Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where in the World Do you Vinyl?: Variants

by Ben and Brendt

Disney seems to be going variant crazy lately and I think it's a great thing.  Giving many of the Limited Edition vinyls a variant is a great way to spice things up.  Just don't go too overboard and make variants for the heck of it.  Variants need to make sense in the context of the character as well as enhancing the vinyl itself.   The most positive thing about all of this right now, is that the variants are well designed and make sense.   There are several different ways the Vinylmation team has gone about variants, and I would like to dive deep into these methods and discuss what works, and what doesn’t work.

The most effective type of variant is changing the face or even more.  In my opinion the vinyl that pulled this off the best was the Villians 2 Shere Kahn variant.  The common was a great design on its own, but then the variant stepped it up a notch, and that’s the way I think it should be.  The designers took an iconic scene from the film and adapted it onto the platform.

Instead of grass in the ears, they added fire, changed the expression on his eyes and face to represent fear, and they even added the branch stuck in his tail, just like in the film.  Artist Gerald Mendez did an excellent job here in creating a variant that works as a great companion piece to the common, as opposed to a subtle change.  The new Dr. Frankenollie variant is a great recent example of how well this form of variant can work.  He is making a more sinister face, and they added the light bulb accessory above the head.   A significant enough change has been made to the common version so that when next to each other you can see a distinct change, or progression.

Another clever and successful variant choice came in the Park series with Disney World Park road sign.  The inspiration for vinyl are the famous purple road signs you see when driving up to Walt Disney World.  The sign for Magic Kingdom/Epcot was the common and then two more versions were created for Animal Kingdom, and All Other Guest Areas.   This was a perfect opportunity to make multiple different versions that collectors will want because these signs are so iconic for big fans of the park.

There are a few variants that have followed this method in which I question their necessity; and they both happen to be in Animation 2.  They are the Fantasia 2000 Donald, and John Henry Variants.
With the Donald variant, artist removed the drops of rain that made the common so worth-while.  The rain captures the essence of the segment from the film perfectly; we don’t need an alternate one where he is dry.  The John Henry variants removes the shirt, which is a little better because of the context of his story, but why not make the shirtless one the common, and have no variant at all.  I understand these variants could be a nice before and after sort of thing, but literally nothing else on the vinyl is different.  The faces remain the same and they have the same accessories, therefore they do not enhance the design enough to warrant a variant version.

A common, but not always effective use for variants is changing the color.  This method works best when there is another significant change then just the color.  The variant that excelled the best at this was the Animation 3 Pascal variant.

The common was the Chameleons standard green color with a nice smile on his face.  The variant not only turned him red, but also changed the expression on his face to portray him as a little annoyed.  This works perfectly because not only has the color changed but the facial expression evokes a mood.  Originally it looked like there was going to be a second variant for Pascal, which was yellow, but it had the exact same facial expression as the common.

Personally, I was glad they didn't produce the yellow variant because in my opinion it doesn't really add anything.  Sure, he’s a chameleon and he changes color, but with the same facial expression it doesn't add anything for me.  There are many variants that have gone that route; wet paint Donald, the Alice in Wonderland hedgehog, and many others.  Again, not much changes are made other than a simple color change, and for me, it feels like variant for the sake of variant.

There have been several clear variants, and they have all made sense and are big hits for me.  The new phasing Vision from Marvel 1 looks fantastic.  While nothing design wise has changed on the vinyl, the clear image makes sense perfect sense, based on the character of Vision.
The same goes for the ghost Obi-Wan in Star Wars 1.  In fact, force ghost Obi-Wan was a variant of a chaser, and that is something I would love to see Disney do more of.  The chasers are the most sought after anyway, and adding a variant version of that makes it even more fun to attempt to collect.  The 3 different versions of the pink elephant chaser from Animation 1 is still one of the most fun and ambitious choices the Disney design team has made.

Recently, we have seen that variants are going to be more common, and in a new creative way.  It seems that all of the limited edition vinyls, like the Food and Wine Festival and the Festival of the Masters, are all going to have variants.  This is interesting because what was once an open window, you knew exactly what you were going to get type of deal, is now a fun mystery.  I love the idea of this supplement Park 13 Tower of Terror set.  Not only is it a great addition to this latest park set (especially because it is a smaller case size) but in this instance there are 2 versions.
You have the regular black and white versions of these characters, and then an inverse version that look like they have been transported to the Twilight Zone.  Instead of making it a set of itself with 8 figures, and you can easily get them all, Disney decided to make it either or, and you won’t know which versions of the figures you will get to you open them.  You can either look at this as a money grab, or a great characteristic to the hobby.    For me, that’s what Vinylmation is all about; not knowing what you are going to get, so why not add that feel to more of the products.

So there you have it, a little breakdown of how the idea of variant figures has evolved over the course of this five year hobby, and where it seems to be heading in the future.  How do you feel about variants, and the direction Disney seems to be heading?  Would love to hear your thoughts!

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