A remote control car that drives a feminist angle. Bo Peep in Toy Story 4 is independent, smart, kind and really great fun, so I wanted her to join our 5yo son’s toy collection — alongside her awesome Skunk Mobile. However, it doesn’t exist as an official merchandise, so I converted it from a generic $20 RC car myself — and along the way found some interesting insights into why this was not as easy as you might think…

As well as being a proud Dad, I work as a Creative Technologist, I’ve run workshops and tutorials on cardboard modelling for years and won awards for making engineering and design more accessible to people — but the fact remains most of my commercial work is great but confidential — so I can’t show as much of the process as I’d like.

This SkunkWorks Project (pun very much intended), was a nice way for me to have some fun when not working on top secret client work, and also share the steps of prototyping and sketch modelling that might help students, young professionals — and indeed, parents like myself who want to make things which they wish would exist!

The project was made possible after winning the IMechE’s Alexander Graham-Bryce Award for 2020, (awarded for making a significant contribution to the encouragement of young people towards a career in engineering).

Hope you like it. Please leave comments/feedback/tips!

Part 1: Is the Backstory, and how to prototype in card, and fabric, use photos in CAD, basic 3D Printing tips…

Part 2: The Instructable (DIY guide) — just skip to Step 18 if you’re in a hurry, and don’t need the preamble!

Parenting & Prototyping

As someone who has worked in the toy industry (LEGO) / product industry (Dyson, Sugru), I saw at least two reasons why Bo’s Skunk was, shall we say, ‘tricky’ [please note: views my own]:

Merchandise is a partnership between Story / Screen Writers and Marketeers, ideally one should elevate the other — making the play ‘continue’ after the film has ended for the child. Now, although a Bo Peep doll is as available, just as a Buzz Lightyear doll is also, it’s worth noting that the Woody + Buzz + RC came as a Remote Control Car set from Toy Story 1, and yet the Skunk Mobile has not been made into a product from Toy Story 4.

I’m not going to speculate as to the internal decision making of Disney/Pixar, but safe to say I personally *wish* that the Skunk Mobile had been made, even if it is clearly more complex (plushy + plastic + RC vs just an RC plastic car), and even though my guess is that the market is likely to be smaller for a Bo Peep toy range than a Buzz Lightyear toy range, I believe we need more role models like Bo…for Boys as well as Girls.

Often there is a ‘tension’ that a Marketeer will be aware of that making x-thousand units is a high risk, low margin game — and so trying to get a sales bonus from a. Bo, or b. from Buzz, you can see who is likely to be the lower hanging fruit. So this in my non-expert opinion, but I’d wager that this is part of what makes it tricky to see more Skunk Mobiles from female characters. If we set yearly sales bonuses that have societal ethics decoupled from ethics — why should a sales person fight the tide? So… does this means it’s only about ‘top-down’ leadership?

Here’s a video of Disney’s CMOAnna Hill speaking about the importance of female characters. (Although I should note that it’s currently Mattel who have the license for the Pixar Merchandise — FT Article here). So, whether you share this or create your own toys perhaps making your own Pro-Bo toy, or posting on Social Media is also as impactful, perhaps more so — as if your idea gains traction, this is in essence reassuring Disney/Pixar/Mattel that the people want more of this: Marketeers are made braver and screen-writers bolder, when they see people’s views (and wallets) moving in a direction in significant numbers.

In short — your ‘vote’ counts. The two things are connected. Help support the things you want to see more of. The change might seem too little too late for some, but inside these companies women and men will be fighting against the status quo like you’d never believe for a few percent more female:male dialogue, slightly less pink and better narrative / nuance. Having met some of these people, they are passionate, dogged and driven people, but it needs you, the consumer to validate their efforts.

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OK, overly-simplistic overview of marketing, and earnest liberal views aside — the other fact we should come back to is the cost/margins/complexity. What I love about this project is that it really does illustrate how making a Skunk Mobile is possible — but is also tricky! So without defending or apologising for there being a relative lack of cool female-role-model merchandise, it is fair to say that making a plastic RC car is relatively tried and tested, but cloaking it in fur (and making it flip open!) is quite another matter…

Also, if you look closely at the film, you’ll see how Pixar applied a little ‘distortion’ the interior space to fit all the characters, and this is not realistic in real life…more on this later, but safe to say, I had to work with the idealised on-screen view, and what would work in reality. This is why we need to prototype a better world for Bo (and your kids), and this is why it’s gonna be fun to make yourself, with your kids… or enjoy being a big kid again!

I also got some tips and advice from a few kind folks along the way:

Textile & Animation Designer: Angela Juarez

Maker at TESTED: Sean Charlesworth

Thanks to you both!!

Disclaimer: This instructable is intended for adults to follow and/or supervise, as it uses tools, adhesives and electricity — and the end result is not a certified toy. Should you wish to make it for someone (child or adult), please do be aware you have created something with small parts, potentially sharp edges, batteries, and something which might cause direct/indirect harm if misused, or used in some unintended way. I have endeavoured to highlight any potentially dangerous or notable risks along the way, but I cannot accept any responsibility for any harm that comes to the maker or users as a result of following this guide. Views my own. Legal bit over, hope you enjoy reading this Instructable! Any advice or general questions — please comment/DM me =)

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