Pre-Launch Interview with Mattel WWE Team – PJ Lewis and Derek Handy

The wait is nearly over.

It’s been over 22 long months since Mattel announced it had won the master toy license for the WWE from long-time holder JAKKS Pacific, and now we’re just ten days away from the official launch date. Even with the WWE team at Mattel completing their final prep for the launch, they were kind enough to answer our questions about the most anticipated toy line of 2010.

We spoke with PJ Lewis and Derek Handy from Mattel. PJ is the brand manager for the WWE toy lines, and Derek is on the design team.

Q: Hi – thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. PJ, to start, can you introduce yourself?

PJ Lewis: Hello. My name is PJ Lewis and I am a Senior Brand Manager at Mattel. I’ve been at the company 4 years and had the opportunity to work on Speed Racer, DC Universe, Cartoon Network Brands, and more.

Q: WWE is one of the most coveted licenses out there. How long has Mattel been targeting the license, and what were the key points that made acquiring the license possible?

PJ: There are so few brands in the action figure aisle that are true evergreen brands like WWE. Simply, when something like it comes available, you go after it. As for key points, we are a creative, passionate team with global reach unmatched in the industry. I’d like to think these all helped the license come our way.

Q: Let’s talk about the toys, due to hit shelves January 1, 2010. First, can you tell us a bit about each line and who they’re targeted at? We know Flex Force is aimed at kids, but who’s the primary target for the Basic figures, Elite Collection, and Entrance Greats?

Basic Series 1:

WWE TRIPLE H Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE BATISTA Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE JOHN CENA Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE BIG SHOW Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE KOFI KINGSTON Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE EVAN BOURNE Figure (Series 1).jpg

Basic Series 2:

Kane_1.JPGRey Mysterio_1.jpgCM Punk_1.JPGMark Henry_1.JPGVladimir Kozlov_1.JPGJack Swagger 1.jpg

PJ: Basic Figures are the day in and day out replicas of the WWE roster. They average 15 points of articulation and capture the changing decos and new talent additions. The Elite Collection are designed for collectors and fans that want to take it to the next level. These feature 25+ points of articulation, authentic ring attire, and what we hope to be the best deco you have ever seen on a WWE figure.

Entrance Greats Series 1:

WWE ENTRANCE GREATS REY MYSTERIO Figure.jpgWWE ENTRANCE GREATS TRIPLE H Figure.jpgWWE ENTRANCE GREATS SHAWN MICHAELS Figure.jpg

Entrance Greats are focused on capturing memorable over-the-top entrances in WWE history. These truly celebrate the heritage like never before. They are packed out with removable accessories and a figure stand that actually plays real entrance music from the moment we celebrate. These are really special items.

Q: There’s a lot of product planned for the first year. I think you’ve said over 70 single-carded figures and over 40 figures in 2-packs, just for the basic collection. How many figures do you have planned for the Elite Collection? How about Entrance Greats?

Elite Collection Series 1:

WWE ELITE Collection MVP Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE ELITE Collection REY MYSTERIO Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE ELITE Collection EDGE Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE ELITE Collection UNDERTAKER Figure (Series 1).jpgWWE ELITE Collection CM PUNK Figure (Series 1).jpg

PJ: Elite Collection will be a wave of six figures every other month. You will see about 6-7 Entrance Greats through the year.

Q: One thing we’re excited about is the articulation of the Elite Collection. What inspired giving collectors super-poseable figures? Is there going to be a standard set of points of articulation for the Elites?

Elite Collection Series 2:

Triple H - Elite Series 2.jpgTriple H - Elite Series 2 (without shirt).jpgBatista - Elite Series 2.jpgBatista - Elite Series 2 (without shirt).jpgR Truth - Elite Series 2.jpgR Truth - Elite Series 2 (without shirt).jpg
Matt Hardy - Elite Series 2.jpgMatt Hardy - Elite Series 2 (without shirt).jpgRandy Orton - Elite Series 2.jpgRandy Orton - Elite Series 2 (without shirt).jpgTed Debiase - Elite Series 2.jpgTed Debiase - Elite Series 2 (without shirt).jpg

PJ: Yes, definitely. We set the bar with our first wave and we will uphold the poseability on Elites. As for an inspiration, we have a few WWE figure collectors on the team. We listened to what they had to say.

Q: There’s a lot of anticipation for a Legends line, and more details will be forthcoming next year. Which WWE classic superstars are the favorites of the guys on the team that, if there were no restrictions, they’d want to see in Legends? Please note: your answer will not be satisfactory without mention of the Ultimate Warrior and Mr. Perfect. 😀

PJ: Ha…Mr. Perfect and the Ultimate Warrior, noted! The Legends program is truly the fabric of WWE heritage. We all remember our favorite superstars and moments from big matches through the years. We will have big news in 2010.

Q: Will Legends feature the Elite Collection articulation? We sure hope so.

PJ: It’s our mission to deliver all of our figures to be the best executions you have ever seen. Articulation is part of that.

Q: We love the idea of the Superstar Scale, where wrestlers will be scaled relatively to one another based on their actual size. What we’re curious about is what the actual scale is – 6-inches? 7-inches?

