The molding process
This subject may be boring or be fascinating to my readers, nevertheless, I thought I'd share some insight on the molding and production process.
All vinyl doll kits start out as one of two things, a clay sculpt created by hand from a sculptor or a 3D printed cast of the sculpt. Since I am poor and don't have millions of dollars of photometric scanners or 3D printers or fantasy creatures at my disposal to scan and then print, all of Enchanted Kreature Kits sculpts start out as a hand sculpted clay sculpt.
Where do my sculpts come from?
I have developed a network of amazing fantasy sculptors from all over the world. Each one has skill in their own way and each one bringing something different and new to our EKK family. Having this many amazing fantasy sculpts would be rather impossible if I was trying to sculpt them all myself. Especially since I don't consider myself to be the best sculptor. I have a few of my own sculpts produced, but if I was doing it only on my own work EKK would consist of 3 sculpts instead of 25 and counting.
I am really picky about the sculpts I produce as it is a HUGE investment to put any given sculpt through the molding process. I analyse each sculpt before I'm willing to send them to the factory, to be sure I feel comfortable taking on the expense of production. I work with the sculptors if I see something that doesn't look quite right, lips that aren't realistic, legs or arms that have unnatural shapes, etc. I am fortunate to work with fantasy and non human kits but I still find that I have to be very picky over the realism of them. Because that realism is what helps make them desirable to the customers and the collectors alike.
After I have a sculpt that is finished and ready to go I try to get a handful of nice pictures of the sculpt to have in my record base. Then I send the sculpt to the factory in China.
Each sculpt goes with a pair of eyes (if they are awake), that are meant to fit it, used by the factory to put the right sized eyes in during the molding process, a cloth body made and designed for it, along with any special details the factory will need to work their magic.
Molding fantasy dolls is a little more tricky then molding humans. Until EKK came along the factory had never molded wings, or turtle shells, or mermaid tails. There are rules the sculptors have to follow in order for any given part can be molded.
Rule #1, is that the flange opening, where the part connects to the body has to be a minimum of 35% of the width of the widest part of the part in question. For example; if the head has ears that are 10 inches across from tip to tip the neck opening flange must be a minimum of 3.5 inches. Sometimes this works out as acceptable and sometimes it doesn't. This rule makes wings really tricky. Most people love big flowy wings, but if this same rule applies, and if the wing is 20 inches tall then the flange has to be a minimum of 7 inches wide in order to pull the wing from the mold. If you put that 7 inch opening across the back of a newborn sized baby it would be impossible to have 2 wings connected to the back because you don't have 14+ inches of space across baby's back to work with.
Rule #2, No part of any given piece can droop or curl or flare out above the line of the flange. This applies to tails, and ears most commonly. Picture a really cute elf with big droopy ears that hang down to the belly. It's adorable, right? Sadly, those big droopy ears that hang down to the belly are a molding impossibility. Nothing can hang below or stick up above the flange. They won't be able to get the liquid vinyl into those droopy or sticky-uppy parts. So my sculptors have to take this into consideration while they are sculpting.
Rule #3, no part can have any angle sharper than 90 degrees. The factory has gotten really good with smoothing curves and angles to be manageable, and there are more and more kits coming out with super curled up arms and legs.
Rule #4, there are minimum thicknesses for things like ears and wings that need to be to be able to pour the vinyl in. The factory is really good about thickening up any part that will cause a problem and they are really really good about copying detail to areas that they need to alter, making them look part of the original sculpt.
Ok, so with these rules we've created a new little fantasy sculpt. It can be anything you can think of for this example. This little critter has made its journey from its sculptor with its eyes and body all the way to the factory and is ready to start the process! Yay little critter! Getting to the factory is a massive step. It means all those hours of creation are finally in the location where the real magic happens.
