US 20020009945 A1
An expressive figurine having dynamic facial features and, optionally, verbalization capability. The figurine of this invention can have the appearance of a human, creature, or cartoon character, and more particularly to a figurine whose facial and body features are selected and applied to the figurine by a player. The facial and body features include lenticular image and lens composites that can readily interchanged from a selection of features provided with the figurine. The figurine of this invention is also preferably an interactive toy wherein the player imparts motion or force to the toy in the course of such play interaction. The figurine also may include a motion activated sound synthesizer to create the verbalization capability.
1. In a figurine in the form of an interactive toy having visual characteristics and features corresponding to a character or personality that is attractive or repulsive to a player, wherein said figurine is further characterized by having asymmetry in distribution of its mass and/or weight so as to return the figurine to an erect position upon being displaced or tipped over, the improvement comprising:
said figurine having affixed thereto a lenticular image and lens assembly so as to permit player initiated changes of expression or appearance of said figurine without permanent alteration of said figurine.
2. In a figurine in the form of an interactive toy having visual characteristics and features corresponding to a character or personality that is attractive or repulsive to a player, wherein said figurine is further characterized by having a head and a foot, and the asymmetry in distribution of its mass and/or weight so as to return the figurine to an erect position upon being displaced or tipped over, the improvement comprising:
said figurine having a first set of graphical facial and torso sticker composites which are interchangeable with one or more additional sets of graphical facial and torso sticker composites, said graphical facial and torso sticker composites comprising a lenticular image and lens assembly having releasable, fastening means permitting placement and removal thereof on said figurine, so as to permit player initiated changes of expression or appearance of said figurine, without permanent alteration of said figurine.
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 This application is a continuation-in-part of co-pending patent application, Ser. No., 09/620,698, filed Jul. 20, 2000.
 1. Field of the Invention
 This invention is directed to an expressive figurine having dynamic facial features and, optionally, verbalization capability. The figurine of this invention can have the appearance of a human, creature, or cartoon character, and more particularly to a figurine whose facial and body features are selected and applied to the figurine by a player. The facial and body features include lenticular image and lens composites that can readily interchanged from a selection provided with the figurine. The figurine of this invention is also preferably an interactive toy wherein the player imparts motion or force to the toy in the course of such play interaction.
 2. Description of the Prior Art
 Interactive toys wherein childplay involves physical interaction therewith, are well-know. Such toys typically include items such miniature cars, trucks, dolls and “bop bags”. These toys generally include some form of graphical adornment in the nature faces or figures which are normally associated with their use or play value. In general, such traditional play things are inanimate, and do not, in and of themselves, move or change form or expression.
 In order to enhance the play value and child interest in such traditional inanimate toys and objects intended for the toy and novelty market, toymakers have attempted to enhance their products through the use of one or more combination of devices to bring their toys to life or enhance child interaction. These enhancements have included the well-know addition of sound (cry baby dolls), the opening and closing of a dolls eyes (when the doll is laid down on its back), and the more recent high tech modifications, which have now become less costly. The following patents are illustrative of a number of these more recent additions to the toymakers craft. These patent are discussed in order of date of issue and thus no significance is to be attached to the chronology of their discussion.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,451,181 (to Denoux, issued Sep. 19, 1995) discloses toys (e.g. vehicles) having multiple optically active configurations, which are operable to produce two predetermined image states having a degree of animation. Accordingly, when the toy vehicle user plays with and moves the vehicle, the optically active configurations associated with the toy cause a change in appearance of the image from a first image state to a second image state without the requirement of providing moving parts.
 The Denoux system achieves such image change or shift through the use of a structural arrangement comprising an optical sheet which includes a transparent lenticular lens having a plurality of lenticles. The lens functions to provide the dual focal points that are necessary to produce dual imaging. In particular, an observer at a fixed viewpoint or vantage point will view an image shown at one focal point, while an observer at a different viewpoint or vantage will view the image at another focal point. In the Denoux system, the printed image is formed on a planar sheet such as paper, paper board or plastic and consists of alternate striae corresponding to an original image state and to a modified image state. In operation, when viewing the sheet from one vantage point, the lens will produce a given focal point image, (e.g. thereby presenting an original image state to the eye of the user). When viewing the sheet from different viewpoint, the lens will produce a different focal point image (e.g. thereby producing the modified image state to the eye of the user). This variation in vantage point can be achieved by moving one's head or more usually canting of the lens or placement of the lens on a moveable body, such as a toy car or similar playtoy.
