Rusted Halo and Bag of Snow on Amazon.com

Looks like both of my novels are now up for purchase on Amazon.com. I’ve been looking to see them there for a while (about 9 weeks), and expected to get a notification from Lulu about them when they did. That never happened. I kept checking the globalReach page for Bag of Snow and nothing on the page for it changed.

Today on a whim, I decided to search for my full name instead (“Andrew Arthur Green” as they were authored) and they both were there. They look to be the edited/updated versions as well. Funny enough, they are discounted without any doing on my part; down from $13.00 to $11.70. I don’t know what that means for my revenue, but I really don’t care how much money I make on these.

Finally, a benefit for them being on Amazon now is that if you have Amazon Prime you can get free shipping.

Also if you are inclined and adverse to Amazon, Bag of Snow is up on Barnes & Noble as well. Rusted Halo isn’t up there for some reason. They are both still up on Lulu.com as they were before.

Transformers Animated Wasp (customs)

Transformers Animated Wasps

Transformers Animated Wasps – Two customs of the same character

At the same time I was working on my custom Transformers Animated Windblade, I was also working on this pair of custom TFA figures. Each of these toys is an homage to the misunderstood Decepticon: Transformers Animated Wasp.

Transformers Animated Wasps - Side by SideIn the show, Wasp originally starts off with a similarly constructed chassis or body to the familiar Bumblebee. Unfortunately during his time trying to become part of the Autobot Elite Guard, Wasp is incorrectly labelled a traitor and is sent to prison. He doesn’t do to well in the brink, quickly escapes, and then isn’t quite the same as he once was. Wasp gains a weird voice pattern, odd mannerisms, and promises to avenge himself against Bumblebee, whom he felt has wronged him. He makes his way to Earth to locate the Autobot, and chaos ensues. It is the Wasp seen during these episodes that my custom toys homage. They also reference the Wasp that appears during this transition period, before he is transformed into something more sinister…

The impetus for this pair of custom figures was a local Transformers fan, Nickbot. He’ll be leaving the state of Arizona very soon, and I wanted to make this custom for him for his send off. At the same time, I figured if I was going to make one, why not make two so I could have a Wasp of my own? So “planzzz” were made and I got started on sculpting some heads.

Sculpting Wasp's Head Sculpting Wasp's Head Sculpting Wasp's Head

 

 

 

 

I began by disassembling a loose deluxe-class Elite Guard Bumblebee that I had (which has a ton of parts and pins by the way), and then began sanding down his base head. I knew that I wanted to give him his large mandible-esque chin and to match the control artwork I had as close as possible. So I began to add Apoxie Sculpt to build up the shapes of his head.

I would work on this head in between working on Windblade. I’d mold quite a bit of extra material on to the head, knowing that I’d sand it way down to get the shapes I wanted. I’d then let it cure while sanding the other custom. It took a lot of sanding to get the chin to look as good as it did. My customizing desk was covered in dust and plastic particles. I’d use differing grit levels of sanding sticks to get as smooth of a surface as possible on each contour.

Sculpting Wasp's HeadSculpting Wasp's HeadSculpting Wasp's Head

 

 

 

 

My initial intention was to try to keep the light piping from the original Bumblebee eyes as well. Unfortunately I realized that those eyes would have been too small, so I decided to go ahead and sculpt in some bug eyes in those cavities. But that meant since I already had the chin done, the eyes couldn’t be as big as I wanted.

At least I could add a pretty menacing brow above the eyes, and I really like that feature. I also added to his chin/cheeks so that the mandible would be a bit more distinct. Finally, I tweaked the “antenna” shape on his head and sanded it all down. Test fitting it on the loose Bumblebee I had looked good, and I found that the new head did transform fine in vehicle mode.

Sculpting Wasp's HeadSculpting Wasp's HeadSculpting Wasp's Head

 

 

 

 

With one head done after about 2 weeks of on-and-off work, I started on #2. I knew that while #1 was good, I wanted more buggy eyes, a longer/deeper chin, and for his cheeks to suck in a bit. So I went about creating the second one a bit differently.

I began by really sanding down Bumblebee’s original chin. I wanted a straight and vertical flat mouth. I also wanted to completely remove BB’s horns and crest. Unfortunately I went a bit too far and began to sand through the plastic until there were gaps or holes. Whoops. “I’ll fix it in post…”

Sculpting Wasp's HeadSculpting Wasp's Head Sculpting Wasp's Head

 

 

 

Sculpting Wasp's Head

Whoops

I began by sculpting bulging bug eyes. I initially thought they were big enough, but after I made the new chin and brow, I realized they were too small. At this point I had also realized that the new brow I built was made from material that hadn’t been mixed properly and therefore never cured. I had to tear off the soft material and start again, adding another day and a half of work.

Finally I got to a point where I was happy with the second head. The chin had the shape I wanted, his mouth area was wider, his eyes were “buggier”, and his head crest was more pronounced. Overall both heads looked great, and they looked like Wasp.

Sculpting Wasp's HeadSculpted Wasp Heads Sculpted Wasp Heads

 

 

 

 

I detoured briefly and decided to carve out their hands so they would have claw-ish hands instead of Bumblebee’s square fingers. Using sanding sticks and a hobby knife, I trimmed down the hands until I was happy with them.

First test of paintThen it was off to start painting. I started with the heads and the door panels, and everything looked fine at first. It seemed as though the Model Master Acryl Gloss Green I chose would work.

Sadly, that didn’t end up being the case, as it took forever to paint the base green. Both the black plastic of Elite Guard Bumblebee and the bright yellow of regular Bumblebee ended up being a challenge. Very quickly I got sick of painting green…

Fast forward a couple of days, and a couple of diversions to work on Windblade instead, and I got almost all of the parts for the pair of Wasps completed. The underlying blacks and lime greens were easy. I decided to use a flat black for the windows, and gloss black for detail parts.

