Shawnimals is Shawn Smith – a character designer that believes in the power of unbridled, astonishing, ridiculous joy. Each creation comes with its own story that starts in the Shawn's brain, but is then given over to you to continue each unique creation's adventure in your own universe. His huggable friends appear as designer toys, lifestyle accessories, apparel, comic books, video games, and as anything that fosters companionship. He strongly believes that the best artistic experiences are participatory and affordable, and that – with an open heart – friendship can happen between you and just about anything. Even facial hair. Check them out here!
Shawnimals is the Chicago-based design studio founded by Shawn "Shawnimal" Smith and his wife and business partner Jen Brody in 2002. In the near decade since Shawnimals' inception they have received international recognition for their unique designs and the original line of character-branded products they've spawned. Beginning with a handful of simple yet endearing handmade plush toys, based on designs from Smith's own sketchbooks, Shawnimals has blossomed into a full-fledged company making significant contributions to the world of designer toys and beyond.
Over 400 characters have emerged from the Shawnimals studio, all uniquely inspired by Smith's lifelong love of pop-culture. The colorful assortment of characters - some which resemble food or others that are inspired by commonplace items, and still others that are based solely on imagination - have been conceptualized as a variety of multimedia products from comic books to apparel, video games, lifestyle accessories, and much more. Shawnimals has captured the imaginations of both young and old with their whimsical products that demonstrate a simplicity in design and a sense of humor enjoyable at any age.
"Bringing people together by way of strange yet cute stuffed creatures and other play things is the idea," Smith says, "Or if nothing else, just make people smile."
ABOUT THE PRODUCTS
A Shawnimal is any one of the plethora of characters imagined and designed by artist Shawn Smith and his creative team. They range from pocket-sized vinyl ninjas to huggable plush mustaches, games for DS and iPhone and beyond. Each character is accompanied by a small history or an anecdote revealing a glimpse into their individual personalities.
There is seemingly no limit to the types of creatures that exist in the Shawnimaland universe. They tend to resemble a variety of objects and things including food, articles of clothing, ninjas, trash and occasionally facial hair. Even creatures that resemble the most unnatural of shapes have found a special place and purpose in the fantastic world of Shawnimals.
"The world contains a limitless number of 'somethings' that only really exist after being observed for more than what they are, and then fully realized by personifying them," Smith says, "virtually anything can become extraordinary through imagination and composed mark making."
"Plush, in particular, elicits a variety of interesting responses," he explains, "The otherwise simple shape with a face becomes cute or weird or some combination of both, and brings with it a number of emotions. Nostalgia. Simpler times. Happy times. It is your friend or perhaps your arch-enemy, even though your adult brain might tell you otherwise."
The Shawnimals are featured not only as collectible plush toys, but have been created into a variety of handmade and manufactured products. Apparel, stickers, keychains, USB drives, and the popular Ninjatown games for both the iPhone and Nintendo DS are only a few of their noteworthy items. Shawnimals has also collaborated with the major designer toy company Kidrobot to make the popular Ninjatown vinyl series which is currently in it's second production run.
Shawnimals has received international recognition for their contributions to the designer toy movement. They have been exhibited in art galleries throughout the world and have likewise been featured in specialty and designer toy stores. All the while Shawnimals maintains a grassroots approach when creating their products many of which are still created by hand at their headquarters in Chicago. For example their creative subscription based project, Ninja of the Month, is a relatively new feature guaranteeing fans new limited edition handmade plush Shawnimals from the Ninjatown brand every month.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Shawn "Shawnimal" Smith, the visionary behind Shawnimals, began to develop his distinctive style of art as a kid obsessed with cartoons, video games, and drawing pictures. Not satisfied with simply drawing his favorite cartoon and comic book characters, he felt compelled to create his own, inspired by all that he loved.
Smith's interest in toys and video game culture eventually landed him a job at popular US gaming magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly as a game reviewer and gadget editor but, naturally, his love for art and design led him back to school where he earned his BFA in Painting from Illinois State University.
Surrounded by his own massive creative output, including dozens upon dozens of sketchbooks filled with original – if not peculiar – character designs, Smith began to hand make one-of-a-kind plush toys that he sold to friends. As the word spread via the internet and his pals in the video game industry, the overall popularity increased. In early 2004 the once part-time hobby became a full-time business, spreading imaginative creations around the world.
Smith also maintains an active studio practice creating drawings, paintings, sculpture and collage that have been featured in galleries and exhibitions all over the world. Drawing influence from a variety of pop-cultural movements like cartoons and video games, the artwork of Shawn Smith can be described as endearing, and humorous while maintaining a simple quality that makes it universally relateable.
"Art that features characters in this way is unique in that the viewer is automatically drawn in, whether they want to or not," Smith says, "they are compelled to personify it somehow - to make it their own, even if it is essentially a blob with eyes."
Ninjatown is one of the most popular and recognizable lands in the world of Shawnimals, warranting its own brand and fully-functional website. A number of Shawnimals’ most sought-after products have emerged from Ninjatown including the ever-popular plush Wee Ninja, a video game for Nintendo DS and the Apple iPhone, a vinyl toy series from Kidrobot, and more.
