Joebot, on 30 November 2010 - 03:47 PM, said:
The turning point was Lando.
Back when the Star Wars license started, and all the characters were yellow, TLC didn't include Lando in a set for an awkwardly long time. I mean, geez, the dude blew up a Death Star, right? How about some mini-fig love??
At the time, there was MUCH debate on Lugnet (anybody remember Lugnet??) about how TLC would handle the fact that Billy Dee Williams is an African-American. This debate, as you can probably imagine, was heated and filled with much posturing and angry claims of "I'll boycott Lego forever!"
The debate came down on two sides:
1) Keep all figs yellow forever, regardless of who they are intended to represent. This would have been the simplest solution, but probably not a very satisfying one. As Aanchir noted above, a yellow Lando next to a yellow Luke would have been odd.
2) Make Lando brown, and keep all characters portrayed by Caucasian actors yellow. This too would have been a simple solution, but it comes with an unpleasant connotation. For 40 years now, TLC has said that yellow minifigs don't represent a specific race. They're just "people." This is a very nice philosophy. Unfortunately, as soon as you introduce a brown Lando next to a yellow Luke, you've now made the connection that yellow = Caucasian. This implies that all those yellow minifigs ever made in the past 40 years were, in fact, meant to represent Caucasians.
Both of those solutions had their (typically angry, vocal) proponents. TLC threw us a curve ball though, and did something that no one expected or predicted -- they made a new color to represent Caucasian characters. It solves one problem (how to represent the fact that actors and actress have different skin colors), but introduced a whole new set of problems -- namely, changing colors in the middle of a licensed theme. Thus my Star Wars collection is half-yellow and half-flesh.
They sort of mitigated this issue by not making the new Caucasian minifig color very realistic. Instead of a peachy-pink color (which they DID do for the NBA theme) they made it a sickly jaundiced grey-yellow. I have never seen a person with this skin color before in real life, so I'm always amused when people refer to it as a "realistic flesh tone." It's not realistic at all. It's a compromise -- it's "sort of" yellow, so it's not quite so jarring when these new figs are placed next to classic yellow figs.
Anyway, that's how I remember the whole thing going down. It caused a huge uproar at the time, second only to the now-infamous grey/bley change. Good times, good times ...
Actually, the color used for the basketball figs (18 Nougat) is a color that had been around for quite a while before-- specifically, in Duplo sets. If I'm correct it's still used as the "default" color scheme for caucasian Duplo figs.
18 Nougat is still used for some figs (for instance, some of the Prince of Persia figs and Indiana Jones figs) but only for people whose skin is darker than what we consider "typical" of caucasian skin-- that is, people with a mid-range or tanned skintone. Next year's Jar Jar Binks fig will, if I'm looking at it correctly, have arms and head printing in 18 Nougat.
However, for most of LEGO's licensed themes after 2002 they switched to a new color, 183 Light Nougat. Light Nougat is IMO a fairly realistic skin tone-- I don't see why you feel it looks yellowed or jaundiced. My own skin (using my own hands and arms) is yellower, and since my doctor has never mentioned anything unhealthy about my skin I don't think Light Nougat can be considered unnaturally yellow. If anything it's a little rosier than I would expect of many actors whose minifigs use this color.
And then there's darker skin tones. For the basketball figs and other pre-2004 dark-skinned figs, the standard brown color (25 Earth Orange) was used. When Earth Orange was discontinued in 2004, the new color 217 Brown was used in its place. This was considerably lighter than Earth Orange, and outside of minifig heads saw most of its use in 2004-2006 BIONICLE sets. Bricklink calls this color Dark Flesh.
217 Brown was last used in 2006, and since then the standard color for African-American skin tones has been 192 Reddish Brown-- the color that replaced Earth Orange in most non-minifig, non-BIONICLE applications. In the Indiana Jones set Temple of the Crystal Skull, there has been one additional color: 38 Dark Orange, a fairly old color that was chosen to represent the Mesoamerican natives from the movie.
I don't at all intend to imply that LEGO has sworn never to stop using yellow as their default minifig color in non-licensed themes. But so far they haven't given us any grounds to predict that. As long as we don't get the sort of grotesque caricatures that were created for multiethnic minifigs from the Basketball and Wild West (Western) themes, I'm perfectly happy with yellow skin remaining the default for non-licensed minifigures.
And yeah, I pay way more attention to this stuff than I should.