With the highly anticipated Tyrannosaur series already fully-funded and blowing through stretch goals, David Silva’s Beasts of the Mesozoic toy line has once again proven there’s a huge market for scientifically accurate dinosaur action figures.
As he did for the Raptor and Ceratopsian series, Silva was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the toyline. He also provided a mind-blowing preview of what we can expect from his next project. It’s so exciting, in fact, that I’m glad this is a print interview where my wild exclamations of joy could be removed.
Before that bit of awesomeness, however, we’ve got some incredible Tyrannosaur figures to discuss.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
AIPT: Aside from the fact that they’re awesome, what made you want to do Tyrannosaurids (tyrant lizards) for this wave?
David Silva: As far as selecting a series based on a whole family of dinosaurs, I would say that Tyrannosaurs would probably make the most interesting one that people would be into.
It was also something I had to build for. I couldn’t start off with Tyrannosaurs since I didn’t have the funds to make the necessary prototypes. I also wasn’t familiar enough with the process back when I started doing figures that were this ambitious.
I had to begin more conservatively with the Raptors, which had easier/smaller parts — plus I could get a lot of figures out of them, since their parts were all very similar. It also helped that people are pretty familiar with Velociraptors due to how prevalent they are in pop culture, so that was a good starting point.
I thought the next step up would then be the Ceratopsians, because there were so many I could do and their bodies were pretty similar. Once again, that offered a lot of opportunities for part-sharing. There’s also a good amount of them that are fairly well-known, so that seemed like the next logical step forward.
After the first two series were made, it allowed me to put a lot of the profits those figures generated toward developing prototypes for the Tyrannosaurs. In the end, it’s basically just a matter of scaling your projects properly — making sure you have a long term plan and moving up each time. So far that seems to be working.
As far as the future is concerned, I always had the question in my head, “Where do you go from Tyrannosaurus rex, when it’s the most popular dinosaur ever?” Well, the only thing we could do to be even more impressive than that would be dragon figures. So that’s what’s happening next.
AIPT: *LOUD SQUEALING NOISES*
Okay, we’re definitely revisiting that in a bit. But let’s finish talking about the current Kickstarter first.
A lot of folks are still under the misperception that the Tyrannosaurus is a singular creature. As we dino-obsessed folks know, he’s actually a genus of a much larger dinosaur family. How would you break down the different types of tyrant lizards for folks who are new or unfamiliar with dinosaur classification?
Silva: It’s similar to how you would break down animal species nowadays. For example: you have different types of bears (grizzly bear, kodiak bear, etc.) at the top followed by black bears and things like that. Same with big cats. It’s just another animal family and you happen to have one that’s bigger than the others.
Tyrannosaurs are no different. There’s going to be one at the top, like Tyrannosaurus rex, that’s the biggest and most popular. Then you’re going to have a few others that are still very well-known, but not as popular — like Albertosaurus or Gorgosaurus.
That’s been a big part of the appeal of the line — the balance between presenting familiar and unfamiliar dinosaurs. In addition to the dinosaurs everyone likes, there’s also a sense of discovery and a surprise involved with following the line.
AIPT!: How much more of a sculpting challenge is it to create Tyrannosaurs compared to Raptors and Ceratopsians?
Silva: It’s definitely more expensive because they’re bigger. We’re also always trying to find ways to improve the articulation. But the real challenge is time. It’s not really a matter of one being more complicated than the other — it’s just a matter of the time it takes to do the work and finding the right people who can do it.
My first raptor series, I sculpted everything myself. There’s no way I could do that now I have gotten to this point. At most I could have done maybe one or two bodies and a few heads a year. That’s why I had to start working with other sculptors like Jake Bardsee and Raul Ramos. One of the many reasons I like working with them is because they know more about dinosaurs than I do.
Dinosaurs aren’t necessarily my specialty. I come from an industry where we value human anatomy and things that go along with that. There’s not really much of an emphasis in the action figure industry on wildlife or dinosaurs, so I had to train myself. Working with these guys and seeing their work makes my work better.
Even when I first started doing the model kits, it was very intimidating to try getting into sculpting dinosaurs. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t understand how to read the references or how to apply comparative anatomy. I had to teach myself by looking at people who are better at it than me. I wouldn’t say I’m at the same level as Jake or Raul, but I’m getting a lot better.
