Shawn Smith, founder of Shawnimals, was awesome enough to do an interview with Albotas after a grueling signing session at NYCC 2012. Hit the link to read about the origins of NinjaTown, the art of plush, and Shawn’s days of writing for EGM.
Introduce yourself, o Bearded One.
Hey, I’m Shawn Smith from Shawnimals. I’m the creator and owner of the business with my wife, Jen. We’re a character design studio. We make primarily plush toys, but really any kind of character-branded merchandise. We’re best known for NInjatown, our Pocket Pork Dumplings, and Mustachios.
How did you arrive at plush as a medium?
We arrived at plush as a medium basically as a way to make toys ourselves. There’s a lot of resin toys and vinyl toys that require manufacturing. But sewing and making things out of fabric is very direct. Basically, you have a sewing machine, you have fabric, you have stuffing, and you have this design. To marry those things and have this 3D object exist is something you can just do. Certainly there’s some logistics, there’s some technical knowledge, but compared to, say, pouring resin, or certainly dealing with manufacturers, it’s way easier for us to do it ourselves. It’s basically out of necessity. And of course my aesthetic jives really well with that as a medium because it’s cute; it’s kind of soft-looking. So plush toys just kind of make sense.
How did the Wee Ninja design come about?
The Wee Ninja design originally was in 2003. The Wee Ninja was part of this thing called Shawnimite Village. This early idea was that we, from a product standpoint, wanted to make small plush. We hadn’t really done that yet. We just had these relatively big plush that we were doing one-offs of. So we introduced this idea of multiples to our product line and everything was handmade at this point.
So from there, the story of Shawnimites, these mini Shawnimals, was that Mr. Demon was manufacturing this “good vs. evil” theme with these characters. So there was The Corn Niblits vs. The Wee Peas, The Thumbs vs. The Fingers, The Wee Ninjas vs. The Wee Devils. So this was in 2003, and it just existed with the singular character of the Wee Devil. And from there, 2005 is really when Ninjatown, as a world, started being populated.
My dream job from the age of 12 to when the magazine shut down was to write for EGM. Was it the awesome experienced I had always imagined?
Working at EGM was the absolute best job – the best years of my life in a lot of ways. It was exactly what you think. It was a bunch of gamers getting together and we played games constantly, we wrote about them, we kind of lived and breathed games for that entire time. I started part time in 1994. I went full time in 1996 and I worked there until 2000 – basically from the end of Super Nintendo through the start of PlayStation 2 more or less.
It was just fantastic. I traveled around the world to a bunch of movie premiers, traveled to London to play video games and then flew back. For a guy in his early 20s it was just absolutely a dream job.
So what are a few of your favorite games?
Basically, anything by Treasure, so Gunstar Heroes jumps out as a clear favorite. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a just phenomenal game and it hold up today. You could just play that start to finish right now and it would be as good as any kind of contemporary gaming experience as far as I’m concerned.
I like games that utilize your creativity. I really love Scribblenauts. I think what they did with their engine was ingenious. It is a simple puzzle game in a lot of ways but the craziness, like how you can finish those levels – I just absolutely loved that part of it.
I’m a sucker for party games. So I totally love any of the music games. I’m really fond of Rock Band and puzzle games like You Don’t Know Jack now that that’s back in full force.
But I’m definitely an old school gamer. I’ll pick up mostly any 16-bit game and totally get into it.
What’s new with Shawnimals? What have you guys been working on?
We always have something new on the horizon, but with everything new that we come up with, sometimes old stuff is going to be set aside. So, the big news is that we’re going to end Ninja of the Month. 2012 will be the final year, but we will be introducing something new with 2013 that’s Ninjatown-related and will be highly collectible. All of our Ninjatown fans and our Shawnimals fans will enjoy what we have to come.
Beyond that we want to have something new for iOS and Android, but there’s nothing concrete to talk about quite yet.