For the better part of the last decade, Round 2 has owned the North American rights to manufacture and release scale models based on the Star Trek franchise. TrekMovie now takes you behind the scenes at Round 2 in this two part series to learn more about the process, and to give you a look at future releases.
On a stormy July morning, I arrived in South Bend, Indiana, in a non-descript industrial part of town. With rain pelting down, I entered the doors of Round 2, the license holder for Star Trek modeling in the United States and Canada. There I met with Jamie Hood who, among his various duties, shepherds the Star Trek model line.
We had a chance to talk about the history of Star Trek modeling, and took a look at some future plans.
The History of Star Trek Models
Trek fans in the know are probably aware that AMT (Aluminum Model Toys), a leading model manufacturer in the 1960’s, obtained the rights to produce kits for the new Star Trek television series through a bit of a swap. AMT helped to design and build the exterior filming prop for the Galileo shuttlecraft. In exchange, the familiar 18 inch (1:650 scale) Enterprise appeared on shelves – first in a lit version, and ultimately in the version that fans from the 70’s through the 90’s came to know and either love or hate.
Later, as AMT was looking to capitalize on the blockbuster sales of the Enterprise model, an account executive at AMT gave suggestions to Matt Jefferies as he embarked on the design of the Klingon Battlecruiser. Soon, the Battlecruiser hit the shelves, and eventually the line flourished with figures, props, and ship models… some accurate, some not so much so.
After nearly 30 years, Revell-Monogram outbid AMT for the rights to produce ships from Star Trek: Voyager, and so began the decline for AMT’s line, which finally wrapped in 1999.
In the early 2000’s, the Playing Mantis company, under the Polar Lights trade dress, released a 1:1000 USS Enterprise, as well as a 1:1000 Klingon Battlecruiser, and a model of the Romulan Scorpion ship from Star Trek: Nemesis. The Enterprise and the Battlecruiser were good sellers, and ultimately Playing Mantis was sold to new owners. Over time, however, Tom Lowe, the founder of Playing Mantis, began buying back rights to the line, and ultimately formed Round 2 after buying back the vast majority of the catalog.
In Europe, the rights are currently owned by Revell of Germany. Other companies own various rights in other parts of the world, though they often simply license the kits produced by one of the major rights-holders.
What It Takes to Get a Model on Your Workbench
What does it take to bring your favorite starship from idea to your shelf? A lot of work that spans the globe.
With Round 2 being the exclusive rights-holder for all Prime Universe Star Trek kits in the US and Canada, they have a degree of self-determination in planning their release schedules. Releases are planned based on customer demand, practicality, and the limited budget dedicated to the line.
As Jamie explains, the Round 2 company oversees multiple product lines, including die cast toys, slot cars, a line of ‘Forever Fun’ products, and model kits from various genres and eras.
Within the modeling division, comprised of five employees, Star Trek is a sliver of a sliver. About half of the kits produced by Round 2 are cars. Only 15% of the company’s catalogue is science fiction, and of that percentage, Star Trek models take up about half of the slots. The lines, of course, continue so long as they are profitable. Which means that one serious miscalculation can have ripple effects on other projects.
As such, the first part of the process is to make a full-year plan for releases. As mentioned, this plan takes into account customer demand, among other factors, while always keeping in mind the need to produce a product that is going to sell well. It also is a time to look at the existing inventory of tools to see what may need reissuing and what can be modified for release as a different kit.
Once a plan is developed, it is presented to corporate leadership. At this point, the projects and timeframes may be adjusted, killed off completely, or moved forward to the next step, which is licensor approval. Next, CGI proposals are submitted to CBS Studios for approval. Round 2 essentially has permission to produce anything except the J.J. Abrams continuity ships. For the most part, there have been no issues on CBS’s end with regard to approval and moving forward.
Usually, direct feedback on kit choices is not given, but a notable exception occurred early on in Round 2’s development of their Star Trek line. A 1:1000 scale model of the Akira-class USS Thunderchild from Star Trek: First Contact was proposed to make a splash as an out of the gate offering. To this day, fans of the Akira class are pained that the model never saw the light of day. Initial development progressed on the Thunderchild, but concerns began to surface about the kit early on. The choice to stop the Akira and focus on other projects was not taken lightly. There were many factors at play.
After the decision was made to scrap the Thunderchild kit, Round 2 always felt their choice was the right one. While the ship design was very popular and had a huge following, the Akira wasn’t a ‘hero-ship’. Enterprises, the hero-ships, sell very well. Producing a 1:1000 scale Akira (which would have measured something like 18 to 20 inches) was a major gamble, especially for a first release; one that Round 2 couldn’t be sure would pay off. The rest is history: instead of an Akira class model, a 1:1000 kit of the Refit Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit the market and has remained a strong seller ever since.
After CBS grants licensing approval for a project, detailed CGI work begins so that a final set of specifications can be delivered to the factory for quotes. During this CGI work, experts are consulted about issues, concerns, or obscure details. Sometimes rare reference photos (at times from private collections) are made available to Jamie and his team to get the details as authentic as possible, within the limitations of injection molded plastic.
Once the factory bid for production has been accepted, the fine points of pricing are worked out, and the factor does a 3D render of the parted kit. At this stage, one can virtually assemble the model to ensure all parts fit and that the model is an accurate representation of the design submitted. This process typically takes two to three months. Once completed, the factory then takes the approved 3D files and produces a rapid prototype, not out of styrene, but out of resin. These parts are then sent to Round 2, where they are evaluated for fit and accuracy. If necessary, ill-fitting parts or inaccurate details are revised, potentially leading to a new prototype (or just a new part). Once the prototype meets Round 2’s approval, it is then submitted to CBS for final approval before the molds are prepared.
The tooling process comes next, in which sold steel blocks are channeled and cut through a long etching process akin to electrolysis. The process takes about six weeks. After that is concluded, ‘test shots’ are sent back to Round 2 for buildup. These are the first actual injection molded kits produced for a release, and are evaluated for fit, and used to generate final instructions. A test shot usually goes to a professional builder for construction, painting, and decaling, so that the actual model can appear on the box. Overall, the ‘test shot’ phase runs about two months.
Once the actual fit of the models and quality of the decals is assured from the ‘test shot’, final samples are produced in actual packaging and sent for final approval. Then actual manufacturing in bulk begins. From there, a few months can pass – depending on shipping times – meaning that models can easily take a year from concept to shelf.
Join us next week for the second part of our visit to Round 2, as we learn more about what sells, and what the future holds for the Star Trek line.