AIPT: Everyone likes to make fun of Tyrannosaurs for their tiny arms. That being said, how does it affect articulation compared to previous BOM waves?
Silva: It was only a factor with the 1/35th scale T-rex. I thought we were going to be able to articulate the wrists, but it ended up being too thin of an area to point a joint in there. That is the only figure that I’m aware of that won’t have wrist articulation, though.
AIPT!: I’ve seen conflicting theories on whether Tyrannosaurs were feathered or not (it seems like the consensus is that they were when they’re younger). Did you ever consider doing an adult feathered version of these creatures?
Silva: When I originally started thinking about doing the Tyrannosaur series (back when I was working on the raptors), I was really excited to do a feathered T-rex because I knew I could make one that looked really cool. But then there was more information that started coming out about fossilized skin impressions and they couldn’t find any solid evidence for it.
As far as this line goes, I try to not contradict whatever evidence exists at the time. Putting out a feathered T-rex would kind of go against the most rational theory based on what we know right now. If they come out with more evidence later, then yeah, I could definitely do a feathered one. But I just feel like that would be a bit more speculative than I’m used to doing, as far as the appearance is concerned.
I realize there’s a lot of speculation involved with my paint jobs and coloring choices, but that’s also not going against anything that we know.
AIPT: What you just mentioned actually leads nicely into my next question. Last week you released a fantastic chart that shows where the inspiration for each creature’s color scheme came from. Are these decisions you make based on your own research and findings, or is there existing research that helped you decide on them?
Silva: It’s actually not based on science at all, but I’m also not trying to tell people that they looked like this. What it comes down to is that I needed to give them color and there are very few dinosaurs that we know what color they were.
I basically just try to find an animal that exists right now and lives in a very similar ecological niche — not necessarily the same location because continents were in different places and the atmosphere was different. Their environment and their ecological positioning is mainly what I look for.
I also want something that’s visually interesting. I’m not interested in playing the safe route and making everything look like Jurassic Park. I feel like that’s a bit too conservative. If I’d gone that route initially, I don’t think the line would have done as well because it wouldn’t stand out or be memorable.
I also think that subconsciously, there’s the factor that I’ve always grown up with iconic characters. I’ve always been a big fan of character design in general. Now I want to give these dinosaurs some character. I want to make them memorable and accentuate the character they might have had when they were alive. I want you to associate my version of that dinosaur when you say its name.
If I were to paint one in just tones of brown, you’re not likely to remember it.
AIPT: Speaking of character design, the Dino-Rider homage figure is amazing. I know this would likely get you into legal hot water, but have there been any thoughts/flights of fancy about adding on some armor and weapons?
Silva: No, I never entertained that idea. I’m not interested in copying what they had back then. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of that line and find it extremely inspiring. I have a big shelf of old Dino-Riders figures and I’m still impressed with how smartly designed they were. But I need to make my own thing.
I did the homage figure because I wanted it and I know that there are fans like me that want it. But I’ve also kept it limited to the Kickstarter. This isn’t going to end up in stores or sold at wholesale or anything like that. It’s just a thank you for the people that are fans.
Same thing with the Walking with Dinosaurs variant. I don’t want my line to be supported by the designs of what’s come before. I want to create my own designs and have the line stand on its own merit.
At the same time though, I also want to encourage people to have fun with dinosaurs. I don’t want people to feel excluded because they don’t know how to pronounce the names or because they don’t understand what the most current version is. I feel like there’s a certain elitism that people sometimes associate with paleontology and dinosaurs. But when we were kids, we didn’t worry about that. We were just like “Dinosaurs — so cool!”
There’s no reason why we can’t love them the same way now. We need to take it seriously and respect it, but we can still have fun with it at the same time. That’s the balance I’m trying to bring to it. Doing dinosaur armor based on Dino-Riders doesn’t really fit into that for me, but I think it’d be really cool if a fan did it and sold it. I’d be okay with that and may even promote it for them. It’s just not something I would do on my own.
AIPT: If there were any fears about the larger figures being too expensive to sell, then the Kickstarter’s early success has put that to rest. Do you think other toy companies will take notice of how popular these scientifically accurate figures are, or do you think it’ll continue to just be a niche market? I figured by this point there would be a ton of dino lines out there trying to cash in on a proven fanbase.