 Notwithstanding, the limited animation attainable in the Denoux playtoy environments, the child's interaction with the toy is still limited. More specifically, the movement of the inanimate objects disclosed in Denoux do not, in and of themselves, cause any identification of the user with such image shift or change. Moreover, the image shift in Denoux, to be observed, requires that the child view the image from at least three and possible four viewing angles. Accordingly, both the degree of animation and the interaction of the child with the Denoux modified play toys is quite limited. Accordingly, there continues to exist a need to improve both the animated movement of inanimate toy objects without substantial additional expense or complexity.
 In the commonly assigned co-pending patent application referenced hereinabove, an initial effort to modify the static appearance of such playthings is disclosed. In this commonly assigned application, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety, a punch dummy was provided with interchangeable facial features, or with an interchangeable face. More particularly, this commonly assigned co-pending patent application discloses a punch dummy figurine in which the contoured surface of the figurine has flattened depressions placed not only for accepting stickers for the head and face, but also placed to accept stickers for other features including decorations, logos, names, and body characteristics on clothing and other parts of the body. Further, when the upper portion of the punch dummy figurine is subjected to a strong punch causing the figurine to rock with a considerable degree away from the vertical axis, the figurine will nevertheless return to its normally erect position, readied for another punch. Notwithstanding, the effectiveness in this approach to increasing the play value of an inanimate toy object, further improvement is desirable to further enhance player interaction.
 It is the object of this invention to remedy the above as well as related deficiencies in the prior art.
 It is the principle object of this invention to provide an essentially inanimate figurine with life-like, dynamic features (eyes, mouth, hands, feet, etc.) by means of superimposition of one or more lenticular images on the portion of the figurine's face, torso or appendages.
 It is another object of this invention to provide an essentially inanimate figurine with life-like, dynamic features (eyes, mouth, hands, feet, etc.) having interchangeable features with lenticular image qualities.
 It is yet another object of this invention to provide an essentially inanimate figurine with life-like, dynamic features and verbalization capability responsive to figurine movement or use activation.
 Additional objects include the provision of inanimate figurines comprising “punch dummies” wherein aggressive interaction with a user produces dynamic feature changes and/or verbalization appropriate or corresponding to such aggressive interaction.
 The above and related objects are achieved by providing an inanimate object, preferably in the form of a figurine with interchangeable facial features or facial expressions. Such interchangeable features or facial expressions comprise a composite having (a) one or more pictorial representations of facial features (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc.) or a complete facial image suitable for viewing through a lenticular lens and (b) a lenticular lens. This composite also has associated therewith a releasable fastening means on the underside (non-image side) for releasable attachment thereof to a position on the figurine corresponding to the face thereof, or to a position on the face of the figurine corresponding to a facial feature of the figurine, so as to permit change in the figurine's complete facial expression or one of the facial features (e.g. eyes, mouth, etc.) of the face of the figurine. Because of the ease and manner of application and removal of such composites from the figurine, such composites are also hereinafter referred to as “stickers”.
 In one of the preferred embodiments of this invention, the figurine comprises a molded plastic or inflatable form having the appearance and graphics of a human, creature or cartoon character, including a self righting, weighted base. The surface contour of the molded/inflatable plastic form includes one or surfaces adapted for placement and removal of interchangeable lenticular images corresponding to the respective parts of the head, body or clothing at the location of the surface adapted for placement and removal of such interchangeable lenticular image. It is also contemplated within the scope of this invention, that the placement of interchangeable lenticular images precisely fit within the corresponding depressions upon the contoured surface of the figurine so as to seamlessly merge with the contours of the figurine.
