June 4, 2009

A Bridge Too Far

Filed under: botcon, munny, tricks of the custom trade — Tags: , — fairplaythings @ 1:39 am

I am planning a big update to the site this weekend, when I can put words down about Botcon 2009, as well as catch up on my first break in the Transformers-of-the-Day. Actually quite embarrassed there - usually I have them all set up to go. But a combination of overtime on the diorama entry this year and the absence of computer access in Pasadena meant that I wasn’t able to fix things at the Con. But I refuse to give up, and I’ll get everything back on track this coming weekend.

That said, I wanted to separately plug the diorama and the work behind it, as well as provide a few pictures so you can finally see what I’ve been up to for the last few months. Yes, it’s a scene taken from “A Bridge Too Far”, in which Omega Supreme battles the remaining Decepticon forces, including a number of Starscream clones. I actually tear up during this scene (Omega is certainly one of my favourite transformers!), so it means a lot to me to work on this particular action scene.

The Rise of the Mega Munny

Let’s start with the big guy then. Omega Supreme is a 2 foot tall Mega Munny, purchased from Lost Marbles in Ottawa. I should preface my comments on Omega by saying that I have an aversion to modifying munnies beyond recognition. While I think it’s fair play to add parts to them, or even cut them open, I prefer they retain a semblance of their character that allows them to be recognized for what they are. For Omega, this posed a challenge because I had so many plans for him and he probably represents the most heavily modified munny I’ve undertaken.

To start, both his hands have been replaced. His right arm is now a set of fingers actually created from the modified stems of three mini mushrooms that came with the regular size munnies. His left arm features a laser cannon. This laser cannon, and the additional removable turret in his head, are both equipped with laser pointers so they actually simulate an explosion when lit up (leaving me to wonder how many children were blinded at Botcon because of this.) In addition, voice boxes have been added to each arm, with one side playing the cartoon theme song and the other saying “I… am… Omega Supreme!” I wish I could say they were clear but it’s a low-techmodification. Nevertheless they seem to work relatively well, if a bit muted.

Additional work includes the tubing around his chin and removable wings on each arm.

Honestly, though, Omega was a struggle. Unlike his smaller brethren, the mega munny head does not separate from his body, which makes painting his neck a challenge. I also ran into trouble with the yellow spray paint I wanted to use because of stupid rushed mistakes at my end. His price point of $200 meant I really couldn’t start over again, which I would have with a smaller version, but nevertheless left me with a bad taste in my mouth until I could get over my own bad self and work around the paint application issues.

It didn’t help that I left him until the end and was doing a lot of the work on him literally hours before I boarded the plane. I finalized him in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, a little more than a day before he was to be rolled out. So you can understand how I felt when I realized on Saturday that, having hand-painted the logos on every other munny, I FORGOT TO DO THE SAME ON OMEGA. I promised him that I would rectify this when he ships home from Pasadena.

Still on the side of heroes, Ratchet is my second favourite munny of the group. He just came out so crisp. He also has added horns and doors. He’s teamed with Sari, who is actually a dunny, striped of original paint and then redyed. She turned out super, much better than expected. The ears were a major win. Yes she is so much bigger than she should be against the trees but we’ll just pretend they have really small trees in the future.

A Changing Landscape

Before I get to the villains, I want to say that I had no idea how I was going to turn seven munnies and one dunny into a diorama before I arrived. I had nothing to work with in terms of grass and the like. But I really wanted the diorama to look like I’d put some effort into it because of the coolness of the scene and because a diorama contest, in my view, needs to consider the landscape used. Otherwise, it’s a figure show. So you can imagine that my back-up plan of buying bristle board to paint green with some paper trees added really didn’t feel right.

However, Pasadena has a wonderful hobby store called The Original Whistle Stop Inc. (2490 E. Colorado Blvd). I discovered them Saturday afternoon and once they realized that I wasn’t shoplifting. they were really quite helpful. $40 of supplies from their store really made the scene, because I had actual trees that I made on the Thursday night before the show, as well as a sheet of grass paper, painted with sand to simulate the path. Honestly, I couldn’t have done this project without them.

