Ron Rudat Interview - By Kevin Watts
There are few designers more closely associated with the 1980's 33/4" GI Joe-A Real American Hero line than Ron Rudat. Both his name and face grace fan favorite figures, and his creative vision and ideas drove the 33/4" GI Joe line into the minds and hearts of us all in 1982. While he is no longer working on GI Joe, he still maintains a busy schedule with his own design firm, but was kind enough to take some time out to talk to YoJoe.com.
YoJoe!: When did you work on the Joe line, and what was your area? What aspects did you work on?
Ron Rudat: I worked on all aspects of Designing G.I.Joe. From the conception, design, cost, paint decoration, engineering, art work, etc.
Ron Rudat: First of all, Kevin, I started redesigning the Joe line in 1980, at a presentation to our (Hasbro's) marketing people. I presented a Tough Truck idea, but based on the old G.I.Joe. I painted it in olive green and applied G.I.Joe stickers all over it. Mr. Bob Prupis, the VP of Boys Toys, had already had the idea of bringing G.I.Joe back to the market place and my truck was a spring board to bring it back. Bob thought that with the success of the Star Wars figures made by Kenner, Hasbro could bring back G.I.Joe in the 3 3/4" size.
Ron Rudat: So in 1980, with me being part of the R&D Dept. as a designer and a military enthusiast, I was asked to work on developing the new 3 3/4" G.I.Joe. Before even designing the new G.I Joes, we did a lot of research, like going to the Natick Army Labs in Natick, Ma. This is where they developed the new Helmut and the new uniforms for the US Army. We also purchased magazines of World wide arms manufacturers to see the latest and greatest in arms of that time. I started to design figures based on this research, and also my own knowledge of historical military. I worked on G.I.Joe from 1980 to 1987, and these were truly the Golden Years of G.I.Joe.
YoJoe!: I have spoken to other designers that mentioned taking those trips to view historical Military hardware, etc, and basing designs on ideas from those trips. At different points over the last 20 years, GI Joe has strayed from its military roots to a more Science fiction feel and storyline, but the heart of the line, the glory of GI Joe, seems to draw much more from Modern military. Tell me more about the Military influence on the earlier years of GI Joe development. Do you recall any specific examples? Were there any modern military concepts that you wanted that may not have made it?
Ron Rudat: Kevin, I can't think of any one thing that stands out as not being used by modern military. When I first started doing Joe, and throughout my history with Joe, I wanted to be correct with everything that I did, from firearms to uniforms. I was given that direction of doing Joe as a fantasy type army, but I did get in my little items. Like when I was in a living history group based on the American Civil War, I added several Civil War buckles to some of the Joes, and also a Kepi (Cap). I would often try to do little things like that to give the figure some character. My dad was in the Marine Corps in WW2, 3rd Battalion, 15th Marines, 6th Marine Division. I was proud of his service, so I made a marine where ever I could. "Leatherneck" is an example, except he has my face on it. The havelok on "Dusty", that's a Civil War Havelok. By the way, "Dusty" is named after me, look at his Bio. Ronald W. "Tadur", which is my last name backwards.
Ron Rudat: I did present several figures that never made it. I wanted to do a figure of the President of the United States, and at that time it was Ronald Reagan. I also presented figures of the president of Hasbro, Steven Hassenfeld, and Clark Gable, that were never made. There were others but I can't recall them right now.
Ron Rudat: At first when we started doing Joe, we were told not to put too much detail on the figures, and that spray ops were to be limited. That's because Hasbro wasn't sure that these figures would sell, so they didn't want to take a chance if the line ended up failing. As far as weapons, we took bits and pieces from real weapons and made our own, but we couldn't put too much detail into these either.
YoJoe!: Wow, so your face is on Leatherneck, but Dusty bears your name? Did most of the creators try to throw self references into their work on the rest of the line?
Ron Rudat: I think a couple of other fellows must have put their little niches in where they could. Bill Young put something on a product that he was scolded for. I started putting faces of designers, marketing people and bosses on figures, as well as my name on the Hydrofoil, and telephone number on another vehicle.
YoJoe!: I remember that Dusty bore your name, and if i recall, it was actually used correctly in the cartoon episode, "The Traitor". When Dusty was on trial he was referred to as Dusty Rudat. Did you work closely with any of the outside GI Joe media, like the comic or cartoon creators? I have heard Larry Hama had some interest in the military as well.
