What is an Action Figure? And How Action Figures are Made?

I’ve always wanted to be an action figure. Jake Lloyd

If you’ve ever been to a toy store, it’s impossible not to have come across action figures of some kind or the other. But they’re not just in toy stores, you probably know at least one person in your social circle who loves and collects action figures. Having become so ubiquitous, it’s hard to miss them. Custom action figure boxes are a popular way to collect action figures. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of action figures and look at different aspects of action figures, their manufacturing, and their collection. Are you ready? Let’s go!

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What is an Action Figure?

So what exactly is an action figure? Maybe as you hold one in your hand you’ve found yourself wondering what this little toy is and how it’s made. Merriam Webster[1] defines an action figure as “a small-scale figure (as of a superhero) used especially as a toy”. We find this definition to be lacking. It does not exactly make it clear what action figures are. In fact, it makes it a bit confusing. We know that action figures are more than toys and that action figures are not just for superheroes.

 
 

A more comprehensive definition is found at yourdictionary.com [2]

“A small, usually molded plastic toy figure, often having movable joints and typically representing a character from a movie, television show, comic book, or another popular entertainment medium.”

So we can understand that action figures represent characters from various entertainment media and that they are usually made with molded plastic. Now let’s answer some common questions about action figures.

What's another word for an action figure?

Action figures are sometimes called collectible toys, dolls, and action figurines but action figure is still the most popular term.

What is the difference between a doll and an action figure?

The term action figure was first introduced by Hasbro in 1964 when it first launched G. I. Joe action figures [3]. At the time other competitor companies called their similar toys boy’s dolls. Dolls were marketed especially for girls and action figures were originally marketed for boys. Though today both are made for kids of all genders with male dolls and female action figures also becoming popular.

Is an action figure a toy?

It depends on who you ask. Toys are meant to be played with. When kids get action figures, they play with them, making them part of their elaborate story plays. That means for kids they are toys. On the other hand, most adults collect action figures for display. They don’t necessarily play with them in the ways that kids do. So for adults, it might not be considered a toy but a collectible item.

Action figure vs figurine

A figurine, also called a statuette, is a small carved sculpture or molded figure. Figurines can be spiritual deities, animals, or human figures. These can be made of many different materials such as clay, stone, metal, wood, glass, or plastic. Figurines are for spiritual, decorative, or collection purposes.

On the other hand, action figures are meant to represent characters from popular media and are made for play or collection. Action figures are made of more durable materials and no spiritual connotation is usually associated with them. You also need to be very careful when selecting the type of material should you use for action figure packaging.

An important difference is that figurines are commonly made of a single component while action figures are made by carefully assembling several parts.

How are Action Figures Made?

Making action figures is a complex process involving a number of steps.

  1. Obtaining rights: Action figure manufacturers must obtain permission from the company that holds the intellectual property rights of the character they wish to make an action figure of. Manufacturers can lease manufacturing rights for a certain time period. Creating action figures without a license can result in dire consequences.
  2. Planning: Planning is the most important part of action figure manufacturing. You have to plan for all the steps; to get the license, when to start production, when to launch, how much should the budget be, etc.
  3. Designing: Designing involves artists making sketches and models of the action figure. Sophisticated software can create realistic looking 3D models of action figures.
  4. Making a prototype: When the sketches are approved, a prototype of the action figure is created. Prototypes are tested multiple times before being ready for production. 
  5. Manufacturing: The final step is manufacturing the action figures. Molds are created from the prototype which is then used for automated production. Each action figure may have multiple molds especially if the figure is to be flexible. For figures with more articulation, each moving part gets its own mold. The molding process creates the plastic parts of the action figures which are then assembled by hand. Ultrasonic sealing is used to put together the action figure.

What material are action figures made of?

“But what are action figures made of?” you ask. Well, the simple answer is plastic. Most of the action figure body is made with plastics except for any screws for joining the parts. Action figures can be made of a combination of plastics. These can be:

  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene aka ABS
  • Polybutylene Succinate aka PBS

These types of plastics are cost-effective and provide strength and flexibility for different parts.

How are action figures painted?

High quality acrylic paint is used for painting the action figures. The pain could be sprayed on the production line or the action figures could be hand painted later.

The Point of Collecting Action Figures

Action figures have come to define modern global culture. Everyone is a fan of something according to action figure manufacturer Funko Pop. One way to look at it is that action figures represent modern society’s obsession with heroes, celebrities, cartoons, stars, sports figures, and more. Another way to look at it is that action figures are a symbol of  “modern commodity culture and indicative of the trends in media convergence.”[4]

From a collector’s perspective, action figures are a way to meet your heroes (and also villains!). Who doesn’t love spending time reading their favorite comics or pieces of literature and watching their favorite movies? Action figures of their favorite characters bring them to life a little bit, in their homes, on their shelves or desks.

I'm an Action Figure Meme

Collecting action figures is also a hobby. In the old times, people liked collecting tickets and coins. Now it’s action figures. Fans love collecting all the action figures in a series. They love talking about their collections with like-minded people on the internet and at comic cons. Honestly, action figures make for a great conversation starter. Asking someone about their favorite action figure can give you an insight into their personality and preferences.

Upcoming Action Figures 2022

Here are some recent action figure releases and some upcoming action figures to look out for.

Nakia action figure from the Marvel legends series by Hasbro will be released on October 12, 2022, coinciding with the release of the Marvel film Wakanda Forever, a sequel to Black Panther.

Nakia action figure

In a similar vein, Funko Pop has released Black Panther action figures characters like this Shuri action figure.

Black Panther Funko Pop action figures

The Deluxe Retro Iron Man action figure from Hasbro will be released on December 1, 2022.

Deluxe Retro Iron Man action figure

Hasbro has also given fans a glimpse into what 2023 will hold for them. For example, X-Men Cyclops will be available on February 1st, 2023.

X-Man action figure

Similarly, the Dark Phoenix action figure will be released on May 1st, 2023.

Dark Phoenix action figure

So get ready for these super cool action figures coming soon!

Conclusion

Action figures are an important part of collectors’ lives. They represent their ideals and their favorite worlds. They are a way to connect with beloved characters in a physical form. Made with plastic in a collector’s hands, they become more than the sum of their parts. The process of creating action figures involves a series of steps and each step ensures that the end product matches the expectations of fans and collectors.

What is an Action Figure? And How Action Figures are Made?
Alexander 22 November, 2022
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