But What About the Villains?

With respect to the Decepticons, I started with the clones. Sunstorm, Slipstream (”Susan”) and Ramjet were all based on the same premise, so once I had one outlined, I could use it to help quicken the pencilling of the other two. Obviously their expressions and paint applications were very different, but it’s surprising how much it takes to figure out where to draw lines on a fat little Munny body.

Their lasers are actually reconstructed knitting needles and their wings and shoulder pads are scratch-built. The wings are actually removable to allow for easier transportation, and I’ve finally perfected their assembly. Sunstorm is dyed (which caused trouble with the accessories in terms of colour blending), while the others are painted. Of the three, Slipstream is my favourite. And although he denies it, Ramjet now resides permanently in the care of Derrick Wyatt, whose magnificent designs are the basis for this entry.

In truth, Lugnut was the last munny started. While all the small munnies were done and Omega Supreme was only awaiting arm modifications and paint, Lugnut was still a white protoform munny, untouched by even pencil. I literally pencilled his face, arms and front on the plane ride to LAX, and then happened upon a TF:A digest at a Pasadena comic store to finalize his back. I painted him between Teresa’s Dad’s place and my motel room on Sunday. His only modifications are two small wings on his arms, although I did reverse his arms to better simulate his pincher claws (a trick I used on the Scorponok entered as part of my Botcon 2008 entry.)

Bavarian Twirls

The final figure, Blitzwing, is the one of which I am the most proud. Dyed a crisp tan, Blitzwing’s head has been opened up to allow for a small plastic cover to be inserted, before the top of the head was reattached. In this way, all three faces of Blitzwing can be shown. Between getting the dye and the cuts just so, it took three takes to get his head right, but I am ecstatic about how it turned out, so much so that I made sure he travelled in my hand luggage in case Omega didn’t make it (so he could be entered solo if needed).

Blitzwing also has small shoulder boxes that constrain his poseability but nevertheless seemed important to the character. He also features a backpack with removable rockets. The trick here is that the rockets had to be extra long so, true to the character, they would be visible over his head.

The Results

There were some great dioramas this year, so I was very proud to be awarded second place in my category against some stiff competition. I just hope the judges were able to test all the buttons on Omega when they were reviewing things. All in all, I can’t really complain that the presentation of the hardware was interrupted, when the interruption was to see five minutes from the new movie presented by Michael Bay himself. How often is that going to happen in my life?

February 24, 2009

TF:A Psycho-Out

Filed under: Transformers — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 4:56 pm

I have fallen hard for the Transformers: Animated-style (in terms of the style of the toys and the reimagination of classic and new characters), and rumours of its demise fills me with a vast sense of loss. I figured the best I could hope for is the faint possibility that Botcon 2009 would use these molds to create exclusives of unmade characters, while waiting for the line to close up on the shelves. Given the limited announcements at Toyfair (Soundblaster and Arcee being the two notable TF:A editions), I honestly don’t hold out for a continuation of the style when it comes time to move beyond Transformers II: Electric Fallentude.

But last week, after finally getting a hint of what was to come in terms of this year’s Botcon set (Kup, Thunderclash, Landshark, Flak and Scourge), I was really excited that hope was real and we’d see more TF:As. Given the use of the Elite Guard, a wholly Transformers: Animated invention, it really looked like they were going to go with a TF:A-style for the toys. Most promising was the prospects of Kup and Scourge, for which there are existing molds that work (as demonstrated by serious kitbashers) in the form of Cybertron Mode Optimus Prime and Cybertron Mode Megatron.

And while a Thunderclash in any form would be cool, the prospect of a TF:A version wet my lips with anticipation!

