Twenty Questions: Matt Doughty (Onell Design)
Over the years, I've awarded Onell Design with various "Best Of" awards here on Plastic and Plush. And while I've known Matt Doughty for some time now, I still had a number of questions that I was interested in...and I thought you would also be interested in. So, without further ado, check out our conversation.
P&P: It's often assumed that Matt Doughty is Onell Design, and vice versa. However, there are plenty of other individuals who play key roles at Onell. Who are they and what are their roles?
Matt: Onell Design can only exist because of teamwork. Michelle, Marc and I each cover particular aspects of what goes on daily with business here at the house.
Marc operates the web side of things, making sure the site is functioning as well as participating in all the creative decisions, from top to bottom. Packaging layout (when we do it), color designation mechanicals and all the Passcode programming and editing all come from Marc.
We met back when we were working at Beantown Toys and developed that entire world and toy line together over a number of years. It was like toy college for both of us and we bonded during those stressful but exciting days. Marc is one of the most talented and versatile people I have ever met and can handle intense deadlines and pressure like a pro. Michelle, the kids and I look at him as our family and Onell owes much of its current incarnation to his presence.
Michelle converts and organizes all the orders that come in, helps with our inventory tracking and also deals with the majority of the books and bills. Most importantly she deals with my crazy ass and still sticks around, so over anything else that's probably the hardest job of all. She also is the creator of one of our best selling characters called Gobon. Our kids have taken up a lot of her free time over the years, but now that they are getting older things are starting to open up and I've been catching her writing and drawing again. We have been discussing some new projects that should make fans of Gobon pretty happy.
I do the design work (drawing, sculpting, photography), write the content and create our pricing and internal structuring as well as whatever else needs to be done. A big part of my daily routine is the management of our product (and minding our various partner's products) in China and determining what something should sell for in the end.
It seems like a simple thing, but it can scramble your eggs pretty quickly.
For instance, How do you decide what to push into full production? Is it better to make something fancier with a lot of paint operations, tampos and parts for a higher price, or create something that is customizable and more affordable? I usually choose the latter, as things continue to get tighter for our customers each year.
Topics like this one are discussed by Michelle, Marc and I on a regular basis and their input is invaluable and essential to the process.
Fabricating genius and all around master of many things, Ron Daley, also plays a very important role in the creation of new toys. Ron taught me how to prototype, and showed me the basics of molding and casting parts many years ago. We still work on all new items for Onell together up at his shop. I would have never been able to get things to the next level without Ron and would never create anything for production without his input and advice.
When we have a new product release, it's my sister Megan who makes the shipping of what amounts to a wall of packages something that is possible. Her organizational skills and packing speed are unparalleled within our ranks. If she was not around I would go insane trying to pack everything (like the old days). Plus she is just awesome in general.
My relationship with Jesse Moore also plays a big factor in how we do things at Onell.
Jesse, Marc and I have worked together on everything over at Callgrim.com since its inception, and we treat each other like family (the kind you like). Jesse is a creative dynamo and has a new idea almost every minute, from stories to toys to comics. During any one conversation, entire waves of figures and their ties to one another are developed and tweaked, usually resulting in some kind of wild proposition for a 5 foot long Callgrim spaceship. I'll usually tell him the basic costing for this kind of thing and then the ideas alter a bit. We seem to balance the boat by being pretty different in our creative methodologies. We always say that Jesse likes to make steaks and I like to make cheeseburgers. Over the past year that has truly become the case and I think it is a good thing for the Glyos community as a whole. How awesome were those boxes for the WARP Bikes he did? The DRT WARP Bikes were Prime Rib Releases to me.
Now wait until you see his Wraiths...
P&P: I've always wondered this...what's the significance of the 'Onell' in Onell Design?
Matt: The name Onell comes from a nickname I had for Michelle in the early days of our relationship. I would call her variations of her name and Onell was one that stuck for a bit. We dreamed of having a breakdancing posse called the BB Onells amongst other unbelievably ridiculous comedy situations. Her nickname has since evolved (or devolved) into the name Noni. Her nicknames for me cannot be publicly revealed, as they are mean and nasty.
P&P: The Glyos line has some strong retro qualities to it. What influences do you credit with helping to spawn the Glyos System?
Matt: The Glyos figures truly owe their existence to all the master toy lines from the 60's, 70's and 80's.
