Greg Autore and the Toy Design of Jewel Riders – Part Four

Greg Autore Photo

Greg Autore, Toy Designer

Hey Jewel Fans! We’re back again with another very special Christmas gift: another round of Q&A with with Greg Autore, the Toy Designer of Jewel Riders. If you haven’t been following this yearly tradition, you can read parts one, two, and three to catch up. No, seriously, read them and enjoy all the great information and memories that Greg has shared. We’ll wait.

All caught up? Good. Now on with the show!

We’ve broken the interview up into three different sections, each relating to different aspects of the toys. The first set of questions is in regards to the unproduced but prototyped second wave of the toys, the next section in regard to the art board concepts for the unproduced third wave of the toys, and the last section for general toy-related questions.

Questions relating to the 2nd Wave of Toys

These relate to the product shown in the 1996 Hasbro/Kenner Toy Fair Catalog. Specifically, the color-changing dolls on the bottom left and the Deluxe dolls on the upper right.

 

Jewel Riders Archive: If the second wave of toys had been shipped out, were the first wave going to still be produced? Or would they have stopped being produced when is the second wave hit the stores?

Greg Autore: The second wave would have been folded into the first wave. Most likely, Marketing would have looked at the sell-through rates of each character then dropped out the ones that were not moving as well. For instance, the 3 news ones for wave 2 Gwen, Fallon and Tamara would most likely have replaced Drake, Lady Kale and possible sun power Gwen depending upon the number of units in that master carton.

JRA: Was there any direction to the retailers to pull the first wave in anticipation of the second? Or we’re retailers at the last minute asked to keep the first wave longer than expected?

GA: First, Wave 2 never made it to a point to do that as it only went as far as first shots and a few paint masters. Mattel would typically not ask retailers to remove product from the shelf. If they wanted it to move off the shelf quicker, they would have ran a promotion where the figures were half-priced or a BOGO 50 (buy one, get one for 50% off). If they had too much stock from the first year in their warehouses, it would have been sold off to a liquidation company like Odd-Lots for half the normal price. If there were just a few dozen cases, they would be sold on in the company store for deep discounts.

JRA: Do you have any prototypes or artwork of what the boxes would have looked like?

GA: While I was in Design at that time, Marketing was responsible for the new packaging. I was in on the initial packaging direction but chances are it would have stayed the same.

JRA: Would the packaging have changed? Would you have kept them still in the blister packaging versus boxes?

GA: Blisters work better for action figures and dolls so they are clearly visible. This is since much of the purchase is triggered on the look.

JRA: And generally why did you put the unicorns in boxes instead of blister packages?

GA: The real reason the horses were in boxes was to save on cost. Window boxes are expensive and it would have required making a bigger box size to display them properly which would also have cost more money to ship from China. However, they sure would have looked glorious if they were in a window box!

Questions relating to the 3rd Wave of Toys:

Jewel Riders Archive: What were the general ideas or themes for the third season of Jewel Riders?

Greg Autore: Very little was done on that from an animation point of view. If there was anything on the animation side started, I was not aware of it. Most likely, they were waiting to see if it would be picked up for a second season before starting any work on it. However, I always had rough ideas on how the feature would work in animation to further the story.

Tamara S3 Concept Board

Tamara S3 Concept Board

Tamara S3 Concept Board

Tamara S3 Concept Board

JRA: Any explanation for the new Jewel armor?

GA: First – I love armor and secondly – I believed that the jewel/power armor was one of the key elements that set it apart from every other line. There was a similar action figure line before by Mattel – She Ra and the Princess of Power. It had many similar elements but if they used crystal armor, it was rare. I loved the idea that the jewels had the power of light that would have solid form. It is very similar to how the Green Lantern’s ring can manifest what they think they need to stop evil aliens.

The second wave low price version (Jewel Power assortment) of Gwen had the girls in clear armor pieces that would turn pink, green, and purple with color change technology. We had working swatches but never shot that plastic into the new tools. I cannot remember if they were activated by light or temperature. These were designed quickly and needed to not very different from the first wave.

Fallon S3 Concept Board

Fallon S3 Concept Board

Fallon S3 Concept Board

Fallon S3 Concept Board

 

In the third wave of low priced figures, which made it only as far as sculpting, they have a bumpy texture as if they were wearing tight chain mail but the parts were to be shot in clear/tinted plastic so they would look like they were glowing with jewel power. In addition, each of the girls had a way that the jewels enhanced their armor. Fallon was given wings on her boots and the figure was to kick the legs fast when the user moved a button on her back. She would have the enhanced power of speed for an episode. Tamara had a shield that would fan out from her gauntlet in segments. She was always more concerned with nurturing and protecting so that feature fit her the best. Gwen had shoulder pieces that would slide down for more armored protection and give her some super strength for a situation to be determined. It was planned that her jewel could be pulled out of her hand and it was on a retracting string so it could fly ahead of her and pull her up to climb up somewhere.

