All it took was a walk down the Target toy aisle for Angelo Kafantaris, who was disenchanted with the limitations of car design, to realize that substantially smaller models provided considerably larger creative possibilities.
"It's the purest form of automotive design on the planet," Kafantaris said of the freedom of toy car design.
Kafantaris, 25, originally of Warren, began working as a full-time designer for Mattel in El Segundo, Calif., in February 2009. His first toy car design, the Hot Wheels Firebolt, a remote-controlled red car featuring electric firebolts within the cockpit, became available Jan. 1 at Target, Walmart and Toys R Us.
Photos special to the Tribune Chronicle
Warren native Angelo Kafantaris is shown with the How Wheels Firebolt, a remote-controlled car he designed for Mattel.
Kafantaris is also involved in a feature film about Hot Wheels.
In a way, Kafantaris said, his work with Hot Wheels means he has come full circle. His home in Warren still houses a collection of 150 Hot Wheels cars he played with as a child.
Kafantaris fixed cars with his father when he was younger, like the 1974 MGB they worked on together.
His father, George Kafantaris, said his son's love for fixing cars grew once he was in high school, when he could actually drive them. His son's attention to detail also was an early sign of his artistic ability, he said.
"This kid would stay up all night working on projects," George Kafantaris said.
At Warren G. Harding High School, Kafantaris found he enjoyed both art and engineering, and didn't know which field to pursue. His discovery of automotive design successfully combined his passion for art, engineering and transportation.
"There was no looking back," Kafantaris said.
Kafantaris began working on full-size cars in 2005, while he was still in school. In 2007, he graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, majoring in transportation design. While attending college, he won second place in a PBG-sponsored glass car design contest in 2004.
Still, he became frustrated with the regulations involved with car design - laws that, for example, regulated how high the car had to be from the ground or how high the hood had to be to protect pedestrians from the engine.
"You started off with a beautiful model and sketch," Kafantaris said. "By the time you were through with it, it looked like everything else on the road."
In addition to a wider design capacity, toy car design also provided more work for Kafantaris than did traditional automotive design. Instead of designing one car every three years, Kafantaris could design ten toy cars every year.
George Kafantaris said he's relieved his son got a job, especially one that gives him the opportunity to make good money. Much of the work his son does is also the same as when he worked on bigger models, George Kafantaris said.
"He does the same sketching, the same everything," he said.
Bill Willett, engineer for Tyco RC, worked with Kafantaris for about a year and a half. Willett was in charge of the technical part of the design, while Kafantaris sketched ideas. Willett said Kafantaris was often open to the design adjustments necessary to fit the technical aspects that Willett was in charge of.
"He's full of energy, full of enthusiasm," Willett said.