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

Hey Jewel Fans!

If you’ve been following the blog, you may remember that last May we ran a wonderful interview with Jewel Riders designer Greg Autore about his career in toy and product design, and his involvement with Jewel Riders as Creative Director. Prior to this, we ran our first feature with Greg a year ago last December when he reveled the concept boards for the never-produced third wave of dolls.

This time around, in addition to some answers to fan questions (which we’ll get to in a bit) we wanted to share some of his memories regarding the unproduced second-season dolls that never made it past the prototype stage. These dolls were rumored to exist as far back as the days of Stormy’s Avalon site, but it wasn’t until years later that Chris tracked down a 1996 Hasbro Toy Fair catalog to see if there really was any truth to the rumors. It turns out that prior to the show’s cancellation, Kenner/Hasbro was working on a second wave of toys based on the S2 designs.

JewelRiders-ToyFair1996Catalog

Some particular memories from Chris:

I remember buying the Toy Fair catalog off of Ebay without knowing precisely what was inside. When it finally arrived I was practically shaking as I opened it up. There were many toy memories contained within those pages: Hasbro’s Batman line, Gargoyles, etc. But I flew past those on to the way to the “Girls” section. With bated breath I turned the pages, fearful of missing something, any hint of Jewel Riders. Well, there was no way to miss the beautiful three-page spread. After more than a decade of wondering, the fandom finally had visual proof of the prototypes.

JR Toy Fair 96 Combined WM small

JR Toy Fair 96 - 03 small WM

Year Two Jewel Riders Action Figures

Jewel Riders Archive: First off, we want to express our thanks for speaking with us again Greg! Firstly, can you tell us some general information about this unproduced wave?

Greg Autore Photo

Greg Autore

Greg Autore: The new basic priced figures were done in a bit of a rush. We needed them refreshed but season 2 had not yet started so we just had to think of those costumes as “a different gown in their current closet.” Also at that price point, it was hard to deviate much as they had to stay very simple. They were fun, but the real creativity was unleashed in the deluxe doll s were there was room to play.

JRA: Shown below are Preproduction samples for the Magic Armor dolls, the new basic line. Painted prototypes of these figures were shown in the Kenner Catalog (see catalog page image). This is a production pilot model. It was shot in all the right colors. It is painted. This product never shipped. Note: that some of the armor looks clear because it is color change plastic.

 

Magic Armor Gwen

GA: For the first year, we spent considerable time building the visual foundation of the characters, the world and line of product. Even though some things were different between the animation and the figures (like the visors on the helmets), it all had to tell a cohesive story. The hunt for the jewels from Merlin’s chest was the story arc for that first year and each story had to further the quest in some way.

Magic Armor Tamara

GA: Since the second season (episodes 13-26) were not yet written and were rushed into production, this was where I had the most fun. Instead of just translating the characters and creating new fashions, I was free to create many new powers and adventures for the show. While I had input on many of the first episodes, I was now creating the basic storylines for entire episodes. Two of those were the mermaid episode and the Zebracorn episode.

Magic Armor Fallon

GA: Now we could break out and expand the world of Avalon in different ways. We used the mystery of the Wild Magic Jewels as the starting point. Since they were wild… we could create wild adventures and wild new looks.

The wild jewels would obviously enhance the magic of the current stones. The real trick was to make sure that new power fit the personality of the jewel and the character. Having the girls become mermaids was just good fantasy fun. Tamara’s bubbly personality and colors made her the perfect choice to get the mermaid tail even though all three had it in the episode.

Mermaid Tamara

GA: Flying was a natural magical ability and Gwen was a natural for flight. I could just see her and Sunstar flying together and laughing as they dipped in and out of the clouds.

Flying Gwen

GA: The mysterious qualities of Fallon and the moonstone begged for her to disappear just like the moon does. The easy part was coming up with the fun – the hard part was translating that fun into a fun toy. The engineers thought I was crazy when I suggested this, but they humored me as I pulled mechanisms from several older toys to pull this off. But they made it happen. It was not until the team saw the finished working sample that they “Aha!” moment happened and they realized I was not totally crazy…just slightly crazy. There have been a dozen or so “Greatest Toys that were never made” in my career so far. The disappearing Fallon was one I would put on my list.

Invisible Fallon

Shadowsong & the Power Jewels

JRA: The Shadowsong production sample is molded in the clear plastic (like all the Jewel Riders horses) but the sample is not painted.

GA:  The Power Jewels were to be released in 1996 by Kenner but did not ship as the doll sales were not high enough – (due to the show constantly changing time slots and not notifying media when it would be on). Note the picture showing the page from the Kenner Girls Toy Fair 1996 catalog. These are production pilot samples. The colors and construction are correct to how they would be shipped. These are child-sized jewels with lights that activate by pushing the hidden button on top. The sample still works. They are approximately 3” in diameter.

