t have the rights. Because we are starting out with a plan of doing 75 figurines there are characters we’ve had to decide to leave out. For example, there is something like 40 companions. It was hard, but we took the decision to leave them out in favour of more monsters.
What changes have been from the trial version to the current run?
There are very subtle changes to Davros and the Cyber Controller. Tiny things like the colour of some of the controls on Davros’s chair and the Cyber Controller’s eyes. The only figurine to get a major rework was the Eleventh Doctor. We just felt that the test version wasn’t the best we could produce and there was a technical problem that meant the figurine was coming out too thin.
How do you bring together a team of writers for the accompanying magazines?
That’s down to the editor Neil Corry. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for five or six years now and I literally have never met someone who has a greater passion for and more comprehensive knowledge of Doctor Who, although he insists there are lots. The good thing is he knows most of them and knows exactly who to go to on any given subject.
In this digital age, is there still a market for partworks?
I hope so! When I started to work in publishing 17 or 18 years ago I was working at DK on interactive CDs and at the time people were predicting that they would replace books and magazines. It hasn’t happened yet and to be honest I can’t see it happening any time soon. People like to own things. There are amazing statistics about how many people still buy physical CDs or DVDs. There’s something about the physical pleasure of ownership that will never go away. What matters is that you produce something good. Something people have to have. That’s a challenge.
Have any partworks you’ve released not done as well as you’d expected them to and which ones are your best sellers?
You never know what’s going to work. After the fact, you can always come out with a reason why things didn’t work, but you just don’t know. Having said, at this exact moment I can’t think of any really unexpected failures. There are things I would have loved to have gone because I would have loved to have worked on them – the last DVD project I developed was a “grown up science fiction” collection, that started with Alien and The Terminator. Getting the behind scenes material together for those was great. There are few things that make me happier than tracking down hard to find material and interviewing moviemakers. In terms of best sellers – the original Star Trek project I worked on, the Fact Files, is one of the most successful partworks ever. We sold a lot of copies of that!
Which country buys the most partworks that you produce?
There’s no simple answer to that one. A Doctor Who partwork will sell a lot better in the UK than it will anywhere else, but a Russian project might sell 10 times as many copies. We publish in something like 40 different countries. There’s a big tradition of partworks in the Latin countries but their economies are suffering at the moment. We’ve sold incredibly large numbers in Russia and Japan, but we’ve also had hugely successful projects in the UK and Germany.
Can you hint as to what you’re working on at the moment?
Only in a very roundabout way – partworks are a very competitive business. My team launched Star Trek Starships and Doctor Who Figurines in August. We’ve got a Hobbit figurine collection on the way. After that I think you’d have to imagine that there are more things we can do with Marvel and DC and James Bond and even more Star Trek and Doctor Who. And, of course, other parts of the company are doing amazing work with Disney and with Japanese brands and technology and things that only make sense in Russia…