Ideation is the name of the game in the toy industry. We all
know there is a lot of bluster out there but at the end of the day it’s all about
that magical, elusive, monumental—let simple, never heard of before,
astonishingly beautifully, magically gleaming, amazingly rare little nugget of
gold we call—the idea!

Yes, that wonderfully hidden treasure all toy designers
seek but relatively few ever truly find is at the end of that toy maker’s rainbow—buried
like a pot of gold just waiting to be unearthed. Some days, finding that glorious idea is an
effortless happening that seems to fall magically out of thin air as it lands
gently onto your notepad while you sit at the corner coffee house sipping a
double chocolate Frappuccino.

Other days, however, are a different story. Yes, the other
days are filled with dread, toil and pain as you swing your pick axe like a
prisoner on a chain gang trying desperately to meet the quota for that day as the
guard dogs carefully watch the beads of sweat pour down your face onto your
dirty orange jumpsuit. 
Well, perhaps that was too dramatic. Let’s just agree that toy
ideation, at times, can seem like panning for gold under the scorching sun
hoping beyond all hope that we will eventually unearth that little gem—that
magically gleaming toy that all children from all nations living on this celestially
challenged bouncing ball we call planet Earth will want to have for their very
own! Yes, they will want your amazing toy idea really, really bad—not to
mention all of those ancillary products sold separately.

That is the essence of toy ideation and our quest for a good
idea is an exciting adventure that leads to uncharted territory and untold
riches. With all of this hard work in mind, once we find that idea we must care
and nurture it. Hold it like a cherished gem and present it in the best
possible light. That’s where conceptual imagery comes in to sell your big idea
in a precise and exciting way.

The visual impact of your concept will help bring that toy concept
into reality or send it hurling toward the trash bin at break neck speed. While
I have seen concepts ranging from pen sketches on restaurant napkins to fully
framed paintings hanging proudly in corporate boardrooms, the point is always the
same—quickly communicate your idea with clarity and visual impact.

The facts behind your ideas must always be communicated such
as functional details, plastic components and the toy’s precise dimensions to
name only a few but so does the emotional impact of your idea. This can be
achieved by many techniques from pencil sketches to CGI. In this article, I will
focus on quick ideation sketches using the Wacom Cintiq tablet and the humble
workhorse Photoshop.

There are a lot of stages in building a concept sketch. If
you are not careful, you can get bogged down going from rough drawings to tighter
drawing and then adding shading on top of all that. To make the over all
process run smoother, incorporating all of these stages into one unified
technique would streamline the work flow and add energy that many other
techniques fail to accomplish. The technique shown here will help you increase
your speed and produce energy in your sketches for more emotional impact. 


Stage 1: The Rough Block In

The pose is the most important aspect to the conceptual
sketch because it gives energy and excitement to the over all toy design. The
balance of forms is the very building block of the structural skeleton in which
all else is built. After all, forms are built over the pose along with details
and shading. If the balance of the underlying structure is stagnant no technique
in the world will hide that fact.

I render this stage with a about a 25-30% tonal value that
allows me to see the basic structure but still be able to build up darker lines
above it. I keep this lose and adjust the pose, perspective and various scale
issues of the toy elements. All line work is basically loose and fluid at this

Stage 2: Line Art

The refined outline is then added to further develop the
over all sketch. Now I use a darker tonal value and simply refine the form and add
details building over the skeletal rough underneath. Most of the problematic
design issues have already been worked out in the earlier stages so this stage
builds the final design details. Leaving in the under drawing adds energy to
the sketch and keeps it fresh.

Stage 3: Tonal Shading

Half tones are added to show depth and enhance the form of
the toy. This stage is key to unifying all of the individual parts and details
into a united whole. The shading stage isn’t about adding more detail or flashy
techniques to the sketch but to create an area of light and shadow naturally unifying
the details by enhancing some areas in the area of light while down playing
others in the area of shadow.


Brushes are plentiful in Photoshop and when you start to
create your own customized versions your choices are virtually endless. In this
case I used a custom brush with an oval shape varying it as I made my strokes
across the form of the toy.

Customized variants of your brush can also make the effects
look more like dry marker, wet watercolor or even grainy charcoal. I tend to keep
my brush effects more in line with the look and feel of conventional tools but embrace
the benefits of the digital world such as harnessing the wonderful life saving magic
of command z—undo!

We hope these tech notes help inspire you to transform your
next great toy idea into a strong visual concept. With more tech articles to
come, we will be exploring other aspects of toy ideation including rough idea
sketches, fully rendered concept art, idea layout, tonal framing and going from
concept to CG models. So stay tuned to Global Toy News for the Toy Tech installment.


Leave a Reply