Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Brains Behind the Big Foot

It made me cringe to type the title of this blog, but that's what the title of the toy is... Allow me to explain. It irks me to no end when folks write "Big Foot," not only because of changing the compound word "bigfoot" into two separate words, but also that they capitalize it. I guess that in this case, capitalization is proper because it's a name of a toy, but it still rubs me wrong...

The Big Foot display at my local retailer.

Anyway, getting off my soapbox... I ran across this article about the guys behind the Fisher-Price Big Foot toy. I thought you might dig it. So, dig away!

Brains behind the Big Foot

How does a Chicago toy inventor dream up one of this year's hottest toys -- Big Foot, a remote-controlled monster that walks, talks, chews and does backflips?

Big Foot, licensed to Fisher-Price, is the result of daily brainstorming and years of hard work by brothers Steve and Jeff Rehkemper, owners of Rehkemper ID Inc. in the West Loop.

"We have our tried-and-true brain-storming practices," said Steve Rehkemper.

"We look at existing toys on the shelves and ask ourselves, 'What could we do that would be more fun?' " he said. "We do [the brainstorming] day-in and day-out. Soon, you have some fruit from the tree."

Four to six Rehkemper employees get together regularly to target a toy category, such as dolls or vehicles. They talk about trends and ideas about the "next best thing" in one of the categories, Rehkemper said.

"We will create 100 new items and license five in a year, and perhaps 10 in two years," he said.

"It's a fickle thing. There is no way for us to know what will be a hit or a flop," Rehkemper said.

The brainstorming team came up with Big Foot ($87) while looking for "an aggressive kind of buddy that boys could knock down and roughhouse with and it would get back up," Rehkemper said.

After Rehkemper licensed Big Foot to Fisher-Price, the Chicago company, which employs 13 engineers and designers and a full-time intellectual property attorney, spent 500 hours developing the programming code that operates a mechanism inside the toy that enables Big Foot's movements, voice and persona -- his personality.

BigFoot even has an iPhone app and videos on YouTube.

"Toys are very sophisticated," Rehkemper said. "Many, such as Big Foot, require mechanics, programming and internal smarts, and in all cases, the toy has to have entertainment value. It has to make you laugh."

Rehkemper employees design the toys using CAD software on computers that show the results in 3D imaging. That information is fed into electronically controlled machining stations that make a model of the toy, seemingly by magic.

"Toy inventors are true magicians because they make fun items appear where there was none before," Rehkemper said.

"There is a lot of rejection out there," he said, adding the best judges of toys are children, including his 3- and 7-year-old daughters.


  1. Personally, I would have made him soft and furry and like the talking Elmo instead of a hard plastic robot. Those toy companies really need to consult with me first. My fee is $1000 an hour. You can call me 24/7, Fisher-Price.

  2. Not only that, but it looks like some dumb troglodyte. Plus, I've seen it: it SCARES little kids, acts aggressively, smashes around on the walls of its display case, and it generally loud and annoying. I'm sure all parents buying these for their kids will deeply regret it after only a few hours. If their kid likes the thing there will be no end to the loud noises and general racket.