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A Tapestry of Heroes: The 3D Life of Alli Norman

Alli Norman | Just Play Toys

image of Alli Norman

NHM Online Presents: L.A. at Play, an exploration of creators and collectors of figurines and dolls that connect to L.A. history, culture, and fandoms.

Alli Norman spends a large part of her professional life thinking about the ways limbs move. Although she may not practice medicine, knowing intimately how a body sits, stands, twists, and gestures is all a part of her job description–her work is directly connected with how the human body functions kinesthetically. Alli Norman is an award-winning toy designer who has worked on over 900 toys, dolls and action figures. Now the Senior 3D Designer at Just Play Toys, Norman has called L.A. home since graduating from art school in Sarasota, Florida. To date, her 3D modeling prowess has played a role in the designs of some groundbreaking toys and dolls that challenge the typical notions of representation in toys. 

Click here or on the link above to step into the world of doll design with Alli Norman.

Alli Norman sitting down
Alli Norman at her home studio in Los Angeles.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County 

A Life in the Arts

Growing up, Alli Norman was captivated by animation and digital storytelling. While she originally studied computer animation, a class in 3D modeling soon turned into a career. 3D modeling is the process during which a 2D design is rendered on computer software in full, 360-degree detail–a crucial step in computer animation and product design. After college, an internship with Hasbro Toys became full-time, and Alli has worked in the toy industry ever since.

Alli with her dog

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Alli and Guppy, her Biewer terrier puppy.

Alli with her design

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

 

Alli displays the pipeline from a 2D sketch to a full 3D render of a figurine which will be 3D printed in colored resin. She designed this toy based on her Biewer terrier puppy, Guppy.

 

small Resin figure of dog

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

From a sketch, to a 3D design, to an actual figurine- the finished product.

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Alli and Guppy, her Biewer terrier puppy.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Alli displays the pipeline from a 2D sketch to a full 3D render of a figurine which will be 3D printed in colored resin. She designed this toy based on her Biewer terrier puppy, Guppy.

 

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

 

From a sketch, to a 3D design, to an actual figurine- the finished product.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Alli credits the thriving creative arts scene in L.A as one of the main reasons that drew her to the city. Now a full-time Angeleno, she draws inspiration from the unique colorscape of the city. “Walking down the street with my dog and seeing a beautiful pastel sunset, which is very common in L.A., just noticing how the colors transition is very inspiring.” Color plays an essential role in her toy designs, as do fantastical elements. She also counts as her inspiration fantasy novels, drag culture, and the set design from Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Why Dolls Are Important

Alli’s position on dolls has changed since she was a child–back then, she would rather spend her time catching frogs. Having worked designing dolls and figurines daily for nearly a decade, Alli offered insight into what makes dolls important:

Dolls are for all genders, and adults and children. They have a huge part in showcasing beauty standards–[it can have] a negative impact, but this issue now known in the doll universe. I think that’s being worked on in terms of being responsible with how the doll’s bodies [are] presented.

Alli Norman

 

Alli with pens
The more analog tools of the 3D designer’s trade–pencil and pad.  
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County 

Notions of accessible representation and doll design are inextricable. Alli has been part of collaborative teams who design and render groundbreaking comic book characters that challenge the norm of what a superhero can look like.

Superheros at 1:6 Scale

During her time at Hasbro, Alli was part of a team of sculptors who developed the Marvel Rising fashion doll line, which included Kamala Khan, also known by her superhero name, Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager living in Jersey City with her parents, Yusur and Muneeba, and brother, Aamir. Kamala’s family life has been artfully depicted by character creators Sana Amanat and G. Willow Wilson as an authentic and truthful representation of the Pakistani-American experience. Although Kamala must deal with the challenges of managing her family’s expectations, navigating high school crushes, and studying for finals, her alter ego–Ms. Marvel–is concerned with matters more consequential to the survival of humanity.

design rendering for a doll
At Hasbro, Alli was part of the Sculpting Team/Department and worked collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald to develop the Ms. Marvel toy. The doll stylization was adapted from the Marvel Rising animated series on Disney+.
Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

In the version of Ms. Marvel adapted from the Marvel Rising series (as well as the live-action Ms. Marvel series), Kamala is granted her special powers through magical bracelets, or bangles, given to her by her grandmother. The bangles give Kamala the power to manipulate light and make it a physical extension of her body. Far from idealizing superheroes from afar, when Kamala Khan becomes Ms. Marvel, she is the hero of her own story. Alli explained, “That was definitely an awesome project to work on.  It was a very collaborative process at Hasbro.” She continued:

I think dolls specifically have a very big impact on the culture of what is an accepted idea and what’s an accepted body. Representation is really impactful to kids, and how much that means to a child is immeasurable.

