The Animazombs journey has certainly been an interesting one - and whether you're completely new to the story, or have enjoyed various parts of the journey with me, this collection is just to show the detail and time that has gone into making my little world, acting almost as a living diary for everything that's happened thus far!
The first official logo of the Animazombs
(more on that below!)
Initially conceived during a game of Dead Island with friends in summer 2011, the question of why animal zombies never featured in games was raised, and that it would be fun to see zombie giraffes running around in the distance! Desperate to create my own original IP at the time, I ran with the idea and thought about making a range of soft toys of that ilk. This page is the rough journey I've made in pursuit of that goal and beyond.
And of course, no product/brand launch is complete without a state-of-the-art accompanying website... *cough*
1 . First sketches of Edgar the Octopus and Thom the Elephant
2 . Further development across all nine original characters
Each character needed specific features to set them apart from regular plush toy, along with fun elements people might spot, such as the anatomically correct double-lobed brain on Edgar!
The concept has evolved constantly over the past decade or so. Whilst remarkably different from current iterations, the original character designs have definite Animazombs traits to them, but were a little too rough around the edges.
3 . Right through to production drawings ready for factory
THE INITIAL RANGE
With a view to creating endless series of characters, I spreadsheeted hundreds of possible Animazombs across a wide variety of different ranges. Initially, I set upon having three distinct sets; Savannah, Deep Sea, and Home (Pets) as I thought this ticked a nice cross-section of what I wanted to achieve, and with some light OCD kicking in, I settled upon 9 products, 3 from each.
EARLY LOGO DEVELOPMENT
We had a variety of options on the drawing board, and at the time embraced the slightly macabre look which has now been shifted away from. Some of these were a little too close to existing logos, which of course needed to be avoided, and some were just downright dark - I'm looking at you #15...!
First pass at creating the Animazombs Logo
Development on the existing ideas - you can see the elements coming together for the final logo we settled upon
The first official logo of the Animazombs!
If you have products or items with this logo, then you have a piece of history in your hand! Only a limited number of items used it - the original kickstarter series 1 plush toys, the poster and sticker sheet, the swing tags and boxes, and a possible few other nik-naks.
Although unrequired, I wanted to put together some interesting packaging for the products - mainly as an excuse to add more depth to the brand, but also to flex the creativity muscles of Jon and I. We went through a variety of concepts, and for me, the box needed to be more than just disposable packing - so we ended up going with thematic choices: water tanks, shipping crates, and pet carriers for the three initial ranges (Deep, Savannah, and Home).
Packaging we ended up using - this is quite rare stuff now, I'd hazard only a few dozen people own any of this!
Images of the packaging designs - I ultimately didn't have the funds available to have double printed or with the plastic inlay, which was a shame. I also wish the dimensions were about 40% smaller, as they were far too big.
The rear of the packs had cool thematic veterinary note, water quality data, and shipping notes which essentially gave some fun product details and showed off the other characters in the range - I still love this idea - will hopefully get a chance to re-imagine all this on future products, but in "version 2.0"...!
Alternative packaging designs - some of these felt a little too hard hitting, even back on the old branding
THE ANGELL ERA
I wanted something additional alongside the plush products to help flesh out the narrative, give the characters extra depth, and generally open the brand to other platforms and licensing ideas.
I'd previously worked with comic publisher DC Thomson (The Beano, The Dandy) for the Nanoblock brand which I introduced to the UK in 2010, and so the idea of a comic series was already in mind. I was lucky enough to have the talented Dean Wilkinson pen a couple of comic ideas for me, and so reached out to a wide variety of artists to find the look I wanted for the brand.
My search led me to Jim Boswell and Nich Angell:
"Moi Money than Sense"
Artwork by Jim Boswell, Script by Dean Wilkinson
"Night of the Living Dog"
Artwork by Nich Angell, Script by Dean Wilkinson
Following on from the comic strip, I had Nich sketch up a few missing parts of the Animazombs puzzle - the Unbound Lab, Professor Unbound, and the Grandson, named Tom at this stage. I sent across some rough ideas, including a terrible sketch of my own (which I'll spare you from here), and was not disappointed...
The Lab featured on much of the early Animazombs work, and the Professor sketch saw some light as well. However, I think this is the first time the Tom sketch has ever been published,
If you're not aware of Nich's other work, I suggest you have a little Google - Cat & Meringue is particularly charming!
The Series 1 Characters in all their plush glory!
