Designer Posts

Wreck Royale Vehicles Are Smashing Good Fun

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

In 1970, Kenner’s SSP Smash-Up Derby toys crashed their way into the rec rooms of kids everywhere, inspiring good, wholesome vehicular violence (you remember the jingle, right?). Fifty years hence, there’s Wreck Royale from MGA Entertainment. This series of seven vehicles are designed for explosive impact and maximum chaos with multiple parts that fly off when crashing.

Loud, chaotic, fun! That’s the name of the game here, and these new cars deliver.

Wreck Royale crash

The aftermath of an explosive collision…

Wreck Royale consists of seven different cars designed for crashing, reassembling, and repeating. Luis Tanahara designed the look of the cars. If his name sounds familiar, he has worked for a number of toy companies, but diecast collectors might know him better for his wild custom small-scale creations.

wreck royale double trouble king crash

Double Trouble and King Cra$h are sold as a set.

None of these models represent a particular real-world car, but they all call on Tanahara’s expert familiarity with the tropes of car culture. There are a couple of muscle car-inspired rides, a pair of Euro and JDM tuners, a ‘30s hot rod sedan delivery, a vintage pickup truck, and a custom van. The graphics on each car further tell the story of those different automotive subcultures. Most of them even feature unique California-inspired license plates representing different eras of that state’s car culture.

Wreck Royale Big Boss Da Bomb

The Big Boss pickup takes on Da Bomb tuner.

Of the initial seven vehicles, only one body is used twice. And with different graphics and fly off parts, it takes you a while to notice. In fact, of over 30 parts, only a few of those molds are used more than once and decorated differently each time. Wreck Royale shows even further dedication to design effort with certain cars having unique rims or tires.

wreck royale packagingThe packaging is well done, too. Each car sits nose down as if it had just rammed into something, and the design elements on the labels fit the theme of each car.

While kids should love this kind of noisy fun, it should appeal to adult collectors as well. If you’re of a certain age, you had those original Kenner SSP Smash-Up Derby cars. The first set of those pre-dented racers was an instant smash hit. Kenner would go on to create 8 different body styles over the decade, including a pair of luxury cars that didn’t come pre-mangled and two European models.

Unlike the ripcord/gyro wheel propulsion of the SSP cars, Wreck Royale cars ar free-wheeling. Another difference is the new cars have interchangeable parts. Not only can you swap parts between cars, but any part can fit in any slot in the front, back, hood, roof, or sides. Between seven cars, 32 pieces, and six slots per car, the combinations are almost infinite.

But we’re really here for the action. And it lives up to the hype and then some. (Be sure to watch that video at quarter-speed or even slower again to really see those parts fly!)

Each Wreck Royale vehicle has a trigger in the front that sets off a violent expulsion of parts. At the same time, a trigger underneath the car launches or flips the whole thing into the air. The first time you see it in person, it’s startling. The parts don’t fly off as much as they explode. Reassembly is easy, once you learn the sequence of resetting the trigger and adding the parts. So with no tiny parts and a bit of education, these can be enjoyed by younger kids.

wreck royale ricky rodder

Ricky Rodder is a 1930’s sedan delivery with shark features.

Most cars are sold individually, retailing at a reasonable $10 or so apiece. The Big Boss and Double Trouble are sold as a pair, with each containing two more fly off parts than the single cars. (It’s also worth noting that the media kits for these toys came packaged in a brilliant semi truck shaped box, which should become a collectors’ item in its own right.)

Wreck Royale mixed up

There are unlimited ways to mix and match parts with Wrecky Royale.

The world of collecting can be funny sometimes. The toys we remember most fondly as kids are often the ones we played with the hardest. But as collectors, we look for pristine, well-preserved examples to display years later. Wreck Royale makes a case for ripping those boxes open and having a smashing good time.

Do you have these new cars or any vintage smash-up vehicles? Tell us about your memories with your destructive playtime!

Meet Tim Bruckner, DC Action Figure and Statue Artist

Tim Bruckner DC artistRecently hobbyDB brought you the stories of some of the designers of Matchbox cars from the early 2000s. You all thought it was fascinating to learn of the people and processes behind some of our favorite toys and collectibles. In that spirit, we’d like to introduce you to Tim Bruckner, an incredible sculptor and designer who spent decades creating action figures and statues for various DC entities and other companies. We’ll be telling you about his long, fascinating career over the next few weeks. You can get a peek at his work at his hobbyDB Showcase, where there are a few rare pieces for sale (and more will be added soon!).