 

Further Questions…

JRA: At what point did you join the team, do you know anything about the original project of the “Dragon Riders of Pern” adaptation (we’ve read that was the original intent of the series and that it morphed into something different when the Enchanted Camelot idea came around), was it coincidental that the same company previously made King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, and were you also involved with the Galaxy Rangers like so many of the others (Robert Mandell)?

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The Cover for Anne McCaffrey’s third Pern novel “The White Dragon.” Art by Michael Whelan.

GA: Ironically, the Dragon Riders of Pern was optioned over at Mattel when I was there before Kenner. For a few days, I was told I would be working on it. I am a HUGE Mcaffrey fan so I was very excited. Somewhere in that time period, Anne backed out from what I remember Robert telling me. I still have a promotional T-shirt from that Dragon Riders effort. The only other project I worked with Robert came after Gwenevere where we worked together to create a new property for a cartoon series. It was very fun and hope it comes to life some day – so I cannot mention the name. Dragon Riders did morph into Enchanted Camelot/Gwenevere. There were a few remnants left in the show like some of the background paintings.

JRA: How interesting! We’re definitely curious to scan the backgrounds a bit more closely now and see which look the most “Pernese.” And we too hope that the unproduced idea sees the light of day someday!

JRA: This is a question from a fan: “Was the show really actually made for to sell the toys, instead of the merchandise being made for it, and why were there no toys from Grimm and the dweasels or the rest of the Pack (unappealing to girls?) • We’ve read that this was reverse created – the merchandise was thought of first and then a show was built around the concepts of the toys.”

GA: To the best of my knowledge, no TV show was EVER created just to sell toys. It is a myth continually resurrected by people who love conspiracy theories and have odd agendas to push. We all look for ways to make money so we can feed our families – this is not an evil thing. Some books/films/cartoons lend themselves to selling toys better than others. If a production company can get the support of a big toy company, it means they have more funds to make the show better. Gwenevere was clearly better because they worked with a toy company. Many of the favored episodes or scenes from many cartoons/movies were generated by toy people and the production companies saw the value. I have worked with many major production companies and never found one who would add something just because a toy company told them to. About the boy characters and the pack – the reality is that a toy line has to live on the shelf somewhere. In this case it made the most sense to live in the Girl’s toys area. Unfortunately, Drake was the slowest selling figure so no other male characters were added. It was a shame since the original wolf model was very cool.

wolf

JRA (Fan Question): Does Greg remember any input he’s made into the episodes, especially in the second season, or just any changes that were made and why? Any more insight into the second season would be appreciated. As I think you have already mentioned a lot of your ideas regarding mermaids, unicorns and such were product driven but also driven by the fact that it would just resonate with the audience.

GA: There were many things that I helped with on the second season. Some have already been mentioned. I think (…but it has been a few years now) that I suggested the boyfriend for Tamara who transformed from an animal. I would have to go back and read through the scripts to jog my memory. One reason I had more influence on that season is since it had to be assembled so quickly. When we first started season 1 – Robert had the majority of plot lines established. My input was also more trusted by then as we had been working together for a much longer time period.

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Art boards for a proposed third wave of toys, featuring Ian!

JRA (Fan Question): What was the reason for Kale’s primary colors, and why were her skin/hair/eyes and magic colors changed and her secondary animals dropped? (or just anything else about Kale and her animals) We read that she was originally supposed to have a goblin, a bat and a snake.

GA: On Kale it had more to do with the harsh dominance of the color red and not because it was a primary color. It fit her character best (harsh and dominating) – so I designed her in red. I was surprised when her costume changed for season 2 That one I did not design. Two reasons that I know of why: 1) the original costume was hard to animate since it was SO detailed. 2) she now had to be subservient to Morgana so could no longer be the ultimate Bad girl. One thing to note if you are studying her costume. I made it specifically asymmetrical to give an subtle tone up front that she was not quite right/good. For Morgana I went completely different and made her cold as ice (note the colors) since she was more mature and less flamboyant of a character. One odd note: searching on the internet for Gwenevere cosplay I found that amazing costume done by a young French woman of Morgana – SO COOL! REALLY well done (and I am very picky when it comes to costumes). The secondary animals were dropped since she was no longer the prime antagonist. When designing a character for animation they have to read well. The weasel like dragons read better on screen than predictable snakes and bats.

