The creation of an action figure is a very detailed process and requires a number of steps from an idea to toy shelves. This process is explained below to help identify types of pre-production items.
Phase I - Conceptual Design
This is where it all begins! The design team will pitch ideas with concept boards, hand made figures, hand made packaging, etc. These pieces are generally very primitive and do not have the quality of a production item.
Phase II - The Figure Creation
In this phase, sculptors will create wax sculpts for the action figure. They typically use a special tool to add or subtract wax from the sculpt. The wax used is a relatively hard substance and retains a fair amount of detail. The limbs are typically pinned together. From this sculpting input, a pattern drawing is made. As changes are requested to the wax sculpt, a final wax is made.
Next, a silicone mold is made from the wax sculpt and a resin will be poured into the mold to create a hardcopy. Hardcopies are also pinned together and will retain close to the same level of detail as the wax sculpt. The hardcopies can be painted to give a quick feel for what the actual production figure may look like. They are used to make final changes and for displays at the Toy Fairs.
The final wax is used to generate a hardcopy. Using a silicone mold process, resin is poured into the mold to produce the hardcopy figure. Hardcopy figures are also typically pinned together for articulation.
Once approved, tooling is made to produce steel molds for the final injection mold process. First shots are generated from the steel molds using a plastic injection mold process. In this stage, they test for fit, form, function and safety. First shots can be found in a variety of colors that may or may not match the final color scheme of the action figure. Early versions can be found without copyright markings and/or peg holes. Next, decomasters (aka paint samples) are made to assure that the final paint will match the intended design. Final engineering pilots (FEP) are generated as the last phase of the figure creation process. Once approved, the production figures will be produced in mass quantities also using the injection mold process.
Phase III - Packaging
Early conceptual designs and/or hand-made proofs are used to make a final design. Once a final design is approved, a proof sheet or card is generated. First shots and paint samples are often used to generate Engineering Pilots (EP). Engineering Pilots are generated to test the blister design of the figure. The blister is the clear plastic that is used to mount the figure to the card back. Engineering pilots may be modified to ensure that the figure and accessories are posed and layed out properly. Examples can be found mounted to a variety of card stock.
Phase IV - Quality Control
In this phase, some final changes can be submitted to the design team for quality control and final approval. These figures can be found with a paper sign-off tag taped to the card. In some cases, notes can be made to make some desired changes.