‘Beasts of the Mesozoic’ creator, designer, and sculptor David Silva spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the current state of the Toy Market and Collectors becoming the dominant demographic. Silva discussed the experience of working at NECA, Hasbro, & McFarlane Toys, and heading his own company Creative Beast Studio.
Creative Beast Studio founder David Silva is a veteran of the toy world, working at some of the biggest names in the whole industry from McFarlane Toys and Hasbro to his current role at NECA. As a Designer/Sculptor, Silva has worked on major intellectual properties (IPs) like Star Wars, Predator, Godzilla, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, and Jurassic Park. During an in-depth interview with The Natural Aristocrat, Silva discussed the business side of the toy market, why companies almost never take a chance on a toy line without an IP attached, and the age of collectors. How they’ve transformed the market to establish vastly more impressive quality by allowing larger price points.
No longer is the industry at the mercy of brick and mortar stores alone. In fact, brick and mortar is gradually evolving from low priced toys and bargain bins to separate collectible sections. David Silva’s ‘Beasts of Mesozoic‘ action figure line and resin model kits are an example of what’s possible when old pricing restrictions evaporate and ingenuity reigns. When collectors steer the market, allowing the creator’s mind to freedom to innovate.
Interview with David Silva, Founder of Creative Beast Studio:
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: You run your own original toy line Beasts of the Mesozoic, and have worked on major licenses like Predator at NECA and Star Wars at Hasbro. Do you prefer the security and childhood-like awe of working with a ‘name license’ or is it simply always more gratifying for an original work to succeed?
David Silva: It is really cool, of course, to work on licenses that I’m into. There’s a balance between wanting to work on something that other people created and then work on something I created. Back when I was younger, when I started working in the industry around 2003, I was all about just working on this license and that license. I was such a fanboy. ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get into this and that. I want to be part of it.’
As I do more of that, I feel like I become more and more interested in working on my own stuff instead. Where that’s becoming more gratifying overall then working on other licenses. I still have a lot of fun. I still love doing the Predator stuff and things like that. Luckily at NECA, we’ve gotten to a point where I can do a lot of my own designs for the Predator line. That’s been a lot more interesting to me than say sculpting a Predator from say a new movie. I feel design is my thing and I really like inventing something new.
I like designing new figure concepts. Simply copying something from a movie, it’s not as motivating for me. So, I think the longer I do this, the more interested I’m going to become in going in my own direction, and getting more and more away from popular licenses… Because after I worked on those for a bit, I feel fulfilled and I want to move on and apply that experience to something original. That’s kind of where I’m at now. I’m going in that direction where I’m inventing things that the market doesn’t have enough of or doesn’t yet exist.
The toy market has grown age wise. There’s less kids, more collectors… More adults that have spending money so-to-speak now. Do you feel that’s sustainable in the future? I’ve noticed toy companies are relying more and more heavily on collectors as the years pass. Almost becoming entirely dependent on them as the core market. While the traditional youth market rapidly gravitate to their iPhones.
It’s interesting to try to get to where the action figure market is going to go because over the last 20 years, it seems like the collector’s market has doubled or tripled in the United States. Of course, the kid’s market is probably stronger but it’s less than it was 20 years ago because of all the digital media and I see that trend continuing at least for another ten or twenty years.
I don’t necessarily see action figures and collectibles going away. But I think it’s going to become smaller to where digital media becomes the more popular consumer product for a pop culture instead of physical collectibles. People will be more into purchasing physical collectibles as a supplement to whatever game they’re into and it’ll probably become smaller after a certain point… But I don’t see it going away.
So, if the toy market becomes smaller than most likely the ones that will survive will be the best and the cheapest. The cheapest obviously, I have no interest in that end of it. But I definitely want to leverage myself as the best if I’m going to continue in this direction. I also have a very strong interest in getting into video games. I was really into video games as a kid and I’ve had this resurgence lately and got back into them.
I think that there’s a chance that Creative Beast Studio will start exploring opportunities in the video game industry at some point in the future, not right away. Developing IPs and stuff like that and bringing action figures out based on whatever those IPs are. I think that in order for collectables to survive, there needs to be a lot of cooperation between this industry and the digital media industry.
In a Forbes article, you mentioned potential trouble with traditional brick-and-mortar stores carrying the Beasts of the Mesozoic line because of the price point. Do you feel that’s an issue overall? Or because collectors typically purchase items online these days that brick-and-mortar stores have less of a make-or-break impact? Toys ‘R Us closing down comes to mind.