 One of the significant advantages of the figurine of this invention is the ability to constantly update the figurine with new stickers corresponding to a contemporary character or animal. For example, the children of the 1970's and 1980's readily identified with Sesame Street characters, whereas the toddlers of today are enamored with Barney and Winnie the Pooh. Thus, the instant invention provides a potentially timeless play toy that can be constantly changed and modernized simply by change in the stickers of one period to another, to take advantage of a fad or shift in contemporary taste.
 Similarly as in the case where the figurine takes the form of a public or political figure deserving of disdain or contempt. The Richard Nixon image of the 1970's and 1980's will most assuredly give way, in popularity, to the latest whipping boy or girl presently on the political scene.
 Referring now to FIG. 1, a figurine of this invention is depicted which comprises a shell (100) fabricated of a molded plastic, rubberized, vinyl, or soft molded material, or in any combination thereof, having a hollow or fiber filled core. The shell (100) forms a surface that is contoured and decorated with graphics 5 to resemble the shape of an erect human figure having a base zone (200), an head (400), and a body torso (3) interposed between. The base zone (200) has a weighted convex dish as described in co-pending patent application Ser. No. 09/620,698, which is incorporated herein by reference. When the upper portion of the figurine experiences the force of a punch, it is displaced relative to its vertical axis. Thereafter, the righting moment imposed upon the figurine by the convex dish causes the figurine to return to its normal erect position.
 The figurine comprise an image of a face on the head (400). This image of the face is removable from the head and can be readily replaced with another image of the same face having different facial expression or a different face with different facial features. In each case, this removable facial component is dimensioned to occupy a flat depression 6 that merges with the contours of the head (400). The flat depression (6) is designed to accept such interchangeable faces, which can be created or customized by the player.
 The replaceable facial image graphics comprise a composite having (a) one or more pictorial representations of facial features (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc.) or a complete facial image suitable for viewing through a lenticular lens and (b) a lenticular lens. This composite is also associated with a releasable fastening means on the underside (non-image side) thereof for releasable attachment of the composite to a position on the figurine corresponding to the face thereof, or to a position on the face of the figurine corresponding to a facial feature of the figurine, so as to permit change in the figurine's complete facial expression or one of the facial features (e.g. eyes, mouth, etc.) of the face of the figurine. Because of the ease and manner of application and removal of such composites from the figurine, such composites are also hereinafter referred to as “stickers”.
 The images suitable for use in such composites can be created/generated by well-known computer-based, image manipulation techniques, such as are disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,494,445 (to Sekiguchi, et al.,), which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety. According to Sekiguchi et al, multiple images are initially formed, such as on a central processing unit. These images are masked and striped, and portions thereof are superimposed. The superimposed masked images can be printed on an underlying back rearward web. A lenticular lens can be placed in front of the back web to provide a special display which has the illusion of animation as the angle of light changes.
 More specifically, the Sekiguchi, et al process comprises generating at least two images (objects) with a computer or other central processing unit (CPU). The first image can be produced by either creating original illustration/design or other graphic elements, or by optically scanning or electronically reading the desired image (indicia) from a photograph, magazine, brochure, document, or other media and transmitting the image to a monitor or display screen of the CPU. The second image can be generated in a manner similar to the first image or by electronically copying and subsequently altering and modifying the first image on the monitor. At least one and preferably all the images are then masked, electrically revised and striped on the CPU by electronically removing erasing, canceling, or otherwise deleting a symmetrical pattern of spaces on the images to form masked images with a spaced array of stripes comprising viewable opaque portions with spaces positioned between and separating the stripes. The images can comprise perspectives providing three dimensional appearing intermediate images attained by generating left images viewable by a left eye and right images viewable by a right eye on the CPU. The left and right images can be laterally aligned and combined. After masking, part or all of the portions of the masked images are overlaid, superimposed, and combined upon each other in offset relationship so that the viewable stripes of one image are positioned in the spaces (spacer portions) of another image. The superimposed images or illustrations are printed on an underlying web or rearward web, such as on coated backing paper. The images can include words, letters, photographs, pictures, portraits, or be of different configurations and designs and can have indicia thereon, if desired.
