When I ask athletes, actors and influencers how they first discovered their passion for bodybuilding or increasing their physique, many of them point to icons of cinema like Schwarzenegger, Stallone and of course The Rock, but still ahead when we grow old are enough to go to the movies, millions of us are drawn to the incredible muscle-bound cartoons and accompanying action figures that are welcomed into our homes with wonder and excitement.
In fact, studies have shown that both boys and girls prefer hyper muscular action figures to a more natural figure. So it's easy to see why He-Man, Superman and the wrestlers of WWE inspire us to chisel away at our own bodies. Our relationship with action figures is a fascinating love affair that often stretches well beyond childhood, and luckily M&F was able to sit down with two of the men behind the magic at Mattel to learn more about the process of constructing the muscles of their action figures, as these designs often lead us to do inspire to become the best version of ourselves.
With the action figure market set to be worth a whopping $8.28 billion by 2022 and still growing, there's no doubt that these plastic heroic people are more popular than ever. But how do these visions of perfection affect our own self-esteem? Do characters make us feel inadequate as flesh and blood, or do they serve as role models for inspiration? A 2018 study showed that children favored exaggerated muscle mass in their toys, and while there's a reasonable assumption that these unattainable body shapes could have a negative impact on our mental health, perhaps as much as some albeit over-filtered social media -Influencers do this, there's a much healthier side to the process of creating or owning action figures, which we've discovered explains our love for them.
How superhero muscles get shaped from the head
"Ultimately, I use a variety of different tools every day when I'm designing," said Bill Benecke, WWE Character Design Manager, originally from Chicago. Benecke has been living his dream at Mattel's El Segunda, California facility since 2008 and, at 48, still has a childhood passion for making exciting toys. The artist begins with hand-drawn sketches to get a general sense of whether a character's presentation might work, then refines the image using a combination of Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop software packages.
Think of character designers as IFBB pro bodybuilding judges, only these creatives can fix any mistake and even move a muscle to many times its original size. Benecke explains that he carefully incorporates real-world observations into the design of an action figure. "Rey Mysterio once shared some (wrestling) gear with us and just looking at his body and the strength in his shoulders and arms and the way those tendons and muscles stick out even at rest was just amazing." he says.
Once the image is complete, it is passed on to the sculptors. "When I draw something, I really get to know it and understand how one shape relates and interacts with another," says Benecke. "In this process I start to figure out which parts of the design feel 'important' and which don't, or which parts feel like they need more thought, and that goes a long way in providing the sculptors with useful guidance." who I work with.”
There is no question that figure sculptors do a masterful job of taking 2D images like Benecke's and then converting them into a fully sculpted 3D object to create a draft mold. Even after this careful stage, there is an additional process of refining, reworking, and editing a toy that takes months before arriving at the final figure. Of course, the wait will be worth it, as the final figures will bring excitement and joy to both children and adults.
“I've been really fortunate to have had the privilege of working on a number of dream projects over my years in the toy industry, but my current favorite figure set has been the Masters of the WWE Universe figure line,” says the design manager. "As a huge He-Man fan since childhood, the opportunity to connect the worlds of WWE and Masters of the Universe was an incredible thrill." When Benecke brings up his favorite fictional superhero, he references Iron Man, The Flash and this one dedicated fitness guru. Doc Savage. "I always liked the idea of his two-hour training program, every day," he enthuses.
Art comes to life for many action figure enthusiasts
Working with the silhouettes of He-Man and the WWE Superstars also has a mutual effect, as while Benecke is adding muscle to his characters, he also feels inspired to become a fitter version of himself. "I started swimming regularly three to five times a week with a goal of getting a mile per swim," he says. “I'm very fortunate to live near a nice bike path on the beach, so I also try to plan a long bike ride on Friday afternoons. It's a great way to end the week!”
Originally from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Staff Designer Michael Kadile is a talented designer, sculptor and creator himself. He also relives his childhood every day in the Mattel office and, like Benecke, feels inspired to work on his own body.
Kadile tells M&F that when he first started creating WWE products he wasn't a fan of wrestling, but once he began to explore the athleticism required, the creator was intrigued and completely hooked. "When you work at WWE, you can't help but admire the level of fitness that the athletes go through," says Kadile, who has been with Mattel since 2014 and is a driving force behind incredibly ambitious and innovative accessories like the WCW Monday Nitro- entrance stage concept.
"I know I'm 48 now, but my goal is to look forward to 50 and be as fit as the rock!" he says. “I know fitness and my lifestyle will help me get there, but they also help me with my work and keep me focused on the end goals; be it an article for Mattel or my personal fitness goals.”
Mattel designers try to mimic their action figures in real life
An avid surfer, Kadile hits the waves every morning when conditions are good and burns up to 1,000 calories before his work day even begins. The creator is also fortunate that Mattel has its own on-site gym, so he visits it every day. Kadile is a fitness fanatic and completes one more home workout session on the bike every night before hitting the hay. But unlike the immortal action figures they create, even talented people suffer from health ailments. Fortunately, many of these can be alleviated by getting fitter. "Physically, I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis," says Kadile. "My doctor has told me that exercise and a healthy diet will help keep the disease in remission if I exercise. Six years later I have never been this fit and healthy.”
When asked about his favorite fictional superhero, Kadile chooses Batman. "The fact that not only is he a superhero with no special powers, but he was also a builder and designer and had to personally train his own body to be fit," he explains his choice. "Batman's physique was not bestowed on him by any other specific incident."
Both creators illustrate that if we don't focus too much on comparing ourselves to the aesthetic perfection of action figures, the inspiration they provide can be a great motivator for staying in shape or getting in shape. Still, the magicians at Mattel agree that there are indeed some extraordinary people who are larger than life in both flesh and plastic. "It was (my) first meeting with Hulk Hogan," says Kadile, "and then you stand next to him and from there, (I realized), 'holy cow', these people are huge!" It's not just that that you see them on TV and think: "Ah, maybe they are as tall as me and simply built." , you look at their overall size." Benecke was also enthusiastic about "The Hulkster". "Yeah, definitely Hulk Hogan," he says. "It's like his arm is bigger than my thigh. That's crazy. I remember once I was standing next to Braun (Strowman) and all you could look at was his triceps and he was moving his arm and it was like, 'His triceps are the size of my head, that's crazy!'” When it comes to action figures , I have to think of the Diana Ross classic; "I want muscles!"
To see all of these larger than life characters in Mattel action figure form, visit mattel.com.