After it arrives to the factory there is a small team of people who inspect the sculpt making sure all the pieces and parts can be molded. They will make any needed adjustments while in this step. Thicken the ears or wrists, or smooth the angles etc. I have yet to see a sculpt arrive there that didn't need something minor added. It might happen more often with the producers who work mainly with human sculpts, but with EKK kits everyone needs a little something.
After the factory send pictures of the fixes and they are approved they will cast the sculpt into wax. This is when they add things like the name onto the back of the neck. The factory sends new pictures comparing the original sculpt with the wax mold. This is where any imperfections need caught because this wax mold becomes the final mold that makes the glove mold that they pour the liquid vinyl into while pouring the kits. This wax mold can take a few days from the time they start working on it, to a few weeks depending on the factories work load.
After the wax mold is approved it is ready to make the metal glove molds. This process takes several weeks. The wax molds are repeatedly dipped into a cold solution of liquid metal building up an outer shell around the wax mold. Some factories use nickle, some copper. After the metal is on the wax molds thickly enough they dip the metal molds into a hot vat of solution that melts the wax inner molds out of the centers of the metal glove molds. They clean the metal molds and pour the test pieces. These test pieces are known as the prototypes. It typically takes 6-12 weeks from the time the factory gets the original sculpts to the time they have the prototypes ready.
At this point the molds are set aside as the factories work on getting other sculpts to this phase. They can't do anything else with the glove molds until told to do so my their clients. This is when the prototypes are mailed back to the sculptors/producers to be inspected and approved.
The prototypes are mailed out to the prototype artists at this paint and there is a month or 2 of silence as the reborning artists work their magic.
The next step in the process varies by the sculptor/producer. They typically do one of two things.
1. After the prototypes are done they will work with dealers around the world to take preorders for the kits. This can be a "till sold out" pre-order, or a "from this day till that day" preorder. At the end of the time period the dealers will submit their orders to the sculptor/producer and those orders are sent to the factory. The factory will require 50% of the total order cost up front before they start producing. This can be as little as a few thousand dollars of a deposit to $25,000+. Depending on size of sculpt, and quantity of order. Either way it is big commitment. The remaining balance is due before the kits leave the factory.
2. If the sculptor/producer knows that are only X many kits in the edition and doesn't need the financial assistance of preorders they may choose to submit the order without taking pre-orders first or at all. This speeds up the production process. It also simplifies the need of having to send out final invoices for customers who only put down small deposits. The sculptor/producer pays the bill and kits are started right away without needing to wait for pre-order totals.
The factory typically takes 2-6 weeks to pour the kits for one sculpt, depending on the order quantity. After they are poured and ready to go they are sent to dealers in one of 2 ways. Via air shipping which takes only a few days, but nearly doubles the cost of the sculpts, or suffers through waiting for the shipment on the cargo boats. Only large orders qualify for the cargo boats, but they significantly reduce the shipping costs. All of these thing are taken into consideration when setting prices on new kits. Keeping the costs as low as possible allows sculptors/producers to keep their prices lower, but has time-line drawbacks.
After the kits are to the dealers and in stock they are given the green light to be released to the public.
The final step in the production process has nothing to do with the factory but rather the sculptor/producer. If they choose to have COA's made they need to have good prototype pictures to choose from. This is the reason the prototypes dolls exist. To give good and desirable images that create an emotional bond with prospective artists making them want to purchase the product. They design and print the COA's at an added expense to give more value to the doll kits that they've already spent literally thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to produce. After COA's are made they spend additional money mailing the COA's all over the world to the dealers so they can be part of the doll kit when released to the public.
From the time the factory receives the clay sculpt, till the time the finished kits are ready to go, takes on average between 4-7 months.... Unless there is a global pandemic, and then all "normal" time-lines are thrown out the window.
I'll wrap this up by saying, Thank a sculptor/producer. It is A LOT of work to take a sculpt through the production process. And, be patient when you see a new sculpt that you love and can't wait to get. By the time you see it, it is probably 1/2 way through the production process.
Have a great day, I hope you've learned something new.