Silva: I thought so too, but I think it kind of goes back to the reason why I started doing this in the first place. The companies that I worked for were unwilling to invest in it because it was a risk.
Most larger companies like to stick with licenses because they can sort of estimate what the profit likelihood will be. They can look at past sales or how a license did with other companies. For what I’m doing, it’s hard to get a grasp on how big the market is. It’s just kind of chaotic and big companies don’t like chaos. They like order.
It’s also worth noting that big companies have a lot of people to take care of and liabilities to consider. I don’t have any of that. If this fails, then I just get sad. No one loses their job or can’t support their family. I just start over and do something that’s hopefully better. With the larger companies, the dynamics are completely different. There’s a lot more at stake. They typically have to stick with things that are more certain, which I totally understand and respect.
The irony is that they have a lot more money than I do and I’m making pretty expensive figures. There’s a lot of independent toy companies popping up nowadays (like myself or Four Horsemen) putting out lot of creative products. I think that’s in response to all these larger companies continuing to rehash the same concepts over and over again.
Many of the most popular things right now are the things that were popular 20-30 years ago, and there’s really not much deviation from that model. They’re mostly selling to the same audience — the audience just grew up. Because of that, you’re not going to see a whole lot of original creations coming out of the larger companies, because it’s just too much of a risk.
On top of that, everything became more expensive this year (especially production and shipping) by a significant amount. So those large companies are going to be tightening up even more.
Fortunately, I already have my foot in the door for this sort of thing. I’ve already got all these molds that I can use. Also, nobody else was investing in this concept the past few years except me, which puts me in a pretty good spot to continue doing this.
But let’s say somebody else wanted to try and get into this market. They would have to bring a lot of capital upfront for investment. For example: Let’s say you were running a company with $500,000 that you could invest in dinosaur action figures similar to what I’m doing. Would you rather do that, or pay for a proven and lucrative license like Ninja Turtles? Ninja Turtles are obviously a better investment.
AIPT: For folks who don’t pledge to the Kickstarter and miss out on all the exclusives, how much more do you expect the other figures to cost at retail?
Silva: It really depends on the size of the figure. It could be $10 for the smaller ones and as much as $30 for stuff like the T-Rex.
AIPT: Will we see any accessory pack add-ons in the future?
Silva: I wasn’t planning on it, but the way we’re opening up the stretch goals at this point, you might see something like that in the near future. I’m not committed, but I do have some ideas. So if the momentum continues to go in that direction and people want that, then we’ll see.
It would still have to be sculpted obviously, but it’s something I could include with the third wave without any trouble. So yeah … definitely a possibility.
“I’m free! Now give me a home!” (Bistahieversor sealeyi painted prototype)
AIPT: Okay, let’s go back to the dragons and hear what that’s all about, along with your upcoming Cyberzoic line.
Silva: Cyberzoic is basically armored dinosaurs versus dragons. It also has human characters that pilot or ride the dinosaurs, but it’s something that I want to be distinctive from Dino-Riders. I really like the concept of humans and dinosaurs in battle as a sci-fi element that also has a cool aesthetic.
I’m definitely working to make sure Cyberzoic is its own thing and not something people just see as a continuation of Dino-Riders. It’s going to be very much a story about technology versus nature — how nature was here before us and it’s going to be here when we’re gone. No matter how smart we think we are, we need to work with nature and not fight against it. There are a lot of themes like that in the story, and it’s a lot of things that are important to me. There’s a lot that we can learn from the wildlife we observe. They also have a lot of advantages they have over us; we just happen to want different things than they do.
On the surface it sounds like a cool/kick ass idea, but there really is going to be a lot of thoughtful, layered storytelling.
AIPT: Will there be comics or other media to go along with the figures?
Silva: It’s going to be action figures, but they’re going to come with comics. I’m actually in talks with somebody right now about producing them. Even though I’m a toy designer, this really is a case where I want the figures to serve the story and not the other way around.
I’ve had some of these characters in my head since I was in high school. The story has gone through several different evolutions, but now it kind of feels like everything’s kind of coming together and it’s ready to be told.
