In this second part of the House of Liu presentation, we speak to Andy Woo, head of Crazy Label, producer of House of Liu toys and many more great little things! At the end of the interview we present the latest exclusive images of the House of Liu prototypes
Hi Andy, Tell us a bit about how you set up Crazy Label.
That was a long story. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My father was the owner of a clothing factory in Hong Kong and my mother was working for him, so much of my leisure time after school was spent in the office of a small factory. That was almost 30 years ago – in a small office, there was no TV, no computer, just a toy gun, some papers and a pencil.
While I loved my toy gun, it wasn’t long before I got bored with it. I didn’t have other toys to play with so I picked up a pencil and a pile of paper, started to make some drawings to mimic what my father did in the factory. I admired him that he can create something out of a drawing. I had no idea how clothing was made but I just felt it was amazing! That admiration planted the seed in my heart for creating my own stuff in the future. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grow up so I just kept making drawings, most of them were of things I had seen in daily life. When I saw something, say, a can opener, I had different ideas on how to make it better! Of course, my designs were a joke to adults – either wasn’t possible or economical to manufacture, but I thoughtfully enjoy the process of creation.
Fast forward to 15 years ago, I graduated from Polytechnic after studying Manufacturing Engineering. My first job was an assistant engineer in a small toy factory. It wasn’t a pleasant job since I had to take care of so many things that I wasn’t prepared for, but it let me learn all the techniques in toy development and manufacturing, that paved the way to my future career.
After spending years in the factory, later on I worked for the Galco Hong Kong, a regional subsidiary of Galoob Inc. I was responsible for product development of several action figures and Micromachine series such as Star Wars. Speaking of Star Wars, it was my childhood’s favorite movie! I was particularly excited when working on the Star Wars project. I didn’t meet George Lucas but I had heard that he had a very high quality standard. All the project team members are advised to familiarise themselves with the movies, although it wasn’t absolutly mandatory but as you can imagine, I loved to do it! One interesting tidbit was that at the time there was only one model maker in Hong Kong that could satisfy the high quality standard of George Lucas, and it wasn’t a joke! All the original sculptures of Star Wars toys were done by that model maker, and the only direction from George was the chapter/time of a particular scene on the Laserdisc, the model maker can automagically create a sculpture out of that movie scene and George liked it! To me the model maker just like the Master Yoda.
I spent another 10 years at Mattel primarily working for engineering and procurement departments. Mattel was and is the largest toy maker in the world and I am really proud of it. Being a member of a large family I had chances to learn a systematic approach to design, development and manufacturing. Contrary to the action figures at Galoob, I had chances to work on a diversified product line such as infant toys for Fisher-Price Brand where the technical and safety requirements are totally different. Not always my favorite kind of toys – I had overseen several projects of Barbie dolls too, seeing many ups and downs of her over the years.
Good time fly fast, as it was approaching my 10 year venture at Mattel, I started to lose my own direction (ironically my favorite toy maker seemed to suffering the same syndrome as mine as seen from their sales and stock price), suddenly I didn’t know where I was going! After countless toy projects I seemed lost my passion in toy. At the time my favorite toy maker was talking of cost saving, cost saving and cost saving. As I was working for the procurement department I had the first hand feeling that our job was just to cut cost. While I agree that it is important to an organisation to tightly control all sort of costs, but I didn’t agree that it was the only method to run a toy company. Innovation was out of question, designers left for the competitors, kids just lost interest in our toys!
I had meant to pick up where I left in my childhood – to create stuff that I love! However, working full time for Mattel had prevented me from realizing my dream. Family commitments had taken all of my leisure time so the only way to realize my dream was to quit my day job. I thought 2005 was the good time to make the switch and that was the start of my new life!
I didn’t had any idea on how to call my company so I just used my domain name that I registered many years ago as my company name. It was the domain of my personal web site and I am big fan of the Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies, so here goes the name. Many people thought that I was crazy to quit my day job and frankly I was. However, I felt that I am very lucky, by connecting the dots, I can do what I loved to. A few months after the registration of my company, I decided to release toys based on a trademark called “Crazy Label” – which better describes what I’m doing.
How did you start working with Veggiesomething?
Since my work on the Treeson vinyl figure, some people came across my name on the Internet, and since then I’ve been receiving submissions of portfolios from many talented artists around the world. Many of them were great work and they were very passionate to produce their own toys. I wanted to help them to realize their dreams but due to the limited resources, I can only afford to pick what I really like. I can only trust my intuition.
One day in February of 2006, I received an email from someone I didn’t know, he has an interesting name called veggiesomething. He sent me a picture of his House of Liu figures and expressed his interest to become Crazy Label artist, upon reviewing his work and the story behind the characters, my intuition told me that he is the man and the rest is history…
What was it about the House of Liu that you thought would make a good toy series?
Believe me, it does not make any business sense, I picked House of Liu was solely due to my personal love on anything related to the Qing Dynasty in Chinese history.
When I was small, I loved to read a Chinese novel called “The Deer and the Cauldron” written by Jin Yong. It consists of 10 volumes documenting the adventures of a lazy but clever protagonist born in Yang Zhou of China called Wei Xiaobao. In the story, he made his way from Yang Zhou to Beijing – the capital of China, and made friends with the Emperor in the palace! He was also one of the Lodge Master of the Anti-Qing resistance underground organization called “Heaven and Earth Society”. I was also amazed by how Wei Xiaobao can have 7 wives!
Needless to say, I was so addicted to the story. I burnt many midnight oil and able to finish the whole story in a fortnight! That’s not all, I read the same novel again few years later and I was equally enjoyed every scene in the story.
If you have read the story of House of Liu, you will realize that it also happened in a similar historical background. Di Di and Mei Mei are habitants of the House of Liu, and one night they found that their house was burnt down and all the people were killed by the Qing soldiers – which brings out the main theme of the story – Protect and Destroy! It is reminiscent of how the Heaven and Earth Society fought against the Manchurians in the Deer and the Cauldron novel. As far as the story goes, as James said, it has only just begun!
The character designs are a little bit different from other vinyl figures, they were designed to look with more aggressive stance! Their heads were tilted down and ready for a fight. They are out for revenge! In addition to Di Di, Mei Mei and Qing soldiers, James recently introduced additional characters such as a Shaolin Monk and a Qing Emperor. They have distinct characteristics and costumes in the story.
Frankly, I don’t have a secret formula to a good toy series, but in my opinion, the intriging story and bold character designs of James already made a solid foundation to a good toy series.
These are the master protoypes of the sculpt of Di Di and Mei Mei. Next stage is a decoration master, handpainted by veggiesomething to be used for colour and graphics reference. Stay tuned, more House of Liu coming soon.