It’s an issue with a lot of a larger chain like Target and Walmart because they like to keep things usually around a certain price point. They’re starting to get away from that now a little bit more because of the collector’s market. NECA has had a lot of stuff in Target now, and we’re not in the toy section where we’re in a collectable section. Which didn’t exist a few years ago. So, it looks like they’re progressing in a direction that caters more towards the adult collector.
The issue with what I’m doing is a high price point and being not based on any sort of popular intellectual property. It falls into the category of their other dinosaur toys which usually sell for a low price point. Ten dollars, fifteen dollars. You put something right next to it that’s forty or fifty dollars, they’re probably not going to assume that the casual consumer is going to be able to afford that. It’s too big of a price increase for that particular market according to them.
I think it might be a while before I’m able to get my stuff into a store like that just because of what they’re used to having. That being said, I think that online sales have been very good for me because there’s so many different options and varying price points. I know that a lot of adult collectors are used to purchasing items online for their collections. So, that alone can keep me sustained. It’d be nice if I could get into one of the larger chains someday but I think there would have to be a bigger shift in their mentality towards the higher priced products.
On that note, how’s the reception been pre-order wise for the Arctic Dragon? It’s one of the pricer but definitely aesthetic products from Creative Beast Studios.
It’s pre-order but they’re made to order. It is available but I just don’t like to over make those because they’re pretty costly to make. I usually just make those to order. The reception for it has been really good. Every time I post a picture of it, I feel it does really well. Everybody really loves it. But the problem is… I think it’s too intimidating. Even though I’ve sold a fair amount of them over the past few years, I’ve never seen anybody build it. How come you’re not really building this one?
I put out a dragon kit about ten years ago that I called ‘Dragons Vs. Raptors’ and that was my first dragon kit. It was a big elaborate thing that was up in the air and theres all these raptors going at it. When you put it all together it was over 2 feet tall. I’ve seen 8 or 10 people who built that kit and it was pretty complicated. But for some reason I haven’t seen anyone build up the Arctic Dragons, and that’s unfortunate. I really want to see someone else’s take on it.
But whenever I post up pictures of it, people love it. I think it’s one of those things where, people feel ‘Well, I would buy it if it was finished but I just don’t have the skill to pull that off.’ I’m hoping to put out that kit and the ‘Dragons Vs. Raptors’ as finished pieces. I’m looking for a partnership, a manufacturer who does that sort of thing and has distribution channels… But that’s sort of on a back burner for now. I’ll try to get that done.
I think that’s going to be the best way that I can reach an audience because the model kits… They don’t reach a very big audience. there’s only so many people that know how to build and paint those, so it’s very limiting.
Was the attraction original to work on your own original dinosaur line related to prior work at Hasbro on Jurassic Park? Or did you ask for Jurassic Park at Hasbro because you loved dinosaurs so much? Kind of a chicken and the egg question scenario.
The whole dinosaur thing started back at McFarlane (Toys), I started working there, helping out in the sculpting department back in 2005. I was originally just doing design work for them but then I moved up to New Jersey at the beginning of 2005 and I moved to an area that was fairly close to McFarlane so that I could go around and visit with them as needed. I went in one day to discuss designs, and my manager asked me if I could sculpt. I said, ‘Yeah, yeah! I’ve sculpted plenty in college.’ I started coming in regularly to help out in their sculpting department and they had the dragon line going on. I had done a lot of the initial artwork for the designs and it was cool that I could actually do some sculpting for the line.
I was able to get my hands on some of those pieces and it seemed like a good fit for me. So, I thought, ‘Well, maybe if I showed that I could sculpt this kind of thing, I would give them the confidence to let me do larger work for the line!’ Somehow, I decided that if I could show them that I could do a dinosaur sculpt, that they would trust me to do a dragon because dinosaurs are a little more rooted in reality. I could figure out the anatomy better in more subtle ways than just doing the usual thing that you see… Where you take the human anatomy and stretch it out into a dragon. I wanted to take a similar type of animal and show them that I could do it.
I sculpted a dinosaur in my own time, a big Dilophosaurus, I don’t have it anymore. It was enough to let them give me my own dragon project. When I went to Hasbro a few years later, I decided to pick that dinosaur project up again and I ended up resculpting it all over again. I showed some pictures to a few people to get me to put out a model kit and that ended up leading me to work on the Jurassic Park line for Hasbro. And that was kind of a nightmare…
They hired me to do the work because I knew about dinosaurs and then I was art directed on all the stuff that I knew. They made me change lots of stuff that I didn’t agree with. They probably should have gotten someone who doesn’t know about dinosaurs, that would have been better.
Was it to keep costs down?