Transformers Animated Wasp

Finished Wasp Custom

Painted Wasp HeadsI ended up hand painting the head details since I couldn’t mask off the indented areas or eyes. Even though they are hand-painted in the end, they still look pretty good.

They both got reassembled into car mode so I could do the detail hood stripe, I added a few more details, a quick clear coat to even out the dark green, and voila: I had two finished Transformers Animated Wasps.

In the end, the overall effort isn’t as impressive, or notable, as something like Windblade; but they are still a pretty cool achievement. The heads are nicely sculpted and unique. The paint jobs looks pretty spiffy, and both Nick and I now have deluxe-class Wasps for our Transfomers Animated collections.

Transformers Animated Wasps

Check out our sick claaaawzzz…

Wasp, Wasp, Waspinator

Wasp, Wasp, Waspinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bumblebee versus the Wasps

Bee better watch out so he doesn’t get stung

Unique headsculpts

Unique headsculpts, and overbites

Bumblebee vs the Wasps

Just a couple of average painted cars…

Car, car, giant bug

Car, car, giant bug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, my next attempt with this mold will most likely be a certain blue female bot whose character I seem to have an affinity for…

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Transformers Animated Wasp (2)
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Transformers Animated Windblade (custom)

Transformers Animated Windblade - Robot mode

Transformers Animated Windblade (custom)

So May 2014 was a fairly depressing month for me for a variety of reasons. It was a bit difficult to want to keep pushing forward, and one of my key ways of dealing with it all was to dive deep into my projects at work and at home. That focus on work let me distract myself with the tasks at hand, and then the time would just pass. As such, I jumped headfirst into trying to get this custom Transformer completed by the end of May.

Windblade (IDW Comic) - Art by Sarah Stone

Windblade (IDW Comic) – Art by Sarah Stone

This custom sculpted and painted figure is Transformers Animated Windblade. The character of Windblade is the first fan-created character that Hasbro has ever developed. She is the star of both her own comic book mini-series from IDW, as well as the inspiration for an upcoming retail Transformers Generations toy. She is also rare in that she’s one of the few female Transformers in the current TF universe, which brings up some interesting discussion since the current TF’s don’t traditionally identify with any gender.

With my custom, I’ve brought the Windblade character into a different universe: Transformers Animated. TFA is one of my favorite versions of the Transformers brand. The re-imagined characters, the homages to Generation 1, the great cartoon, and the excellent toys were some of the best ever produced. Unfortunately, the franchise ended several years ago and no new fiction or figures have been produced since then. That however doesn’t mean that I couldn’t keep it alive by making my own customs…

Transformers Animated Windblade - Vehicle Mode

Jet mode

Once after I had read issue #1 of Windblade’s mini-series, I instantly got the idea to bring her character into the TFA universe with a custom. Sarah Stone’s artwork screamed to get an Animated version. I also realized I most likely needed to hurry to try to get the concept completed before both someone else thought of it and while Windblade was in the spotlight.

My take on the TFA version of Windblade is that she was once a car based Transformer like almost all of her fellow Autobots. However, once she learned that her friends Jetfire and Jetstorm had been granted the ability to fly, she too also looked into getting skyward. After working with the same team that developed Optimus Prime’s Wingblade upgrade, Windblade was granted the ability to soar above the metal plains of Cybertron.

The core figure for my custom is the TFA deluxe Arcee mold. It’s a superbly designed toy that was only officially ever produced three times (with one of those releases being very, very rare). I happen to own all those releases, but I also have previously customized this mold twice before for two earlier customs: Chromia and Moonracer.

Transformers Animated Fembots

Drag Strip, Moonracer (custom), Arcee, Chromia (custom), Windblade (custom), Minerva (BotCon 2011 custom class)

I knew that I would have to do quite a bit of sculpting and modification to get her to work. Not only did she have a unique headdress, but she also needed wings because her alternate mode was a jet. My original plan was to scratch build the wings with styrene sheets, but as it happened I had a loose deluxe-class Cybertronian Megatron who I could steal the wings from. They also matched the hooked wing style of the original character.

It took a good two weeks to carve out the spaces for the wings and rebuild the platforms with apoxie-sculpt. I would saw and sand down the original plastic, test fit the wings, and then mold the updated wing pods. I’d give a day for the molding compound to cure, and then I would sand, test, and repeat.

Mostly sculpted head

Mostly sculpted head

I also worked on her headdress using both styrene and apoxie-sculpt. This also took quite a while to get it to a state where I was happy. It took multiple attempts and updates to get the pieces to look good. The headdress took even longer than the wings to get right.

The biggest problem is that I was getting impatient while I had to wait for the sculpted pieces to dry. I desperately wanted to be able to get some paint on the figure. I was quite pleased once I got to that point of the project and started using my airbrush again.

Painting was a bit more difficult this time around, as I tried to match Sarah Stone’s art as much as possible when coming up with the paint deco. Her upper body and lower legs were repainted several times to get a look that I liked and that I felt hit the right notes to be Windblade. I also had to come up with a paint scheme for her alternate jet mode that matched as best possible. Overall I think the colors and layout work well to convey that this is really TFA Windblade.

Transformers Animated Windblade - Close-upThe hardest part was definitely getting the eye details correct. I knew I couldn’t hand paint detail that small, so I ended up airbrushing some blank stickers and cutting out the little red curls for her face. After a few attempts I trimmed the shapes to my liking and attached them. I added tiny bits of other red detail to get the stickers to blend into the rest of her face.

Finally after some detail touch-ups she was done. I took some photos and then uploaded them to Twitter. And then my custom project went mini-viral…

TFA Windblade and Chromia (customs)

Windblade and Chromia. They are partners in the current comic and here are my TFA versions.

