When it comes to toy photography, there are three main elements that come together to make a great shot; pose, lighting, and setting. Nothing helps ground a scale figure and make it look more life-like better than a good setting.
Over the last few years, many companies making ready-made sets have emerged. Names like Space Walls (GTP Toys ), Extreme Sets, and Ubiquitous (Nova) may be familiar to many. Recently, I learned of ReadySetz – a relatively new company creating scale sets. ReadySetz started in 2016 creating foldable, portable playsets aimed at children for use with 6″ and 3.75″ action figures.
ReadySetz sent me their Urban 2.0 playset to review and take some shots with, let’s take a closer look.
The first thing I’ll remark on is how well-designed and constructed these are for portability purposes. The whole thing, minus the add-on ramps and roof-toppers, folds up to approximately a 2-foot x 1-foot x 4-inch bundle which is easily stored on a wide shelf or under a couch or bed. Unfolding it the first time takes a little care to not bend some of the walls etc, but once it’s been opened and assembled it’s an easy thing to fold it up and down. Very young children might have some trouble with it, but a competent eight-year-old shouldn’t have any issues.
Fully opened, the set measures approximately 28-inches x 30-inches and around 30″ high. The Urban 2.0 is laid out as a city – above and below. The middle level includes a cobbled street and sidewalk with a two-story apartment-like building on one side and a garage/loft on the opposite corner. Between the two is a kind of tunnel section with an opening and a bridge above. below the mid-level, is the “underground” – one side is a round, sewer-like opening and the other a rough looking industrial facade. In addition to this one-piece main section, you get two ramps that attach to the bottom level and two multi-use building toppers – one a catwalk backdrop and the other alternately a billboard or a helipad depending on how you attach it.
Even the “back” of the set has graphics; some useful brick and scaffolding imagery.
Despite being made entirely of corrugated cardboard this thing is sturdy and pretty structurally rigid. You won’t fear it falling over or collapsing on you mid-shoot (or mid-play). Throughout there are openings or cutouts that open; windows, doors, and tunnels as well as dimensional stairs and barriers. In terms of toy photography, some of these won’t be useful due to the “pop-up” one-sided nature of them. The roll-up metal door of the garage, for example, doesn’t roll up but swings outward – it might allow you to shoot something within the garage space, but you might not want to show it open.
In terms of graphics, the Urban has a nice bit of depth to the printed imagery. It doesn’t quite compare to say the realism, grittiness, and scale of most of the Extreme Sets, but it’s pretty good for something that was meant as a playset for children. There are shadows and grime and weathering throughout done to varying degrees of authenticity.
Pros & Cons
Let me start with the negatives and end on a positive note. Unlike Extreme Sets, which were created specifically for the purpose of toy photography – or at least displaying toy collections I suppose – ReadySets were made primarily for kids to play with. Marvel, Hot Toys, Tonka Trucks, pretty much anything would be fun to play with within this environment. It doesn’t have the image depth or realism of other cardboard backdrop sets made for photography and some of the elements are a bit “exaggerated”. There are pieces that have a very cut cardboard look to them like a raised piece in the center of the road that would hinder a street-level scene without some Photoshop work. The doors have about a 1/8-inch gap around them which might pose an issue with lighting unless you backed them up with something to cover the gap.
One issue I had with it as a backdrop was the reflective nature of the printing. It’s a glossy print and reflects light pointed at it pretty harshly, breaking the illusion of a surface being brick for example. This can be overcome as you would for a reflective digital backdrop through – careful placement of a flag or the light itself or a little fog or Atmosphere Aerosol, but it can be a challenge to avoid sometimes. I had the thought to spray the whole thing down with a clear matte coat but I haven’t tried it yet. You’d still get some reflection, but it would cut it a little.
On the positive side – you can make this work as a nice backdrop if it’s used with a depth of field on the shallower end to hide the flatness. Honestly, this is something that needs to be done with Extreme Sets for the most part as well to keep the flat look from showing through and breaking the illusion. There are also dozens of areas that can be utilized this way for different looks as opposed to just having, say, a subway to work with – even the back of the set has some nice points of interest. It takes some creative angling and imagination, but the possibilities are there.
If you shoot with figures on the “cuter” side – Nenderiods or Disney characters, for example, the look of this set may work much better than another cardboard set. I can totally see the Muppets or Toy Story characters hanging out on these streets! It also has some nice openings to push light through – the windows for example – which can help mask the cardboard look as well.
Now if unlike me you happen to have kids around, especially ones that want to be involved in your toy photography hobby, these sets would do some incredible double duty! They can keep the little tykes occupied playing with their figures while you do your photography and every once in a while you can “borrow” it for some backdrop work or maybe even get the kids into shooting!
In addition to the Urban 2.0, there is also a “Space Base” made for 6″ figures and two corresponding sets (Urban and Space) made for 3.75″ figures. The 6″ sets retail for $95 and the smaller versions for $65. At first, I thought price felt a bit high for what is essentially cardboard, but the size, quality, and storability of the build can’t be argued and there are very little in the way of sets that will give you this much real estate for less. Plus, the company offers free shipping and if you use the code “exclucollective” before January 31st, you’ll save 10%!
You may get a little more grungy detail and more useable angles in an average $50 Extreme Set, but it’s not something you’ll also likely let the kids play with (until you’re sick of it anyway) and you’ll have just the one environmental look for each $50.
In the end, I think ReadySetz is something you can get creative with and use as a backdrop – or more – for many shots. If you have kids that also like action figures, it’s highly recommended.
Trevor is a New York-based Creative Director and owner of The Brand Counselors. He has a growing collection of 150ish 1:6th scale stock and custom figures (and more and more Lego sets). Toy photography melds his childhood dreams of comic book illustration and film directing with his design talents and – in his mind – justifies the ridiculous money he spends on these things. When he’s not shooting, he enjoys kayaking, catching up on good TV and building seemingly endless custom figures.
Last modified: January 7, 2019