The Making of Tarni
Welcome to a bit of product history. Today: join us on the journey that took Tarni from being an idea to becoming a real, inflatable shark. We will focus mostly on the creative part, since this is easy to illustrate and fun to watch. We do take a lot of time to get things "right", so this may look like a complicated way to do things. There are probably easier ways to get an inflatable made - though not necessarily with the same result. What we would like to share with you, though, is that our work is more than taking a design, sending it to the factory, hoping for the best and then organising a pre-order and distribution.
Tarni is a typical project for us. It is based on a unique OC that we asked an artist to create for us. The idea to make it into an inflatable shark matured over a longer period of time, and as a result of other commissions and discussions with artists, friends and followers. Our most recent toy is based on Tarni, the shark girl, created by KittellFox in 2020. Tarni means "salt water" in the Kaurna language, an Australian aboriginal language. It was selected by Sparky aka The Big Poolcat.
The route to the inflatable shark toy from there was not straightforward and it took a detour via some inspirational art that we commissioned from Milvus Buteo. This actually convinced us to make an inflatable shark - a challenging project, given that there are already many competitively priced sharks on the market. This one had to be special. It had to be a girl. One of our girls.
In October 2021 we went back to Kittell with a request to come up with an idea for a shark toy based on Tarni, although she was free to choose the level of "realism", pooltoy-look etc. We quickly settled on a shape that was more balanced than the Intex 92" Wet Set shark, the holy grail of inflatable shark toys. Finding a shape that was rounder and shorter than the actual sand shark shape. On 6 November 2021 we officially made this a project internally, which means that we dedicated funds and personnel to it. The project team consisted of Kittell (artist), Distended Polygon (aka Poly - 3d modelling), Yupperz (vector reference sheet production, box art layout) and Taz (general tasks and US logistics).
The main effort in the early stage is to transfer the concept art into a 3d model and adjust printing details in such a way that they will look good on the finished inflatable. This is often a question of centimetres. Colour selection as well as other details that have not been a part of the concept art also take place at this stage. The model and the concept art also provide the basis for obtaining quotes from potential manufacturers. One of our unique solutions at this stage was Kittell's new logo, who updated it to an unusual vertical design. Placing it near the valve became a task that we found we could not resolve in an aesthetically pleasing way. Hence, you'll find the name, branding and artist logo on the pelvic fins.
By February we had received quotes and the vector reference sheet, which we normally ask manufacturers to use for printing, was complete. Two factories claimed they could produce both the required build and the gradient printing pattern that we had decided on for Tarni. The first factory took three attempts to get the shape right (a relatively normal amount - the arrangement of the printing details was pretty much correct from the beginning). These samples were produced in short order and reviewed only on the basis of the images in the course of March. However, once the samples were received in April 2022 (which is when you probably saw the first images of Tarni popping up on our Twitter), it turned out that the quality of the printing did not meet our standards. The colours were significantly off the pantone references and the ink-jet printing was susceptible to crease marks and scratches.
These problems seemed to be impossible to resolve for the factory, therefore we asked for the die lines and printing panels and provided these to the second factory. With the shape and the layout already in place they produced a sample that met our requirements for sturdiness, clean build and true colours. We requested "clean" (i.e. with corrected) samples and just as the Lizet cats were completing their long production process in the course of June, the factory offered a production slot at the end of their "low season" at the end of September 2022. Based on the final samples and this opportunity we decided to offer Tarni as a second pre-order for 2022. This is the reason why the pre-order period was unusually short. However, it also enabled us to turn this project around in good time, given the still lingering problems in global production and logistics.
With the production deadline looming, things became a mad dash for the finish line, with lots of little admin and logistics details still needing to be hammered out. We definitely wanted Tarni to have her own box art - or colour card, more accurately, since that factory does not make boxes for small quantities. It was too tempting not to reference the original shark girl OC in it. An inspired idea by Taz to base it on a pin-up design that was probably nose art for some military plane resulted in the artwork that you will now find on Tarni's colour cards.
Everything was completed just in time and pre-orders were closed in late September once the production commenced to avoid orders exceeding the production number that we had committed to. Another challenge that we faced and that required a suspension of pre-orders was the sharp decline of the Euro's value against the US Dollar, which, if it had continued, would have made the original pre-order price (in Euros) unviable.
We were fortunate to be able to show our clean samples at Megaplex and Eurofurence (EF), where some of the worries that she might be too small, slender etc. were alleviated (for most) and a first-hand opportunity was provided to check out the build and look. The Tarni that was shown at EF even went to the Tropical Island resort the day before, where she demonstrated that she could function as a fully-fledged pooltoy shark!
One of the key problems we had encountered with the factory in the past was their poor ability to quality-control production. We therefore went through all aspects of the assembly step-by-step with them to ensure nothing was overlooked - down to making sure the filling holes for the fins were correctly placed so as not to weaken the build. In early October the production was packed and loaded for ocean shipping (except for Asian orders, which were dropshipped directly by the factory). We prepared distribution during the sharks' short ocean voyage and when they turned up at our doorsteps in Germany and the US in early November 2022, we were ready to turn them around quickly and ship before the postal services typically collapse under the weight of Black Friday and Christmas sales.
Looking back at the 15 months it took for this project to mature from an idea to the inflatable shark girl being received by (hopefully) enthusiastic buyers we can say it was worth it. Not just because we got to put Kittell's art out there (and she does wonderful "pooltoy art" for those that are interested in it), but also because it gave us the opportunity to make a large, digitally printed toy. We hope that we have been able to lay the ground for more, artistically designed and printed toys of this kind in the future.
My thanks again to my fantastic team: Kittell, Poly, Arin, Yupperz and Taz for making this happen smoothly and with such a fun and aesthetically pleasing result! And, as always: I enjoyed working with you on this!
Finally: we get many questions and requests regarding the making of inflatable toys. A lot of enquiries are for OCs or other one-offs, many of which we unfortunately have to decline. Why? As you've seen, making an inflatable toy for us is more than just handing a design or a few refs to a factory and taking whatever comes out of it. It means applying dedication, effort, time and, yes, money to creating an inflatable toy. The cost of this process will typically exceed what most are willing to pay for such things. This doesn't mean though that we will not pick up interesting OCs that we think would sell to a wider audience. The Barados dolphin and cougar are good examples, and we hope that more will follow!
If you want to own a wonderful inflatable girl shark: get your Tarni here. She will become available for regular sale in early 2023. You can sign up for email notifications on the product page and make sure to get your shark as soon as it gets listed!