Very quickly the photos were retweeted and favorited multiple times. My phone’s was continuously buzzing from notifications and my email inbox somewhat exploded. The first photo I posted reached 94 retweets and 108 favorites within 24 hours. The other photos had similar high share counts. Transformers fans from around the world began to share photos of my custom amongst themselves, even with those with names I couldn’t say or spell. In addition, not only did other famous TF creators and artists begin to share it (like TFA art director Derrick J Wyatt), but the official Transformers Collectors Club even retweeted it for another boost in attention the following day.

My concept and planning paid off. I hit while the iron was hot, and it felt good that I still knew what the Transformers fandom liked. The admiration and praise I received for my hard work gave me a boost. That boost reminded me that the fans liked my work, and it reminded me that my talent was highly regarded.

And so by the end of May, I had ended on a high note. I pushed through the rough spots by focusing on my work, and I ended the month with a bit of cheer. Not only did I feel better about myself, but I had a great custom figure for my collection, and a sense of pride within myself as Summer finally started.

Transformers Animated Fembots

Transformers Animated Windblade - Vehicle ModeTFA Windblade and Chromia (customs) Wing testTest fitting wingsHead DesignsTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated Windblade
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My Novels Printed: Rusted Halo and Bag of Snow

Printed copies of both my novels

Printed copies of both my novels: Rusted Halo and Bag of Snow

It’s been a long road. After starting my first novel back in November 2004, here I am almost 10 years later and both of my books are available in a printed form.

Both novels were written during a writing challenge called NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. The goal is for the writer to write a 50,000 word fiction novel over the entire month of November. That boils down to about 1,600 words or about 3 full pages each day. That means most writers have to churn out that much copy each and every day without any breaks. Skip or miss a day, and the creator easily gets behind (which is a very common occurrence). The challenge is just to get words and thoughts down on paper or stored electronically. The end goal is to not have a finished and edited piece, but just to complete the exercise and work out story ideas. It’s meant as practice to becoming a better writer.

I originally wrote my first book, Rusted Halo, for NaNoWriMo 2004. I produced a complete fantasy story filled with detailed lore and with a beginning, middle, and end. It follows the story of a warrior named Donovan and his travails through his life. The tale is somewhat dark as I tried to break from the standard “happy” fantasy norm I was accustomed to reading.

The following year in 2005, I wrote a pseudo-prequel called Bag of Snow that starred another character named Marissa. However, her story ended unfinished with a cliffhanger. I tried to reverse from what I had previously written, and chose to write a cheerful, funny, and happier story than the first book. I also tried my hand at writing about relationships.

Both times I reached over the 50,000 word mark, and both times I was very proud of my accomplishment. What I wasn’t proud of was how stressed and angry both challenges made me during the month of November. Therefore, I did not continue to write after the second novel. I also never felt the time was right to set aside the hours needed to polish each story.

Both novels essentially sat in digital storage for years.

During that time, a running gag in Jessica’s Amazon Wish List was that she requested printed versions of the books. Year upon year, those requests stayed on her list. That was until 2013, when I finally decided to attempt finishing both books. And so during this past November, I began revisiting Rusted Halo.

Starting in November and running into December, I returned to both books, editing and tweaking where I saw fit. I worked on cover and interior artwork that I felt was appropriate, and I also got them formatted and ready to self-publish via Lulu.com. Finally, I was able to get some assistance from a co-worker to review and suggest edits for both books (more info about her contributions is below).

So as of today, both books are available for purchase via Lulu.com for those that are curious.

Buy Rusted Halo

Buy Bag of Snow

Lulu.com is a self-publisher that prints books on demand, and they actually have a very impressive product. The samples and final copies I ordered for myself are pretty much indistinguishable from standard retail books. In fact, both novels have actual ISBN codes like “real” books!

I chose to format both books into paperbacks, as I personally prefer to read fantasy novels in the that format. The quality of the writing and stories somewhat follows what you might get out of a paperback fantasy.

They are currently priced as cheap as I can make them ($13 a piece) and still be able have them eventually be available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and other booksellers. While they aren’t at those retailers yet (maybe within 6-8 weeks if I’m lucky), they are available on Lulu.com now! In fact, if you order by May 11, you can use the coupon code MOM10 to get 10% off. They usually have other similar coupon codes from time to time as well. I do get a few nominal dollars if you do decide to purchase, but that is not my goal with these books.

I would remiss to not mention that I would not have finished both novels without the help of others.

First, with my wife Jessica‘s patience and support, these books would have never seen the light of day. She was there for me when I originally wrote them, and she was there egging me on to get them past the draft stage so others might be able to read them. Both novels are dedicated to her thanks to her contributions.

I also must give my sincere thanks to a coworker of mine who helped to review and suggest edits for the books. Her name is Kelsie Beaudoin and is also a fellow NaNoWriMo author. She’s not only a great writer, copy writer, and editor; but she also does amazing costume work as well. Her suggestions with grammar, logic, and style suggestions really helped polish both stories into their current states.

Rusted Halo and Bag of Snow

Buy your own copies at Lulu.com

Having paper copies of the books in hand is also like reaching the end of a very long creative journey. There is something about having one’s own words “professionally” printed on a page.

The whole process has also revitalized my spirit to write again. I already have tons of notes for a third novel within my fantasy world, and I already know what type of story I want to tell next time around. Most likely this Fall, I’ll be trying my hand at NaNoWriMo for a third time…

Hopefully it will take less than a decade to get that particular story printed.

Transformers Animated Thundercracker (custom)

A custom-made army

Transformers Animated Thundercracker

Transformers Animated Thundercracker

After quite a hiatus, I finally got back into creating custom figures for my Transformers Animated collection. So what project did I choose? To create an army of voyager class Thundercrackers of course.