Bruckner started with DC Direct in 1999, and worked for them for most of the last two decades. “Every element of a sculpture says something,” Bruckner said. “The expressions, the pose, the way the clothes flow or bend… they all tell a story, and it’s my job to interpret it perfectly. An action figure will be posed by the collector, but a statue has to get it just right.”

Tim Bruckner SupermanPerhaps the most mind blowing aspect of his creations is his ability to interpret different artists’ visions of a single character into a 3-D model. “Look at Batman as rendered by Frank Miller versus the same character from Alex Ross,” Bruckner said. “My job is to make sure the character represents the look, but also the tone of their interpretation. The pose and even facial expressions are usually provided by an art director.”

Tim Bruckner CatwomanTo some, that might not sound like there’s a lot of room for creativity, but that’s part of the challenge. “I sculpt and show it to them, and keep doing that until the client is happy,” he said. Depending on the artist or the art director, there might be a couple of back and forths with minor revisions, or there might be several go-rounds with major changes. “The earlier we can make and agree on changes, the better,” he said.

A look at the sheer number of Superman or Joker sculpts he has done over the years is revealing. While there are several obvious differences between the live-action, comic book, and animated versions of characters, the different versions in each of those categories are astonishing.

He has a remarkable ability to create dynamic poses that make still figures look like and feel they are in motion. Another one of his talents includes making characters appear to “float,” by barely having them touch the ground, such as his Catwoman “Pinup” figure.

Bruckner has another take on serving the “client,” however. Several years ago, he attended the San Diego Comic-Con and watched as people looked over displays of his work, discussing the fine details, perhaps not even realizing who he was. “I watched a couple talk about which statues they wanted to spend their hard-earned money on. They were having a serious conversation about the merits of these things, and I realized in a way, DC wasn’t my client… these people are.”

Tim Bruckner prototypes

Even Bruckner’s preproduction originals and hand-painted masters look finished.

Tim Bruckner AquamanThe prototype processes are actually quite different from how it works in the world of diecast vehicles. In addition to the original wax figure, Bruckner had to determine points of articulation, how to separate the figure into multiple, moldable pieces, and even hand-painted the prototypes. “With the advent of 3-D design, that skill set is evaporating,” he said. “Hopefully digital sculpting and hand carving can coexist.”

As you might imagine, he has accumulated quite a few of these pieces over the years. Too many to properly display and curate, so he is selling some of his collection. His collection on hobbyDB has a few dozen items up for sale so far, and hundreds more will be added soon.

In addition to DC Direct/DC Entertainment, he has also worked for other toy companies including Kenner, Hasbro, and Toybiz. In a departure from his most famous 3-D work, he has done a lot of graphic design including album covers for Ringo Starr and others. He’s written books on his work and some pulp fiction as well.

Tim Bruckner Ringo StarrHe’s retired from working on this sort of thing professionally, but still spends hours every day in his studio creating. “It’s not all that different, except I’m not on deadline anymore,” he said. “It’s an odd adjustment, but a good one.”

In our next installment, Bruckner will show us some of his favorite figures from his DC days as well as a deeper look into the process of creating an action figure from wax to finish. 

Meet Mac Ragan, Diecast Collector, Historian (and Industry Icon)

Mac RaganOver the past couple of months, hobbyDB has been featuring the stories of some of the folks who bring you the diecast cars you know and love. Mac Ragan is well-known for his work in the diecast vehicle industry over the last couple of decades (he was inducted in the Model Car Hall of Fame, then still called Diecast Hall of Fame in 2010), but he got his start as an avid collector and historian of the hobby.

Many collectors know him as a Johnny Lightning designer and Brand Manager (with Playing Mantis and RC2, from 2003 to 2007. He was also GreenLight’s New Casting Director from 2007 to 2008. His life with toy cars goes back to the 1990s when he became a book publicist in New York City.A background in art history helped me secure a job at the exclusive art-book publisher, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,” he said. “My responsibilities included getting new books reviewed and featured in magazines, plus securing spots for authors on television shows.”

After a few years, he decided it was time for a change in his career. He was already a long-time collector of toy cars, so he decided he wanted to photograph them. His mother bought his first camera in the late 1990s.These were the final days of film, and the camera was a fully manual Nikon FM2. My idea was to photograph cars from a child’s vantage point, and treat them as objects to be played with by children and admired by adults,” he said. By this time, he was on the road to creating his own books.

Johnny Lightning 1955 Chrysler C300

Johnny Lightning 1955 Chrysler C300 (Photo courtesy jlcollector.net)

From 2000-2004, he published 5 books on various diecast brands. Titles include Diecast Cars of the 1960s (2000), Hot Wheels Cars (2001), Tomart’s Price Guide to Johnny Lightning Vehicles (2001), Matchbox Cars: The First 50 Years (2002), Hot Wheels: 35 Years of Cool Cars (2003), as well as a pair of Hot Wheels Car-a-Day Calendars (2003 and 2004).

