Warner Bros.’ Nomi Vela on keeping storytelling at the heart of Space Jam: A New Legacy’s toy lines

Nomi Vela, Warner Bros.
Nomi Vela is the Creative Director of Toys at Warner Bros. Consumer Products, looking after development for brands like DC, Wizarding World and all live action movies.

Her team works with key partners across studio and franchise teams to ensure that the characters and worlds that filmmakers have passionately detailed in their movies are captured in the toys.

With a wave of toys and games hitting shelves for “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” we caught up with Nomi to find out more about why it was key to keep storytelling at the heart of the range.

Nomi Vela, Warner Bros.

Nomi, great to catch up. Before we look at “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” how did you find yourself working in the play space?
I always loved toys, but I never thought you could make a career out of it. I was a fashion designer – a swimwear designer – for 12 years. When the world goes through a change, people start to reflect on what they want to do differently so after 9/11 I had just become a new mom and I started to reflect on what I wanted to do next and what I hadn’t done, but I knew I wanted my daughter to look at me and be inspired!

I applied to Mattel, with no toy experience, and they hired me! I went from designing swimsuits for people to designing swimsuits for Barbie. I also worked on Barbie Entertainment products that related to movies and loved creating toys related to content, and later I ended up working at Disney. I was there for 10 years and before joining Warner Bros. I remember being a little girl and loving Justice League and Tom & Jerry.  My very first movie I saw in theatre was Superman with Christopher Reeve!  Now I get to work on all those brands!

So yes, a mid-career crisis took me from fashion to toys and here I am!

Ha! Who knows, you might inspire people to do the same! Staying with that for a little bit, was there much crossover design-wise between swimwear and toys?
The consumer is the common theme. You want them to love what you design.  Swimsuits are also an escapist purchase–a feel good purchase for when you are going to the beach or on vacation and toys are the same. They transport you to a different place. Toys grow your imagination.

Nomi Vela, Warner Bros.

You’re the Creative Director for Toys at Warner Bros. Is there a typical day?
Well, I think I’m a bit like LeBron in Space Jam! I go from one world to another world before lunchtime. My morning started with Fantastic Beasts, then I was working on DC Super-Pets.

Movies have a huge impact on us, and we walk away in awe! When you hold that toy, or mug or wear that t-shirt, it triggers the same feeling that you felt when you watched the movie. It’s why brands like Batman and Looney Tunes have been around for generations; the products in the market keep them alive and keep the emotional pull of these properties alive. We put the same love and detail that filmmakers put into their movies into our products, so it triggers the same emotion!

Let’s dive into Space Jam: A New Legacy. Moose Toys is the master toy partner for the film. What made them the perfect fit for the brand?
First, we look at the movie and decide how we want to tell the story through toys. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is not your typical movie. It’s a little bit “outside of the box” and Moose is known to do things a little outside of the box. That’s why we were very happy to partner with them.

Nomi Vela, Warner Bros.

There’s lots of different aspects to the Space Jam brand – the 90s nostalgia, the basketball, the wackiness of the Looney Tunes. Which aspects stood out as being key to the toy lines?
Well, the toy landscape has changed quite a bit over the last 10 years, and quite rapidly over the last five years. I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years and toys used to be for two demographics – the very young and the collectors. Now there’s a wider range. You have the young, teens and folks in their thirties to consider! We’re living in a world where we display to play. With social media, we display our food, we display what we wear, we display where we go – and toys come into that too.

With that in mind, when we create a toy collection to support a movie like “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” we want to make sure it appeals to different demographics and to all fans. For the very young, we have the big talking action figures. These kids relate to the characters; they transform themselves into LeBron.

Then we go to the six-inch action figures for older kids who understand conflict and grasp the storytelling a little bit more. Then we go older with collectables – and that’s where you and I come in! You can collect them and display them. It’s about telling the story through products and appealing to all fans.

Read the full interview on our sister site Brands Untapped by clicking here.

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