In my personal queue of customizing projects there has always been this idea near the top of my list: making a version of the voyager class Transformers Animated Thundercracker. In fact, this project has been in the queue since the very beginning.

You see, this particular custom makes up for a toy that we were promised back in 2009 that never saw retail shelves. At BotCon 2009 we were shown the final toys from the Transformers Animated (TFA) line. Of those, a batch of them were eventually made available for purchase, and the other half never saw the light of day.

Voyager class Thundercracker was one of the toys that was never made available. And with Thundercracker being one part of trio of core seekers, the missing figure was a definite hole is many collections.

Unreleased ThundercrackerNow mind you, the concept behind this custom and toy isn’t very exciting. It’s the exact same toy used for Starscream, Skywarp, and Sunstorm. It was only a redeco in Thundercracker colors. No fancy additions, no remolding. In fact the color scheme of the toy isn’t all that spectacular either. It’s pretty plain and somewhat boring. To the casual observer, it isn’t really all that big of a deal.

But to TFA collectors, it is considered by many to be a holy grail. An unobtainable figure.

Unreleased Thundercracker - BoxedA single copy of the figure, probably a painted test shot, is the only one to have made it out into the world. Photos of a complete boxed copy surfaced in marketing materials, but never in person. I even asked a collector who did a video review online of the sole toy what he had sold him for. I got a reply that he sold it for “multiple digits”. So some version of this guy was out there, and we weren’t ever going to ever have him.

So very early on after getting my airbrush, I procured a voyager class Skywarp that could be re-purposed into a Thundercracker. That sealed figure unfortunately sat untouched until mid-2013 when I dug into this project.

My plan was to match the official toy photos as much as possible. No improvements in design or paintwork. No additional details. I wanted him to look as if he came directly from the factory. Even though the toy colors don’t match the show’s artwork, I still aimed for toy accuracy.

I also figured, somewhat naively, that while I was doing one; it might not be too terrible to do more. And I knew my local AZ collector friends would jump at the chance to own a version of this toy, even if not official. I assumed that since his deco wasn’t too detailed that the mass-production wouldn’t be all that bad. So I put the call out to 4 locals, “provide the base figure and I’d paint him up.” And shortly thereafter, I had 5 voyager class base seekers: my Skywarp and 4 Starscreams.

As I was disassembling my Skywarp, the part count began to grow. Piece by piece I unscrewed panels and popped off parts. Then I got to things like the toy’s hidden arm cannon gimmicks and saw the multiple tiny parts that made up the mechanism. I took photo after photo, trying to discern and hope that I could put these crazy mechanisms back together.

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So after about 3 hours of constant work one night, the 5 figures turned into several hundred parts, pins, and screws. My extended computer desk was covered in pretty much nothing but pieces of plastic. This was the largest figure I had customized to this point, and I here I was doing it 5 times over. “Hoo boy”, this might be more than I bargained for.

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The next steps followed my standard process: wash each part in soap and water, dry them, and then separate into different bowls depending on the base paint color needed. Then it was time to begin painting.

I planned on using as base paint colors directly out of the bottle as often as I could. The more that I’d have to mix, the higher likelihood that I’d run out of the custom color midway through the project. And mismatched parts at the end would be devastating to the final product.

Batch of Blue - Flat vs GlossI started with Model Master Acryl Ford/GM Engine Blue on some mini wings as a test. This base blue was as close as I thought I’d get to the plastic color needed, but it ended up being a bit too dark and a bit too metallic. I unfortunately had already purchased 3 bottles as while I ramping up for the production. Oh well.

Fortunately, my second tests with Model Master Acryl Cobalt Blue led to better results. The only drawback is that the base paint is very flat, almost to a point where it’s chalky. Another experiment shortly after this led me to try glossing the paint, which worked surprisingly well. Spraying a bit of Future Floor Polish (yes floor polish), added just enough sheen and glow to make the paint pop. Future is like a thin, clear acrylic paint. In fact, the test parts looked really, really close to the blue plastic I was aiming for. With that test successful, I began painting several hundred parts blue.

Lots of tiny blue piecesOver the course of maybe 2 weeks of on-and-off nightly painting, the majority of the project’s base coats had been completed.

As it turns out, the custom mixed colors weren’t all that bad to create. A violet/pink purple for the wing stripes, and sky blue for their hands and biceps. Simple stuff considering the scope of the project.

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Unfortunately the masking of each hip wing (20 overall with double sides), and the main canopy piece took a long time. In fact, the main canopy had to be painted in several stages. Each time masking off 90% of the part just to get a particular paint app perfect. The intakes on these canopies were also kinda crazy as you can see with the mask I ended up making to get them just right. And then the heads were “lots of fun” to paint too…

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By this point in the project, I had worked through two entire weekends just painting. Each Saturday and Sunday, from sunrise to well past midnight I painted. Bowl after bowl of parts were sprayed, inspected, touched up, and glossed. Multiple bottles of Cobalt Blue ended up empty. The grind of this project was starting to hit, and in all honestly I was very much looking forward to being done with it.

I was also noticing that I had painted over some of the metal pins that I couldn’t remove during the dis-assembly process. So then I made the decision to hand paint silver on each pin and hinge to make it truly look factory fresh. I even painted some of the springs. Those touches added that little bit of extra authenticity that was needed.

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I had also begun to put parts together, such as the legs, while other parts dried. I’d paint one part, and then assemble another. I was putting the army together from the feet up. From his toes to his waist things were going fine. Unfortunately trouble arose when I got to those hidden cannon mechanisms.