Ron Rudat: Well, I did go to Sunbow Productions in California when they first started working on the animation and that experience was fascinating. They showed us what they were going to do and we toured their facility. I guess Larry had been in the Military, but I never really talked with him that much. Larry did the profiles of all the characters that I designed.
YoJoe!: It sounds like you were mostly involved with figure development, or did you work with vehicles and playsets at all?
Ron Rudat: Yes, I did all the figures for the G.I.Joe line, and I did do some vehicle design as well. I did the Sgt. Slaughter vehicle, the Hydrofoil Boat, Dreadnok Thunder Machine, Cobra Air Chariot, The VAMP 2, and several others. I also did the label art for the Sky Stryker, Hydrofoil boat, The Dragonfly, and several other vehicles. Forgive me if I can't remember what I did, sometimes I get a little misplaced with items from 20 years ago.
YoJoe!: Around 1986 and 1987 there were some brighter colors and slightly less mainstream concepts thrown into the line as it evolved. I know you left in 1987, but some of these should still have some of your work in them. Some examples would be Sci-Fi, and Sgt. Slaughter from 1986, Psyche Out, Fast Draw, Raptor, Croc Master, Crystal Ball, Cobra La and Big Boa from 1987, and some of the vehicles took a less than realistic look. Up to that point the modern military aspect was more prevalent, how did some of these odder concepts work their way into the line? Was it just a natural evolution to keep the line fresh, or were there new or different influences?
Ron Rudat: Well I think it had to do with trends mostly. I remember Mr. Kirk Bozigian did research into the toy figure industry, and at the time bright colors were quite vogue with the kids. So Kirk decided that we had to put in brighter colours for the Joe line to keep up to date. The figures that you mentioned were probably rehashed, Hasbro often took existing molds, and instead of making new ones, they interchanged parts with other figures to get as much as they could without spending a lot of money.
YoJoe!: How did most of the figures evolve? What stages or processes, from art to sculpting to 3 dimensional concepts like 2 ups or engineering prototypes, took place to get a finished product in hand? What parts did you directly work on or influence?
Ron Rudat: The figures evolved like this.
Ron Rudat: Generally we would have a brain storming session, where all the Joe guys would get together and talk over what we wanted to do for the coming year. We would hash out different scenarios, and I would write them down to sketch out afterwards. Other Joe products would be discussed, like vehicles the guys were working on, and the progress of those products. This is the time when all the guys would talk about their individual products and their timelines.
Ron Rudat: I would go back to my office, start the research mode, and decide what characters I would be developing first. I would do a proposal drawing and show this to my director. After his approval, I would then go back and do a colored version of that figure that would be presented to management, and a presentation meeting of costing people, marketing, engineering, etc. This is the time where I would get extremely nervous, not because of the product, but because of the many people in those meetings. I hated meetings like those.
Ron Rudat: After marketing approval, I would go back to my office and start to do a control art drawing that was meant to go to the engineer and the sculptor. The drawing consisted of front view, right side view, left side view, and back view of the figure. After this I would do a color chart, showing where we wanted color placed on the figure. Most often, I would be told what number of spray ops we could afford, and I would try to meet them. Color and parts are then discussed with costing people to make sure I hit my mark. Then I would take a copy of my control drawing down to sculpting, and have a meeting with them and engineering. We would talk about how the figure would be built and what the esthetics of the figure would be. I worked close at hand with the engineers and sculptors and visited them quite often to make sure things were going well. If I was working on a vehicle, I would be working with the engineers often for esthetics and to make sure parts fit well. This was a good time to make changes. We also talked about what the product would be made of.
Ron Rudat: When the time comes, engineers will receive samples from the orient so we can approve or disapprove of what they are doing. There has to be a sign off on everything for it to continue. Also, the orient would receive paintmasters that were hand painted by myself. The paintmasters are all done in two-up at this time. Whatever I do is what I get back.
Ron Rudat: Sometimes packaging would call upon me to review what they are doing in packaging and illustration.
Ron Rudat: I really enjoyed working on G.I.Joe at the time and had a lot of passion for the product. Unfortunately, Hasbro Marketing got all the credit for what I had done. But that's neither here nor there, it was a great experience and my figures will be out there long after I'm gone.
YoJoe! would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Rudat for the incredible and rewarding opportunity to meet and interview him and we would like to extend our very best regards to Mr. Rudat and wish him well.