It’s another #FanFirstFriday over on Hasbro Pulse, with the focus being on all things G.I.Joe this week on Unboxed! Below is a breakdown of all (3) segments highlighted today. Check it out ! –
G.I. Joe Classified Series Iconography
G.I. Joe is a name steeped in history and nostalgia here at Hasbro and with our fans throughout the world. Each time we’ve reimagined the G.I. Joe brand since the 1960s, our number one goal has been to connect with the fans of the era in a way that inspires their imaginations and calls them to adventure. That means different things in different times, and as we set out to tackle what it means 2020 and beyond, we ended up taking a journey through the history of the brand itself, and what it means to be G.I. Joe.
This is the story behind the icon system on the G.I. Joe Classified Series, which is threaded throughout the relaunch of the G.I. Joe brand and will serve as our guideposts for how we develop Classified Series content in the future.
The Very Beginning
We decided about four years ago that we wanted to bring G.I. Joe back and we started talking about how we would do it. To get the conversations going, we held a big summit that brought together a lot of team members, where we asked hard questions about where the brand had been and where we wanted it go. What were the weaknesses? What worked? What was so important to G.I. Joe brand that it had to be in every single version?
It became clear pretty quickly that there were two related traits of the brand that we absolutely wanted to hold onto: the range of different characters, each with their own skills, equipment and colorful (sometimes literally) design, and the emotional, personal, dynamic way that kids and fans engaged with the characters through the old dossier cards.
As discussions continued, and as the product lines that became Retro and Classified Series started to take shape in our minds, we began thinking about how modern kids communicate now. A modern consumer – kid or fan – is much more fluent in the terminology and symbology of video games than even just ten or fifteen years ago. We see tiny icons dozens of times every day when we open our phones up, and we communicate with emojis that represent everything from our mood to our food preferences.
How we communicate has changed, shifting towards a visual shorthand that streamlines our everyday communications. Maybe, we thought, the way forward for G.I. Joe isn’t verbal or text-based, but visual. If fans already understand systems like tech trees and emojis, we can make a unique, ownable system for G.I. Joe and flesh it out across our deep roster of characters. The solution for our iconic brand? Icons.
Turning an Idea into a System
Alignment from high up was quick: icon system, go. After that… well, after that it was a bit more of a marathon. There was a lot to consider. The old cardbacks had hundreds of skills, some assigned to only one character and some no longer relevant to a modern world. We were walking back the explicit militarization and Americana of the brand to make it more globally relevant. And we wanted a visual language that would be finite but evergreen; this would be one system to unite G.I. Joe moving forward.
As far as the visual, we did our research. We went full nerd, diving deep into the symbology of different places and organizations, looking for things that would resonate with people across the world in different age groups. Something as recognizable as, say, a chess piece for tactics. We also found in our research that a lot of the symbols we think of as American are actually global. Some – eagles, laurels – reach back as far as the Roman Empire.
We began to build out an icon system using what we learned from G.I. Joe and from our research into symbols of the world. All that was left was character assignment. No big deal.
Role. Gear. Skill. Mastery.
How did we do it? The old-fashioned way: four days of geeking out and deep diving into G.I. Joe content, characters, and lore. We went one by one through the roster, filling out a spreadsheet and assigning abilities. There were some interesting skills that needed a more fleshed out plan, like Raptor’s skill at training birds. And because a lot of these characters were created in the 80s, things like “computers” was pretty rare while other skills like “strength” or “small arms” were over-represented.
We realized pretty quickly that by separating out the four categories of Role, Gear, Skill, and Mastery we could use our finite icon database in thousands of combinations, making each character feel as unique as they did when they first hit shelves. It would also allow us to expand the line for characters that weren’t part of the roster without breaking the system we created.
While on pack you only see the icons, each of those has months of development behind it, from the research the design team did into historical and modern iconography to the descriptions that the storytelling team wrote for each icon. There were… robust… conversations about everything from the difference between the Fixed Wing Pilot role and Aerial Combat skill to making sure Arctic Combat could include environments that aren’t technically located within the Arctic Circle.
