Mattel designer Michael Kadile talks creativity, charity – and floating a crib from The Mandalorian
Michael Kadile on how he made a floating crib from The Mandalorian… To raise $12,000 for charity!
Hi Michael thanks for making time for this. Obvious question to kick us off… Would I be right in saying you’re a Star Wars fan?
That would be correct! 100%!
To what degree?
Listen, I’m an 80’s kid. I went to “Star Wars: A New Hope” with my dad and older brother and it was an extraordinary experience. Plush seats. Ornate old school movie theatre. Balcony seats. You feel me?
I certainly do!
The attention to detail means so much to me and I was only 6 years old and honestly proud of the fact that I could even read the ridiculously famous scrolling opening storyline. So yeah, I certainly grew up with it and am a huge fan.
What is it about Star Wars that captures your imagination?
Star Wars has a way of expanding our imaginations by creating vast imagery and immersive storylines. Aliens don’t need to look like us. Traveling to another planet is as easy as hopping in my car and taking the 405 freeway to the 110, but with less traffic. Star Wars makes us believe all these things are feasible and I can relate to that when I am creating. If you can imagine something, why can’t it exist?
Well, that leads us to the reason I ask, you recently made a real-life floating pram inspired by Grogu (aka Baby Yoda, aka The Child) from The Mandalorian! What motivated that design?
When Ed Duncan, my VP of design, walked up to me in the hall and asked, “Is it even possible for you to make a floating ‘Baby Yoda’ crib like the one in The Mandalorian?” My instant response was YES because I know I can make it happen.
Let’s take a closer look at the hover pram’s components. There’s a base. There’s a cradle. There’s The Child… And I’m assuming there’s an electromagnet making it float. But how did you come to put these things together? What was the design process?
Wow… You want this to be what? Kind of detailed?
Great! First, this product is meant to be a replica of the pram from season one of The Mandalorian, with correct sizing and as much detail as possible. The first challenge was finding a levitation system that could lift the estimated weight. I researched electromagnetic levitation systems and came across a company called Crealev.
Crealev, did you say?
Yeah! They make a unit that could not only handle the weight, but also sustain the lift for months as a time if plugged into a solid power source. Next in line was the actual build. I remember watching years and years ago on YouTube how Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers’ amor were made. That video stuck with me and inspired me to utilize similar practices to build the pram. I use vac-forming to make the large shells of the Pram. You may ask how did I get the moulds?
Riiiiggggghhht. Would you not have needed moulds for that?
Well, this is where Mattel really shines. Mattel is focused on collaboration both internally and externally. We have so many great resources inside the Mattel Design Center that made Grogu’s crib become attainable.
Before I could create the moulds for the vac-form, I worked with our sculpting department to get a 3D model to make alterations virtually. Mattel’s Sculpting team tackled the challenge to create the model from images I sent from The Mandalorian. Once the sculpt was complete, I collaborated with the extraordinary Mattel Model Shop to bring this to life. Everyone was excited about this build because we all grew up with Star Wars. Making huge vac-form moulds was a great challenge and the 3D prints might have been the biggest we ever made.
After the parts were pulled from the vac forms, I started the actual building of the pram. Honestly, this was the hardest part. Building anything for the first time is a learning experience. After a few attempts, I figured out the right process and completed the form. I see the build as an art form rather than a job.
I sought the artists in our Mattel Trade Show Services team to assist with painting the pram. They already painted the one I developed for the 2020 New York Toy Fair and they did such an amazing job that I needed them to recreate it for the one I was building for the ProjectArt auction.
So ProjectArt is an important charity to you. Why is that?
ProjectArt supports the importance of self-expression. Art is a huge part of my life; it helped me express feelings and emotions growing up in a household of medical professionals who focused on science and logic. It was the avenue for me to explore, create, and bring my DAYDREAMS to life! It makes me happy to know that I am able to support similar opportunities for children who might not have as much access to the arts to make their passions a reality as well.
What is it about giving kids a chance to express and exploring with art and creativity that resonates?
Sometimes words are hard for kids to use to express themselves. Just like me, I express my excitement and energy through work and art. I am not an articulate person. But the outcome of my projects show what I am trying to communicate more clearly than words ever can. I want all kids to have this opportunity to explore the best form of communication for them.
What was the most exhilarating part of the process?
LEVITATION! After spending so much time developing and building, it was exhilarating the first time I watched it float! It was like magic, but it was real! Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was going to work, but it was just so incredible to see it for the first time.