Given his tight connection to JL, the Matchbox and Hot Wheels titles may come as a surprise. “You need to make contacts at the brand, no matter what kind of toy-car book you’re creating. I wrote all of my books before I worked in the industry, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of current and past employees.”

Mac Ragan booksMac would have a second career at Johnny Lightning. The brand disappeared for a while, but Tom Lowe revived it at his new company, Round 2. Mac returned to meet up with much of the original crew in 2015.This time I was Director of Social Media for Johnny Lightning, Auto World, and Racing Champions Mint. My photography skills came in handy on the new websites as well as the Facebook and Instagram pages.”

GreenLight 1971 AMC Javelin Police Cruiser

GreenLight 1971 AMC Javelin Police Cruiser (Photo courtesy Wyatt Davis)

He left Round 2 in 2017 to focus on his collection, and feature it on Facebook (@macragan) and Instagram (@macragan500). “I primarily collect 1/64-scale toy vehicles from around the world. My favorite toys replicate everyday cars we see on the streets. Four-door sedans and station wagons are favorites, from the 1960s to present day.”

Among his favorite JL creations are the 1955 Chrysler C-300 Mexican Rally Racer, 1936 Hispano-Suiza, and the 1959 De Soto Fireflite Police Car. He is also fond of the Johnny Retro series, with colorful tinted transparent lacquer over brushed bare metal, and the later Holiday Classics assortments from 2004 to 2007.

At GreenLight, Mac is proud of a change he helped institute for the overall brand. In 2008, they went to smaller, more accurate tire and rim molds for many models. “I consider this my most valuable contribution to the GreenLight casting bank,” he said. “It was priority number one from my first day, as I felt that the pre-2008 wheels and tires were often too large.” His favorite designs from that brand include the 1971-1974 AMC Javelin and AMX, and the 1960s Dodge D-100 Pickup casting and over-the-cab camper.

Auto World 1970 Dodge Challenger TA

Auto World 1970 Mercury Cougar (Photo courtesy awcollector.com)

Even before he was on staff at Round 2, he helped develop several early castings. Among his favorites are the Auto World 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger and 1970 Mercury Cougar (“My chance to improve on the old Johnny Lightning Convertible version!”)

“My parents told me that I played with toy cars from the age of two,” Mac said. “That was in Auburn, Alabama. My favorite real car, at three years old, was apparently the Karmann Ghia. The first toy cars I remember was a set of plastic European vehicles, all about four inches long. I soon graduated to Matchbox toys and then Hot Wheels cars.”

Johnny Lightning 1936 Hispano-Suiza

Johnny Lightning 1936 Hispano-Suiza (Photo courtesy jlcollector.net)

Surprisingly, JL was not his initial inspiration as a childhood diecast fan. “Although I’m closely associated with the Johnny Lightning brand, my first love will always be regular wheels Matchbox cars,” he said. “I played with them in my early childhood, and these happy memories remain with me to this day. From the modern era, my favorites are Johnny Lightning, Tomica, Siku, Norev, and Auto World.”

Like many collectors, he is attempting to recreate the lost collection of his childhood. “I gave all my cars to a younger neighbor when I was 11 years old,” he said. “I began truly collecting after college. Although I have a few models from the late 1950s, the core of my collection begins in the mid-1960s.”

As a child, he collected other things as well… rocks, seashells, coins, and stamps to name a few.As an only child and the final member of my family’s branch on the tree, I ended up with many inherited ‘treasures,'” he said.Paintings by my mother and a close friend cover the walls of my home. I’m a casual collector of art pottery and contemporary ceramics. However, I don’t consider myself a serious collector of anything other than toy cars.”

GreenLight 1965 Dodge D100 with Camper

GreenLight 1965 Dodge D100 with Camper (Photo courtesy Wyatt Davis)

The collector and designer come together whenever Mac wanders over to the toy aisle at a store that carries diecast. He can’t help but scan the pegs looking for his handiwork. “I always do that,” he exclaimed. “I did that when I was designing and I still do. Castings have long lifespans, and I continue to find GreenLight models with wonderful new deco schemes on castings I created over ten years ago.”

Auto World 1970 Dodge Challenger TA

Auto World 1970 Dodge Challenger TA (Photo courtesy awcollector.com)

Clearly, he has been fortunate to turn a lifetime passion into a successful career. “For me, my toys tell the story of the automobile (and more broadly, popular culture) for the past 60 years. It’s something to pass to the next generation after I’m gone.” He finds the hobby relaxing as well. “I know that when I enter the die-cast aisle I’m transported to a calmer place. I forget about all the stress of everyday life.”

