Lost in Translation: Looking at the Bruce Timm Style from Animation to Action Figure
Do you have action figures based on animated characters in your
collection? Have you ever taken the time to really analyze how well or
poorly they’ve been translated from one medium to the other? Is your
action figure on model? Does the action figure have moving parts? If
so, how articulated is it and how obvious is it to the naked eye? Would
you use it as artistic reference?
Today we’re going to take a look at the DC animated universe-style
figures: one of my favorite onscreen designs that, sadly, did not
translate well to that of an action figure. The designs for the
animated series were done by Bruce Timm, known for a fairly stylized
look. There are definite liberties taken with character proportions,
but no more so than your standard comic book hero. It’s streamlined
enough to allow for wiggle room when it comes to working with the
various degrees of competence found in the overseas studios, but not so
much that you find yourself thinking about it while watching the shows.
The animated Justice League designs exemplify the maturation of his
style. When compared to the designs found in Batman: The Animated
Series, you’ll find much of the clunkiness gone. These designs straddle
the line between detail and ease of animation well.
How do they work as action figures? While some of the older Kenner figures bear only a passing resemblance to the characters on which they are based, the more recent Hasbro and Mattel figures look more or less like their animated counterparts. These typically have five points of articulation, with cut neck, cut shoulders, and T hips. It’s not ideal, but I admit I can’t think of a
way to have allowed for more articulation with this design and not have
the joints be an eye sore.
The designs truly show their weakness when it comes to standing the
figures. The male designs are all very top heavy, with thin legs that
travel straight down and end with very tiny feet. While one might be
able to find a figure’s very center of gravity, a slight jostle to the
surface on which it stands will cause it to take a tumble. The female
figures suffer more obviously from that inability to stand. While they
are not nearly as top heavy, their feet are so tiny and close together
that it becomes a waste of time to even make the attempt at standing
The most recent Justice League animated style figures have been
budget-priced figures, sold in combo packs and now seemingly fading
from availability in the retail chains. Their longevity at retailers,
well after the show ended production, is likely because their
streamlined design and minimal articulation made them very inexpensive
to manufacture. Sadly, these budget-priced figures also suffer from
budget quality paint jobs and other physical flaws, such as Hawk’s
gimpy leg. This is more of a manufacturing issue than one of design,
but is still an important factor as the figures become much less ideal
for use as a three dimensional reference.
The Bruce Timm style accomplishes a passable, but hardly ideal,
translation from animation to action figure. They look like their
animated counterparts, but they have little articulation and can’t
stand up. While not directly related to the design, the figures make
poor artistic reference due to inconsistent quality in manufacturing.
The relatively low price tag might make the more recent figures appealing, but some deals are too good to be true.
Below you’ll find a small gallery of photos taken of figures based on the Bruce Timm style.