Mattel scores big with WWE action figures

According to NPD data, Mattel’s line of miniature WWE wrestlers is the No. 1 action figure property in the U.S., beating out heavy hitters such as G.I. Joe, Star Wars and Marvel.

That’s a lot of plastic biceps.

And debuting in August will be a figure collectors have been clamoring for: The new Cody Rhodes, complete with an inked-on mustache (and packaged in a special two-pack with Sin Cara).

“I did a head scan for Mattel, but I didn’t have the mustache back then,” said Rhodes, describing the process for becoming immortalized in toy stores worldwide. “They’ll probably just draw the mustache on. You don’t need advanced technology for something so silly, but you never know -- Mattel does some pretty advanced stuff. It’s pretty amazing how much the figures really look like us.”

According to Mattel’s WWE product designer, Derek Handy, the act of taking a wrestler such as Rhodes from pugilist to plastic can take anywhere from six months to a year.

“We work really closely with WWE, and based on what we see on the show, we talk to WWE about which characters we want to see in the next wave of figures,” Handy said. “We’ll get WWE’s approval, then we’ll work on initial sculpts of each figure, and that can take a little going back and forth as guys will shave their heads or shave their beards or get a different hair style. But we do the best we can to keep things up to date. We try to be as current as we possibly can to what you’re seeing on the show.”

Twice a year, Mattel sends a crew to various WWE shows to grab every nuance of a superstar’s face and physique with full head and body scans.

“Nothing beats digital data,” Handy said. “But for stuff like tattoos, we work closely with WWE photographers, and sometimes they’ll even let us know beforehand when somebody is getting a new tattoo or changing their look. Other times, we see it on TV and the next day we’re asking for still shots so we can get a closer look and get it right for the figures.”

While the digital scans capture each wrestler as close as possible, they still hear from various superstars about wanting their figure to bulk up a bit.

Said Handy: “It’s usually in relation to other figures, like my figure should be bigger than this guy’s figure. It’s more about wanting to look bigger or better than the other superstars than complaints about their own figures. When you have head scans and body scans, the figures are pretty exact, but everybody always wants to be bigger than the next guy.”

The amount of clothing each figure has also varies depending on storyline and entrance.

“We have a couple of different waves of figures. We have the basic figures which retail for $10, and for those, we try to pick costumes that we can show with a limited amount of decor,” Handy said. “But if a character has a crazy costume or has something really big going on, like some of Rey Mysterio’s costumes, we can make those Elite figures and sell them for $20 retail. So we make decisions where we see each figure and each costume fitting into.

“It can be tough, though, because you’re dealing with real people. It’s not like dealing with Batman where you know a year and a half in advance that there is going to be a Batman movie. You’re dealing with real guys who have real personal issues, and maybe something comes up and they get injured and they can be out six months to a year, or maybe they have contract negotiations. All of that stuff is constantly in flux, and we need to be aware of that as much as we can when making the toys.”

Now, if only the real Cody can avoid shaving his mustache until August.