INTERVIEW: Todd McFarlane Reveals THE WALKING DEAD Toy Line Secrets

Hot on the heels of the tense season two finale of The Walking Dead, which scored record ratings for the AMC series, which built anticipation for new episodes in the fall, there are some pretty cool collectibles available now (and more on the way) to appease your zombie fix for the time being.

McFarlane Toys not only secured the rights to produce figures based on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series of graphic novels, but the smash hit television show as well.

Producing toys for both properties provided an interesting situation that sometimes entailed creating multiple versions of the same characters, some based on the comic book source material, and others that bare the likeness of the actors who portray them on television.

Talking to me at the 2012 New York City Toy Fair, McFarlane Toys founder Todd McFarlane admitted it was easier to create the toy line from the show because there are tangible human beings with with lifelike dimensions to use as references. The figures based from the comic book however, must be created solely from 2D drawings and character sketches.

The Series One figures based on the TV show are currently available including replicas of Deputy Rick Grime, Daryl Dixon, and two Zombies (a Walker and Biter). McFarlane told me the actors were usually happy to have action figures based on their likeness, as its one of the rare pieces of memorabilia that can be garner bragging rights to the younger members of their families.

“Other than hats, t-shirts, and stuff that you can hide in drawers (even DVD’s), there are very few things that celebrities can actually have of themselves. Maybe a poster that you can have out all the time, and a toy or statue is one of those things,” MacFarlane said.

McFarlane recalled a memorable encounter with Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl Dixon on the TV show), at the second season premiere screening.

“The second season was coming and they did a red carpet. I was just behind him and had just received some of the toys from the factory. I was able to catch up to him and say ‘Hey, I just wanted to give you one of the first toys.’ His eyes got like HUGE you know because he’s got kids and he understands the concept of action figures. He was like ‘Oh my God, I have my own doll! Can I get a case of these?’ So he can hand them out to everybody he knows. He was pretty enthusiastic.”

“I think if you do a respectable job and try to capture the actors as much as possible, I think they appreciate that,” he said.

Though in the early stages of the process involved in getting action figures made, sometimes securing time with the actors for 3-D body scanning while they are busy shooting the show isn’t always an easy appointment. Todd revealed some of the behind-the-scenes secrets involved when the time consuming full body scanning process isn’t an option on the set.

“We have three different machines, but the two extremes are one is a little hand wand that in twenty seconds I can pass over your face (it’s almost like taking a photo, except you get a wire frame). For the most part we use that on ninety plus percent of the actors. Here is the reason why: When you get the actors you usually only get them for a small time period.”

“I would rather use that time to get twenty looks from them. So if I continue to make lets say, Rick Grimes, Andrew Lincoln gave me so many different looks I probably don’t have to go back and bug him for three years,” he revealed.

“He gave me a lot of good looks in a short period of time. If I had put him in the full body machine, then that takes a little bit longer because now you’re doing the entire body and the re-setting of the calibration of it. In the same period of time that I could just do the head and get forty good shots, I might only get seven good body shots. I’m way more concerned with getting the likeness and the acting in the face. Then what we do is ask the actors ‘What is your height and weight?’ We go get a body double, and then with the body double I can put them in a hundred different poses. That stand-in I have for the day.”

McFarlane points out that you probably won’t see many of his signature toys front and center at the most mainstream of mainstream check-out counters. And to him, that’s the point. With many of the products he creates, he prides himself with making edgy pieces that aren’t meant for across-the-board G-rated marketability.

“When a mom sits there and says ‘That’s revolting,’ I make sure I get them to understand we were never trying to make a toy, a morbid crazy creepy gross toy, that was also aimed at a mother. That toy would look different than the one aimed at a college student.”

“It’s always interesting when they go “I will never buy that product that you make.” The answer is: I never intended for you to buy it. You were never my demographic. I never ever thought I’d get one sale from you, ‘conservative mother.’ And so by you not buying it tells me I did my job right. Because I did something and you went ‘Oh you know what? That’s kind of cute, I think I’ll buy that’ means I didn’t make an ugly enough monster at that point.”

Series Two from The Walking Dead television show will hit shelves in October of 2012 with new Zombies that fans are sure to remember.

“So far we’ve been taking the ‘event’ zombies that had a particular moment in one of the shows that people remember. Those are some of the scenes that people on blogs are talking about,” McFarlane said.  So it’s no surprise that the new line will include the unforgettable Well Zombie (in addition to the RV Zombie, a new figure based on Shane Walsh, and a variant of Deputy Rick Grimes).

Jim Kiernan
Founder and moderator of Nerdy Rotten Scoundrel. Steering this ship the best I can. Lifelong opinionated geek & pop culture enthusiast. Independent television & film professional. Born & raised New Yorker. My dog Nicholas is awesome.

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