 A set, series, or array of transparent viewing members, comprising an array of transparent rods, a plate lens, lenticular lens, or a cluster of lenses, preferably anamorphic lenses, can be spaced in front of the superimposed images of the rearward web so that only one of the images can be viewed from one angle of observation and a different images can be viewed from other angles of observation. The angles of observation can be changed if the observer moves, if the rearward web moves, or upon moving the transparent rods or lens(es). The space between the rearward web and the lens(es) or transparent rods can be empty (void) or occupied with transparent material or spacers. One or both sides or surfaces of each lens or transparent rod can be convex, concave, curved, conical,
 In the context of this invention, a composite facial image, or composite facial image component/feature is prepared in the manner described by Sekiguchi, et al, and the back side thereof fitted with releasable means to permit interchangeable attachment and removal, on the head of the figurine. FIG. 2 graphically depicts a human face having a facial sticker 7 applied to the flat depression 6 at the site of the head 400. The facial sticker 7 creates the appearance of an individual known to the player, or some other character, as shown in FIG. 3. New stickers can be generated to paste over old ones, being applied to the same area at the flat depression 6.
 The stickers can be semi-permanent or removable, and can be embellished with other decorative objects after being printed, such as cloth, glitter, or ribbon. The figure itself can be embellished by painting or drawing with any medium directly on the surface of the shell.
 In another embodiment of the invention, a figurine head is depicted in FIG. 4. This head has a generally spherically contoured shell (101), including separate depressions for each of the individual features of the face. More specifically, the spherically contoured shell (101) includes of a pair of eyes (D1, D2). Similarly, the spherically contoured shell (101) includes facial features corresponding to a pair of ears, facial feature corresponding to the mouth (D5), a patch of hair (D6), and a nose (D7).
FIG. 5 shows, in partial section of spherical head (401), the application of an eye sticker (S1) to a flat depression at the site of the eye (D1). A composite sticker for each respective area of the generally spherical head (401) can be pre-printed or computer generated, in the manner described above, and applied to a corresponding area of the head, shown as S1 through S7.
 In order to make available to the player a broad range of different facial features to permit modification of the facial expression of the spherical head (401) shown in FIG. 4, a series of preprinted stickers (12 to 27) of varied design for application can be generated as shown in FIG. 6. The player can, thus, readily change the appearance of the spherical head (401), as desired, by readily substituting one facial feature for another.
 The composite stickers of this invention are preferably of the peel off type, so that a sticker applied to a depression can be peeled off and replace by another sticker having a feature in a different form. The figurines can also graphically depict a variety of outfits. Accordingly, it is within the scope and contemplation of this invention, to include composite torso stickers corresponding to different items of apparel. Such outfits can be comical, business suits, uniforms, sports teams uniforms or a variety of other outfits or graphics.
 In order to further enhance the life-like character of the figurines of this invention, a sound synthesizer, recorder or mechanical sound production module can also be incorporated into the figurine to provide additional expressive emphasis upon interaction with player. For example, a motion activated, sound module can be incorporated into the figurine to enunciate sounds associate with pain, pleasure or some bodily function. The sound module would preferably be keyed or keyable to the facial image features of the figurine and be activated upon pressure contact of the player with the figurine or by movement of the figurine, in response to player contact.
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a figurine devoid of any facial features.
FIG. 2 illustrates a facial sticker having the appearance of a human face suitable for application to the figurine of FIG. 1.
FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the figurine having combination of the figurine body of FIG. 1, with the facial features of the facial sticker FIG. 2;
FIG. 4 is an isolated view of a head of a figurine of this invention, including specifically a head wherein the individual facial features (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth, ears and hair) are readily interchangeable with corresponding facial features having an alternative graphic expression;
FIG. 5 is a partial section of FIG. 4 through an eye of the figurine head.
FIG. 6 is sheet of alternative features for the figurine head of FIG. 4.