Don't tell Buzz Lightyear, but all action figures begin as merely a glimmer in a designer's eye.
They are sketched onto paper and, if they're lucky, approved by the toy company that will eventually manufacture them.
From this point, however, one artist has revolutionized the process of making toys using a Roland MDX-650 benchtop Subtractive Rapid Prototyping (SRP) device. Bill Barschdorf of BNT Studios in California quickly and easily mills toy prototypes out of modeling wax. When his client wants to make a change, he uses CAM software to rescale and edit models.
While most artists sculpt everything by hand, Barschdorf's toy prototypes come to market faster and more closely resemble the toy company's vision. "There is simply no reason to sculpt anything entirely by hand," says Barschdorf. And since SRP systems costs several times less, he says he can create models using a wide variety of materials.
Previously, the toymaker would have had to learn G-code to program an automated milling machine. Now, he uses Visual Mill by Mec Soft. "The folks over at Mattel tell me, 'No one else offers the same detail or precision,'" says Barschdorf.