Arm Mechanism Hinges - Sanded DownAs it turns out, there is no rhyme or reason to how each of the hinge pieces go together. I didn’t know which ones were supposed to be in front, which went in the back, which arm they were supposed to be in, and the like. And after I had started putting them together, I found that due to clearance and rubbing issues, certain copies of the arm wouldn’t close all the way.

So after much hair pulling while trying to solve the problem with brute force; I decided to test each arm (all 10 of them with 8 parts a piece), take them apart if they had issues, sand down the hinges, repaint the hinges, and then reassemble each arm. This step alone was an entire evening. All this work for a feature that would rarely, if ever, be seen.

Completion?But finally nearing midnight on September 14, a little over a month after I started, I had assembled a fully complete army of Transformers Animated Thundercrackers.

The next day I did a bit of additional customizing work (described later in this entry) and then decided to take photos of the crew. I set up multiple group shots and took all the detailed photos I usually do at the end of a project.

With that done I decided to put away my gear. I cleaned up my customizing table, put away my tools, condensed all my paint bottles, did a full chemical cleaning of my airbrush, and put everything else away.

Find the missing paint application and win a prize...

Find the missing paint application and win a prize…

Then with everything stowed away I looked back at the reference photos on my computer one last time and noticed something… I missed one paint application on each of them.

I grumbled.

To solve this the next day I hand-painted that last bit, and then I had the full army completed to my satisfaction.

The final output is actually kind of amazing. They really do look like the unreleased toy in my honest opinion. The blue is pretty much spot-on to the original photos, as are all the other colors. Each paint detail is there, and every pin and screw is visibly metallic.

An army of Thundercrackers

An army of Thundercrackers

Custom Headed Seekers Custom Resin TFA Seeker Heads
The tiny bit of additional work I mentioned above was some paintwork on a set of custom heads I purchased from TinMan.A.H on TFW2005. I wanted to make my seekers stand out a bit from the retail releases, and so I painted this alternate set of resin heads to better match the characters’ profiles. Starscream matches his body’s color and has an Allspark fragment stuck in his head, Skywarp looks fearful with giant eyes, Thundercracker is smirking to match his ego, and Sunstorm has his G1-seeker helmet that he received in an episode of the show. I like the bit of flourish these add to my figures.

The only thing that is missing from these guys are their gold Decepticon emblems. Unfortunately I don’t know where I could procure or make these, and I wasn’t about to try to spray something that intricate. In all honestly, I barely notice that they are missing but I assume we’ll come across a solution in the future and apply them then.

Finished Thundercracker - Robot ModeFinished Thundercracker - Jet Mode

So to sum up; looking at the entire project, I’m estimating that I used about $50 of materials and spent about 100+ hours creating these guys. Again, like the Copperhead project, the workload for this far outweighed my original estimate. I don’t mind that I did the full set, but I really ought to think a bit more about a project before I tackle something like this again.

In the end, I’m still tremendously proud of the achievement.

I’m most certainly going to be taking a sizable break before my next project, which will most likely be a single, smaller figure.

As stated earlier, all 5 are already spoken for.

I will close by saying that along with Thundercracker being in my original customizing queue, so was the other TFA seeker that we never saw a toy for. I’m sure I’ll get to her eventually, considering that I have another Skywarp and a pre-cast head at the ready. I’m sure when I reach that point, I’ll be more comfortable altering the figure to give her a proper toy for my collection…

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T-cracker Project – Preparation

One disassembled Starscream

One disassembled Starscream

Two disassembled Starscreams

Two disassembled Starscreams

Three disassembled Starscreams

Three disassembled Starscreams

Starscream witnesses the disassembly carnage

Starscream witnesses the disassembly carnage

... and joins the group as disassembled Starscream #4

… and joins the group as disassembled Starscream #4

Let's add a Skywarp to the pile of parts too

Let’s add a Skywarp to the pile of parts too

My, that is a lot of screws, pins, and springs

My, that is a lot of screws, pins, and springs

Quite a daunting task ahead...

Quite a daunting task ahead…

Diaclone Blue Bluestreak and Marlboor (customs)

Blue Bluestreak and Marlboor - Robot modes

After about a 12 month hiatus where I was not customizing Transformers, I recently completed 2 repaints that homage pre-Transformers toys called Diaclone.

Blue Bluestreak and Marlboor - Sports Car modesDiaclone was a Japanese toyline from Takara that predates the American Transformers line. Most of the toys from that line came over unchanged when Transformers came along in 1984, but there were also variants that were available in Japan that never made it over. Also in Diaclone many of the toys would have multiple color variants that we never saw on our shores.

Blue Bluestreak

G1 Bluestreak Box Art

G1 Bluestreak Box Art

One such variant was a blue Datsun “Fairlady Z” toy. The original mold was used for multiple TF characters like Prowl, Bluestreak, and later Smokescreen. In addition to bringing over the toys, Hasbro also often re-used the Japanese art on the US packaging too. Again this worked most of the time… except when Bluestreak came along.

G1 Bluestreak

The G1 Bluestreak toy we got…

Technically Bluestreak is named as such because he is a talker, annoyingly so, and therefore would “talk to you till you were blue”. As it turns out the toy we got was silver and grey. However, the original art was based on the blue version of the toy. So there on your American box for your silver Bluestreak was a blue Bluestreak. Bluestreak should be blue right? The art and instructions show that he is. That kind of inaccuracy can drive a kid nuts… for 30 years…

Blue Bluestreak - Robot mode

So fast forward today and I’ve now got my own Blue Bluestreak that is part of my updated Transformers Classics collection. He’s a simple repaint of an existing toy and homages the classic Blue Bluestreak to a tee. The design and idea are not unique and have been done before, but I’m still glad I made him. It feels good to finally have a real version of this toy, even in an updated form.

Blue Bluestreak - Sports Car modeIt’s hard to see in the photos, but his metallic blue paint is really striking. It took quite a bit of work, and multiple layers to get that effect. In person he looks amazing.