No, I don’t know. I was just following the design and everything had to line up exactly. My photographs had to line up exactly to line drawings and there just wasn’t really much room for me to make it more realistic. It was like they have their idea of what that dinosaur needed to look like. And the stuff that I knew about dinosaurs didn’t really apply at that point. We were basically making a fantasy creature and I really had an issue with that. They had this mentality going into it, this is a Pachyrhinosaurus or this is a Styracosaurus… And it kind of is but not really, and I just wasn’t on the same page on them the whole time.
It was really frustrating. So, that motivated me even more to do my own dinosaurs. There’s also been instances at every toy company that I’ve been at where there were opportunities to do the scientifically accurate type of dinosaur… And they never went through, for whatever reason, there was no commitment and they lost confidence in the project. Maybe there was some other project that needed the funding instead. There was always a reason, and it just wasn’t happening.
For various reasons, companies aren’t comfortable committing to a line of dinosaurs that aren’t attached to some sort of intellectual property because they see it as too much of a risk. You can’t gauge the market with that. They don’t want to put thousands of dollars behind it.
You mentioned video games earlier, did you ever consider working with the Primal Rage IP?
I’ve gotten a lot back into video games over the last year… But I’m not interested in developing toys for existing IP, I want to develop IPs that can be turned into video games. Then I create the collectables for it because I feel there’s plenty of companies who are willing to take on video games if they see potential in it. Most of them have it covered but I do wish NECA would do Mortal Kombat but that’s not going to happen.
Why’s that? Why wouldn’t NECA do it?
Oh, we just have too many other things going on and McFarlane (Toys) has it. And Storm (Collectibles) is doing a pretty good job with it. So, it’s like what’s the point, you know? It would be cool for us to do it because I think we could do it best but…
Is there like a bidding process between toy companies for these big name licenses? Do they approach you? How does it work at NECA compared to Hasbro and McFarlane Toys?
Yeah, I’m not involved with all that but from what I understand the representatives from whatever company owns the IP will approach our people. They’ll say, ‘Hey, are you interested in this? This is how much it’ll be.’ And if there’s more than one party interested, then yeah, I guess you’d have a bidding situation at that point. From what I can tell, that’s how it works.
How did you get into sculpting originally? I understand you wanted to do comics at first. How does one begin sculpting?
It really grew out of the Comics interest. When I was in high school, I was drawing a lot of my own comic book stories, my own characters. It was was one of my favorite things to do. I didn’t go to the sports games and dances and all that stuff. I just wanted to make my comic book stories! (laughs) There was a certain point where I started thinking how cool it would be if these characters were like tangible objects. I went to Michaels (franchise store) and I got some clay and I started making my characters. I just wanted to see it.
For me, designing and sculpting is all kind of part of the same process. I feel like the sculpting process is just part of a design process. And the end result is having a fully fleshed out concept in our reality. A tangible thing.
What year did you work on Star War’s Jabba the Hutt? Jabba’s always had an impressively distinctive look for his figures.
The figure came out around 2010 because that’s when I started with NECA and it just came out when I began there. I sculpted it back in 2009 and it was a Walmart exclusive I think. That was a lot of fun, that was probably my favorite project I did for them. That had probably the fewest complications. (laughs) Pretty straight forward thing. That one was cool.
I did the same thing with a Dewback, I sculpted a Dewback for them that came out around the same time. That was a pretty fun project, it was a weird choice on their part because it was based on the Episode 1 Dewback. Whenever I tell people that they say there weren’t any Dewbacks in Episode 1… But there were! (laughs) In the background. It took me forever to figure out. I was like what Dewback is this?! Some of the Star Wars stuff is pretty cool to work on but I feel like I’m satisfied with it. I’m glad to move on.
Was your move to NECA influenced by their reputation for exceptionally detailed and articulated toys in the industry? It sounds like it was a natural fit.
Yeah, NECA at that point had a lot of people there that used to work at McFarlane because they had a pretty high turnover at the time. I don’t know how they are now. Several people that worked there ended up at NECA and I knew somebody at NECA who said they were looking for sculptors. I was working freelance for Hasbro at the time and it was a steady work… But it was getting to the point where it was difficult to communicate because it was all remote. I had worked for Hasbro several times before that and it was fine but freelancing was a bit frustrating.
So, there was an opportunity there at NECA, I could physically go there and work, which I think works better for me. It ended up being a pretty good fit! My first project was the Tracker Predator from Predators, that went well, and I just went from there… And I never left! Eventually, I stopped contact Hasbro and committed myself to working for NECA.
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Pictured Above: Creative Beast Studio founder David Silva. Learn more about David Silva, his journey in the toy world, and how the scientifically accurate ‘Beasts of the Mesozoic’ came to be.