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by Dylan Muhlenberg / 19.06.2009

On 9 April 2009, 1000 Tree Huggr Dunnies were released at midnight, Eastern Time. By the next day the $75 collectable toys were sold out. That’s R650 000 Kris ‘Kronk’ Hewitt made, well sort of, for the American toy company Kidrobot.

Kronk has always been drawing, especially characters, creatures, weird things… He’s got a bunch of different styles, but one signature character – a yeti, which Tree Huggr was styled on. Kronk’s thinking was, “Sasquatchs live in forests… so he’d probably hug a tree… but he’d hug it too hard and end up destroying it… because he doesn’t know his own strength…” and it just kind of grew from there until it was an 8-inch vinyl figurine, which includes an ice-cream cone accessory, and has 80 super-rare Snowflake versions.

Kronk is currently employed at AmiCollective, where he’s paid to doodle cool stuff for clients, ranging from soft drink giants to major cellphone companies and TV networks. By the time you read this he’ll be involved with his company’s latest and most ambitious project – Bare, which will have Dunny-esque sculptures as canvasses for local artists to customise, before being exhibited and auctioned off for charity. (You’ll read about it in more detail soon enough, so chillax already and just keep logging on).

We pulled him away from his illustration work to talk toys.

You’re probably very popular at the Kidrobot offices, ‘ey Kronk?

“Kidrobot actually mailed me to say well done for selling out so fast! Obviously the fact the toy made some cash is great for Kidrobot and I get a little slice of the action too. But more importantly, the design was well received so the likelihood of being asked to do more is increased. That is the real goal for me, to keep producing more toy designs, cash comes in second.”

Tree Huggr

Now I know you’d been working on this toy for a while, but just how long did it take until the final version was approved? Tell us about the process.

“I developed the character for this toy in 2006, but that was long before Kidrobot was in my life. This character is like a signature for me, so it’s been a continual development. In early 2008, I sent the sketches and some other artwork to Kidrobot to see if they were interested. This was a little after my first dunny release, the Gingerman, so I wanted to strike while the iron was hot. They said yes and for most of 2008 we worked together, all via e-mail correspondence, through a series of approvals, ranging from sculpts (the accessory is unique to Tree Huggr), to paint work and moving bits and bobs around. Because of the nature of the product, this can take some time. Up until March 2009, I was approving paint samples and design positioning! In this stage, I work with the toy production people directly; they are as particular as I am about quality, so this can sometimes be painstaking – looking at the same images over and over. I wanted to get it perfect, so there were a lot of late night chats with the guys as they are on New York time.”


Your first toy, Gingerman, was the regular 3-inch version. Was it a different process designing a bigger, 8-inch version of the same toy?

“There is no real difference due to the size, but both toys had different challenges. For example, the Gingerman had a lot of sculpted parts, so that was tricky to get right, but the paintwork was quite simple so that made the process go quicker. On the Tree Huggr the paintwork was the priority. There is a lot of detail and areas that can go wrong, so that took quite some time to get right. Also, because the toy is bigger these mistakes are more noticeable. Like I said, I was very particular, but in the end the result was unbelievable. Photos and real life can never compare, the Tree Huggr is most impressive in the flesh.”

Where are they available in South Africa?

“The Tree Huggr is largely unavailable at present, however if you speak nicely to Earl at Toi Toy in the Waterfront, he may have one lurking about there. Toys move slower in SA, so you might get lucky…There is a new artist series called the Endangered Dunny series which has a smaller variant on the Tree Huggr in it. This should be a lot easier to get hold of, but most guys might not dig it ‘cos it’s pink.”

How much is Tree Huggr going for on eBay?

“The Original Colourway, the Green, goes for about $90-$150. The Red Awol Version (500 made) can go for about $120-$250 and the White version (the 2nd rarest production dunny ever! – 83 made) can fetch between $350-$500+. Obviously, the closer to the release date the lower the value. In a year’s time the value on the white guy could go up a few hundred dollars or so. Sometimes the prices of these toys can escalate incredibly in the after market. Huck Gee’s Insane dunny immediately quadrupled in value after selling out, but he’s got a big fan base and his toys are widely sought after, whereas I just got started in the game. I think I’m doing okay for a newbie.”

Kronk Ill

The company you work for, AmiCollective is giving other designers the opportunity to try their hand at designing toys with their latest project Bare. Tell us about that.

“At the moment the Bare project is a bit hush, but I will tell you we have developed a high-density plastic, moulded art object in the shape of a bear. Artists are selected by all of us at the Collective and then invited to participate. These artists are not the typical exhibition circuit superstars, they are sometimes virtually unknown guys, who we feel have the talent to rock. On accepting the invite, we ship them the Bare art object and they are then encouraged to customise the character as they see fit. Each artist has been carefully selected so we don’t end up with a lot of similar stuff, but rather get a show full of surprises. The Bares are then auctioned off for charity for children and, the following night, exhibited to the general public. As part of our plans for pushing new talent, we will then be selling blank Bares direct to the public and setting up a flickr and facebook site where. upon completion, we will upload these public customs so that the love of Bare is spread further.”

*Top Pic (Kronk and the Tree Huggr) – ©Jared Aufrichtig

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