Fisher Price's Adventure People has been cited before as a huge inspiration, but can never really be cited enough. I absolutely loved that line and still play with the original figures to this very day (I had one on the floor last night while I was doing a new drawing).
Japanese toy giant (or former giant) Takara also really influenced the design principles of Glyos as well. Henshin Cyborg, Microman, Diaclone and Blockman set the bar for interchangeable, action figure based toys and still serve as killer blueprints for originality and longevity in design.
I could go on and on about how much I love almost every damn toy line to some degree, both old and new.
P&P: If you had to choose one character that best represents the Glyos world, which would it be and why?
Matt: I would choose Pheyden because that's the little guy that opened everything up for us. Not only was he made as a Christmas gift for Michelle, he was also created as a tribute to everything I love about toys, from the giving and receiving of them to the process of making them.
Even though Buildman represents the combinable nature of Glyos more than Pheyden, I have to go with the big headed goon on this one.
P&P: Onell is somewhat unique as there are a number of designers who create their own characters using the Glyos joint system. Why do you think it's become so popular with other artists?
Matt: I feel very lucky that anyone at all wants to customize using Glyos. It is a dream that I still can't believe has a foot in reality.
Maybe some of the reasons that people like to customize the figures are because the toys are simple, pretty cheap and they're easy to play with. You can swap and alter the basic designs fairly easily and leave it at that, or you can make brand new parts and paint the hell out of what you make. The things that other artists create with Glyos are the things that are the most exciting to see, at least for me that's the case.
P&P: Without ruining anything, what do you have planned for Onell in 2012?
Matt: 2012 will be a year of exploration within the toy line and the stories. A new place called Zorennor will appear, and will act as a kind of Bermuda Triangle within the Glyos System, sucking things in and opening up new dimensions. These dimensions are filled with primitive worlds, bizarre creatures and some secrets to the history of Glyos. We have some interesting crossovers planned and some all new toys to reveal, from vinyl to PVC.
On the vinyl front will be the Block. This thing is really basic, I mean REALLY basic in its design and functionality out of the gates. It is literally a 2-part block, joined by the larger connector found in the torso of the Rig and Armodoc. It can swivel, come apart and can hold a figure inside. It serves as a homage to the capsules that the Microman/Micronauts used and is also as a tribute to the Zeroids and Robo Force. Toss a little Dalek, Tardis, Blockman and Robby the Robot in and you get the idea of the design. The real fun comes once you start to customize with it. There are "indicators" on the Block that act as potential connecting points if you cut into them, much like in the Big Rig's construction. I want to get into sharing the crazy stuff that I have found you can do with vinyl if you have access to more of it and at a cheaper price. So the Block will be offered in a Buildstation style with no paint as well as the more standard painted editions. Unpainted Rig short and long arms will also be offered individually and in unpainted form as well. The whole thing is an experiment so we'll see how it shakes out in the end and go from there.
PVC will see an all new Hub Set, which is loaded with brand new parts to build with and hopefully adds to the mix in a natural way. The price will be low, acting as further exploration into customizing at an easy entry point (like the Axis Joints and Phase Arms).
The Glyos joint system will also appear on some all new toys from other creators in 2012:
• Spy Monkey Creations will roll out a special weapons set that is compatible with a certain blond barbarian's toy line that at the same time unleashes over 40 brand new parts into the Glyos range. We worked closely together on the development of these new items and they are produced in our factory by our team in China (as are all of our full production crossovers).
• The Outer Space Men will continue their expansion with multiple releases of older molds as well as brand new versions of the classic figures. The Horsemen and I have also been discussing a few other ideas for some new toys that could come to fruition before the end of 2012.
• Nistuff will continue his Anomalies line and pursue the creation of an all new entry into his 481 Universe that will utilize some Glyos joints as well as something completely different -hybrid style!
• Planet Banimon has a new project in the planning stages that uses the Glyos joints and represents the Banimon aesthetic in an original way.
P&P: You've released both PVC and rotocast vinyl figures. Are there differences in the production process? Do you find one easier than the other?
Matt: Vinyl and PVC each have their high and low points.
Vinyl is more expensive per unit but has much more freedom in the actual parts you can run. Molds are not locked together so there are some major options for bashing oddball things together for production runs (Jesse will be exploring this in 2012 in a big way).
PVC is cheaper to run per unit (although the cost is steadily rising) and you have to run what is in the steel mold all at once, even if you just want certain parts.