Gwen S3 Concept Board

Gwen S3 Concept Board

Gwen S3 Concept Board

Gwen S3 Concept Board

JRA: Why are so many of the characters in the art boards in winter clothing?

GA: It gave them a new look. I would have come up with a few winter episodes for them to use the look.

Deluxe Tamara Concept Board

Deluxe Tamara Concept Board

JRA:  What were some of the action features you were looking at including

GA: The deluxe wave 3 figures more extreme features. Gwen had a snap-on backpack that was a star burst. It would have had a button for motion. In between the clear front and back of the faceted star shape there would have been a glittering disk spinning to give the effect like she blasting with the full power of the Sunstone. Tamara was to be given some power over snow and ice for an episode. She was to wear a clear snowflake shaped headpiece that would have water and glitter you could pump through it as if she was blasting cold power. Fallon had a special backpack with a reservoir and a flower petal like fan blade. If you blew from the back of her, the fan spun like a pinwheel, dipped into the reservoir, grabbed soapy water and with that same air of blowing to make it spin, it also made bubbles of power fly out from her. This was not just wild imagination. I made a hand sample and proved to the doubting engineers that it could really work.

Deluxe Gwen S3 Concept Board

Deluxe Gwen S3 Concept Board

I note on this – at first the engineers thought I was just wacko coming up with these features and that they would never work. However, each time I was able to make a rough working model showing how I expected it to work. After a while they just had the attitude of “okay, what have you come up with this time Greg?” instead of fighting me to say it will never work.

JRA: Can you explain the mechanism for Morgana? Did her skirt transform into the chair?

GA: Yes, her skirt was to transform into a flying throne and we would have her flying around on it in the show. I admit it was probably the dorkiest figure I planned. However, she did have a transparent flash of lightning that could be attached into her hand as if she was blasting someone.

Morgana Concept Board

Morgana Concept Board

Morgana on Throne Concept Board

Morgana on Throne Concept Board

JRA: How much of this came from you, and how much from Robert Mandell?

GA: They all came from my over-imaginative brain. He was actually happy when I came up with new products to drive storylines. We just had to make sure there was a way to work it in to the stories. I never showed him anything that did not have a plan to accomplish that.

JRA: Was there going to be any accessories for the third wave of toys?

GA: Yes, we planned a wagon that was also for camping. It only went as far as a rough model.  There was one accessory that was made into a real presentation model – the Pavillion Camp Set. It was in cost and ready to turn on before the line was cancelled. It was a medieval tent for when they were on the road. It had hammocks for two girls, food trays to snap on and even a place for the horses to eat. It also came with a jewels chest. There were variations of a castle playset but we could not get it into a feasible cost. There was one other simple playset of the magical forest that was full of jewels. That no longer exists and I have no images, but it never looked great so it is not a big loss. It was too inexpensive to look like much.

Crystal Carriage Playset Prototype

Crystal Carriage Playset Prototype

Enchanted Camelot Castle Prototype

JRA: It appears Ian was going to replace Drake, or would there have been a new Drake (or other male character) in the new lineup?

GA: Drake would have continued as a character. Ian was supposed to be Tamara’s love. She always loved animals so I gave her a boyfriend that was also an animal. Yes, it had obvious influence from a certain beast, but then I also made many of those beast toys for Mattel.

Ian as Beast Concept Art Board

Ian as Beast Concept Art Board

Ian as Boy Concept Art Board

Ian as Boy Concept Art Board

JRA: Were there any new unicorns planned?

GA: One more, it was a deluxe version of Moondance that would look like she was running but if you tipped her up, she balanced on her tail as if she was rearing up with power. In that position she also shot off a bolt of lightning from her Moon Stone. She had a saddle that would expand down with more clear armor plates like the girls were to have. A working concept model was made of that.

JRA: When, during the planning of the second wave of the toys (or earlier?), were these art boards created? 1996? After the second series had debuted on TV?

GA: I do not remember the exact timing, but the second set was designed just after the first 13 episodes and product was finished. That is why so many of the features were in episodes 14-26. The third wave was designed after the all of the 26 episodes were finished. It takes about 12-18 months to create a toy from concept to shelf so we had to keep moving ahead assuming the toys would sell.
It was a HEAVY blow for me when it was cancelled as my heart was really wrapping in it. I do not think it is a stretch to say that other than Robert Mandell, no one else was as emotionally invested in the show.

JRA: Would the girls and Morgana have had shared parts?

