Bright green postcards and the toothy grin of a monster truck announced the 2017 Annual Exhibition, which will open to the public this Saturday, May 13. The bright, detailed model of the featured monster truck puppet, or CryptoTruck, was the highlight of Monique Givens' ('16 Toy Design) own display at last year's Annual Exhibition. Her first year out of college took Givens from job-hunting to almost winning a life-changing contest, to freelancing, and then finally, to the exciting and important phone call she never expected.
"I want to make things that people can really connect with," says Givens. CryptoTrucks, a truck and monster puppet hybrid, is the kind of out of the box, play-oriented thinking that Givens is known for. Originally created for a Mattel-sponsored project in her junior year, she was unwilling to let the project remain just a class assignment. Deciding to flush out the concept as her senior showcase piece, Givens seized at another opportunity to make the toy a reality through a JazWings contest. An incubator for global toy and entertainment company Jazwares, the platform allows for independent designers to upload their ideas to be voted on and refined for possible production.
Givens didn't win the contest though and went back to considering her next move for CryptoTrucks. Months later, JazWings contacted her again with an unexpected offer. Through another partnership, they were interested in developing CryptoTrucks into a children's series for YouTube. “It’s exciting that one of the ideas I came up with in school will now be featured as a kids’ series pretty soon,” Givens recently told The Argonaut. The series plans to debut this June. "It's strange to say," admitted Givens, "but I'm almost happy that I didn't win the contest. It allowed the idea to grow in a different direction and become something greater than I had originally imagined."
Find out more about Givens' journey as she gives us her best advice for getting the most out of the college experience and sticking with your passion.
Did you have any idea that you'd be developing a children's series one year out of college?
Trust me, if anyone told me that this would be the course I would take, I would have laughed. After the first contest with Mattel, and that not panning out, I just thought that the project would turn into my senior showpiece. At that time I only had the illustrations for CryptoTrucks, but I wanted my showpiece to feel like you walked into a slice of Toys ‘R’ Us or the Target toy aisle. And what screams toy like an actual, physical toy, so I made three of the models. When our program chair Deborah Ryan came back from a toy fair and mentioned JazWings, I thought this is my chance!
I was shy growing up, I didn’t have any siblings, and it was just my mom and me. I would literally escape into my world with my toys. At that time, I didn't have the franchise toys of today, like Superman, Batman, or Barbie. I had random little creatures and trucks and cars from anything that I thought was awesome. That was my spark to use my imagination, and I don’t want future generations to lose that. I am so glad that JazWings picked up my idea so I can continue to make unique toys like that.
This weekend, just as you did a year ago, students will show their work, graduate, and then launch into the next chapter of their lives. What advice would you give them for their first year in the "real world"?
That first six months, that was a trial. I used to hear people say that the toughest part about job hunting is the silence and I just didn't get it. But it hits you. The best advice I could give is to put your trust in persistence and optimism. There might be some stressful times if you don’t get picked up right away, but keep doing projects on the side that make you happy. Keep reaching out to people and following up. It’s tough like everyone says, but eventually, you’ll find your path. Just keep looking for it and stay hopeful. Try out contests, go to trade shows, you might find a path you didn’t anticipate a year ago.
Beyond CryptoTrucks, what else are you working on?
I've been freelancing at Sacred Heart Toys for the past six months. In the period when I wasn’t hearing back from anyone, my program chair received an email from the owner of Sacred Heart, a faith-centered toy maker, and forwarded it to me. Religious toys is a niche market, so I was interested in the challenge. As the only designer, I can create not just toys, but also lifestyle products, accessories, characters for books, and more. The goal is to modernize traditional Christian characters into the mainstream, secular market and I thought it was a great opportunity to stand out.
I want people to be visually engaged with the pieces I make and want to learn more. The baby and toddler products were originally out of my comfort zone, but I just took it on, wholeheartedly. Working this way challenges me, makes me flex my creativity, and there are no limits. I have a lot of creative control, which is how I love to work, and it’s more impactful for me to say that I was able to elevate a company through my designs than to simply execute in the same style as a popular brand or larger company.
What is something you learned in the toy design program that has stayed with you?
I learned how far I could push myself. Growing up, I was really quiet and kept to myself, but when I got here I thought this is college, I can’t play it small. I eat, sleep, and breathe toy design. I had great mentors here, and I learned a ton of new skills, like model-making, things that really cracked the shell of my creativity. I realized I could do anything I put my mind to and I’m the only one who can stop me. I had never sculpted anything before, but I was in a class, and that was the assignment, so I tried it. That's all you have to do, apply yourself, push yourself, and care about what you're making.
This is the final frontier to learn and explore every medium before you go into a more corporate company that might not be as flexible with creativity or expanding your range as a designer. When I started at Otis, I said I wanted to graduate with no regrets. I did not want to think that I should have done this or that, I wanted to look back and just smile, and that's exactly how I feel now.
If you could describe your Otis College experience in one word, what would that word be?
Eye-opening. If you had shown me any of these designs five years ago, I would have wished that I could create them and I would have been frustrated that I couldn’t. The experience here is enlightening. It’s a lot of hard work, but these are awesome, amazing teachers, and if you apply yourself you will find out what you can accomplish.