Paul Yan has to take Skylanders toys  and bring them to life as moving, 3D digital characters in video games. The animation director at Activision Blizzard‘s Toys for Bob game studio in Novato, Calif., recently showed us how it’s done.

The process is a complicated one, but it includes some old-fashioned stop-motion photography in addition to advanced computer modeling techniques. But it’s worth it, since consumers have purchased over 40 million of the Skylanders Spryo’s Adventure toys and several million copies of the the video games as well.

“Skylanders is an animators dream,” Yan said in an interview with GamesBeat. It has dozens of characters and they’re all far different from the typical space marines that video game artists have come to love and hate.

At Toys for Bob, the team creates a toy first, figuring out how it is unique and what makes it into a fun character for kids to play with.

They start with simple sketches. But once they have a good idea of what they’re doing, the artists can create the toy in a 3D computer program and then print it out using a 3D sculpture printer. They can adjust the pose of the character  (like Trigger Happy above from the original Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure) and then print another toy sculpture, and keep on doing that until they have a whole set of figures. They can do that for every pose in an animation sequence and then capture the movement of the character on film. Then they can take the film and use it as the basis for animations for the final character to be used in the video game.

“There are so many different characters and body types,” he said. “Every single character has a unique personality and we have to do a lot of custom work to make them work.”

The task of creating the art for the characters is huge, taking months or years. Yan keeps pictures that show off the capabilities of each character on his wall. Each picture shows something unique that the character can do.

The team created all of the animations for the Skylanders Giants game in just 10 months.

“It’s all painstaking, but it’s all hand-crafted,” Yan said. “That’s the goal. The end result justifies it all.”

Here’s the video interview with Yan below:

Bringing Skylanders Giants toy characters to life from Dean Takahashi on Vimeo.