Cosplay 0304

JRA (Fan Question): Why were Tara, Fallon’s Sky Dancer and the fourth Pack knight dropped too, and Guinevere, Shawn and Angelene renamed Gwenevere, Drake and Anya? (JRA note: for further information, see the Enchanted Camelot script!) I know names are given early on and change as the storyline evolves. Was this just a routine character development or was there a bigger reason like how Princess Gwenevere was changed to Starla for international adaptation?

GA: About characters dropped – if you compare the storyline of Gwen with almost any other stand alone property, it is amazingly rich. Part of the magic was how full the world was. That was important for Robert to achieve. To do that, there just is not the screen time to keep showing all the characters.
About that names – that is one of the few money influenced things. You cannot sell a toy of something if that name is already a trademark of someone else. So they went through the names they had to see what they could use and many fell out. So Kenner let them use many names they already had trademarked. Starla’s name was already explained in other writing. To clarify this, here is a story that still makes me chortle – there was never a doll of the musician named (or formerly named…) Prince. His agents tried to get the rights to the name for a toy (after all, there was a Micheal Jackson doll…) but Mattel would not release the rights they owned. “Prince” was originally registered as the name of Barbie’s big poodle! I have always wondered if that triggered him to change his name.

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Enchanted Camelot baby animal prototypes

JRA (Fan Question): Were the animals (especially the very Lion King like Spike) “de-disneyed” due to the fear of Disney lawyers, and anything about the changes of colors of Archie and the babies? • This one I’m sure just had to do with the styling. The initial storyboard artwork does look very Disney but I think that’s just the artwork style of the artist. You did just have the two storyboards, correct?

Yes, I only had two storyboards. The scripts were far more valuable for me to work with so there was very little need for me to see them. I never heard anyone say “Make that less Disney-like”. In fact, the look of Spike was specifically designed by me without anyone telling me how it should look. One funny story here – one of the outside designers who occasionally working on the line and drew one of the Tara pictures that was shown on this site, saw the final design of Spike and said – “well that’s not how cats looks but that is how Greg draws cats!”. One possible influence I have to admit is I had designed many Lion King products and specifically the Jungle baby line. We did specifically try not to design characters that looked too close to ANY other character on the market – Disney or non-Disney. That is as close to a “keep it away from Disney” as we ever heard.

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JRA (Fan Question): It seems the decision to make a second season was made before the introduction of Morgana in the 1st season finale, as she was still unnamed “season 2 villain” when the pictures were made?  At what point did the team know that they would move forward with the second season? Was the first season still in production or was it after the release of the first season? Or do you have more insight into what the early discussions were centered around the second season plot?

GA: The first season was being wrapped up but not complete when they found out they had to do 26 episodes if they wanted to sell it in the European market. Robert always had Morgana in the back of his head as a villainess he wanted to do. Her time finally came. I cannot give you any real timing info on that. The early discussions were, “Quick, we need to do more episodes… anyone have any thoughts?” Old ideas were examined, new ideas were put forth. I was very lucky as I have been working on where to take Gwen in year 1.5 and 2. Working with a license, I always wanted to create the “Why” the character would do “what.” That is why several ideas were ready and fell right into place.

I really need to go back and watch the second season again. I have copies of the masters that were dropped down to VHS (with blanks for commercials) but some episodes near the end I never received as the studio was working too hard and fast to finish. It is warming to hear how people are still responding to the show. Designing and being in a position to act as the creative director was one of the pinnacles of my career – even though the ratings dropped and toy sales tanked – I am still very proud of the quality of characters and designs achieved.

JRA: Once again, we cannot thank Greg enough for taking the time to answer our (and the fans’) questions! We hope you’ve enjoyed this special third part of our interview with Greg Autore as the Archive’s holiday gift to those who make this endeavor fun and worthwhile: you, the fans!

Friends Together, Friends Forever!

~Chris & Ronnie

2 Responses to “Greg Autore and the Toy Design of Jewel Riders – Part Three

  • That was nice. It’s good that you’re able to get someone to talk about his experience with PG&TJR. I wish that the toy line had sold better; We might have gotten full seasons and better expansion in the line itself. I love how the catalogue has the light-up stones listed as “just like the ones Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders have” but the colours of the Moonstone and the Heartstone are mixed up; You can even see the crescent moon outline so it’s not just the text. Ooops. The other pictures of them are correct so I wonder what caused the mix-up.

    • jewelridersarchive
      7 months ago

      Hi Des!
      Yes, we’re very grateful to Greg for taking the time to talk and reminisce with us! Yeah, it’s unfortunate the line didn’t do better, but I love everything we did get. One always wonders if an action-magical-girl reboot would do better in today’s market?
      Haha, yeah the color of the stones is a bit confusing, and it would have been more fun if they had actually been shaped like the stones from the show. Still, I would have gotten one as a kid if they had ever been released! 😀
      Cheers,
      Chris

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