I have learned a lot over the years and continue to learn more about the process literally everyday. The pantographing (size alteration) process alone is fascinating. The team in China that we are partnered with is really incredible. They get things done in way that can blow your mind in their attention to efficiency and innovation.
I love visiting the team in China and feel very lucky that all of this continues to chug along.
P&P: Are there any artists out there, who you haven't worked with yet, who you would like to collaborate with?
Matt: There are so many talented artists out there that to name just one wouldn't cut the mustard. That being said, our collaborations usually come from an actual friendship and then things go from there.
Marty "The GodBeast" Hansen, Ralph "Bruno Orbit" Niese, Matt "Dead Presidents" Walker, Mori "RealXHead" Katsura, Chris "Tarantulas" Burt, Don "Datadub" Kratzer and Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland are some of our biggest collaborators and are awesome people to work with as well as hang around with. We are so lucky to be able to create with these guys. The door is always open to new friends and adventures.
P&P: Other than beard trimmings, are there any things that you like to collect?
Matt: Oh my, do I like to collect things. With such a huge amount of cool stuff out there, both modern and classic, it is easy to get swept up in the fun of hunting things down. I tend to look for very strange stuff after all these years, things not many people would care about. Though I love the spirit of collecting, I don't buy much anymore, as everything goes back into Onell and the creation of new toys for the most part.
P&P: Five years from now, where do you see Onell Design?
Matt: I hope we are still moving along, creating new stuff and enjoying the process and people involved.
Maybe one day we could make an "opening animation" like the old 80's cartoons, with crazy quality and a cheesy yet awesome theme song.
P&P: One of the things that draws a lot of people to the Glyos line is the affordability of the figures. Is keeping your price point down an important facet to its success?
Matt: I think that the lower pricing is absolutely one of the most important parts, if not the most important part, of what makes Glyos something you can get into. I am pretty obsessed with offering things as cheap as possible while being able to still survive. I love affordable things, so I want to offer affordable things, plain and simple.
I'm not against higher priced items, I'm just not very comfortable with them coming from us. If I could make the stuff even cheaper and still keep the lights on, I would.
P&P: You all work on the amazing 8-Bit style animations and games. Do you ever think we might see a Glyos game hit the iTunes store?
Matt: Marcus and I have been talking about that subject a lot over the past year. Part of the plans for 2012 involve something along those lines.
P&P: There are very few companies that consistently have sell-out releases. What do you attribute to the success?
Matt: I believe the sellouts (when they happen) are due to knowing our limits as a company and not getting ahead of ourselves. Glyos is still really tiny, and we keep that in mind when planning an assortment. Even though our numbers grow each year, it is still a small operation, with much to learn from every experience and product drop.
We are always looking for just the right balance between all the components that allow us to survive.
I'm thankful as hell people seem to enjoy the toys, whatever the reason may be.
P&P: Was there one toy that you had as a child that you can remember being your favorite?
Matt: Clawtron from Fisher Price's Adventure People would probably be the one. That is a bastard question, Brian!
Snake Eyes Version 1 and Colossus Rex are up there. All the Micronaut Aliens and Acroyears. Blockman, Shogun Warriors, Mobile Action Command. I could literally write 50 pages of this stuff.
P&P: What words of wisdom would you impart on someone who is interested in making toys for a living?
Matt: It is possible to achieve what you want in life, just realize now that there is no set way to do it. "Success" can be defined in so many different ways. Maybe choose your own definition of what success would be and pursue that goal with everything you've got.
And now...Five Random Questions
P&P: Which would you rather eat: a 1-pound burger or a pound of fudge?
Matt: Burger. Which I've actually done. Michelle would choose fudge, which she has also already done. I guess that makes us pretty gross as a couple.
P&P: What's the last book you read?
Matt: The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. I like to pick at books rather than pound through them. Unless I become crazed and then I'll have to read the whole thing as quickly as possible. Michelle and Jesse read way more actual books than I do. I am crazy for concept art books though.
P&P: You have to attend one concert, which would it be: REO Speedwagon or Toto?
Matt: Toto. You damn well know everyone secretly loves "Africa". I love "Rosanna" and "Hold the Line" as well.
P&P: Can you dunk a basketball?
Matt: Horribly in my younger days. Now I think I would break my soul if I tried.
P&P: If you had to come up with an alias, what would your name be?
Matt: LOYCE. Ask Marc about it.