Marlboor

Marlboor Wheeljack

Diclone Marlboor Wheeljack

Marlboor, or Marlboro Wheeljack, is another Diaclone oddity. The original Autobot cars were based on real racing cars of the time. In fact most of their decos matched existing cars, including their advertising/sponsors. In most cases, Takara would change a letter or two in a sponsor’s name and then call it good. Gitanes = Citanes, MartiniMartinii, and in Marlboor’s case: Marlboro = Marlboor.

Marlboor - Robot modeFurthermore Marlboor, as he has come to be known, is also styled after the cigarette brand as well with the distinct red stripe. Throw in a uniquely styled head, and you have a 30-year-old figure that many collectors would wish to have.

So as it happens, in 2012 the UK TF convention Auto Assembly produced a kitbash kit that included a new head and stickers so customizers could turn their Wheeljacks in Marlboor. I had a fellow AZ TF fan pick up a set for me, which I promptly sat on for a year.

Marlboor - Sports Car mode

Again, fast forward to today and I have my own Classics Marlboor. I utilized existing customs from other folks and made my own amalgam of what I’d want my Marlboor to be. I’m happy with how his red paint turned out, and his overall deco is quite nice. However, I do feel that he does look better in race car mode.

Am I a fan of how he’s related to cigarettes? Not in the slightest, but the deco is still cool.

More Diaclone?

After completing these two, I’ve now got the itch to fill in the other gaps of Diaclone cars we never saw stateside. Red Mirage, Black Tracks, Black Ironhide, Red Sunstreaker, etc. If I do go on that path, it’s gonna be an expensive and lengthy process to complete those figures. But oh would they look so nice…

Blue Bluestreak - Close-upMarlboor - Close-upSilverstreak and Bluestreak - Sports Car modesSilverstreak and Bluestreak - Sports Car modesWheeljack and Marlboor - Robot modesWheeljack and Marlboor - Sports Car modes

Thoughts on Mass Effect Trilogy

No video game experience has been more fulfilling for me than the Mass Effect trilogy.

That is quite a bold statement above, but after finally finishing Mass Effect 3 for a second time I can’t think of a better way to put down my opinion on this series of sci-fi games.

I know they aren’t perfect games. I know there are a lot of problems with each one. And I know the universe is just like Star Wars. But here I am with no more Mass Effect story to go through and I’m sincerely bummed. My Shepard’s story is finished. It’s a shame I won’t be able to experience more of the world through his actions, and those actions of his very memorable crew. I believe I will sincerely miss having them around and being part of their world.

Here’s a timeline of my play history:

Commander Shepard

My Commander Shepard

  • Originally started Mass Effect 1 on December 20, 2007 via a friend’s copy
  • Played as the default male, named Donovan Shepard, classed as a pure Soldier
  • Initially gave up after failing the Luna mission twice and stopped playing
  • Picked it back up 5 years later on February 27, 2013
  • Chose the asari Liara as my companion
  • Finished Mass Effect 1 as a full Paragon (good guy) on March 2, 2013
  • Started Mass Effect 2 on March 3, 2013
  • Chose to rebuild my Shepard as a Sentinel with base biotic powers
  • Completed all the crew loyalty missions
  • Bought every ship upgrade
  • Saved everyone on the Suicide Mission
  • Remained faithful to Liara through the game into Shadow Broker DLC
  • Also completed the Zaaed, Kasumi, Normandy Crash site, and Arrival DLC
  • Finished Mass Effect 2 as a full Paragon on April 4, 2013
  • Started Mass Effect 3 on April 8, 2013
  • Completed the From Ashes, Leviathan, and Citadel DLC
  • Remained faithful to the end with Liara
  • Finished Mass Effect 3 as a level 60 full Paragon on May 20, 2013, choosing the “green” option
  • Downloaded the extended cut ending
  • Finished the game again for a final time on May 25, 2013 with the extended cut, choosing the “green” option again

Overall Game Time played

  • Mass Effect 1 = 34 hours
  • Mass Effect 2 = 49 hours
  • Mass Effect 3 = 64 hours
  • TOTAL = 147 hours

That is a whole lot of my life spent to playing some electronic entertainment, more than 6 full days of gaming combined. And even with all that time spent, I’m upset that there isn’t more. And no, multiplayer doesn’t count. I want more stories I can interact with.

Quick Mini-Reviews

Mass Effect 1

The game is essentially just the original Knights of the Old Republic again. The story is slow to start, there is terrible inventory management, individual stats, really long loading times, bad vehicle sequences, and kind of lackluster action. The framerate on the Xbox 360 version are also pretty terrible, dipping into a crawl sometimes during hectic sections. What makes it compelling is the fiction, the characters, the voice work, the music, etc. Of the three games, this one has the most exploration options and most varied paths. To think there are wildly varied choices that you can make in this game that last the entire trilogy, and change its universe, is astounding. As a pure game it’s weak, but as an experience it’s great.

Mass Effect 2

A tremendous improvement over ME1. Right off the bat, the graphics are better, the action’s faster, inventory management doesn’t exist, and overall it’s just simplified. Yes, it turned into more of a shooter (ammo clips and all), but the game is better for it. The character moments really improved this time out with the loyalty missions being a standout. Interrupt-able conversation trees were also a nice surprise. It’s the best game in the trilogy. And a must for this game is the Shadow Broker DLC: top-notch and worthwhile top-to-bottom.

Mass Effect 3

We definitely have an action game now; it’s practically like Gears of War. The gameplay has been finely tuned and it is still an amazing experience. The story beats are some of the strongest yet, and the stakes for the universe are at their bleakest. Seeing familiar faces from the past show up as part of the galaxy ending war was a treat. Shepard’s story ends on a high-note, but his (or her) story is now over.