So, these are the characters you might be familiar with - I thought I'd start with a nice clean image of them all, but the journey to get to that point was far from an easy or short one. So here is the development diary of these characters, just for your pleasure!
The Animazombs went through quite a few different factories in order to get the best results - and this cost a lot in sample fees, but was worth it. The images shown are but a tiny fraction of what was involved in this process - but please enjoy the selection...
THE PLUSH PEEPS
Thom the Elephant
Early samples of Thom were a bit pie-eyed... but I got there eventually!
When dealing with Far East factories, I added notes to the photos to make life easier (and avoid confusion!)
Thom was the first Animazombs sample made - it was actually a grey version not shown here, but he's tucked away safely in the loft. I generally used Thom as a factory benchmark for quality - if they could knock up a good version of him, then I would proceed with getting the others sampled. There was one fluffier mouse sample as well, which I sadly lost at a convention... still painful.
I'm actually quite fond of the penultimate version shown here - he had great proportions; perhaps in the future I'll go back to this sample for any new product runs.
People were generally quite fond of him,for sure. I think it was the detachable mouse personally... or maybe the giant mascot costume of him that was always floating around!
Wilson the Giraffe
Wilson underwent the most surgery out of the Animazombs. You can see from the selection to the left how drastic the variants were and the base fabric pattern is a good indicator of which factory is responsible for which sample, but also shows the number of factories I let have a go at Wilson!
The bottom (mid) right picture is the early draft of the final product, but between that and the finished product on the right there were at least 7 other samples. This should hopefully show the level of work and detail that went into these characters, but also the importance of getting the production drawings spot on.
Sometimes things get lost in translation - this chap had a tail for a nose... highlights the need to be concise in dialogue!
Hand-drawn edits were probably the best method of getting across what I had in mind
If you're wondering what the two items in front of Wilson are, these dates back to early ideas where the Animazombs would always better their predators. The setup here was that you could reach into Wilson's stomach from his neck and find a lion's paw and eye-ball, suggesting that the giraffe had eaten them. I removed these small pieces to ensure the products got the best safety rating (they would fail a choke-tube test) but also the narrative steered well away from this macabre line, although there are still remnants of it on various characters which you can spot!
A very popular chappy, he was the second to sell out of the initial stock! I think it was the ability to demonstrate his feature particularly well which helped - I had demonstrating the 'snap' down to tee - there's probably a GIF of it floating around somewhere! I'll dig it out and put it below Samuel.
First takes - most factories struggled with this design!
Samuel the Meerkat
The Meerkat also saw many variances from the production drawings - one in particular was quite rat-like, which although I liked as a stand-alone design, it didn't quite hit what I had in mind. The stomach pouch idea was missed on first attempts, as you can see from the below shot. Those bugs didn't make it to production either, for the same reason as the giraffe/lion parts.
Further development of the best sample to come from the initial factories - again, visual edits were a great way to get points across.
First 3 sample attempts from the factories - the middle chap paved the way for the final version.
Animated GIF of the features from S1 Savannah series - that's me doing the demo at various conventions!
Final version in various stages.
Actually done by a 4th factory
Snyder the Shark
Snyder proved the most popular character by far - I'm not entirely sure why, and when I asked people the response was generally along the lines of "... but it's a zombie shark!!!!"
The trickiest part was the rib cage design - no easy feat, but we eventually got there, again with the help of plenty of visual representation - I've put a few pics down, but many places interpreted the production drawings as just having the goldfish printed.
Rib-cage design notations for the factory
The most under-looked design challenge is nailing the body shape, rather than picking on specific features. If you compare the early versions to the end product, you can see the shape evolve across various styles - and of course how much impact it has on the overall look of the character. The above middle image looks more like an Orca, and that's literally down to the pattern cutting - so, hats off to the employees who made the final product!
Edgar the Octopus
Edgar was another pretty popular guy - particularly with the younger audience. Possibly because he's pretty tactile compared to others. I've had quite a few messages from people saying it's their child's favourite toy (which is an incredible thing to hear). The design process was pretty straightforward and as the versions gained more embroidery (as opposed to the pencil and paper marks) the quality really started to shine - particularly on the underside.
The paper stick on sections allow a visual guide of what the product will look like without going through the cost of embroidery while in development. Quite useful when there are lots of edits made, but also really highlights the quality of a finished article.
Finished product - the embroidery really stands out on this one!
Wesley the Lobster
Wesley has been quite a niche fella... didn't quite go down as well as the other characters! He was always meant to be particularly quirky, more of a design piece than a cuddler you could say. I'm still quite fond of having a zombie lobster plush toy, just because it's something different - but I don't know whether he'll feature much going forward.