If you’re familiar with some of my older work, I did a few model kits that were actually from the world of the Cyberzoic story. One was called Dragon versus Raptors, and it’s a bunch of little Velociraptors attacking a dragon.
And then and then there’s the Arctic Dragon, which is one of the main dragon characters and is also going to be an action figure.
All of those are a part of Cyberzoic. I’ll just be elaborating further with the story and adding more dinosaurs.
AIPT: Good lord, these are amazing. Please tell me the action figures are going to be in 3.75” scale.
Silva: Yes, the figures will be 3.75” and articulated. I know some people may not want human figures or armor/weapons and stuff like that, so I’m trying to figure out if it might be worth selling the armor and figures separately from the creatures. I don’t want to exclude anybody if they aren’t into science fiction or fantasy and would still like to have the dinosaurs.
I just have to see how it’s going to work. There’s a lot to figure out and a ton of concepts I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve been working with somebody the last few months on this and we have a lot of cool designs in the works. It’s still in the very early stages, though.
AIPT First off, I can’t tell you how awesome this line sounds. Second, I really don’t think incredibly designed human characters and/or dinosaur battle armor will be a deterrent to anyone buying these. If anything, the few folks who don’t like that stuff would be able to sell it online to other folks who do — especially if you make the armor interchangeable.
Silva: But I also want to reach younger people and make sure the ones who just want dinosaur toys don’t feel excluded.
Whatever the case, it’s very likely that the armor and the human figures will be sold separately. That way people have the option and don’t have to pay more than they want for the dinosaurs. With production and shipping prices increasing like they have, that might be the best way to go. I don’t want anybody to not buy something because it’s $10 or $20 more than it should be because it’s got a figure you don’t want.
But I’ll find a way to make it work. Besides, there’s still plenty to work on before we get to that decision anyway.
AIPT: Well, when you debut this line, it’s going to make things exceptionally difficult for my toy budget and much easier for my Christmas shopping list. My dad (along with plenty of other people) will absolutely love this stuff.
Silva: Well, you’re still going to have to wait a few years. It’s going to be the next Kickstarter, which is probably at least two more years off. But it’s what I’m building towards. Once I get the Tyrannosaur prototypes finished, then I can really dive into the Cyberzoic stuff.
Right now though, I still have a lot of prototypes to finish for the Tyrannosaurs, so I’m not trying to distract myself too much…but honestly, I do think about it a lot.
Getting back to the dragons for a second, one thing I think is important to note is that I’ve never been a fan of fantasy or sword and sorcery. For whatever reason it just never did anything for me. The closest I’ve ever come to being interested is He-Man, which also had a lot of sci-fi elements.
So my approach to dragons is gonna be different than the traditional ones we usually see. They’re going to be treated as real animals that have adapted to certain environments and have certain attributes to help them survive. I really want to take a more natural history approach to dragons, which is something I wanted to do way back when I first started working at McFarlane Toys.
One of my first projects was to start developing designs for McFarlane’s Dragons line. This was before they even had a name for it, no clans or anything. I just started drawing some dragons and just went nuts. They didn’t want to do any of the stuff I did initially because it was too out there. I got reeled in a bit and was told they needed me to do something more traditional; something cool that people would be familiar with.
With this line, though, I want them to be recognized as dragons, but also something you could easily confuse for a new animal species that you’ve never seen before.
AIPT Is there any chance this line will expand into 6″ scale figures, as well?
Silva: I would love to make a Dragolina 6” scale figure at some point (or even a 12” scale one), but I don’t think I could start off there. I’d definitely have to work up to it. You have to consider that the human characters would need to gain a pretty good following in order for me to upscale them since the dinosaurs and dragons are going to be the main selling point when we start.
But I’m hoping that the story reaches people and resonates with them enough that they also like the characters. If that happens, then we can do a 6” scale line at some point, which would be really cool.
AIPT: I have a feeling this line will have plenty of people who will support whatever scale you make it in!
In the meantime, our hearts, minds, and wallets are all about getting some fantastic Tyrannosaurs on our shelves. If you haven’t pledged to the Kickstarter campaign yet, you have until October 22 to do so.
Please don’t be like me during the Raptor wave and miss out on the cool exclusives (and lower price points). Go claim your Tyrannosaurs today!
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