Since her popular debut in 2014, Ms. Marvel has been adapted from the pages of a comic book into action figures, a live-action television series, and become a mainstay of cosplay. Click through the slideshow below to get a closer look at this groundbreaking superhero.

animated still

@marvelrising, Instagram

In this still from the Marvel Rising animated series, Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan shows off her trademark "embiggen" powers.

comic book cover

@32_pages, Instagram

As a teenager with an encyclopedic knowledge of superheroes, Kamala Khan adopted the name of Ms. Marvel in honor of Carol Danvers, the original Ms. Marvel who later assumed the moniker of Captain Marvel.

Actor Iman Vellani

@msmarvelofficial, Instagram

Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani stars as the titular 16-year-old hero in the live-action Ms. Marvel series.

Ms. Marvel action figure

Philip Aja

The combination of red sneakers, tights, tunic, scarf, and bangles represent the complex character of Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim lead superhero.

 

Ms. Marvel action figure 2

Philip Aja

Ms. Marvel’s enlarged hand references the comic book version of her superpowers—the ability to shapeshift and morph her limbs into powerful crime-fighting tools.

 

picture of Captain marvel

@captainmarvelofficial, Instagram

Carol Danvers, the first Ms. Marvel who later becomes Captain Marvel, was a major source of inspiration to the young Kamala Khan. This rendering of Captain Marvel is based on the eponymous 2019 movie starring Brie Larson.

a cosplayer

@nimblenoor, Instagram

 

The popularity of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel has inspired legions of fans to make their own Ms. Marvel super suits. This cosplayer adds, “For the very first time, we have a show about Muslim joy.”

 

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In this still from the Marvel Rising animated series, Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan shows off her trademark "embiggen" powers.

@marvelrising, Instagram

As a teenager with an encyclopedic knowledge of superheroes, Kamala Khan adopted the name of Ms. Marvel in honor of Carol Danvers, the original Ms. Marvel who later assumed the moniker of Captain Marvel.

@32_pages, Instagram

Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani stars as the titular 16-year-old hero in the live-action Ms. Marvel series.

@msmarvelofficial, Instagram

The combination of red sneakers, tights, tunic, scarf, and bangles represent the complex character of Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim lead superhero.

 

Philip Aja

Ms. Marvel’s enlarged hand references the comic book version of her superpowers—the ability to shapeshift and morph her limbs into powerful crime-fighting tools.

 

Philip Aja

Carol Danvers, the first Ms. Marvel who later becomes Captain Marvel, was a major source of inspiration to the young Kamala Khan. This rendering of Captain Marvel is based on the eponymous 2019 movie starring Brie Larson.

The popularity of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel has inspired legions of fans to make their own Ms. Marvel super suits. This cosplayer adds, “For the very first time, we have a show about Muslim joy.”

 

@nimblenoor, Instagram

 

Award Winning Alli

Many of the toys Alli has worked on have been nominated and awarded for their design and technical acumen. Explore the slideshow below to experience more from Alli's 3D portfolio.

Rendering of dolly design for patriot

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

 

The design of Rayshaun Lucas, or Patriot, trained under Captain America and is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

 

Ms. America design

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

 

The design of America Chavez, or Ms. America, is the second incarnation of Ms. America and she has the powers of super strength, super speed, and flight.  This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

 

Design rendering of Inferno doll

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

Dante Pertuz, or Inferno, has the power to control flames and is a member of the Secret Warriors team alongside Ms. Marvel, America Chavez, and Patriot. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

squirrel girl

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

Alli's design of Doreen Green, also known as Squirrel Girl, is a computer expert endowed with powerful, squirrel-like abilities. She is a close friend of Ms. Marvel. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

Doll rendering of Alice in Wonderland

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Just Play 

Alli collaboratively designed this award-winning toy with the Just Play Product Design Team and Senior Design Lead, Nomi Lowy.  The Alice toy is inspired by the Disney Junior animated series, Alice's Wonderland Bakery.

Rendering and design for a Mulan doll

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

This comfortably-dressed Mulan doll is based off of Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to the popular animated feature Wreck it Ralph. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

 

Moana and Snow White dolls

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

Moana and Snow White lounge in their comfy clothes from the Disney Princess Comfy Squad toy line from Disney and Hasbro. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

1 of 1

The design of Rayshaun Lucas, or Patriot, trained under Captain America and is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

 

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

 

The design of America Chavez, or Ms. America, is the second incarnation of Ms. America and she has the powers of super strength, super speed, and flight.  This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

 

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

 

Dante Pertuz, or Inferno, has the power to control flames and is a member of the Secret Warriors team alongside Ms. Marvel, America Chavez, and Patriot. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

Alli's design of Doreen Green, also known as Squirrel Girl, is a computer expert endowed with powerful, squirrel-like abilities. She is a close friend of Ms. Marvel. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

Alli collaboratively designed this award-winning toy with the Just Play Product Design Team and Senior Design Lead, Nomi Lowy.  The Alice toy is inspired by the Disney Junior animated series, Alice's Wonderland Bakery.

