Steve Johnson: Today I'm talking with Blake Nichols, who runs the toy design studio for Lanard, the company behind the figures for Kong: Skull Island (2017).
Now before we talk about the Kong: Skull Island toys specifically, could you please let our readers know a little bit about Lanard's history and your role with the company?
Lanard has been around for over 35 years. The company started off with preschool toy tools that were very unique for their time. Over the past decades they branched off into many other toy categories, primarily focusing on inexpensive evergreen toy lines.
I've been with company as the Corporate Design Director for last eight years. In this time we have pushed hard to take us out of the "ME TOO" type of toys and back to the company roots making hot and Innovative items that everyone can afford. In the last eight years I have designed and developed many patented new toy designs that are extremely unique. We currently sell over 25 different house brands ranging from Chalk to Flying toys. We are most noted for "The Corps!" a military figure line that's been around for 30 years. Initially The Corps! bore uncanny similarities to other major figure franchises but in the resent years me and my team have been hard at work to bring it out of the shadows. Ultimately rebooting the brand with an exciting new narrative, 16 new characters, and vehicles to make something awesome that kids of this generation can love. It was precisely this new creativity and development we were implementing that opened up the Kong opportunity. The new Kong film is heavily influenced by the turmoil that is happening in the world in the Vietnam era and in the military plays a key role. We had many molds and extensive experience building a cool and fun figure brand at a value average consumer can afford.
Johnson: Are you yourself a fan of King Kong and the other giant monsters such as Godzilla and Rodan? What are your favorite memories of them, if so?
Nicholas: Mechagodzilla, really a giant robot and Godzilla all rolled in to one, how's that not epic? You may think I'm crazy but also loved Godzilla Junior, watching him as a little kid there was something relatable about him (saw him around the same time as Land Before Time which could have a little something to do with it).
Johnson: What was it like working with Legendary and/or Warner Brothers to procure the license for Kong toys? Were there any demands as to certain products being made/not made?
Nicholas: It was a great experience we have worked with Disney and other big brands over the years, but usually we develop our own IP (intellectual property). So it was a lot of fun working with both Legendary and Warner Brothers. Getting the assets from Industrial Light & Magic was supercool. It was a fun challenge to take the giant hairy beast and turn him into plastic. I wanted to make Kong collector grade while still being a kid toy too.
Johnson: Will there be a large Skullcrawler to go along with the Kong mega figure? Or perhaps a smaller Kong that is closer in size with the Skullcrawler/Spider/Flying monster? For that matter, are there any more toys coming that have not yet been revealed? (I do not know if you are familiar with his work, but Godzilla comic artist Matt Frank specifically asked for a large Skullcrawler!)
Nicholas: A giant skull crawler with an articulated tail to try and choke Kong out would be epic. Unfortunately due to time constraints this probably won't happen. But there is a little bit of hope so keep your fingers crossed, we may have some line extensions for the DVD release later this year.
Johnson: Were there any creatures in the film that you wanted to create toys of but were labeled off limits for one reason or another?
Nicholas: We wanted to create the giant tentacle monster that you get a short glimpse of in the trailer. It would have been a perfect creature to go with the boat. In the end to hit a key price points it was decided not to include creatures with those sets.
Johnson: If this line is a success, could there be more Kong toys than what are initially planned? I think Skull Island could be the perfect setting for a playset for instance, or a Kong mask/fists dress up kit for the kids! (or adults for that matter!)
Nicholas: There should be a few costumes coming out for Halloween but no real role-play sets are planned at this time.
Johnson: Will Lanard be seeking to produce toys to tie-in with future installments in the "MonsterVerse" such as Godzilla Vs. Kong?
Nicholas: Can't reveal much now, but we had so much fun working on this we are looking forward to more opportunities with the studios.
Johnson: I'm sure the demand will increase once the movie is released but can you reveal any early sales figures for the toys?
Nicholas: It's very early to say as the products not arrived to all stores yet. But so far the feedback we are hearing from fans is great. We are really happy to see the kaiju community embracing the new line so well.
Johnson: When King Kong and Godzilla have their long awaited rematch in 2020, who do you think will win?
Nicholas: Don't know if I can be biased but I think Kong with totally win. He would with the size difference be the underdog in the fight but would make up for it being scrappy agile and tenacious- Kinda like a good designer has to be!
Johnson: I'd like to thank Blake for taking time out of his schedule to be interviewed. As a bonus, below is video showing off the making of the new Kong: Skull Island series of figures.
Blake Nichols is the Corporate Design Director for Lanard toys. Nicholas is active in creating boys' products, girls' products, graphics design, packaging as well as Lanard's invention studio where they do R&D. The toy company is involved in releasing figures around the movie Kong: Skull Island (2017).