GA: No – One of the design failures of the line was the Lady Kale body. I did not understand that they would make new tools for each figure. I thought they would swap parts. So when I made the Lady Kale figure, it had very similar parts. The result (in my mind) was that the figure ended up looking like Lady Kale’s little sister and not like the cool character from the show. Therefore, I would not make that mistake again. Morgana would have had a woman’s body and even been a bit taller. Robert never cared for Kale either but let us do it that way as we thought we had to. It was a shame since Kale had such a cool feature with light up eyes.

JRA: Would there have been more or fewer fabric pieces with the third wave? The second wave feels more highly dependent on plastic armor pieces.

GA: Fabric parts are much more costly. Since I was pushing more for feature than fashion play in the 3rd wave of product, much soft goods was removed to pay for it.

Other Questions:

Jewel Riders Archive: Would this have expanded the number of stores or markets where the toys were found?

Greg Autore: What expands the product placement really is sales. If they had sold, more retailers would have picked it up. The show had very good rankings but it was not consistent. Robert strongly believed that it failed, not because of lack of viewers but because the viewers could not find when the program was on. They were continually getting contacts saying it was their favorite show but cannot find it any more. The people who were the distributors (Bohbot) never did their job to promote the show or even make sure newspapers and magazines had the correct information of when the show would be broadcast. Therefore, it never gained enough following since the show kept moving around and no one knew when to watch it.

JRA: Was there going to be any marketing or synergy promotions? Do you have any more specific marketing stories like the coupon or the giveaway?

GA: Marketing was usually the last function to be done on the line. They only promotion they ever created was hiding the jewel in the package. I would like to say we had a top notch marketing team on this line – but they were the weak link. (This was another reason I eventually expanded into Marketing so good product would not be lost on the shelf due to insufficient promoting and positioning).

JRA: Were these toys still targeted to the same age group? Or were you trying to make the toys appeal to slightly order children, fans who had started with the series but were now perhaps 2-3 years older?

GA: Typically, you can design a little higher level of complexity once you have established a line, but it still would have been targeted to 3 to 6 years old. However, if analysis showed that older kids were buying into it,, that would have shifted the target to keep the target audience happy with the product.

JRA: Were there ever any plans to make exclusives or gift sets for companies like Toys ‘R’ Us or Avon?

GA: Those types of programs are usually initiated by the marketing teams, which I have already described. However, to be fair, those types of deals would have been started based on a successful year one. Absolutely, we would have offered TRU some type of special set. (We created specials like that for Prince of Egypt but they were initiated by DreamWorks and not our Marketing team.)

GA: One odd tidbit of information. The way Kenner made toys in that time period was to sculpt them at 100% size, use those sculptings to sell the product, then ship the sculptings to Asia to be made into tools. To my huge surprise (because Mattel did not work this way) the team in Asia would have the figures re-sculpted to be twice final size to start with larger cavities and pantograph those shapes into the smaller sized tooling with more detail. The rotocast head for Gwen was perfect since it was made with a different process. However, the injection-molded head for Gwen was changed from our sculpting to have a more pointed face so it would come out of the tool easier. Management was not amused. They hated it but it was too late to fix it. I approved it because I did not think I had a choice but to accept it. So if we had continued with the second wave, Gwen’s face would have looked nicer.

Gwen’s little sister would have been a low priced figure in the 3rd wave. I wanted to add her so the show would have someone of the same age that was watching the show to be a better link. That is why I created Stacie – Barbie’s little sister. At that time, there was no one in the Barbie world the same age as the real consumer. Originally, Stacie was to come wearing Barbie’s old (but pink) letter jacket trying to be like her big sister. The size and basic look of the character was kept from my original concept model but the Barbie designer tasked to get her ready for production gave her a fitted jacket.

** (Editor’s note: Check out our Tara Design Contest Results here!)

There was a full set of crystalline characters designed for the show full of wild magic and some flying squirrel type characters who could glide on the wild magic and sniff out magic. I have drawings of those. However, I cannot remember if that was for a second season episode or if they were plans for the third season of animation that I was working on.

JRA: We can’t thank Greg enough for sharing his designs and memories with us, and we hope you have enjoyed this very special look behind the scenes of Jewel Riders’ development. If you have any questions, ask below or send them to us to pass them along to Greg.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

~Chris and Ronnie

5 Responses to “Greg Autore and the Toy Design of Jewel Riders – Part Four

  • Guy Purple
    11 months ago

    Fun stuff! Thank you.

  • Wow, i surely reminisced my childhood with this! 🙂

  • Ok, how how how were the writers going to introduce Tara when Gwen’s been sisterless for two seasons? Is this a Dawn Summers kind of thing where she just retcons herself in?

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