Highlights

Choices and being the good guy

I pretty much always end up playing the good guy role, or in this case Paragon, in most games. I can’t usually see myself making the evil choices. So with Mass Effect, it was great to have my Paragon choices have long-lasting galaxy-wide effects: Wrex, the genophage, the rachni, Mordin, Tali, the quarians and geth, etc.

I also made an effort to put a lot of skill points into ME1′s persuasion so I could convince most folks to not end things with violence; so much so I convinced the first game’s “bid baddy” to sacrifice himself versus having a boss fight. All of these experiences above were profound.

Characters

The crew you fight along with are some of the best fleshed out characters in any game I’ve come across. From their unique designs, to their varying attitudes, to their perfect voices they each feel alive. From Tali, Wrex, Joker, Garrus, Javik, to EDI and the others; each is amazing in their own way. You will feel like you know these characters, almost as if they’ve been people you’ve known for a long time. There were only 1 or 2 of the characters that I wasn’t fond of through most of the trilogy, but even by the end each was someone I’m glad to have met.

Liara

Liara

Liara T’Soni

The relationship storylines and character romances in these games are well-known. Based off the characters presented in ME1, I chose to be in a relationship with Liara. She seemed to be the best fit for my Shepard.

When ME2 started off I was very upset that she wasn’t part of my crew anymore. There were other new characters who came long and tried to woo my Shepard. But I chose to stick with Liara through ME2, not even knowing she’d show up again in the Shadow Broker DLC. To keep the relationship solid through all of ME2 even when she wasn’t a significant part of the game felt right.

And then when she popped up early in ME3, I was very happy to have her part of the crew again alongside my Shepard. Throughout all of the rough moments of ME3, she stuck by Shepard’s side. On the other side of the coin, he was around when things went sour for her. The final tearful moments of ME3, specifically with Liara, are some of the most emotional and meaningful video game experiences I’ve ever had.

In fact, I replayed the very long and tedious last battle just to see the extra Liara content from the extended ending, which wasn’t present when I finished ME3 the first time. Those additional four hours of playing were worth the extra few minutes my Shepard got to spend with Liara.

Downloadable Content (DLC)

The DLC for the Mass Effect games isn’t cheap, but is some of the best content available for the games. The Shadow Broker has amazing set pieces, character moments, and story. It even plays into the later game in meaningful ways. From Ashes brings a character to your team, Javik, that you’ll want to bring on every mission (I did). Leviathan gives more background into the Mass Effect universe and tells some history about where the Reapers came from that is key to final game choices. I would say that all the DLC I listed above in my playthroughs were worth the price of admission to get that little bit extra of ME.

Finally the Citadel, specifically the non-action/party moments, are my absolute favorite ME content. It is almost the “real” end to the game. The gang all comes back for one final celebration before the last battle. Having characters from as far back as ME1 reappear was amazing. From jokes that spanned the entire trilogy, interesting set pieces and conversations, to character moments where Shepard got to say his final goodbyes. One simply cannot fully finish ME3 without also finishing Citadel.

In conclusion

With Shepard’s story being complete, I’m sad that it’s all done. I’m sure that there are more Mass Effect games in development and I look forward to playing them. I’m not quite sure how they will fit into the mythos my Shepard built. This is because most likely the choices I made won’t have an effect on the new games, and that seems like a shame. The series was great because I got to dictate how things played out.

But even with that said, I’m glad that I invested as much time as I did in the games. It’s a set of experiences that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, let alone experience with another game.

The Hobbit and HFR

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

I just got finished watching the first of the Hobbit movies, An Unexpected Journey. I’m a little late to the party, but I did end up seeing the 48fps 3D version otherwise known as HFR.

I have a lot to say about the flick and so this blog post (a rare thing in itself) is a collection of my rambling thoughts. I bet my opinions differ from most, but here they are regardless.

HFR = OMG

That is the three-letter word that I equate the visuals of this movie to.

This is how I wish I could watch every single movie. I don’t know whether it was the higher framerate (48fps vs 24fps), the Red Cameras they used, or the digital 3D; but the HFR version of the Hobbit has the clearest, cleanest images on-screen I have ever seen.

For me, it really was like I was part of the world of Middle-Earth. No, it’s not cinematic (which I’ll touch on later). It’s better than that. The colors, the focus, the utter smoothness of the picture. It’s like watching the best HD video one has ever seen.

I’m a framerate and clarity snob. I want high framerates in my video games (100+ fps please). I want high resolution with nary a pixel in sight. I want super clear focus where every detail can be seen. The projection of this movie was phenomenal. I’ll be cliché and say it was magical.

Yes, the first 10-15 minutes are jarring. It’s almost like they are speeding up the playback by fast forwarding the reel. However, once you get used to it the detriments are not noticeable. In fact, it almost becomes comfortable.

The closest I can equate the HFR to is like video you’d see in an amusement park motion ride, kinda like Transformers the Ride. Tons of detail and buttery smooth. All of that led to it being totally immersive to me.

To me, the folks saying 24fps is the way things should be are like photographers still attached to film.

It’s not a movie, it’s like watching a book

An Unexpected Journey isn’t a movie. It doesn’t have a well paced story. There is no real beginning, middle, or end. There is far too much detail present. Scenes linger on for far too long. There are honestly too many characters. Some dwarves I didn’t even remember their names.

What it is instead is a visual book. It’s like a book in that it feels like you are reading at your own pace. Book chapters can last forever and be packed with details that can’t be squeezed into 90 minutes or more. This “movie” is just a world that is laid out on-screen. The filmmakers just happen to use cinema to tell this story. It’s the format they used, not the style.