“It’s not always easy to know why you collect. But if you think about it sometime when you have a quiet moment, you’ll probably learn something important about yourself.”

John “Spanky” Stokes, the Stroll and a New Vinyl Art Database

The world of vinyl art toys is full of weird, wonderful creatures, some of them mass-produced, some limited, and some that are truly one of a kind. Thanks to John “Spanky” Stokes, hobbyDB has an influx of many of these characters, especially from the rare end of the spectrum.

spankystokes stokes

From every direction, Stoke’s studio is full of wonderful, weird creatures.

spankystokes stroll

Stroll, the lovable mascot of Spankystokes.

Stokes runs his own blog, Spankystokes.com, about vinyl art characters, with an emphasis on unusual custom jobs. “The philosophy behind my site, from the very beginning, has been to spread the word about the Designer Toy world,” he said.” To help promote artists who don’t have a voice and to just share how cool and unique all of these amazing creations are!”

While his website is frequently updated with news about cool new items, none of it is cataloged and cross-referenced to make it very searchable. That’s where hobbyDB comes in providing his site with a  handy database. So far the database covers Kidrobot and Superplastic but there are plans to expand it adding eventually every designer Spanky wrote about (which will then also come to hobbyDB!).

spankystokes custom“When I first got into the Designer Toy scene, I started my site as a personal blog and did not post much Designer Toy news on there,” he said. “But as soon as I became more and more fond of the scene I not only started to write about the things I found interesting but also dove into the customizing scene.”

spankystokes dunnyHis interest in such figures stems in part from his own custom work, too. The site’s mascot is Stroll, a cycloptic, furry yeti.  “I created monsters, really furry ones with gnarled teeth and drool. My dad liked the way they looked so much that I guess it crept into his subconscious,” Stokes said. “Dad named him Stroll, a combination of Stokes and Troll. Stroll has been immortalized by Kidrobot in Dunny form.

Stokes started customizing in 2007, going strong until 2014, when his daughter was born. “I really want to get back into it as I crave that creative outlet… but having recently moved, I am waiting to build a new studio so I can have a dedicated space – once again – to get back into the swing of things.” So for the past few years, his blog has been the focus of his hobby.

Luckily, since he had a website for those years, he has a pretty detailed record of his work, straight from the horse’s mouth but without the fog of time. His new database will really enhance his ability to keep it all organized.

spankystokes collectionHis work really revolves around creatures, kinda gruesome for the most part. “I have a lot of fun making those as I can manifest the cool monsters that I have been dreaming about since I was a young child. I always loved fantasy/sci-fi type things growing up, and played my fair share of AD&D along with Magic The Gathering, and on top of that – so many rad comic books and movies have inspired me as well.”

He started customizing with Kidrobot Dunny figures, mostly with decoration. His figures have become more complex and scratch-built ever since. “I start off, most of the time with a base platform… Dunny, Munny, MAD*L and everything in between, then build on top of that with a 2-part epoxy called Magic Sculpt,” he said. “I normally have some type of eyes involved and those are cast glass, so they find their way into the epoxy compound as well. Then I paint using acrylics along with airbrush vinyl paint. Lastly, I cover certain parts of my creations with faux-fur.”

spankystokes stroll variants

Stroll, the cycloptic yeti spokes character of many colors.

More recently, he has worked with resin casting so he can create limited runs of his creations instead of one-off figures. As his daughter gets older (she is five now), it’s likely he will find time and inspiration to get back into his studio and create. And when he does, expect to read about them at spankystokes.com!

As for his nickname, he got it in high school. “My offensive line coach though I looked like Spanky from ‘The Little Rascals’… and from that point forward, it’s followed me through all stages of life,” Stokes laughed. “Thirty-eight years old now… and everyone calls me Spanky.

spankystokes friends

Stokes has made a lot of friends in the vinyl art design world.

After a decade of running a Designer Toy blog and being involved with the scene in general, most artists, (“who I used to fanboy over”) are now his close friends. “I love having pieces by all of them in my collection as it reminds me of the great times we have all had… it’s also awesome to surround yourself with so many fantastic creations – I soak up this stuff like a creative sponge – looking around my office at all the unique creations really brings me joy! 

 

 

Interested in joining forces with hobbyDB to take charge of our collectible destiny? Learn more at our Wefunder profile.

From Super Soakers to Redneck Roadkill: Rob Romash Outside of Mattel

super soaker prototypes

The handmade prototypes for Super Soakers had to look correct and be pretty much fully functioning.