A System Built for the Future
The G.I. Joe Classified Series is more than icons on a box and short descriptions on a website. It’s a story made over months of work put in by dozens of people from all across Hasbro. Sure, it’s our job to do stuff like this. But we’re all passionate fans and we want the next evolution of G.I. Joe to be as awesome and inspiring as all the toys we grew up playing with. We hope that the Classified Series will be a lasting part of the legacy of G.I. Joe brand, one that fans will be inspired by for years to come.
Behind the Design: G.I. Joe Classified Series Artist Profile – miQ Willmott
We’re talking to miQ Willmott, veteran artist of all things toys and rock and roll, about his artwork on the incredible print that can only be found inside the Pulse exclusive G.I. Joe: Classified Series Snake Eyes package.
Q: Thanks for taking some time with us, miQ. Tell us about your history with the G.I. Joe brand. Were you a fan before taking on this project?
A: I started working on a variety of G.I. Joe projects over 13 years ago, after we started our design studio, TWEEQiM Creative Lab here in Portland. We were first approached to do some rock N’ roll inspired T-shirts for the crew repping at San Diego Comic Con, and I think the following year, we created the packaging art for the SDCC G.I. Joe exclusive, the Destro “book box” limited edition package. That project was nuts, as it had us doing the full art inside and out, graphics, illustration, drawings….you name it. That piece came out fantastic, and ever since, we have worked on more specialty projects for G.I. Joe over the years, with a good amount of it being in the conceptual phase. Always a good time!
On being a fan, lets say that I’m old enough to have played with G.I.Joe when he was considerably larger in scale, had “lifelike hair”, and a common scar that he and all his G.I. Joe brothers shared on the same cheek. Back then, there was an astronaut Joe, and he came in this silver space suit. You could also purchase a space capsule that was a replica of the ones the real life astronauts were coming back to Earth in, back in the days of the lunar program. Because my friends and I were always “next leveling” our play with our toys, that poor Joe and the capsule were put through a lot of “test landings” including being thrown off my neighbors second story roof into his pool below. Sometimes we missed the pool. So was I a fan? Yes, the best kind…a kid who played with them and played hard.
Q: You’ve done art for some of the most popular rock and metal bands in history. What kind of music do you think Snake Eyes would be into? What’s his role in the band?
A: Good question. Considering that Snake Eyes has such a mysterious background, and is a bit of an enigma, I would think that mainstream music of the past or present would not be on his personal radar. Maybe something something super broody/moody that is more atmospheric than a head banging or finger snapping good time. Maybe something like Sunn O))), that is non-distractive, dark, almost meditative to some who get lost in their own headspace, or use this type of music to gain focus, and bring a bit of aggression to the surface. About as mainstream I would go (and they are far from it) is the Japanese trio Boris. They sing everything in Japanese, have punk, metal, doom, and aggressive jam band overtures that sometimes drift into melodic tonal noise, and lots of good old feedback. Yeah, I think I’m voting for Boris 🙂
Q: You put a lot of Snake Eyes-related symbolism in this piece. Can you talk to fans who might not be familiar with it and explain the meaning behind some of the more lore-steeped examples?
A: Well the art was initially talked about as a possibility of this being a tattooed back piece that Snake Eyes might have if you ever were to see his back, in the flesh. So this piece was designed with that, precisely, in mind.
The Arashikage Ninja Clan symbol makes its appearance, as all graduates from their training receive the symbol as a tattoo. Seeing how Snake Eyes wears the symbol on his armor, I figured the tattoo might take it to a deeper level, paying attention to its legacy, hence, putting it on a scroll. The main center piece is built much like a totem, which is not typically a Japanese approach to tattoo design, but I wanted to give it a touch of Western influence, and I really wanted the characters to morph together to tell the story as a whole, as in what makes up the fabric of Snake Eyes vs. individual characters populating their own section of real estate. The top head is a wolf, or Okuri-Okami, which in brief, is an unseen protector, who could turn on you in a moment’s notice if you decide to choose the “wrong path”.
