David Jefferson visits a toy manufacturer who is looking for an idea for an animated film they can back. A clever concept could make a fortune in royalties.
The headquarters of Newfeld Ltd. is near the reservoirs on the outskirts of London’s Heathrow Airport. The building houses offices, a design studio, packing plant and a small printing section. The actual manufacture of the toys is done in the Far East. The name Newfeld may not mean a lot to you but when I tell you that they are the originators of Bendy Toys you will know who I am talking about.
I entered the marble hallway and asked the girl behind the desk for Mr. Neufeld. “Which one?” she asked. It turned out to be father and son. The elder is Charles Neufeld who was the originator of Bendy Toys and is the Managing Director. The younger is Antony Neufeld who is the Sales Director. Antony Neufeld had invited me over because he had come across a copy of Animator in somebody’s waiting room and realised that readers of the magazine might be just the people to supply something he was searching for.
They are looking for ideas for new characters that they can make into Bendy Toys. The plan is to make a complete marketing concept so that the characters would first be introduced to children in animated films produced for television. If the characters catch on they will sell a lot of toys and the film-maker would reap the usual rewards.
Bendy Toys have been pushed into this kind of approach by market forces. The latest children’s toy trends such as ‘My Little Pony’ and ‘The Care Bears’ come from the USA as complete packages. Bendy Toys can not get U.K. rights to this type of toy because the copyright owners organise everything from film production to toy manufacture. The last big money-spinner for Bendy Toys was ‘The Muppets’. These were eagerly sought after by children of all ages and it was even acceptable for adults to have a Bendy Toy model of Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog. Since then there have been the ‘Muppet Babies’ and while I was there they were working on a range called the ‘Disney Babies’, baby cute versions of Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse and so on.
Bendy Toys are not new to the idea of film production. They opened a cupboard and took out an ancient, workhorse of a 16 mm projector to show me some animated films they had produced in the 1960’s for showing on BBC’s Blue Peter. Modern productions are viewed on a U-matic video machine so the projector was without a mains plug. The firm’s handyman was called in to fit a plug and the machine burst into life. It turned out to have its own built-in back-projection screen and speaker system. The films were on plastic cores so I asked if they had any split reels. They were not too sure what I was talking about but they searched through the cupboard and much to my amazement came up with some. I laced up the projector and the show was soon under way.
The reels consisted of various pop songs of the period with Bendy Toys acting out the theme. I suppose they could claim to be the forerunner of pop videos. One was set in a zoo with a Bendy giraffe, a monkey etc. Another was set in a park with a Bendy rabbit, a dog and so on. They were the regular Bendy Toys acting out parts rather than cartoon characters made into Bendy Toys. That came later when the Pink Panther and other cartoon characters were produced under licence. I was told that these early films were animated by Bura and Hardwick. They were used as fillers on the Blue Peter TV show in the days when Valerie Singleton was one of the presenters.
After the film show I was taken to see the Design studio. The way to this was through the Packing department where rubber models of Thomas the Tank Engine were receiving some finishing touches with a paint brush. A flight of stairs led to the studio where we found model maker, Ken Merryman, hard at work. On shelves and surfaces around the room were some extremely fine examples of modelling work. One model that seemed out of character was an Indian in a turban and white robes who seemed to be wrestling with a soldier in a khaki uniform. Surely this wasn’t a Bendy Toy? No, it was another example of the company’s connection with the film industry. Just down the road is Shepperton Film Studio and one of Newfeld’s sidelines is providing realistic models for special effects filming. The Indian and the soldier were required to fail out of an aircraft. They also have moulds for life-size male and female humans so that they can cast rubber figures to replace actors in dangerous stunts. The rubber bodies contain a metal skeleton so that they bend and flex in a convincing way as they go through their paces.
All Bendy Toys start their life as same-size clay models. A plaster cast is made from this but it is no ordinary cast. The ones I was shown had intricate sliding parts to allow undercut parts of the model to be removed in one piece. A metal casting is then made from the plaster mould and this is used in the manufacture of the toys. Most people who have examined a Bendy Toy will realise that they are a spongy rubber cast over a wire skeleton. This kind of construction makes them very suitable for stop-motion work, providing you can devise a way of keeping them standing upright, and no doubt many readers will have experimented with them at some time.
Another couple of models that caught my eye were life-size heads of Maggy Thatcher and Dennis Healey, both without hair. These were made for the Spitting Image TV series. The designs were by Fluck and Law but Bendy Toys had been called in to cast them in foam rubber. Another model made for TV was a bull designed as a souvenir for participants in the TV darts programme Bulls Eye.
So if you have an idea then the Bendy Toy people have the ability to turn it into a workable model. Get those thinking caps on and maybe you can animate yourself into the same league as ‘The Care Bears’ and ‘The Muppets’.
Printed in Animator Issue 15 (Spring 1986)