Oh, I can imagine! And were there any small details you included that you’re particularly pleased with?
Yes! Two in particular: first, I designed this to be assembled with minimal hardware; everything was designed to snap into place. This way if I ever need to fix it or rebuild it, I won’t have to drill into the vac forms.
Second, I had the support of SO many Mattel teams. It really meant a lot to me that everyone was so helpful and passionate about the project. Every single person on this project signed the inside lower shell of the Pram so their mark is on it forever. Mattel is home to so many talented people, and I am lucky to be able to work alongside them to create this art piece.
Conversely, what was the biggest compromise you had to make?
We had initially explored the idea of having the pram’s doors open and close like you see in the show. However, when master model maker, Riki Yoshida, and I worked through the logistics it ultimately created weight issues for the levitation device.
More generally, what’s your creative process, Michael?
I always start with a “why not” thought process. When challenged with a new project, I spend time daydreaming and even lose sleep sometimes just brainstorming solutions. I reference things I have built in the past, things I read, even things I have seen in movies. I blend all these ideas for inspiration and research to help me develop solutions for the end goal.
Tell me more about that; Where do you look for inspiration?
I am inspired by art, robotics, comics, video games, sci-fi, cars, people, the future . . . I get inspired by so many things sometimes I lose my mind and find myself daydreaming while all these ideas converge! I also think the majority of my inspiration comes from my co-workers. I work with the best team and we talk about things we are passionate about, and ask ourselves, why can’t we make this cool thing? Why not? Then we make our dreams come true.
And what needs to happen for that to happen? To go from ideation to realisation?
My first resource is my brain and my experience. What techniques and skills do I have? What tech blog did I read about? What inventions have I created that have similar components? Then I sort through what is needed and reach out to other experts who can help me problem solve. In the end I’m pretty lucky because I don’t just do digital design, I am a builder. I grew up building and making, and I never want to give that up.
What kind of projects do you most enjoy?
Making toys that I would want! I love big WOW projects, pushing the boundary of what people might expect from a toy company, and inspiring fans to see that the team at Mattel loves what they do. We are huge fans and want to give people an experience like no other. I enjoy projects that are collectible; inspiring toys that create a buzz and people will hold on to for generations.
No, we really need to start wrapping this up but I’ve got a couple more questions because you’re intrigue me! What do you think is the secret of creativity? Don’t say midi-chlorians…
Midi-chlorians… I don’t know what the secret of creativity is. My father said something to me that always stuck. He would say, “do the work.” It doesn’t matter what that work was just work through it. I know the creative process can come easy at times, but when it gets hard just do the work.
You mean like pushing through the barriers?
Yes. Work through it, work till it’s done, work till you stand back and smile because you know you took the time. To me, creativity is seeing something through – doing the work. It opens up the doors to more creative avenues. So, I guess that’s my secret; I like to work.
I think you’re the first person to say something like that. Great answer. Conversely, what do you think stops in its tracks?
When you are around people who don’t share your passion. I have talked with people about projects who say things like, “can we can afford that,” or “I don’t think that’s what people want.” And my favorite, “who are you going to get to build that?” I WILL BUILD IT!!!
But not when you have the wrong people around?
No; Things move forward when you surround yourself with people who know and share your passion. Passion can be a powerful thing; I know because I am always passionate about what I build. Surrounding yourself with the right people that can translate that passion to others will move creativity forward.
Pulling two of these threads together, what advice would you give older children who have a talent for design?
BE YOU! Be who you are, don’t hide your passion for creativity. Make the things that you believe in. They might WOW the people around you or they might not, but you are being you! Your creativity is a pure extension of your being, be proud of it and share it. Finally, be open to input and advice from other experienced artists.
What’s the most interesting thing in your office or on your desk?
Is a 7.5 foot 20lb Aquaman Trident made of aluminium and anodized in gold interesting? I mean, it also has electronics that are activated by touch. You know, runes that light up on the shaft when you touch it. It also has a micro bass speaker inside, so it gives off a resonating low bass sound. Is that interesting?
Are you kidding? It’s super interesting!
I think so! It’s a super cool one-of-a-kind piece that I made for a pitch. Everyone who comes into my office loves to pick it up and ask, “Are you SERIOUS with this thing?!?” The answer is yes. Yes, I am serious. It’s just one of the crazy things I get to create in this job.
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