Next down is the face of Raijin, who is said to protect Japan as a force of nature, drumming up storms and turbulence (Raijin’s drum heads can be seen going up both sides of the wolf’s head). Snake Eye’s two main blades are seen crossing through the teeth of Raijin, and can be seen as a joining of the overall combined forces. Below are intertwining serpents (Cobra and Dragon), and the piece is framed up with the elements of water, fire, and air which not only symbolize the force and movement of Snake Eyes, but also traditionally symbolize change, adaptability, and survival in Japanese tattooing.
There are a few other little details in the piece, but those will remain my closely guarded secret 😉
Q: Were there any ideas you wanted to use that didn’t make it to the final piece?
A: When we first discussed this being a tattooed back piece, as usual, my head went spinning into all the detail I could possibly get away with, so of course there was a whole lot more I wanted to inject into the story telling. The more we discussed the real estate that this might be applied to (considering that originally, this was potentially going to be an application that would end up on the physical toy itself), we decided it best to approach it with a more centric piece with the bold focus on the elements “up the spine” of the piece.
If we would have put much more into the piece, we would have potentially had legibility issues as smaller scale. So yes, there was intent, but we didn’t go that route…but my interest was really about putting some regional and personal back story in negative spaces where some of the elements (water, fire, air) might have opened up and revealed like distant memories. But with Snake Eyes being such an enigma, it might have been giving too much away, or I would have had to author a mythos that simply does not exist. So while I wouldn’t say we played it safe, I’d say that much more might have created an opening of a can of worms that is not ready to be opened. I’m really happy with its “simplicity”.
Q: With your history and experience working on other toy lines, did your approach to the Snake Eyes piece differ from projects you’ve worked on in the past?
A: Well, I’ve worked on A LOT of different “canvas” shapes in my career, that’s for sure. My approach to any canvas, be it toys, sneakers, apparel, skate decks, packaging, etc. has always been to make the shape of the canvas (product itself) a part of the art piece itself. To let the limitations of the area you have to work in, not be a limitation at all. I work with the body lines of the canvas, so the design works WITH the shape of the surface organically.
I’m not a fan of the copy and paste a style guide element into a template approach. I treat every single design as a piece of art, and each piece has it own unique canvas shape. With this piece, given that it was originally conceived as a full back tattoo, I worked with a template I created from scanning a photo from one of my books on tattoos of the Yakuza, and started drawing away. The original roughs actually had elements spilling up onto the shoulders and going down onto the buttocks, much more like traditional Yakuza tattoos, which were a big influence on my approach with this.
Q: You and your wife form a powerful creative team. Did she have any input on the project? What were her thoughts on the finished art?
A: Thank you! My wife Thuy (the TWEE in TWEEQiM) is indeed a creative force in everything we do. We work through projects together, trading off phases of the work, as well as co-art direct each other when we are off on our own projects that suit our individual styles better. Our approach Is much like our logo, which is based on the Yin Yang principal. Thuy brings the grace and elegance to our work (like the butterly wings in our studio logo), and I bring the punch in the face (like the atom bomb between those wings). So she handled the flow, and I handled the mojo. When all was said and done, we ended up with a piece that had both our kids asking if they can get it tattooed when they grow up, so we know we did it right……but the answer was still, no.
This project was a true honor to work on (and got to work once again with our fave design guy in the toy industry, R.Dube), and from what we have seen, the final project as a whole came out fantastic, and we cant wait to get our claws on one! Thanx Has-Bros!
miQ with wife and creative partner, Thuy
Behind the Design: G.I. Joe Classified Series Artist Profile – Oliver Barrett
YO JOE! The G.I. Joe Classified Series action figures are ready to charge into action, featuring collectible packaging with custom art. Joining some of the best artists from the world of comics and graphic design in our artist partnership program, Oliver Barrett brings his unique style to the Destro package.
