Harry Potter and the Minifigure Innovations

With new Harry Potter LEGO Sets and Collectable Minifigures occupying the Zeitgeist, I look back on ways in which our minifigures have been innovated through their use in this theme over the years.title

When we recently looked at the new Harry Potter Collectable Minifigures, we had a look at the new leg elements – the ‘miniskirt’ and mid length legs. These new elements are a great inclusion during this, the fortieth anniversary of LEGO Minifigures.  I found myself wondering ‘What other innovations in figure design have we first seen in Harry Potter?’  We have seen so many different characters and creatures since the series first appeared in 2001: house elf, giants, goblins and trolls, as well as humans. To adequately depict these characters as minifigures form, a number of modifications to the standard form were introduced. Some of these we now take for granted.

The First (Second and Third) Double Sided Head Print

Whether to convey determination, frustration, despair, fatigue, other emotions or a secret identity, reverse prints are something we have come to take for granted on many minifigure heads these days they.  The first of these heads appeared in Harry Potter sets in 2001.

[Spoiler alert] In the Final Battle of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Harry faces down Professor Quirrell, who has Lord Voldemort residing on the back of his head. Fun fact: this is also the debut of the turban element.

In fact, there was another set featuring double sided heads that year: Slytherin 4735. Taking place during the events of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, this tells the part of the story where Harry and Ron take a polyjuice potion to infiltrate Slytherin House, disguised as Crabbe and Goyle. The reverse prints have features of Harry and Ron, as the potions start to wear off.

A New Art/Design Style

The minifigures that came with Harry Potter sets from 2001 through to 2008 had their own unique art style. None of the the figures had ‘generic’ eyes and mouths, instead a more fine art style was used: the shape of the eyebrows, eyelids, pupils, dimples, and even Hermione’s eyelashes were included. The facial prints in 2010 onwards felt a little closer in style to those featured throughout other LEGO themes. When the sets were first introduced, the wrinkles printed on the minifigures’ clothes were another innovation: prior to this time, minifigures seemed to always live in a wrinkle free environment.

2001-2002

2005

2010-2011

2018

I certainly found the proportions for the facial features in the earlier waves to be a little strange. Very little changed with Harry’s face print, but Rod, Hermione and Draco have all developed significantly across the years. Admittedly, they appear a little shorter in the Great Hall 7594, released this year!

You could argue that there is also a higher level of detail provided in the faces of the Native American minifigures, part of the Western theme, released in 1997.  There were also a few bandits with faces more detailed than than the standard face at the time.  The cavalry, released in 1996 were predominantly variations on the standard ‘whiskered’ face. As you can see here, the bandit released as part of the same series as the Native Americans has a different has a different graphic style to the rest of theme released that year.

Glow In The Dark Heads

For reasons not clearly explained, the original Severus Snape figure has a glow-in-the-dark head. This is the first time that phosphorescent material was used for a minifigure head, although it had been previously used for the LEGO Ghost shroud. In later years, a glow in the dark head would become available for Voldemort. In recent years, the glow in the dark heads have been an opaque white.

Short Legs

In recent years, we have come to take short minifigure legs (41879) for granted. We have seen them used as an important part of  children, dwarves, Ewoks and Jedi Master Yoda. They were introduced in 2002, with the Goblins from Gringott’s Bank, as well as Dobby the house elf. Admittedly, they were also introduced in Star Wars sets, featuring Yoda, as well as Ewoks that year. They also appeared as a part of child minifigures in a number of the new 9V train sets during that year.

While many of these figures featured moulded heads, we did not see these heads printed details appearing until 2009 (Star Wars). Dobby, however received his printed eyes in 2010.

The First Big Fig with Multiple points of Articulation ( well, three anyway)

4712 Troll On the Loose featured the first ‘Big Fig used for an oversized character in a set. In this case it was the Mountain Troll, featured in Harry Potter and the Philosophers’s Stone.  Unlike contemporary bigfigs, it has a traditional minifigure head in sand blue.

30305c01Technically, there was the rock monster featured in the Rock Raiders sets in 1999.  It had one moving arm, while the other three limbs provided support on the ground.  This was the first to have 2 articulated arms, and a turning head.  Design wise, however, the Mountain Troll was a bit of an evolutionary cut-de-sac, with future design cues in big figs owing more to the previous design.

The First ‘Flesh’ Coloured Minifigure Heads:

In 2004, Harry Potter sets were amongst the first to feature light flesh coloured heads for minifigures. These were also used in the Spider-Man movie sets released the same year. These light flesh heads were featured in Star Wars sets in 2004. Darker skin tones were previously represented using a brown heads in LEGO Star Wars, with Lando Calrissian in Cloud City 10123 in 2003.

While light flesh minifigure heads first featured in SETS in 2004, they were in fact introduced in 2003 as part of a licensed NBA minifigure range.

These might be the first minifigures with flesh tones, however the colour was introduced in Duplo figures as early as 1996, and may have appeared in Bellville sets prior to that time.

The Fortieth Anniversary Leg Modifications

Fast forward to 2018 – the fortieth anniversary of the LEGO Minigifugre. As I discussed recently, there are a number of different approaches to minifigure legs demonstrated in the latest series of Harry Potter Collectable Minifigures. We have seen the introduction of ‘teen legs’ – with flexing hips, and a plate thickness shorter in height than regular minifigure legs.  This part suits our adolescent protagonists perfectly. The legs are able to attach to a plate, via the holes on the back of the leg.  They look a little odd sitting in a seat, not quite reaching the back, but for teenagers, they fill an important gap in figure size.  I hope we will see them appearing in LEGO City soon!

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The Many Heights of Harry

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But this is not the only new leg/lower body element introduced in the series. The final innovation that I will mention here has also been introduced in parallel with  its appearance in LEGO Star Wars sets: the new Miniskirt No.6 (Design ID 39139).  The 2x2x2 slope was first used in 1990, in the King’s Mountain Fortress 6081. The new skirt is one plate shorter, and has a curved slope on the back. Like the minifigure legs, it is slightly tapered towards the top. It also appears in red with Supreme Leader Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guards, also released in August 2018; perhaps the first appearance is actually as part of Barriss Offee in the 75206 Jedi and Clone Trooper Battle Pack, released a few months earlier.

While Harry Potter might not have been the first place that we see some of the design cues: such as detailed face prints and flesh skin tones- it has certainly been the place where they were developed beyond a pilot stage.  Many of these developments occured on parallel with other licensed themes, but Harry was there from the outset.  Some developments, such as the Big Fig, while pioneered in the early Harry Potter sets gained greater traction in other themes such as Marvel and DC Superhero themes.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at Harry Potter innovations over the years.  What is your favourite legacy from developments seen in Harry Potter characters over the years? What would be the next innovation you would like to see in the development of the LEGO Minifigure? Personally, I love the continued surprises and expressions that we get from double sided heads. Why not leave your comments below.

Until next time, play well!

Except where watermarked, all images depicting sets and minifigures have been obtained from Brickset.com and Bricklink.

3 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Minifigure Innovations

  1. Excellent overview and very well researched. HP has been the impetus for a lot of innovation in the minifigure, but so has Star Wars, and I think the IP sets generally are because the licensors have to sign off on what LEGO is doing with their properties. I’m glad that LEGO have generally been able to extend these innovations to the rest of the product line – for example, the 4L Bar was introduced as a light saber blade and Harry Potter wand.

    Like

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