We’ve recently brought you some stories of the designers who helped create many Matchbox vehicles from the early 2000s – Steve Moye, Product Designer; Glenn Hubing, Model Painter; and Rob Romash, Master Modelmaker.
romash super soakers

Romash at work/play in his Super Soaker days.

There’s a lot more to their stories, so here’s a look at Romash’s work before and after his days at Mattel. After his second year at design school, he was likely to be scooping ice cream in White House, New Jersey, when he spotted an ad in the local paper. “They were looking for a model maker to build prototypes of toys,” he said. “I had been building models since I was a kid, and figured I’d give it a shot.” To say it was a life-changing moment is an understatement. 

The job was for a local company called Professional Prototypes in White House New Jersey, whose client was Johnson Research & Development Co. who were introducing their Super Soakers squirt gun line. “We had to translate the drawings to life size models,” he said. But these weren’t just for looks. “These were basically fully-functioning models, complete with hollow tanks, tubes connecting everything… we were creating just about the finished pre-production designs.” Not only were these used as the basis for production, but they sometimes were painted and used in commercials, which had to be shot before the final product was available.

romash super soaker tv commercial

Chances are, if you saw an early commercial for Super Soakers, Romash’s working, painted prototypes were used as stand-ins.

The job went well enough that he postponed going back to school. Permanently, as it turns out. And thus began Romash’s career as a toy designer and prototype modeler. 

In 1996, Romash eventually Tyco to produce prototypes for radio control models. (In fact, one of his former co-workers at the New Jersey ice cream shop was working there… small world!) One of the interesting challenges of designing for slot cars or remote control cars is the pre-set design parameters. “Tyco had one chassis setup, so every single car had to be designed to fit those proportions,”Romash said. 

For an original fantasy creation, it’s not too hard to tweak the proportions. But for an R/C car based on a real production car, there’s a lot to consider. Consider this 1965-66 Mustang fastback R/C car (below). It’s instantly recognizable as such, even though the proportions are squeezed a bit from front to back, and the body is wider than the real car. Not only do the wheelbase and the width need to be honored, but the body needs to fit over the motor (which can be a real problem with convertibles).

RC Mustang

Even though the proportions have been modified, this model could only be a first generation Ford Mustang.

The trick was to get the folks at Ford Motor Company to sign off on the design, even though he had to take some liberties. When Tyco was bought out by Mattel in 1997, the electric train line disappeared quickly, but the slot cars and R/C cars became part of Mattel Racing. (You can read the complete history of his days with Mattel here.)

After Mattel closed the Mt. Laurel shop in 2005, Romash found a gig at Estes Rockets, based in Penrose, Colorado. Having worked with radio control cars, Romash had a good sense of how to create a model that looked great, functioned well, and could withstand some hard play time. He worked mostly on R/C airplanes there, developing unlicensed original designs that still had the aerodynamic chops to fly.

romash prototypes

Not all toys make it past the the prototype stage. For whatever reasons, Tyco did not produce this R/C rollover vehicle or this “Star Wars” landspeeder.

His work there also required him to travel to China to oversee various aspects of final productioin. While the Estes job ended when the company was bought out, the experience with Chinese plants proved to be a useful new asset for Romash. Having grown fond of Colorado, he decided to start his own company, Eclipse Toys, continuing his tenure in the world of R/C cars and planes. But instead of taking orders from an established company and hoping his designs would translate properly to production, he now made his own decisions and brought the prototypes to China himself.

There’s a noble purpose to Eclipse Toys as well. “I’m working with the Acadmey of Model Aeronautics to bring our models into STEM programs at schools,” he said. The idea is to inspire kids to think about areo engineering not just as toys and hobbies, but as a career.

On the other end of the spectrum, he has also designed modle aircraft for magicplanes.com. These are very high end, expensive RC planes for “exectuive playtime.” Besides precision performance, they are also limited edition works of art.

 

redneck roadkill

Romash now has his own company, with Redneck Roadkill R/C models as their latest success.

The latest new product is a series of RC trucks called Redneck Roadkill R/C. “I called my good friend Glenn Hubing and asked him if he would work on this with me,” he said. The Redneck Roadkill trucks have a seriously weatherbeaten, dirty patina, the kind of detail only a master model painter could create. “Seriously, there is nothing else like them on the market right now.”

 When he looks back on his career, he knows his success comes from hard work, natural talent, and great teamwork. But also a little luck. “I pinch myself sometimes,” he said of his good fortune. “ If I didn’t see that ad for that first job at Laramie, who knows how things would have turned out?”