The Man who Brought the Beloved Baby Einstein Characters to Life
Charlie Mitchell - Principal Designer, Atlanta
Charlie Mitchell is a bit of a legend around Kids2. As our Principal Toy Designer, Charlie is responsible for bringing personality and "magic" into our toys – and not only is he really good at his job, he’s also one of the most likeable guys around. So when it came time to refresh and bring the beloved Baby Einstein characters to life for the creation of the first scripted animated content in the brand’s tenured history, there was no one better suited for the job than Charlie.
We sat down with Charlie to ask him a few questions and get a peek into what the process was like behind the scenes on this exciting project…
Q: Tell us a little bit about what went into the "redesign" of the original Baby Einstein characters to bring to life the crew we see today?
A: I was the one asked to redo and refresh the Baby Einstein characters. They needed to be more baby-friendly and cuter. First, we needed to make sure we kept the same design elements and feel for each character. The original Baby Einstein characters were very complicated and had a ton of detail and sharp angles. We needed to simplify the characters so that they were all softer, rounder, and - most importantly - cuter.
We all felt like they were a little stiff and needed to come to life. Not all the characters were consistent in their design. The eyes, mouths, and body shapes were inconsistent. They needed to look like a family and that means using consistent shapes. We needed to minimize detail because when they are manufactured as a toy, each detail costs more money. Simplify, simplify, simplify!
The third thing we needed to remedy was making sure all the characters would pass safety requirements once they were produced as toys. We needed to make the arms and legs shorter and round with no fingers or toes. The body and head shapes needed to be rounder and bigger. One thing I always focus on when I design a character is cuteness. I have come up with a formula: What makes babies – animal or baby -- so cute? They have oversized features, larger heads with their eyes, nose, and mouth that drop lower in the head. The Baby Einstein characters needed to look like cute babies.
Meet the New Baby Einstein Characters
Q: What do you think is one of the most important parts in the process of bringing a character to life?
A: For me, one of the most important phases when designing a character is to make sure you bring them to life. I do many sketches of them moving and interacting with other characters. It really helps when developing their individual personalities. I work very hard on this because it means the most to me. The reason most of us love the Disney and Pixar characters is because they are alive! You need to figure out how do they move: what do they do when they are singing, running, and interacting with other characters? Do they tilt their heads when they talk, do they close their eyes when thinking or daydreaming? Exploring this part of the design helps me to start and develop personalities. This part is one of the biggest challenges but the most fun for me as a designer.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in bringing the Baby Einstein characters, some of which are 25 years old and have never really been given personalities, to life?
A: The original characters stood for certain things. Characters represented music, color, shapes, etc. This really limited what we could design. For instance, if you wanted to do a music-themed toy you had to use the character that stood for music. We wanted the new characters to have very different personalities that tied into learning. The teams wanted them all to be able to cross the lines when needed. We hired an outside group that specialized in writing the backstories for characters. They took my original sketches and began their development. It takes a village to do this. We had trend and surface, Marketing, insights, sales, and industrial design working as a team to help do this. It was so much fun to watch everyone work together. It took over a year of us all working together to get something concrete. Of course, it feels like the characters develop more every year with new books, designs, and now animation. It has been a pleasure to be a part of this wonderful group of talented people from all parts of our global company. We each do our part every day to make the characters and the brand better. I feel blessed to have been a part of their creation, and I am very proud of the work we have done.
Q: What was the best part about working on this project?
A: My favorite part was watching the characters go from blue line sketches to 2D color art to 3D models. It was like I was watching a child come to life. Watching them on video is even better. All the hard work for many years is coming to life. I cannot wait to see what will happen in 10 years. I think it would be wonderful to have a full-length movie one day. I told Ryan 15 years ago that we needed an animation studio, and he made it happen!
Q: How long have you been at Kids2?
A: Next February will be my 20th year at Kids2! I am the principal designer for Toy. I work on character development, style guide development, and design that focuses mostly on Baby Einstein and Bright Starts Brands. I am kind of a jack-of-all-trades, having been at Kids2 for almost 20 years. I have done industrial design, packaging, retouching, video, animation, and coffee runs. I get to do different things every day. The last 20 years seems like weeks. Its always a challenge - I try and keep up with all the new 3D programs, drawing programs, and anything that will help me be a better designer. It is never too late to learn, and I love learning. I work with all the teams in the company. We all must be on the same page. I do a lot of conceptual design work for characters and toys for peg, box and entertainer toys sets. I am also part of a team that works with the book licensors. We review everything they do to make sure they are on brand and that they hold true to our design language.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: I have lots of perks with my job. I get to work with wonderful, creative, and smart people every day. I love to learn and Kids2 has given me many opportunities to do that. Whether it’s learning a new program, working with a new person who has different talents or listening to people who are much smarter than you makes it fun. I never want to stop learning. I love working with teams from all parts of the company. It takes many cogs in the wheel to make it all work. We all depend on each other to make that happen. I get to do what I love to do. It is very rewarding when you must look through the eyes of a child every day. I hope I never lose that.
Q: What attracted you to Kids2 and baby products?
A: I was an illustrator for 20 years with my own business. I loved doing children’s books, book covers, and advertising illustration. I still feel like a big kid. When I first started working at Kids2, I knew nothing about product development. I could draw and paint but had no product experience. I quickly learned that doing toys was like working on a children’s book. You need to tell a story with the toys. They need to have a theme and they most of all need to come to life when mom or baby sees the product on the shelf. You must think like a kid, and I do that very well because I am one and I also have six kids and now four grandchildren. I remember coming home many nights telling my wife I was working with people who were much smarter than me and was hoping they would not figure that out! We all have strengths and doing children’s products has been one of mine. I think it’s important to love what you do and most of all care about what you do. Kids2 has been a perfect place for me to do that.
Q: What is your Favorite Kids2 Way Fundamental? Number 20: Be positive;
A: You have the power to choose your attitude. Choose to be joyful, optimistic, and enthusiastic. Your attitude is contagious. Spread optimism and positive energy. I believe in this very much. If you can attack any challenge with a positive attitude you can do anything.
Q: Tell me about a Tiny Win you have had while here at Kids2:
A: The biggest tiny win is getting to watch my Grandkids play and use all the Kids2 toys, bouncers, highchairs, swings etc. The joy I see in my kids faces and most of the grandkids make me so happy and proud that we helped make their lives a little better and a little happier. Knowing we bring joy to parents and children make me feel like I am doing something good in this world. My job does something that will hopefully give little ones and parents some great memories. It would be fantastic if one of our toys ended up being their favorite toy when they get older.
What would you tell someone looking to work at Kids2? Why join the team?
A: Our team is like no other. We are passionate and care about what we do. We all work as a team and help each other grow every day. It is a place that you will never get board of nothing to do. You will have awesome challenges every day! The people are amazing, You will do so much good for many parents and babies all over the world.