So already upset to read that Voyager Bumblebee was getting canceled, I went on to learn that Andrew Wildman had drawn a mock-up of Energon Starscream as Skyquake. Not because the convention toy was going to be a rarely used G1.5 character only seen in Europe, or even because of the mold, but because it meant some or all of the line would be in a different style. Given that TF:A is so distinct, I feared it would cheapen the set to have such a mish-mash set - like packaging 25th anniversary G.I. Joes with original RAH figures.

It also twigged me to the prospect that this line might go a different route. Something that has been subsequently borne out.

This afternoon, the first Botcon figure, Kup, was previewed. You would think that using what I consider one of the rare gems in the Cybertron (Red Alert / Cannonball) with a very accurate face sculpt (minus the glitter), would leave me excited. Instead I just feel sapped. Although the figure looks okay in robot mode, with its orange striping and hatchback, it’s looks off in vehicle mode. Particularly when you put him back to back with a Classics Rodimus. And I can’t say I am a fan of bringing the Elite Guard into a G1 universe at all.

So we’ll see how the rest of the set turns out then. Landshark may well end up as a beast at this point, since there are many possibilities to work from. Flak could be almost anyone (although I really hope they resist using the Cybertron Defence Hot Shot mould again). And things can still go well depending how Thunderclash turns out. Still, from my perspective, they missed a big opportunity here. Nonetheless, there is at least hope from the fan community, with the announcement that unicron.com has stepped up with a very TF:A accessory pack. So thanks to them, today is not a total wash.

I just need to add a Cybertron-mode Optimus Prime to the shopping cart next time and add a Kup-repaint to my list of projects…

February 18, 2009

Convention woes

Filed under: Transformers — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 11:24 am

You know, I am having serious misgivings about the transformersclub, particularly after their recent adventure at Toyfair 2009, specifically in relation to efforts to organize this year’s Botcon event.

I may be wrong here but it seems to me the reason for the club is to benefit and enhance the fan experience, notably those fans who have paid membership dues. To date, to the best of my knowledge, the club does this through three main avenues - preparation for the annual Botcon convention, preparation of club exclusives, and ongoing communications (club magazine and website). And to be completely fair, I’ve been reasonably satisfied with the results to date.

However, it seems that the club is becoming simply another communications and marketing tool for the toy line. On some level, I am fine with some measure of overlap - fans are just as interested in looking forward as much as looking back. But I wonder who pays the bills when the club attends events like Toyfare? Is it Hasbro or it is the club through whatever revenue streams (club dues, toy store profits and Botcon proceeds) are available to it? And if it is the latter, does it move the club forward for the benefit of members to appear at these events? Are we better served by a one-on-one interview with Michael Bay that could have easily been conducted by internal Hasbro communications and disseminated to the community?

Most importantly, how does the club’s participation in the communications roll out for the movie take away resources to planning for Botcon 2009? There is barely less than three months left before the big event and there is no indication when convention forms will be made available. According to the site, “Now is the time to make your hotel reservations,” which is putting the cart before the horse. Why make hotel accommodations bookings, to say nothing of transportation and vacation plans, without even a modicum of details?

It may seem like a little thing but I’m not prepared to make arrangements costings hundreds of dollars on spec. I’ll buy a convention pack without seeing the toys, because I’m taking part in an event, but I won’t book a hotel until I’ve submitted a convention form. The sooner I have a convention form, the more likely I can get vacation leave and discounts to afford the accommodations and transportation costs, and be able to attend.

In what has been described in the United States as a depression, I am serious reservations of falling any tried-and-trued model. I have reservations about an event that presumes attendance rather than provides amble opportunity to obtain vacation time and make affordable travel arrangements by making convention details available in advance. Worldcon has had delegate forms ready since the fall for an event scheduled for August. Providing a bigger time frame seems to me to be more advantageous than narrowing it.

No one is certainly implying that everything needs to be cast in stone three years in advance. Events, by definition, need some fluidity in terms of events and presentations. But why admission forms can’t be put up on line as soon as a location is known is beyond me.

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