Bob Knetzger has been a toy designer for over 30 years, and has created hundreds of toys and games for companies like Mattel, Hasbro, Simon and Schuster, CBS, Quaker Oats, Funrise, Spinmaster, and more. He’s designed and invented everything from cereal box toys to educational software. His creations have been featured on The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and ABC’s Nightline. On the pages of MAKE, he’s taught us how to make a Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former, a Yakitori Grill, the 5-Minute Foam Factory, and a Talking Booby Trap. He also writes a regular MAKE column aptly titled “Toy Inventor’s Notebook,” where he sketches out a new toy each time and teaches us how to make it.
One project you’re particularly proud of:
1. Doctor Dreadful, my kid’s mad scientist food-making toy line has been a perennial project for me and my NeoToy partner Rick Gurolnick. I think it’s so cool that people today fondly remember the “Looks Gross … Tastes Great” fun they had with it when they were younger — and now can enjoy making creepy treats with their own kids. Doctor Dreadful Alien Autopsy and Organ Grinder — in stores now!
Doctor Dreadful’s Organ Grinder.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
Two? More like 2,000. Being an independent toy inventor is a lifetime full of making mistakes. R&D is “doing everything the wrong way first.” You never know what will make for the latest trend — or be a flop! Early on I passed getting in on making toys for a kid’s TV show that featured a goofy purple dinosaur. That turned out to be PBS’ Barney — oops! Lesson learned: no one knows!
Doctor Dreadful’s Alien Autoposy.
Three new ideas that have excited you most lately:
1. Bay Area Maker Faire. I was just blissed out to see and be among 100,000 people all coming together to celebrate making stuff!
2. Playing music. Improvising live music with a group is about the most creative and spontaneous fun you can have together. Even with an old song, it’s always new.
3. It’s never been a better time to be a creator! Computers and the interwebs give everyone access to new tools, access to new markets, and even access to new funding. Do it!
Four tools you can’t live without:
1. Nichols Thermo-Vac. My go-to vacuum former that helps me knock out custom molded plastic parts, fast!
2. Verithin non-photo blue pencils and black Flair pens. Perfect for doing drawings, sketches, and cartooning.
3. Adobe Premiere. I use it to make demo videos and animatics to present new toy concepts. Been using it for so long I remember having to leave the 8100AV Mac rendering overnight — or longer — just to make a 60-second video with multiple layers of composited video, titles, and graphics.
4. Emco lathe and mill. Its tiny size is perfect for cranking out machined parts, old school.
Bob, burning up the strings.
Five people/things that have inspired your work:
1. & 2. Charles and Ray Eames. Seeing their IBM exhibit at the 1964 NY World’s Fair blew my young mind. Their clever (Charles) and artful (Ray) approach to design inspires me today.
3. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, The Baron of Low Brow. He and his team created a whole weird world of surrealistic cars and kooky characters worthy of Dali and Brueghel that I still find irresistible.
4. Walt Disney. Comics, characters, TV shows, amusement parks, music, toys — all just magic!
5. Eddie Goldfarb, the ultimate toy invention pioneer. Created toys like the Mattel Vac-U-Form that inspired me as a kid and today as an adult.
All of these personal heroes could consistently come up with original, exciting, and FUN ideas that became hugely popular commercial and artistic successes!