The claws were far too small on early versions - boosting the size of those helped to give Wesley a lot more character. The crab-trap armour idea needed a few attempts to get right, but the final version worked relatively well in practice, despite not making Wes a huge hit with people. I'm still pretty fond of of this character though, but imagine he might be dropped from things going forward.
George the Hamster
Despite being a key character in the narrative, the plush toy was quite weak in my opinion. It was ideally meant to have more features, but these had to be stripped back to ensure I passed all the safety tests for zero-rating - and so he ended up just being a simple big cuddly thing. With the Godfather of Zombies in mind, it's no surprise where George gets his name from... this was my homage to him and I actually have a plush version of George, signed by Master Romero himself at an MCM Comic Con we exhibited at.
The early versions of George looked more like a bear, but I actually quite like some of them - despite how different the final product looks.
The start of the final design - lots of work needed to get from the left to the right, as you can imagine!
Victor the Rabbit
Far more popular than George, Victor seemed to resound a lot with the teen/adult female audience in particular. This all predates the narrative, not that many people know about those aspects even today, so it had nothing to do with Victor being Sophie's companion in the show.
Again, hopefully the images show the amount of perfecting that was needed in order to slowly but surely convert the top images into the final product. With the exception of the squat chubby looking fellow, the top line all look rather creepy - which has never been the intention of the Animazombs. Despite the obvious cuts and bruises, the final character design still has a unique friendly look about him.
Bruno the Dog
Bruno - the most important Animazombs of them all (narrative speaking). The original story behind Bruno was that he pulled a little too hard on his walkers arm, and it detached... so he uses it as his own replacement. This of course no longer works in terms of the narrative, as that would mean he actually uses one of the Unbound's arms - also, the whole idea is too much for the new softer style of the Animazombs - so the whole design of this product is pretty outdated now!
Early versions of Bruno had slippers, but the idea didn't quite work, so was dropped. I thought the detachable foot was a little too gruesome as well, plus Victor Rabbit already had that feature - so it seemed lazy.
Bruno. another where body shape was important to get right!
There you have it - the development of the Series 1 soft toys... I didn't think I would go quite so overboard here, but to be honest this is just a tiny fraction of what went into the design and execution of these characters. With the character samples pretty much done, the next part of the puzzle was getting a manufacturing run sorted...
Taking into account MOQs and the fact I had a range of 9 products to launch, a decent chunk of capital was required for a manufacturing run, particularly as the toys were not only complex, but to be high quality.
Attempting to launch a new IP with limited capital and experience, and no audience, proved essentially impossible - I'd failed to mark the surface, let alone crack the toy industry and so back in 2013 I decided upon launching a Kickstarter campaign to help generate the funds needed. In retrospect, KS was not the platform for a new product line, not even back when KS was 'cool', but it did prove successful with a little late help from someone..!
The nine characters - this style looks incredibly dated now, but everything is a learning curve!
The next stage proved a turbulent time, particularly as I ran into great difficulty with the toy agent I chose to help me. Of the catalogue of errors, accidentally shipping the products from China to the USA instead of the UK was certainly up there, and delayed fulfillment of the campaign by well over a month. Eventually the Series 1 Kickstarter was behind me, backers were happy, and a great product was at the ready!
In the early days of the Animazombs, I met a few retailers who were interested in stocking the characters before even seeing the finished products - they just knew straight away it was for them, whether from a personal connection or business choice. Finding these kind of retailers is great, and of course they're always the smaller quirkier places, or in the particular product market.
Here are a few of the places that stocked the Zombs in the early days, while I was just starting:
The London Bridge Experience
Many thanks to James Kislingbury for his support
Small shop in Norfolk called Henchmans
This is from 'Camera Obscura & World of Illusions' in Edinburgh - a fantastic attraction up t'north! The buyers were lovely - thanks Alyce! I actually lent them my rabbit mascot costume to help them out and I got quite a few fun videos and pictures back from them...
Firebox were the first company I sold Nanoblock to - and they essentially helped me quit my regular job with their order - so I met them a few times with the Animazombs and ended up stocking on their website. They went in quite a dark direction, as you can tell from their product images, which I don't think was quite the right choice - again, this kind of helped me to change the whole visual direction of the brand, as I realised a 'darker' look wasn't right.
