You can now study toy invention in Toronto

Ryerson University, OCAD University and Spin Master are teaming up on continuing education course for aspiring toy designers


Have you ever looked at the gotta-have-it toy that flies off store shelves and thought: I could’ve come up with that? Well, here’s your chance to bring your idea to fruition, with the first toy invention program in Canada.

The Course Series in Toy Invention is the product of a partnership between Ryerson University’s Faculty of Communication & Design (FCAD), OCAD University and Spin Master, the Toronto-based toy company behind Paw Patrol, Airhogs and Hatchimals. The one-year program will launch this September through the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.

FCAD’s dean Charles Falzon is no stranger to the toy industry, having ran the Thomas the Tank Engine property for 30 years. He said when Spin Master called looking to collaborate, he “jumped on the idea from day one.”

“I wish I had more time to teach it myself,” he says. “I love the toy business. That little train was very good to me over the years.”

The curriculum is being shaped by faculty members from Ryerson and OCAD and will be based heavily on the toy invention program of Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Israel. Instructors will be selected from faculty with a background in toy-making. Experiential learning will take place at Spin Master’s headquarters, where students will learn to design, prototype and test concepts for new toys.

“We designed it for those interested in toy design and toy manufacturing, but it’s really about audiences, consumers and interactions with users,” says Falzon. “I’m hoping many of our students will explore a career in this space.”

“Play and games provide a variety of experiences that expand social and emotional development, reduces stress and improves self-expression,” he says. “I think that is a key connection between the value of play in our culture and the growth of the industry.”

While market research firm the NPD Group found that toy industry sales decreased by 2 per cent in 2018 across 13 global markets (sales in the world’s largest toy market, the United States, matched the world’s collective performance), Falzon sees a job development opportunity for the country and for the province, and an export opportunity in a sector with the potential for growth.

He says several factors promise growth for the industry in the future: a slate of upcoming blockbuster movies, toys with new tech features that can be sold at higher price points, and crowdfunding, which “takes risks off new toy ideas.”

The path to toy invention involves design, engineering, computer science and digital fabrication and modelling, and Falzon argues that a toy designer needs an appreciation of all of those things.

For those seeking a non-traditional educational path into the world of toy-making, start with a visit to the Toyronto: Art Toy Show, which runs June 8-16 at #Hashtag Gallery.

Toyronto is a collective of artists that make art toys, custom toys and resin sculptures. Angry Beast (he would only speak on record as his alias to maintain his anonymity) is a founding member who tells NOW that a program like Ryerson’s would’ve been interesting to him when he was picking a college or university. “I’m from a rural area, so any sort of creative job… I had no idea that type of world existed or that it could even be a potential career. A course at OCAD for toy design would’ve been incredible.”

Angry Beast says he’s self-taught, with a lot of online research and trial and error. The Arborist, one of his works that will be at the Hashtag Gallery, is a resin figure made up of a mix of bootleg toy parts and nature sculpture using driftwood from the Parry Sound area.

“It’s easy to make a really bad-looking toy, but if you want to make something you’d see at our show – beautifully pigmented and polished pieces – it’s quite difficult,” says the artist. “To use resin, you have to be educated in the silicone moulding process. Failure is a huge component of toy-making, but what’s good about having a collective is once you get comfortable with someone you can share information about what works best.”

He says that the resin toy world has been blossoming in Toronto in the past few years, and that the city’s output of resin art toys leans toward creative new characters, while the American art toy scene leans more heavily on pop culture.

“Our resin toys are a bit more underground than Kidrobot’s or Dunny’s, they’re art toys as well but they’re super mainstream. We’re the punk rock of our toys,” says Angry Beast. “I make mine completely handcrafted, no two toys are ever the same. It’s a real guerrilla-style version of toy-making.”

The end goal of the Ryerson/OCAD/Spin Master collaboration is to get students working at a toy-making company, or as entrepreneurs.

Whether you’re looking at developing toys for the professional market – and your audience is children, parents and grandparents – or you’re making resin art toys for art collectors, opportunities await.

@KellyKaliopi

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