Examiner chats with Harald Belker, who discusses what it’s been like to be a part of the Anki team, designing the cars for their new OverDrive set. So much more than your old-school slot race car set, Anki OverDrive uses the iOS and Android to take the “toy” to the next level, one that video game fans will love.
After starting work at Mercedes and BMW, Belker jumped to Hollywood where he helped designed vehicles and weapons for the big screen including the Batmobile, Green Goblin’s glider and the cars from Minority Report (among others).
For more on OverDrive, click here.
Patrick Hickey Jr.: How did you get involved in this project? How did this come about? I mean, you have experience in the automotive field and in Hollywood. How did this come about?
Harold Belker: Well, the story from the way it happened was they had a designer in-house, but they were seriously wanting to get, not to have the cars look like they were made for four-year-olds, so that they were truly automotive-inspired race cars. And I think somebody suggested buying books to help aid in the design process, so what they did as a team is they just marked all the images that they liked, and it so happened that most of them happened to be designs I had done in the past, and then basically one of their advisors, the former chairman, he looked into how to get in touch with me, and basically it was just a phone call where they called me literally on Saturday morning and told me about Anki and those guys, how much fun they’re having and what a cool project they’re working on, if I wouldn’t mind giving them a call.
I did, and we met and it was literally, we were so on the same page on the way this could all work out. We did sort of a trial period, but, you know, it was almost instantly that we got along well, we had the same vision, and we were ready to get to work. So that’s how it all started.
PH: Did you ever see yourself, like, kind of getting involved in the toys/video game industry?
HB: I’ve had many, well, not many, mostly I’ve worked on feature films. I’ve done some video games. I worked on one, I was hired for a couple weeks, and three years later I was still designing space ships for them- it was a space traveling adventure. And sometimes in video games the development time is so long that the whole market changes during that time. I think that still happens. There was a fantastically designed video game, but the audience had sort of shifted toward ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ I would imagine. Toys, I’ve done many Hot Wheels for Mattel too. Film, is on and off, so I always look for other ways to stay busy.
PH: You’ve designed cars for some pretty big films over the years. Do you any hopes or desires to maybe get licensing agreements to bring some of those cars over to this franchise? Like, how cool would it be to have a Batmobile?
HB: That would be so sweet if they would let you do that. Basically, you sign all your rights away. If you work on a movie, they hire you, they pay you for the time that you worked for them. There’s just zero chance of ever getting any deals beyond that.
I’ve sort of cheated that a little bit with designing, you know, a couple cars for Hot Wheels, for Mattel, they were inspired different sort of movies, so, but you know, I had to change quite a bit on them too.
I mean, that’s why I published a book. I thought, I am never gonna get any money from the full aspect of making a film, getting toys and any kind of license, so, I wrote a script and then published a book that has the whole story combined … it’s still sort of being shopped around, so I don’t know if anything will happen.
PH: Does it kind of feel good then to have a little bit more creative saying in this project, because, I mean, you were so sought after here?
HB: This nothing but the nicest way to work. Literally I’ve worked with Hanns (Tappeiner), most of the time, and he, so far he loves most of the things that I do. I would say almost everything. And he has feedback, and I respect that, and we talk about it. In the beginning of when we start a new series of cars, we discuss what should be in the next lineup, and then he tells me what he likes. I’ve tried to do my best to not disappoint him, but he doesn’t come, and what happens a lot in film, where everybody has an opinion, and there’s a lot of producers, and everybody wants to say something, it’s not the way here.
PH: OK, so for someone who is completely new to this whole ‘Anki Overdrive’ set, why do you think it is special? Why do you think it’s different? Why do you think it’s something that adults and kids should play with?
HB: Well, it’s multidimensional. I grew up with Slot Cars, and it’s racing; it’s on a fixed track, and it takes a lot of time to put together. Now, with ‘Overdrive,’ just the simplicity of putting the track together, it’s a little bit mind-blowing, the possibilities; you don’t have any power restraints; you can literally fill your whole house with a track because the cars have power.
Then the whole beginning aspect, the whole history, you’re not just racing, you’re also fighting — in a way — the other cars. So that, from the very one-dimensional racing game, car racing game, ‘Anki Overdrive’ has so many avenues of entertainment. The restraints … we used to have with Slot Cars or other cars. So, you almost have to go into video games to get that sort of freedom, and here you have it in a physical game.
PH: As of right now, to your best recollection, how many cars are there? I know ‘cause two cars come in the starter set, but how many cars are available, and what are the plans on releasing more cars?
HB: I think six cars are available right now, and these are in addition to the ‘Anki Drive’ cars. There are, I think, possibly four new cars coming by sometime next year. I constantly work on new cars, and they always come in twos, but when they are introduced to the lineup, that has to do with timing, certainly Christmas is always the key timeframe. But that’s all worked out internally, and I just have to make sure that they’re ready. You know, there’s also a long production time involved. I mean, they’re literally making millions of these little cars for each model. You can’t just say, ‘Here’s a new design; let’s make it.’ There is a lot of work, a lot of effort. I think the goal is to come up with at least two cars every season.
PH: I know this is a tough question to ask because, I mean, in a way, all these cars are like your children, but what’s your favorite car and why?
HB: Right now it’s probably Big Bang. It’s the first one that went off the more classic-looking vehicles. I think that now in the process I’m switching a little bit to where they almost become character-driven. So, it’s still truly automotive, but there’s even more of a background story, and now with Joby on the team, we talk about what kind of character could the car be, what kind of background and all that stuff.
PH: What’s your dream car? You can have any car in your garage, which one would it be, and are there any ‘Anki Overdrive’ cars that are inspired by it?
HB: If you look at the cars, some of them have a little Lamborghini in them, typical Italian full-on supercars, maybe a little Ferrari in them, a little Corvette, all these very masculine cars that just exude speed on the real world, inspire Anki cars. Truthfully, it’s difficult for me. Whatever I like I probably can’t get in. I’m 6’7, and I’ve tried to get into a Lamborghini, and it stopped me at the shoulder. So, I said before that I like the supercars- it’s just their presence I like. Beyond that, I’m living in Los Angeles, you can’t drive anywhere, really. So that experience has sort of gone away of how I view cars. I say, ‘Oh, that would be so much fun to drive around … visually, there’s a lot of cars that are appealing to me.
PH: Alright. Is there anything else you’d like to say about your participation in this project?
HB: I feel blessed. You always say that whenever I talk about what it is I do, it’s a 10-year-old boy’s dream job. It’s almost as cool as firemen sitting in the back, sitting in the big truck, it’s a lot of fun. I literally have also not just a smile when I play ‘Anki,’ I have a smile on my face when I work on a new car. I’m excited to share it, and because they are small and we do so many, there are stuff like, when I work on one car for a whole year, but this is just a matter of weeks, where I introduce a new car, I design it, and then I move on, and so that sort of speed is exciting. I’m glad to be a part of this.