Tim Effler '69 Toy Designer Extraordinaire
Gene Jessee

Not many people get to meet Steven Spielberg. Tim Effler has several times. Tim is a 1969 graduate of La Salle High School who went to Assumption grade school.

While at La Salle, Tim ran four years of track and played two years of football. His junior year he was recruited for the football team by head coach Steve Rasso even though he was only 5'6", 120 pounds because he was the fastest sprinter in the school.

Tim sat on the bench most of the time because, as he put it, "You touch me I would go down and I couldn't catch anything." His best game was against Moeller his senior year when he caught two passes for big gains.

His memories of La Salle are wrapped up in the friends he met. He said, "My best friends are still my classmates from La Salle. Even thought I am down here in Atlanta and they are up in Cincinnati, they are still my closest friends."

One of the subjects he enjoyed best back then was drafting. At that time it was the only art-type class La Salle offered.

After high school Tim attended the University of Cincinnati. He was attracted to the Industrial Design degree they offered in the College of Design, Architecture, and Art. Once he was accepted, he realized DAA had one of the top three Industrial Design programs in the country.

Tim said, "All I did as a kid was build models, mostly airplanes. I would design and build models and draw all of the time. I didn't really know what industrial design was until I was a junior in high school. My brother Tom [67] kind of exposed me to the whole notion of it. I didn't know it existed as a profession until he told me about it."

During college he co-oped at a business called Dolly Toy in Tipp City, Ohio, where he worked on a variety of juvenile and infant products. He also co-oped at RCA where he worked on designing radios and stereos. Tim added, "I really enjoyed it there. That was a great education."

Kenner Products offered him a job after college and he took it. With his degree in industrial design Tim said, "At the time I was really into classical industrial design; high end consumer products, cars, hi-tech stereos and things like that. Kenner was not my first choice because toys were always considered bottom of the industrial design food chain. But I soon discovered Kenner provided a path to unleash my wildest creative fantasies. It was way more fun than designing things for the real world like vacuum cleaners and toasters." Tim worked on the accessories for the 6 Million Dollar Man action figure and he also was assigned designer on Stretch Armstrong.

While at Kenner, the movie Star Wars came out. At the time, the 12' action figure, like GI Joe, was the standard size, but Kenner gambled and offered two sizes of action figures. One size was small enough to interact with the vehicles and play sets while the other was the standard 12' size. Nobody had ever done that with an action figure before. This was one of the things that made Star Wars figures such a big hit.

Initially, Tim worked on the large size versions of C-3PO, R2D2, Chewbacca and Darth Vader but eventually he worked on a number of smaller size vehicles and play sets, including the Death Star play set. The Star Wars toys are considered the most successful action toy line ever created. They have generated billions of dollars in sales.

After three years at Kenner he left and went back to school, to dive deeper into the artistic dimensions of his work. He studied illustration in California at Art Center College of Design.

A year later he got a job at Mattel Inc. in Hawthorne, California, where he worked on one of the first home gaming platforms called Intellivision. He designed graphics and games for the system. He also worked on handheld games including versions of the extremely popular Mattel Electronic Football.

His old boss from Kenner called him and asked him to come back. Tim decided to return to Cincinnati because the cost of living was much better, it was a better place to raise a family, and a promotion to a manager position made it a win-win-win situation.

Tim eventually became the Director of Advanced Concepts. One of the responsibilities, in conjunction with the vice-president of licensing, was to evaluate the toy potential of upcoming Hollywood entertainment and movie properties. Key to Kenner's success was the ability to obtain the toy rights to the most popular entertainment properties.

Tim described how Kenner obtained the rights to the movie Jurassic Park. "I read a one-line statement in a literary trade magazine that Steven Spielberg had obtained the rights to Michael Crichton's next book, Jurassic Park. That was all it said. It didn't say it was a dinosaur movie or anything. Any toy designer worth his salt knew that Jurassic meant it was going to be a dinosaur movie. Being a toy designer, I was always fascinated with the toy potential of dinosaurs."

"I approached the management team and said we got to get on board with this, Spielberg is doing a dinosaur movie! You might think anyone would jump on board these days, but at that time Spielberg had not had successful movies in regards to toys. ET was the closest and that was considered a flop in the toy industry."

"One of the things Spielberg likes to do is take common people and place them in uncommon situations where we can empathize with the them; be it a lineman from the county encountering aliens or guys on beach patrol dealing with sharks. These are common people, not super heroes. In other words they don't make good action figures. So that was perceived to be a big problem."

"The other problem was dinosaurs were already being done as toys. My key role was to convince people that Spielberg was going to redefine our notion of dinosaurs. Then I had to come up with a play pattern that would allow the humans, like you and me, to interact with dinosaurs in a dynamic way."

"The team I had developed a fleet of vehicles that would interact with these dinosaurs. We designed tranquilizer guns and nets that could be launched and capture the dinosaurs and ways to pick them up and bring them back to their cages or paddocks where they were contained. I then had the opportunity to take the presentation and make our pitch to Spielberg and win the rights for the toys."

When asked what Spielberg was like, Tim replied, "I have met him on a couple of different occasions on various projects we've had. He is very business focused but pleasant. He is a matter of fact kind of guy who comes into a room and says 'hi and what do you have'. He does listen intently to what you have to say and lets you finish. He is pretty much all business."

An interesting side story Tim related was, "I needed to have something to identify all of these vehicles in a collective way that interacted with all of these dinosaurs so I came up with a logo that I put on all of these vehicles. In the middle of the presentation Spielberg stopped me and asked me where I got the logo. I started to explain how I came up with it, but he wanted to know who owned it. I said you do. I knew our executives in the room would not care if I said that. He stopped the meeting, got on the phone to his art director and told the art director that he has the logo. The logo I designed became the logo for the film. The next time I was in L.A. I was surprised to see it, unchanged and over 20 feet, on the side of a Universal sound stage.

Tim later left Kenner, now Hasbro, to partner in a design development company with some fellow Kenner designers. He did that for 13 years. The company, SOEDA Design Inc, designed toys for toy companies like Fisher-Price and Hasbro and Mattel. Tim is currently working in Atlanta, Georgia, at company called Kids2. His company specializes in infant products. He is currently the Senior Principal Designer for his company. He has fallen in love with Atlanta and plans to stay for a long time.

Tim has led an exciting life and the La Salle community is very proud of all of his accomplishments.