Tomb Raider Minimates: Talking Shop with Diamond Select Toys

The incredibly awesome line of Tomb Raider Minimates above start hitting retailers this week. To celebrate, we chatted with a pair of Diamond Select staffers about the process of bringing said figures to market. Enjoy!

Can you tell us a bit about the Minimates line?

Zach Oat, Marketing Supervisor: Minimates were first designed in 2002, by the design studio Art Asylum, as a more poseable alternative to many of the collectable block figures that were coming out of Asia at the time. They started out at 3 inches tall, but were scaled down to 2 inches the following year, and it was this smaller scale that has gone on to be one of the most prolific and diverse mini-figure brands on the market. From the Avengers to Star Trek to Lord of the Rings to Ghostbusters to Batman, there are very few properties that have not been represented in Minimates form. We’ve done a few other video games, but Tomb Raider was always on our wish list of properties we’d love to do.

Some may think Minimates are intended for kids due to their small size, but mature franchises draw in adults too. How do you go about choosing properties to collaborate with?

Zach Oat: Minimates are fortunate enough to have both older and younger collectors, and we try to provide products both groups can enjoy. For instance, we recently did a line of Peter Pan Minimates with the Disney Store, but we also have a new line based on the movies of Kevin Smith. The only requirement is that the property needs to have a large cast of characters, so we can create a dozen or so Minimates for it — we rarely make one or two Minimates and stop. Luckily, the new Tomb Raider game had plenty of supporting characters, villains and interesting opponents, which should appeal to both age groups.

What are the challenges in redesigning characters to fit the distinct Minimate shape?

Barry Bradfield, Artist/Designer: There’s always a challenge in creating the illusion of diverse body types, even when there’s a standard base to work on. You want to be cautious of bulking up a character that shouldn’t be larger than the others, and vice versa. For example, Lara feels smaller than the Melee Scavenger even though she’s built on the same Minimates body. Her belt and chest strap needed to be designed to be thinner whereas the belts and straps on the Scavenger help thicken him out. Another example would be how Himiko’s wide dress makes her chest block look smaller while the Storm Guard’s shoulders and waist make his feel larger. It’s challenging to make sure the art conveys these sizing ideas to the sculptors, and that the sculpts are tweaked to reflect the original plan. Another challenge is making sure the printed tampo artwork helps continue the illusion of body types. The art of Lara’s waist brings the eyes in away from the chest block’s edges, creating a new torso border where none exists. This makes her form look thinner than the abs of the Scavengers, which have no defined art border.

How much creative freedom do you have in diverging from this template for specific characters? For example, Himiko forgoes legs when wearing her formal attire in the Tomb Raider line.

Barry Bradfield: There’s always the freedom to experiment with each Minimates character to see what works best in capturing the feel of their source counterpart. Himiko once sported all new lower arms to capture the look of her sleeves. In the end, it was decided that a separate sleeve cap that slides over the existing lower arm would be suited better for the situation. This way, you can move the arms and reposition her sleeves to have a more natural hanging feel to them. An all new lower arm would have removed this ability, and her sleeves would be forever sticking out in one direction. A sculpted face as part of the Oni helmets could have been done, but we wanted to have that face opening so you could swap parts with other characters. I don’t consider these types of changes a limit on freedom though, rather it’s creating the freedom to have more fun with your Minimates. Now you can armour Lara up as an Oni if you want to!

Which character in the Tomb Raider line was the most fun to design? The most challenging?

Barry Bradfield: Most would think the most challenging to put together would have been the Storm Guard Stalker, but we’ve got the larger characters down to a good formula now. I believe the challenging one to assemble was the standard Storm Guard. There needed to be a good balance in making sure his size was not greater than the Stalker or the General, but he still had to feel armored up and larger than Lara or Roth. I spent the most time making sure the art and sculpted pieces were thinner than those on other Oni characters. And while all these characters were great fun to work on, the most fun I had was in assembling Lara Croft herself. In terms of Minimates design, it was fun to make sure two versions of the same character could feel so different through her deco and her accessories. At the end of the day though, it was really just fun – and an honour – to have the chance to work on such an iconic character, especially one that I’ve been a fan of for many years now.

When and where will fans be able to get their hands on the Tomb Raider Minimates?

Zach Oat: The first assortment will hit in early September, with twelve different figures to collect. Four of them (Lara Croft, Scavenger Scout, Battle Damaged Lara and Armored Scavenger) will be available at both specialty stores, including comic shops and online toy stores, as well as Toys “R” Us and toysrus.com. Four more (Roth, Mathias, Sun Queen Himiko and the General) will only be at specialty stores, and four (Storm Guard, Storm Guard Stalker, Scavenger and Scavenger Archer) will only be at Toys “R” Us. A pack of two should retail for around $10. And we have more designs completed, so we hope to continue the line!

Photos by Zach Oat.