Basic Series 1.jpg
Superstar Scale

PJ: You will see a big range of figures in the line and some go up to 8 inches!! Think about Hornswaggle standing next to the Great Khali in real life. That’s how we want the figures to be. Superstar Scale allows us to create that.

Q: JAKKS Pacific held the license for many years, so many collectors have a pretty deep collection of WWE figures from them. What should folks expect in terms of Mattel’s WWE fitting in with their existing collections?

PJ: We believe our line will work for those that want to continue to collector or start new.

[Editor: In scale pics from a collector who has product in hand, it looks like big build guys like Triple H line up with their counterparts from JAKKS, and Superstar Scale kicks in from there.]

Q: What will current collectors find new and exciting about the Mattel WWE lines?

PJ: The first thing that will stand out are the soft goods and ring attire in Elites. They are true to the entertainment. Additionally, Superstar Scale and attention to detail in deco – outfits, tattoos, etc. This will be impressive. The rings will also be exciting. We will provide new rings never done before. We’ve also improved on the ring design, with a big focus on tight ring ropes, what we like to call, “Pro Tension Technology”.

[Editor: We were joined at this time by Derek Handy, from Mattel’s design team on WWE.]

Q: Mattel has been working with Gentle Giant on the line, and Derek, I believe you came to Mattel from Gentle Giant. Was that something planned or just a happy coincidence? What’s it like going to a new job and still getting to work with folks at your old company?

Derek Handy: It was a happy coincidence. I was managing the LTD side of Gentle Giant, but I had been with the studio for 8 years and felt like it was time to move on to something new. In the mean time, Bill Kerner had already selected Gentle Giant as the sculpting house he wanted to use, was looking for someone to handle design of the WWE figures. I spent a few weeks looking around the industry, and was hours from signing with another company when I got the call from Mattel. Bill had just received a copy of my resume and wanted to meet. All of the pieces fit nicely and I have been with Mattel for a little over a year now.

Q: Is the relationship Mattel has with Gentle Giant on WWE like the one you have with the Four Horsemen on DC Universe Classics, for example, or are there other design studios you’re working with on the action figures? Who’s responsible for what, and how is it working with Gentle Giant?

Derek: We use quite a few different freelancers, but Gentle Giant is doing the bulk of the sculpting.

WWE was able to get us a massive amount of photo and digital reference to kick off the project. Then we started by working out the height and articulation structure we wanted for the line. Once we had a sizing chart to explain how we planned to scale each of the guys, we went to GG to define the style of the figures and start sculpting. It began with one figure that we tweaked the proportions and style until we were happy, then we used that sizing to build out the different body types and ensure parts could be interchanged in production where we needed them to be. With the digital sculpting process, it is easy to modify pieces quickly and fill in gaps when we need a new torso or a new pair of legs.

For a project/brand of this size, we needed to use a company that could turn around things quickly and make sure it can all work together. I think my experience with Gentle Giant gives me a rare insight that most clients don’t have. I’m sure it can irritate them when I say things like, “can’t you put Brandon and Heather on it.” But it also works the other way, and I understand exactly what it means to the pipeline when Sergio or Wilcox are out for a week on vacation. Although Mattel is a large entity, and no matter how large this project is, it comes down to the people on the ground floor doing what they do best. It is individuals that make these things a reality.

Mattel picked Gentle Giant for their experience and their dedication to their craft. Guys like Adam, Will, Rene, and Travis. Having worked with them before, I know what they can do. We could have taken the scans and digital data to another house, but I know first hand the difference it makes to have them handled by these guys. Whether a piece is being done traditionally or digitally, you have to have it in skilled hands or the quality of the work will suffer. Scans are only the first step. How a head is finished or articulation is cut into a body is key. I’ve seen skilled sculptors save an otherwise horrible head output, and unskilled sculptors destroy the nuances of what should have been an amazing likeness. To be able to sculpt a head starting from a scan and a head started from scratch and have them look the same side by side takes years of experience. That is what we need on a line like this. The combination of digital and traditional skills that GG can provide gives us the best of both worlds.

Q: We know that you’re very busy prepping for the launch of WWE, so thank you for your time today. Any closing thoughts for our readers?

PJ: This launch has been so much fun. Now that we are at the point where we can share everything with the fans, it’s been fantastic. We want to hear from you. We hope you will join us on Facebook (search WWE-Mattel) and come to Comicon. Let us know what you think.

Derek: There are a lot of people who have devoted time and effort to this line, and I think we are all very proud of how it has come out. From the comments I have heard so far, people are impressed with what we have been able to do with this line. Even if they are not WWE fans, they can appreciate what we have done with it. I know there is a long history we are following with this line. It will be difficult to win over everyone. But we view this line as an ongoing project. We will keep making adjustments to provide the best product we can.

Let us know what you think about the line!

Thanks to PJ, Derek, and the Mattel PR team for getting this together.

6 thoughts on “Pre-Launch Interview with Mattel WWE Team – PJ Lewis and Derek Handy”

  1. Personally, I’m not really interested in wrestling figures, but I love to read interviews with industry insiders. Thanks for an interesting look at brand management, great stuff.

  2. Just give me my ’88-’89 Four Horsemen with J.J. Dillon and you’ve got yourselves a sale, Mattel.

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