A great video (from about 2 years ago) linked from http://omgwebsite.com/2010/03/how-a-figure-is-made/ answers that question that might be going through your mind. Let's face it, Japanese anime figures usually have a meticulous art and sculpture to them that is most definitely is NOT akin to those cheap, corny American action figures you find littered throughout Walmart. The production of say a Black Rock Shooter or a To Heart figure by Good Smile Company, Alter, Kotobukiya, Taki, etc are done in a number of steps. I won't take away from the video and sometimes the production is different but it's in these generalized steps.
- An image/character gets chosen to be the figure by the manufacturer (and the respected licenses, trade restrictions/etc usually get taken care of from here too)
- The sculptor then goes through the process of making that image into a number of molds that make up the final, complete figure (during this process the paint job is also discussed, obviously used from the main artist image as best as possible. Sometimes the final paint colors aren't set yet; thus why you will see those gray figures at trade shows)
- After the figure pose/color is known, the sculptor and/or art team goes to work to make the "base model" (This "base model" is usually one that you see imaged when you pre-order your figure)
- This "base-model", "core-model" or what have you is then sent to a factory in China to be made into X number of figures to then be sold to us. (yes, even the real ones are made in China)
This whole going from the 'base-model" to a factory in China is sometimes why the final production model might look slightly different. The factory is watched over by quality reps of the company and usually all goes well. Bootlegs occur when a factory in China gets a mold and trys to cheaply produce a bunch of say, Nendoroid figures. sometimes the very factory that made the real deal figures have been rumored to do this but without the qualty control and thus you then get shady sellers in Hong Kong pushing those cheap fakes; fakes that could very well be so bad, they are poisonous too o_O.
Check out the video below:
Anyways, be back with more posts and I'll try to add some non-figure news in there. My site isn't all about anime figures..but I sure have been making it seem like it ^^;;