by Kenny Kiernan | 29 Jun 2021
Industry Commentary, Op-Ed
Creating illustrations, characters and packaging for the toy industry and loving it! ArtWorkPlay with Kenny K is about sharing insights, WIP pics and anecdotes with collaborators from past projects in order to de-mystify the process a bit, and shed some light on how it's done!
The project: "Block Chain - Robots" character designs & toy illustrations
My guests and co-conspirators: Chris D'Angelo and Sophie Miller (ThinkFun), and Katie LaSeur (The Creative Fold)
KK: Hey all, thanks so much for pitching in with this post! I love how Block Chain-Robots came out; such an interesting concept and I think really different from what's out there - and it looks really cool!
There are three different themed Block Chain games, the other two being Block Chain-Pirates and Block Chain-Unicorns. All three are great classic toy & children's themes, but I must admit I really love robots! So thanks so much for the opportunity to provide the illustrations for Block Chain-Robots! Can you describe the game?
SM: Block Chain is a three-in-one linking puzzle! Each block comes apart into a three-link chain (hence the name!). You can spin the links and reinsert them into the cubes in different ways, achieving a different goal for each cube.
KL: Each of the puzzles in the different Block Chain products have 3 different levels. It was fun helping develop a variety of puzzles and deciding which to include, the first gives you a nice on-ramp and helps the player understand how the puzzles work. The second and third ramp up in difficulty with the #3 path puzzle in each product being the most challenging. I love the progression. By the time you’re solving the third puzzle, the movement of the 3 puzzle links feels natural and almost like a fidget toy.
KK: I created robot illustrations for each of the three cubes featured in the game, and rather than re-illustrate them perhaps in a different context for the front panel of a box as is often done, you decided to show off the art on the actual toy itself in a cool-looking blister pack. Can you elaborate on how you came by that decision, and Katie can you describe your part in the overall process?
SM: It was a pretty simple decision when we saw how cool all our illustrators’ art was. We didn’t see any point in hiding the product behind packaging when the art on the game itself is so neat!
KL: We helped with early theme concepting, along with ThinkFun's internal design team. A lot of different (and some really wacky) ideas were considered before we settled on the classic themes: pirates, robots, and unicorns. Once we had selected the themes, we did some rough sketches to show how the theme could be applied to the different types of challenges. Then the illustrators (like Kenny!) took over and made them beautiful and embellished with loads of fun details. The final art turned out amazing!
We also tested out a number of different configurations of package layout trying to figure out the best way to display the 3 puzzles in the blister. It was a delicate balance between cost, package size, visual appeal, and communication. We didn’t want to just show 3 closed cubes because the customer wouldn’t be able to see how cool this puzzle is. So we settled on 2 cubes closed and 1 open. We worked with the factory to figure out the most compact way to do this.
KK: I recall that the designs for the first cube (red and blue robots) came together very quickly, which was great. The designs for the second cube featuring 6 individual robots took a bit longer, but were super fun to do. I was digging brainstorming all kinds of different wacky robot designs...
...at some point the decision was made to go with a more "retro toy robot" look. Any thoughts on this second cube phase?
CD: Initally, we had thought of having each robot look like it was designed for a specific task (mopping, folding clothes, etc.). In an early art review, after Kenny’s sketches were received, it was determined the robots looked cool, but lacked the “I want to play with that” effect. We asked Kenny to resketch the robots with a more retro/toyetic feel, and he nailed it.
KK: The third of the three cubes, "The Circuit Cube" (partially pictured below) was a completely different challenge than the first two! Anyone care to chime in on this phase of the project?
CD: The goal of the cube is to create a continuous line around all 6 sides of the cube. It cannot end in a dead end and must link to a line on the adjacent panel. We have some form of this puzzle in all 3 themes.
The challenge was, how were we going to do it within the vernacular of a robot? Once someone suggested a circuit path, we were on our way. We also changed the colors from green to blue to match the overall color scheme of the Robots-themed Block Chain. To add a little flare to this cube, we decided to add some foil to really highlight the path around the cube.
SM: This cube has to marry art and puzzle design in a way that neither of the other two cubes do. The first, or “Inside/Outside,” cube relies on the relationships between the different cube faces to cue to the player how to solve the puzzle; the second, or “Types & Colors,” cube has no relationships between its twelve panels. This third cube has to have a continuous relationship between multiple adjacent panels without giving away whether those relationships play a part in the solution, or act as a distraction!
KK: What can you tell me about what happened after I had submitted all of my work? At that point you would have received all of the illustration assets, but my contribution was only one part of this team effort; the process would still have been far from over!
CD: The next step was taking all of Kenny’s final art and laying it out for the puzzles to work. I’ll keep that process as our secret sauce. That said, Kenny’s files were very easy to get ready for print production. The finished product really turned out stunning. The colors pop, the overall theme, the foil touches, and the robots seem to leap off the cubes. It’s a very satisfying final product.
SM: The process of laying the art files out on the final cubes is really challenging. We came up with a template of where each panel needed to go, and what direction it needed to be facing. Still, particularly for the Red & Blue Robot cube, I made Chris go through a number of different layouts, with me printing out and prototyping each one, before we got the correct one down!
KK: Thank you, and great team effort on this, guys - I have a product sample sitting right here on my desk but I don't want to open it, it looks so cool!
SM: Thanks for featuring Block Chain, Kenny!
Block Chain-Robots is available on Amazon, or check out your local toy store!
CD & SM: Thanks for having us Kenny! Chris D’Angelo is the Art Director at our company and Sophie Miller is one of our Product Managers. We, as well as ThinkFun’s main office, are located in Alexandria, VA.
KL: About Creative Fold
Creative Fold (www.thecreativefold.com) is a creative problem solving agency. We help with all stages of the design process from bar napkin sketch to final delivered product and everything in between. We are highly collaborative with our clients to carry their creative vision over the finish line.
Kenny Kiernan Illustration & Design Studio specializes in the toy & game and children's market, delivering top-quality work for 20+ years for mega-brands (Hasbro, Mattel, Disney, Marvel, Spin Master, LEGO, Scholastic, more), as well as businesses of all sizes, and creating concept art for inventors and product development. Check out www.kennyk.com for lots of samples of Kenny's work and available services. Connect with Kenny here on POP and onLinkedIn!
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