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Just Play 

This comfortably-dressed Mulan doll is based off of Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to the popular animated feature Wreck it Ralph. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

 

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

Moana and Snow White lounge in their comfy clothes from the Disney Princess Comfy Squad toy line from Disney and Hasbro. This design was developed when Alli was part of the Hasbro Sculpting Team/Department and developed collaboratively with Sculpting Manager Ivy Palijo and Sculptor John McDonald.

Courtesy of Alli Norman, ©Hasbro

The Bangle Tradition

As shown in the designs above, Ms. Marvel’s costume incorporates elements of traditional Southeast Asian dress. Ms. Marvel’s shirt is based on the kurta, a loose-fitting tunic worn widely throughout Pakistan, and the red scarf that she wears is ubiquitous in traditional female Pakistani attire. Most importantly, the bangles that unlock Kamala’s superpowers are directly inspired by the ancient bangle-wearing tradition of several regions of Southeast Asia. According to Sama Amanat, the co-creator of Ms. Marvel and executive producer of the live-action Ms. Marvel series, the bangles “[linked] the powers to something related to her past we thought would be very meaningful, and that was a smart way of talking about the metaphor of empowerment and linking that to heritage.”

When Kamala Khan receives her grandmother’s bangle, it unlocks inner powers she did not know she already held. By instigating this transformation, the bangle simultaneously connects Kamala to the heritage of her family’s superpowers and Pakistani cultural roots.

The Museum's Anthropology collections care for several examples of bangles from across different cultures. Click through the slideshow below to learn more about this culturally significant tradition.

a bangle

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

This enchanted looking wide bangle from Nepal has Islamic calligraphy engraved at the center. Though the population in Nepal is primarily Hindu, Islam is currently its fastest growing religion. The word bangle derives from the Hindu word bangri and refers to a rigid, and usually continuous wrist or ankle ornament. For thousands of years, they have been part of the traditional dress of peoples throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Africa.

bangle

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

Bangles can also play the more culturally significant role of symbolically marking transformational life moments for women. Receiving and wearing bangles may act as an announcement of a woman’s social maturity, her marital status, and even her family’s public status.

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This enchanted looking wide bangle from Nepal has Islamic calligraphy engraved at the center. Though the population in Nepal is primarily Hindu, Islam is currently its fastest growing religion. The word bangle derives from the Hindu word bangri and refers to a rigid, and usually continuous wrist or ankle ornament. For thousands of years, they have been part of the traditional dress of peoples throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

Bangles can also play the more culturally significant role of symbolically marking transformational life moments for women. Receiving and wearing bangles may act as an announcement of a woman’s social maturity, her marital status, and even her family’s public status.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

As in India, many parts of Africa have a long history of seeing bangles as a symbolic way to express a woman’s beauty, social standing, and cultural beliefs. When the woman’s culture traditionally believed that a woman’s adornments reflected her family, or specifically her husband’s social standing, the more bangles she wore indicated a wealthier husband with a higher social status. Often these bangles were so intrinsically tied to a woman’s identity and sense of pride that they were designed to be impossible to remove unless cut or destroyed. Removing the bangles would be akin to exclusion from the community and a loss of her sense of self.

bangles

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

This beautiful pair of brass bangles were made by a member of the Songye ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometime around 1880.

copper bangle

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

Wearing a coiled bangle like this one from Cameroon was also popular because it's adjustable and gives the impression of wearing multiple bangles when in actuality, it is a single connected piece.

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This beautiful pair of brass bangles were made by a member of the Songye ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometime around 1880.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

Wearing a coiled bangle like this one from Cameroon was also popular because it's adjustable and gives the impression of wearing multiple bangles when in actuality, it is a single connected piece.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Anthropology (Ethnology) Collections

 

Play, Your Way

The L.A. at Play story is not complete without you! Share your creature, doll, or figurine story and follow the stories of the makers who are contributing to some of L.A.'s most iconic fandoms. Tag us @NHMLA with #LAatPlay 

To learn more about Alli Norman, visit behance.net/allinorm or follow her on Instagram @allisonhelen.