Artist, designer, author, filmmaker, entrepreneur, creator of stunning titanium bikes—Paul Budnitz is a man of many talents, but he is best known as the founder of Kidrobot. More than a decade after its founding, the company’s ever-changing family of limited-edition art toys ranges from blind-boxed, collect-them-all figures to a high-gloss uberDunny that stands four feet tall–and will set you back $5,000.
Budnitz returns to his toy design roots with a new twist on the DIY Munnys that remain among Kidrobot’s top sellers: on October 16, Skillshare will launch his “Beautiful Plastic” online class in toy design. We seized the moment to ask Budnitz how he got his start, the first toy he designed, and what toys have caught his eye lately.
How did you get started designing toys?
In 2001 I fell in love with some very early Michael Lau toys that I saw in Hong Kong. And almost simultaneously, discovered that Bounty Hunter was making toys in Tokyo. I thought they were beautiful–a perfect combination of pop-art, design, pop culture–just these amazing little sculptures. Because they were all limited edition, when they sold out they were gone forever. That made them precious. I founded Kidrobot in 2002 to make toys with my friends, mostly street artists and designers and graphic artists.
Do you remember the first toy you ever designed?
I think the first toy was actually Dunny, with Tristan Eaton. I have to credit him with the brilliance of that toy, he is one of the greatest illustrators alive in my opinion. We spent about a year on it (I think) trying to get the design right. The idea was to make it the best canvas possible for other people to draw on. That is why the face is so big and flat and round. It’s also got attitude. We put one foot in front of the other, and cut the shoulders at an angle, so when the head turns in looks a little menacing. It’s still Kidrobot’s most popular toy.
What is your toy design pet peeve?
I left Kidrobot several years ago to work on my bicycle company and do some other things, since I just felt like it was time for me to move on. I love the company, but it is difficult for me to see the direction it has taken. I know that the people over there are working to renew some of the original spark and originality. I encourage them to do so.
To me it’s sad when great things get watered down and become obvious and corporate. Creating magic through design is difficult to maintain!
What is a toy you’ve seen lately that has really impressed you?
I am completely in love with Kronk‘s new Dweezil Dragon toy (above). Might be among the greatest designer toys ever made. And it’s big, almost 18 inches tall! Junko Mizuno‘s Kuro Megami toy for Kidrobot Black is also mind-blowing.