An artist from Ohio, now living in Texas, Oliver is passionate about experimenting with restrained palettes and negative space. Having spent nearly a decade working with branding and marketing agencies as a designer, he has forged his own path with truly unique spins on his art.
Thanks for helping us kickoff this amazing line of the G.I. Joe brand, Oliver! We’re so excited to showcase the wide range of talent that provided art for the first wave of the all-new 6-inch scale G.I. JOE: CLASSIFIED SERIES action figures.
Q: Tell us a little about your history with the G.I. Joe brand. Were you a fan before working on Destro?
A: Ohhhh yes! It feels like it was only yesterday that I was barging into my mom’s chiropractor appointment with impatience because her treatment was preventing me from stumbling down the ‘Toys “R” Us’ aisle to get a Toxo-Zombie.
Q: While researching the character, did you notice any similarities between you and Destro? Roguish good looks? A knack for bad Scottish accents or black-market dealings, perhaps?
A: We share an intense desire to control the weather and wear jackets with no shirt underneath.
Q: You’ve worked on plenty of high-profile pop culture properties in your career. What was it about Destro that made you want to team up with Hasbro on this project?
A: When Hasbro reached out to me about the project, I sent them over a list of my top 5 favorite characters. Appropriately, Destro found himself 2nd in command on this list, but climbed up into 1st when I realized that I would get the opportunity to work on his packaging for the Classified Series. He looked exactly like I remembered him! The younger me’s head would have exploded. Thinking back on it, I still don’t really believe it.
Q: A lot of your artwork features just a few colors and uses large amounts of negative space to great effect. Has that always been your style, or is it something that’s developed as your career progressed? Are there any particular artists you can point to that had a significant impact on your stylistic development?
A: The restrained palette/negative space usage that I’ve always tried to incorporate into my work didn’t always work so well, with many clients not really understanding the intention or it not matching with a project’s goals. I stuck with it though, and eventually it became a staple of my work. After bombing an art history test in early college, I was forced to actually pay attention in class instead of sleeping, and that was my intro to Barbara Kruger’s work. The intense, stark relationship between the image and type and how these restrained elements worked together to communicate powerful, direct messages really stuck with me. The irony of talking about her work in an interview about making toy packaging for an Orwellian, Big-Brother-esque villain isn’t lost on me either.
Q: Destro is a complicated villain who plays all the angles to make sure he comes out on top. What aspects of the character did you feel were most important to convey in the artwork? Was there an overall concept or theme you were playing with in its creation?
A: Communicating his manipulative, scheming, Orwellian (again) nature was the goal. I started with shooting some embarrassing photos of myself in an authoritarian pose in my kitchen after my wife went to bed so she couldn’t joke on me. This was a primary component of the packaging, since it showed off more of his body.
Cont’d A: Because Destro’s design was so close to the original, it became obvious to use that as a selling point for both collectors and new fans. The pose alone wasn’t enough for the poster component of the project, so I thought a Big-Brother floating head would feel appropriate. It was a satisfying challenge to figure out how to pull off that big chrome dome with a few colors. I tied them together with missiles, hinting at his arms-dealings.
Q: Now that you’ve worked on Destro, which other characters from the G.I. Joe universe would you like to tackle next? Any certain figure you’d like to see show up in Classified Series in the future?
A: The Fridge! Or Banzai, the ninja with all of the pink accessories. Or Ken Masters from Street Fighter, or the original #1 on my wish list email, COBRA COMMANDER. I’d be shocked if anyone from that list, other than Cobra Commander, was actually in the works for the Classified Series treatment.
Q: With the rise of social media and other platforms for creatives to find each others work, do you believe that the artistic community has become more connected as a result? Do you find that projects like the Classified Series help nurture this network?
A: My career is built upon this sort of network. I’ve made great friends and forged some strong relationships that all started on social media platforms. I believe collaborations like the Classified Series are among the best examples of an artist being allowed to do what they want with a license that they love.