I had this brochure put together by Alan at the 'Tam Design Group' - a local business (support small/local peeps!!) He worked on various Nanoblock bits for me, and so was my first port of call when it came to this. He did a great job as always, and at a great price for a local biz - thanks Alan..!!
I spent some time of trying to sell the product into large retailers - and started to make good progress in various places - but as often the case, a lack of experience, capital, clout, confidence, whatever, tended to get in the way.
Case in point to the right - you need to get used to this sort of thing, because it happens every single time, until it doesn't... then the disappointment just comes a little later on instead. No joke. It was a shame, because this was a huge European distributor who could have placed the product in multiple countries at very decent levels. But they didn't - so I did the same thing I've always done for the last decade: shrug my shoulders, find out exactly what went wrong, fix it/learn from it, and crack the fudge on.
This generally happened for quite a while - I worked with business consultants, had meetings, went to Toy Fairs, e-mailed brochures and samples - all the usual things, but was struggling to catch attention. In 2014, I re-approached Jon who was still employed at a London based company, and we started a little bit of work on Series 2 - as I was quite keen to keep the forward momentum - but the key update came in 2015 when Jon added me on LinkedIn, now a Freelancer...
I was incredibly keen to have Jon pen more work - I felt like he was coming from the same place as me with things, so I had a new website drawn up by him which was to have the full Unbound Labs as the landing page, and you clicked on the various Range Biomes to navigate around.
The 'new' style totally changed the whole appearance of the Animazombs - I had other artists pen things, but nothing struck a chord with me as much as Jon. With its cartoony look, we steered away from the macabre, graveyard-esque styling and focused on the bumbling professor. I was looking at everything from a product driven point of view, so this was all designed thinking of games and toys - and this mentality has remained throughout.
Pushing on, we ironed out the Animazombs graphical identity into its current iteration - the whole style was exactly what I wanted! The logo was incredibly outdated, and so this was also changed to reflect the new direction.
Jon's cleaner vector work - for use on large print
With some swanky new graphics, and plenty of renewed vigour - it was time to get out there - although this time, rather than B2B trade shows, I focused on direct to consumer - namely Comic Cons! We'd taken the mascots to these places before with great results, so I looked into formally exhibiting.
TRADE FAIRS & COMIC CONS!
The best years of my journey was easily time spent at Comic Cons - I'd taken products to shows such as the NEC Spring & Autumn Fair, The BTHA Toy Fair. and Hyper Japan (amazing!) but the MCM Comic Cons were on a different level. I started with dealer tables, and progressed to decent size corporate spaces by the later events
Spring Fair 2012 - Martyn in the costume!!
(and boy could he make it pop)
Later shows were more successful, especially with the products on full display, ready to be ordered.
The Spring Fair 2012 was the first exhibition I did for the Zombs - Hall 3, Stand F43 tucked away at the back. I had no products, just a badly done leaflet (on the left for prosperity), an awesome mascot, and some printed banners.
I did actually get quite a lot of attention, but with nothing to really sell other than an idea, nothing concrete came from it - I think people mainly enjoyed Thom the Elephant dancing (thanks Puddy!)
Early Hyper Japan slot - included into a Nanoblock stand
Spring Fair 2014 - samples actually on display
THE MCM ERA
Post brand updated, the shows became far more engaging - the vector artwork Jon put together gave us a huge appeal, and people flocked to see what we had on offer. Praised for having something unique and different, the Animazombs attracted a brilliant fan base, but more importantly highlighted that people really did like the the characters.
Interestingly, I was constantly asked the question "is this a TV show or computer game" and looking back, the artwork certainly gave that impression. My usual response was "no, but wouldn't that be great..." and that really was an influential factor into pushing ahead with developing the show.
The mascots were created by Frenzy Creative - and given that they worked from the plush toy production drawings and a few sketches, they did a superb job!
Thom & Wilson - from construction through to Comic Cons, World Zombie Days, and more!
Victor came to the party later - but he definitely got stuck in...
The Three Legends - should be a show itself..!
This is us meeting Miltos Yerelomou at one of the LFCCs - I hadn't watched Game of Thrones at this point, so had no idea who he was, but he was a gentleman of the highest order and wanted a picture! He was kind enough to send it over via email, and so I returned the favour and sent him a Thom & Wilson Animazomb to say thanks - I hope he still has them!
Zombs at Covent Garden! They went down well given we just wandered around a bit...!
Over the course of things, I would occasionally receive fan-art - generally from people we'd met at Comic Cons as we didn't venture out much! But what an honour... so I've posted some here: