BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

A decade of Blood!
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BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby The Baron » 24 Feb 2013 17:27

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Bob Brechin, the godfather of all things Action Force, has once again given his time to the folks at BFTB. Following on from his 30th Anniversary Q&A Session, Bob has very kindly agreed to tell us more about his fan-favourite creation, the Enemy Roboskull

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01) Thanks for all the information on the Roboskull and Red Wolf in your last interview with BFTB. Could you please give us some insight into the development process for a new item like the Roboskull? Obviously it begins with sketches, but what then? Were they discussed with a committee before being made into a prototype? Was the prototype a full-sized mock-up? Was it made of clay or similar? Was it then "signed off" for production? Any insight you can give would be of great interest.

02) Roughly how much did it cost to get a Roboskull from a mould into the shipping-ready boxed version sitting on a factory warehouse shelf? And roughly how long did it take? Did it come together quickly or were bits added and changed over time?

03) Were you originally given a design brief to create a signature vehicle for the Red Shadows, or was the Roboskull entirely a concept of your own which you proposed to Palitoy? Did any other members of the Palitoy staff work alongside you on the project and, if so, what input did they have into the final design?

04) How did you first come up with the idea of a flying machine that resembled a human skull, were you inspired by anything in particular or was it just something which sprang purely from your own imagination? Did you ever think to yourself: "This just too bizarre to ever make it to retail!" and did you have to scale or tone down any elements of its design on the grounds of cost or manufacturing practicalities?

05) Did you have a 'eureka' moment when creating the Roboskull? Either on the technical / assembly side, or just realising that you had a perfect new vehicle to fit into the Red Shadow line?

06) Did you design the Roboskull pilot as well, and was the use of a Hasbro figure ever considered for this vehicle? I've noticed most Hasbro-originated vehicles came with Hasbro figures, whereas Palitoy vehicle designs had Palitoy figures. Was there any reason for this?

07) After the Roboskull (which is very cool), are there any other figures or vehicles which you consider to be your best work?

08) In terms of sales how popular was the Roboskull?

09) Were the glow in the dark stickers for the Roboskull something added at the last minute or was it part of the design phase? Was there ever any consideration to giving the Roboskull electronic features, such as light or sound effects?

10) Where did the name Roboskull come from? Finally, thanks for creating the Roboskull, a masterpiece of imagination and, of course, Red Shadow engineering.


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Hi, thanks for your 10 questions.

I will not answer them in any particular order and will start with Q 5.

I suppose I did have a "eureka" moment when I conceived the Roboskull. But first to set the scene. When we developed the "Team Concept" for Action Force in Year 2 the new marketing team wanted to move away from the Action Man inspired range and develop a story based loosely on the James Bond idea of a villainous megalomaniac with aims to take over the world. So the concept finalised with Baron Ironblood as the villain along with his brainwashed cohorts and four teams of Action Force to counter his desire for world domination on land, sea and in the air/space. I imagined that the Enemy lead by Baron Ironblood were tomorrow's pirates so I included the skull and crossbones as its emblem.

Action Force was very popular in its First Year and the change did not affect sales, in fact they increased. Every year after the Toy Fairs in January we in the Design Department would start working on new ideas for products to be shown at the next Toy Fairs. Without any brief from Marketing, I started thinking of new products that would enhance the Action Force line. I started by sketching rough concepts of which the Roboskull and the Triad were two that showed promise. The sketches of the Triad I passed over to our modelmaker who continued to transfer the sketches into prototype form. At the same time Brian Turner, a designer in my team, was working on the design for an underwater craft for Q Force that eventually became the Sealion.

Sketches of the Roboskull developed from wheeled and tracked vehicles into a flying machine. All sketch concepts featured a skull in some way, as my initial thoughts were of a terror-machine based upon the Enemy skull and crossbones emblem. I decided that a flying machine was the best route and proceeded to work the design into a "looks-like" model. I wanted the vehicle to carry more than one figure so I produced some outline sketches. I had this idea that the flying machine would have a brain washing compartment for captured Action Force so I included that before starting to model the main body in styling clay.

I thought that the machine would sit menacingly on its engines for vertical take-off and the engines would rotate through 90 degrees for normal flight. Palitoy marketed the Star Wars range in the U.K. and the Tie Fighter was a very popular item. I was inspired by that design when I conceived of the rotating wings. When I was at school I was interested in Gothic cathedral architecture and the wings took on some of the aspects of that style. So the final "looks-like" concept model came together and I was pleased with the result. As a working name I called it SkullFighter.

