Life of Agony’s Alan Robert Takes an Inside Look at the Making of NECA Toys
Life of Agony’s Alan Robert is a man of many talents: world class bassist, skilled songwriter, comic book mastermind and… #1 Best-Selling author of adult coloring books.
Last month, Alan released The Beauty of Horror 2: Ghouliana’s Creepatorium – Another GOREgeous Coloring Book via IDW Publishing. A follow-up to last year’s high successful The Beauty of Horror: A GOREgeous Coloring Book, this sequel is full of scenes designed specifically for the metal set: aliens, animal carcasses, skulls and all manner of other gory things! Check out a trailer below, then order the book here.
In September, we celebrated the release of Alan’s new book by asking him to write about some of the greatest horror movie posters of all time. We had so much fun working with him that this month, we invited him back for more! Alan recently visited the NECA toy workshop, where some of the world’s most incredible action figures are made. Below, check out Alan’s report, along with an extensive photo gallery of his visit!
For as long as I can remember, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, action figures, comic books, horror movies, and heavy metal ruled my world. Even all these years later, as a grown man with a family living in the ‘burbs, my tastes haven’t really changed all that much. Immature? Maybe. But, tell that to the 200,000 likeminded folks who showed up in droves at New York Comic Con earlier this month.
Sure, nowadays you won’t find me on the rug building elaborate forts for my armies of Stormtroopers, but you can bet that whenever a new toy exclusive hits the Comic Con floor, I will make a beeline to check that shit out. The action figures they make today are designed way cooler than the ones I grew up with. Yes, I still get nostalgic for all the old ’80s stuff I played with (and even the giant AT-AT I always fantasized about, but never did get), you really can’t compare those old toys to the insane level of realism and detail with the toys of today.
Sometime in the mid-80s, I graduated from Star Wars to slasher films and horror icons like Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Pinhead took the place of Luke and Han for me and all my friends. We had Fangoria posters plastered on our walls, but action figures and toys based on those great characters were nowhere to be found in the stores at that time. So, what were horror junkies supposed to do for Halloween back then? Make your own damn D.I.Y. Freddy Krueger costume and duct-tape some butter-knives to an old work glove, like I did. These days, it’s difficult to even avoid seeing Jason’s Hockey mask and machete on an end-cap in Toys R Us, or a plastic Leatherface chainsaw in Party City. They’re everywhere and they look ridiculously real. Man, I wish I had this stuff when I was a kid.
So, to get in the true Halloween spirit, I visited my old buddy Randy Falk, Senior Director of Product Development, over at the NECA toy workshop, to see just how these fantastic horror toys are made. NECA has been producing some of the best horror action figures for over a decade now with licenses for Alien, Predator, Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Planet of the Apes, Chucky, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and countless others over the years. They also just put out an amazing set of Blade Runner 2049 figures. The likenesses of Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling and Jared Leto are spot on.
Randy is pretty much living his dream. He’s making monsters, visiting movie sets around the world, and collaborating with some of his childhood heroes in order to bring these toys to life. “It’s still surreal,” he says, “even after doing this professionally for almost 20 years, there’s moments like getting a message from Tom Savini (who designed Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th) complementing something we’ve created here, and asking us to send a new Jason figure to his grandson. It’s just like wow, that’s crazy. You know?” Randy and the talented designers at NECA are perfectionists and true horror fans, so they are extremely passionate about getting the subtle details exactly right.
The first step for them is to get a hold of the best reference material they can find, which sometimes involves contacting the original creators of the make-up fx and costume designers behind the films. While producing the Henrietta figure from The Evil Dead, Randy reached out to his old friend, master creature designer Greg Nicotero of The Walking Dead fame. Greg designed the original movie makeup for The Evil Dead, so he was able to open the vault and dig up his old make-up test slides and negatives from the original 1981 film. The results of the figure are amazing and Henrietta is ready to swallow your soul, straight from the infamous locked cellar.
For Blade Runner 2049, Randy flew out to the set in Budapest last August while the movie was actually being filmed. He got a chance to take an up-close look at the costumes, weapons, and vehicle designs with his own eyes. “The challenging thing is making sure you get the reference in a timely matter, because it takes about nine months on average for us to go from prototype to production. So, especially when you’ve got big names like Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, getting the likenesses accurate is key. Fortunately, almost everything in Blade Runner 2049 was shot practical… they didn’t do a whole lot of CGI. They were also a great partner that gave us access to props and wardrobe in the art department.” Randy says, “We got to study everything and see the texture of the buttons, seams and stitches, and pick through all the fabrics of the hero costumes.”
Back at the NECA studio in New Jersey, the vibe at the shop among the sculptors and toy designers is anything but Hollywood. It’s a very relaxed environment where work stations are overflowing with Jason Voorhees and Alien Xenomorphs sculpts of all shapes and sizes. The walls are lined with characters from everything they’ve made over the years. You’ve got Beetlejuice and Eddie (Iron Maiden) standing next to Danny DeVito’s Penguin (Batman Returns), while Apollo Creed (Rocky) is hanging out with Chucky, The Lost Boys and Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s an awesome sight for a toy fan like me.
Randy explains that when he first started out as an intern for Macfarlane Toys in the early nineties, the company was producing a ton of monster figures and it was a very exciting time for him. However, when the company switched gears to focus more on sports toys licensing, he quickly lost interest. Randy ultimately decided to follow his passion of making monsters and joined the NECA team for a fresh start.
Once at NECA, he quickly snagged the highly sought after Hellraiser license to produce Pinhead and the Cenobites figures. “Pinhead was the missing icon that everyone wanted… so, once we landed that, the floodgates opened for us,” Randy says. “It put NECA on the map.” In the years that followed, NECA became the home for horror toys and they became very hard to beat. You can tell that these guys absolutely love what they do, and it’s not just figures anymore. This Halloween (as a Best Buy exclusive) and for a wide release this Holiday Season, they’ve teamed up with Kid Robot to produce a line of Horror Icon Madballs. These 4″ foam balls look like they’re straight out of the 80s and feature Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Predator, along with Xenomorph and Face Hugger from the Alien franchise. Fans are already losing it for these things!
And speaking of fans, Randy and the folks at NECA are constantly interacting with fans on social media. “It’s awesome people are buying the stuff and having fun with it,” he says, “we love seeing fan-customs and repaints, especially the stop-motion movies. People are taking the toys out to the park and filming them! We love all that stuff.”
At the end of the visit, the 10-year old in me was in my glory walking through the aisles in the warehouse stacked to the ceiling with boxes of toys. I couldn’t resist and ended up leaving with a few Planet of the Apes figures. The big question is… should I open them up or keep them in the box?