The story of Ninjatown is as compelling as the characters and products it has spawned. This region of Shawnimaland is locatedbetween the towering, active volcano Mount Feroshi and the mysterious Dark Forest where evil of many kinds resides. There are many ninjas in this town including the original Wee Ninja, Ol’ Master Ninja, Baby Ninja, Pink Ninja, Business Ninja, Mayor Ninja, Ninja Droppings and many more. The Neighboring Dark forest is also comprised of its fair share of characters including the evil leader Mr. Demon, Wee Devils, Zombie Ninjas, Bully Devils, and Business Devils, just to name a few.
Want to take the world of Ninjatown a step further? Fans can now simulate the battle of good versus evil with interactive Ninjatown games! Ninjatown for Nintendo DS was released in 2008 and was quickly hailed as one of the best underground titles of the year by many esteemed video game magazines and sites, and was even nominated for a BAFTA* award, which is the UK equivalent of the Oscars! Ninjatown DS has since sold over 100,000 units worldwide, and wildly popular gaming mag Game Informer called it “a genuinely fun and addictive experience.”
Inspired by the popularity of the first Ninjatown video game Shawnimals presented another interactive challenge to the world with the popular Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! app for the IPhone. It rang in over 200,000 downloads since May 2010, and still ranks among the top iPhone apps in some categories. “Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! was developed to bring the plush toys' world to life in a new way,” said Brandon Curiel, CEO at Venan Entertainment, Inc.
In relation to the video games Shawnimals in conjunction with Kidrobot released Ninjatown Wee Vinyl Series 1, selling over 25,000 units worldwide, providing fans yet another way to experience Ninjatown.
The innovative subscription based project Ninja of the Month began in 2010.The team at Shawnimals hand-makes a limited edition plush toy based on a character chosen from the Ninjatown roster on a monthly basis. Subscriptions are sold at the beginning of each year guaranteeing each subscriber all of the highly collectible toys as they are released, along with a variety of other bonus goods. Subscribers are essentially enrolled into what is known as the Ninja Academy and receive “ninjacational” supplements including their very own ninja certificate and other exclusives. Now in it's second volume, the Ninja of the Month releases have proven to be one of the most sought after handmade products Shawnimals has ever released.
The story of Ninjatown can be followed on the new and improved Ninjatown.com version 3.0. The site also feature an extensive archive of nearly 80 Ninjatown characters including pictures and a detailed history for each of them. Ninjatown.com is where fans will find information about everything Ninjatown related: the story, cast, games, toys, you name it. Updates, breaking news and future installments of the Ninjatown story are also presented on the site by Ninjatown's very own Reporter: Action Ninja!
The story of Ninjatown is an epic tale, and is continually expanded upon. As the story progresses new discoveries are often made meaning new and exciting products and features from Shawnimals are popping up all of the time.
*British Academy of Film and Television Arts
Shawnimals is ripe for licensing, with 22 different countries, over 400 characters, and an arsenal of products ranging from plush toys, USB drives, comics, shirts, lifestyle accessories, not to mention two hugely successful game properties: Ninjatown for Nintendo DS and Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. More info on licensing here...
From the beginning Shawnimals' brand of creative products has garnered attention from a number of popular entertainment and news publications. The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle Magazine are among the major publications that have taken notice of Shawnimals. The artwork of Shawnimals has also appeared in a variety of books and magazines highlighting the best of designer toys.
"the masters of all things cute..."
- November 11, 2010 - tomopop.com
"It's no surprise that Shawnimals has come up with yet another awesomely cute plushie..."
- April 7, 2010 - lintcoat.com
"Shawnimals has the market on cute cornered... I just want to eat them up... They're so cute aren't they... yes they are. "
- May 26, 2010 - nerdcityonline.com
"And in 2001 Shawn said Let there be Shawnimals: and there were Shawnimals... and the Shawnimals became good."
- February 18, 2010 - Chicago Reader
"The Shawnimals world is as mysterious as it is hilarious."
- December 21, 2009 - kronikle.kidrobot.com
"Shawnimals never ceases to bring a smile to my face."
- December 3, 2009 - notcot.com
"How can one resist such undeniable charm?!"
- June 23, 2009 - vinylgoddess.com
"...bizarre enough to satisfy the weirdest significant others. With everything from free hugs to a character named Burgermouth, it doesn't get any freakier."
- February 7, 2008 - Metro New York
"...a softie with plenty of machismo..."
- Winter 2007 - adorn magazine
"Designer Shawn Smith has created the latest rage in collectible toys by combining the cool yet deadliness of ninjas for the fellas and the irresistible cuteness of stuffed dolls for the gals."
- December 2006 - MTV.com, MTV style
- November 1, 2006 - New York Times
"...my friend Shawn Smith, who has a company called Shawnimals, made me a special, small pocket ninja. I always have it with me, hanging from my belt."
- October 27, 2006 - Hip Hop Artist Lupe Fiasco to Entertainment Weekly
"Get inspired (and touched by evil!) after picking up Shawnimals' plush ninja"
- February 24, 2006 - Entertainment Weekly
"Shawnimals are handmade designer toys for those seeking colorful plush without the marketing plush."
- December 20, 2006 - Pioneerlocal.com
"...bizarre and tempting..." - Rebecca Palmore
- December, 12 2005 - Metromix Chicago
"It's stuffed art, and it's seriously cool."
- January 2004 - Playstation magazine
"...Adorable yet bizzaro..."
September / October 2003 - ElleGirl magazine