The next thing was to come up with a character to pilot the thing; so I commissioned the sculptor who had produced the models for the original Action Force figures to prototype what I called Roboskull, from my sketches. The SkullFighter and Roboskull was presented by myself to the New Products Committee ( M.D, Marketing Director, Marketing Manager, Sales Director, Design Director ). I was a bit apprehensive because, although I believed it would be a fabulous addition to the line, I thought they would think it too bizarre. They immediately accepted both, but wanted to call the vehicle Roboskull and use the figure as a mailaway special (Skeletron). So I went back to the drawing board and worked up some sketch concepts until I finalised on Red Wolf as the pilot.

When we changed the concept of Action Force in Year 2 we included some Hasbro G.I.Joe vehicles, but moulded in our team colours, in the range. Hasbro figures were selected to man these vehicles because they had bending knees for sitting in the vehicles. I had designed Roboskull so that the pilot stood upright at the controls so this allowed me to develop our own figure. I got the sculptor to model Red Wolf to my sketch and Marketing approved it.

The usual practice at this stage is to make a prototype and produce some outline working drawings to get tooling and product costings before finalizing the design and starting tooling, probably with modifications to meet targets, but there was not enough time before the next Toy Fair when Marketing wanted to unveil the new range for 1984. So I was given permission to go ahead to final prototype and component drawing stage and use my experience to keep the costings within acceptable range. I used a company in Essex to do this but first I commissioned my sculptor to create the skull face in clay. RTD cast the skull face in resin and from my sketches began drawing the other components and modelling them to build up the working prototype.

The whole process involved numerous visits to RTD to approve stages and pass on the latest drawings for the next stage of the prototype. The final prototype met the costings targets, was approved by Marketing and the component drawings passed over to our tooling manager who was responsible for overseeing the toolmaking stage. In the meantime with the final prototype I designed the self adhesive decals to complete the product before it was used for packaging design, photography for the catalogue and TV advertising, all controlled by the Marketing department.

I thought it would give the machine more menace if some of the decals were "glow in the dark" and I was able to include these within the cost restraints. You asked if we ever considered including electronic features, such as light and sound, in the Roboskull. This would have been a great addition but because of time constraints to get the product ready for toy fair this was not considered.

It is now 30 years since I first conceived of the Roboskull and never kept any details of development and tooling costs, so I cannot give any answer to the first part of question 2 and question 8. However after I left Palitoy in August 1984 I was so pleased to see that the Roboskull was retained in the Action Force range when Marketing had no Design Department to turn to for new ideas and used Hasbro vehicles and figures for the range. I think it proved that the product was a success in all respects - as a fantastic concept that ticked all the marketing boxes. A toy that I was very proud of.


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Thank you so much, Bob!
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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby meertoh » 25 Feb 2013 14:05

The above is my favourite post in ten years!
It is just an absolute treat to see the production drawings and prototype photos.

Thanks a million, Bob!
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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby The Kraken Wakes » 25 Feb 2013 19:03

Brilliant stuff thank you.
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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby action-figure-supplies » 25 Feb 2013 19:16

Awesome, truly awesome. Thanks Bob!
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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby Quickfire » 26 Feb 2013 17:58

Stonking post, many thanks to Bob for all the insights and original materials, fascinating to see the rapid evolution of the 'Skull.

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This is a rather creepy curio, like the :enemy: does Freddie Krueger via Resident Evil or something. How appropriate!

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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby Squad Leader » 02 Mar 2013 18:34

Cool, when James Bond was mentioned as an inspiration i'm thinking DR.No could have been the beginnings of Baron Ironblood especially with the all white suit he wore and black gloves.

Thanks Bob, we salute you! :salute:

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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby seaneley » 11 Mar 2013 21:58

So the Skeletron was intended to be the original pilot? That's huge! So does anyone else think that the Skeletron should be an 'official' co-pilot to the Roboskull? I don't know that I can think of him in any other way now...

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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby Red Laser » 12 Mar 2013 14:58

It would at least give Skeletron a function sean. Looking at the resin cast compared to the final product I would have preferred if they kept to the cast version for one the feet look out of place and the skull is more menacing.
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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby ZForce Loon » 12 Mar 2013 15:13

Red Wolf is skeletron in pilot suit
problem solved.
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Re: BFTB 10th Anniversary - Bob Brechin Interview

Postby paul463 » 12 Mar 2013 16:50

I always see Skeletron as the Hyena Gunner
When confronted by a difficult problem you can solve it more easily by reducing it to the question. How would the Lone Ranger handle this?

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