The Harry Potter movies are movies. Details and story are sacrificed in order to fit the standard movie model. An Unexpected Journey doesn’t do that. In fact, they give fans of Middle-Earth every little detail. Every word from the book and then even more from appendices.

I honestly pine for the day they ever remake the HP movies in this style. Give me more, more, more.

Visual Effects

I went into the film hearing that the HFR and CG would make it look like a cartoon. That the makeup and sets would look fake. Like bad British television sci-fi.

It wasn’t that way for me.

Goblins and orcs looked real. Sets and forests, and falling mountain giants looked real. Giant eagles and their feathers looked real. The makeup even looked great. The scale of races felt great. Even certain battle scenes (like the fall of Mordor) looked amazing. The places where CG and live-action met was incredible.

And this version of Gollum was such a step up from the LOTR trilogy. He was living being in that world.

The 3D was great

Other than some sweeping pan shots and quick cuts, the 3D felt dialed in almost perfectly. The depth of field was quite amazing. With the higher framerate and higher resolution, it felt natural to watch it in 3D. The brightness was also not an issue for me as scenes felt bright. The focus was on-point as well for me. Only once did I feel like the focus of the shot was not on the right character. Again, this movie felt immersive.

It’s not for everyone

For casual fantasy fans or even the common populace: this movie isn’t for them. I’d assume more than 80% of moviegoers would find the film boring. Yes, long stretches are tedious and pretty much meaningless. But to me, give me every bit of detail and background. That kind of information is my favorite part of fantasy and lore. I could easily deal with even more detail added in.

I want to see it again

I really do want to see it again. Not immediately, but soon. Definitely before the HFR version disappears. I don’t think I could ever replicate the HFR experience at home. Do I look forward to having to set aside another 3+ hours? No. But it really is a great experience that I want to relive.

Final thoughts

It’s going to be hard waiting for the next 2 movies of the Hobbit, but they are definitely content I truly look forward to seeing.

Copperhead (legion custom)

Copperhead - Robot mode

Transformers Prime: Copperhead (custom)

This little guy is the result of many weeks of work. His name is Copperhead, and he’s part of the Transformers Prime universe.

Designed as an exclusive for a local group of Arizona Transformers fans on TFW2005.com, this project included the creation of 10 custom-painted legion class figures for what we jokingly called “Cacticon”.

I knew that this project would be a lot of work, and I had planned for it; but it surely was A LOT OF WORK!

The seed for this idea sprouted from talk amongst our group. The primary group of us have been meeting for over a year, having started just a bit before BotCon 2011. We had met each other on-and-off before that, but we started meeting monthly just before BotCon 2011. Since I had begun customizing, and others within the group had as well, we began to dream about having our own exclusive figure for the group.

Copperhead - Sports Car modeI kept getting good responses from my customizing work, and I kept pushing back on commission requests since I didn’t want money to corrupt this hobby I was having fun with. I was / am of the mindset that money and time constraints would make me lose appeal in the fandom. Therefore, I would brush off the talks whenever they came up.

However, one night an idea (or two) popped into my head and lodged itself in my brain. I simply couldn’t get it out, and had to get the ideas down on paper before I went to sleep. And then on the next day I began working on viable concepts. The fruits of that labor were a Bumblebee redeco called Copperhead (originally Coppertone), and a Arcee redeco called Diamondback.

The idea was that both were Transformers Prime characters/toys, and that were readily available and inexpensive. Furthermore, I had planned on using legion, or legends class, figures which I thought would simplify the process. The final theme concept was to turn them into desert / Arizona / snake-themed characters, which I felt was applicable for our Cacticon concept.

Original Photoshop mockup of Copperhead conceptI presented 2 Photoshop mockups to the group in a poll and asked for them to vote. I stated what I thought each would cost, what would be included, and how long it would take. I didn’t want to charge too much to scare people away, and I didn’t want to charge too little to make it costly for me to do. In the end there were 2 pricing schemes: $26 and I’d get the base figure for you, or $20 if you supplied the figure.

Finished Packaging - FrontFinished Packaging - SideFinished Packaging - Card Back

The poll went for a little over 2 weeks, and Copperhead was a winner by a small margin. I began asking for pre-orders for Copperheads, while in the background I pocketed the Diamondback concept and had other possible ideas for her in the future.

Finally after another 2 weeks or so, Copperhead production was ready. I had gotten payment and/or figures, and was ready to make a grand total of 10 Copperhead figures. Supplies were purchased, my airbrush setup came back out into my office, and I got to work.

One of the members, Matt, had written Copperhead’s bio information (found on the card back above); and another named Brad had promised to complete the Photoshop work and printing of the updated packaging artwork to match the new figure.

The work was long and tiring. Many a late night over the course of several weeks. If you are interested, more step-by-step details can be found in a Flickr set about the full creation of the Copperhead army. I took photos of pretty much every step of the process, as well as my tools, techniques, and tips. I’ll hit on some of the main points below with photos.

Original 10 BumblebeesOriginal 10 BumblebeesThe 10 original Bumblebee figures ready to be turned into Copperheads. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many of the same figure before.

 

 

Bumblebee inspects the carnageFirst edition deluxe-class Bumblebee inspects the carnage that is 10 disassembled legion Bumblebees. The idea was to do a deluxe-sized Copperhead as well, but I haven’t had time to finish him quite yet.

 

 

Andrew at workMe starting the first round of masking off the wheels on each figure. 4 wheels per figure, times 10 figures, is a lot of masking tape. I ended up using 1.5 rolls of it on this project.

 

 

 

Initial paint completedHere the initial bits of paint work had been completed. I had used 2 whole bottles of tan Model Master Acryl paint by this point at $3.50 a piece.

 

 

 

Ready for brown stripesThis was about 3/4 through the project. A prototype Copperhead had been completed to test the design, and he’s in front. The others had been masked up and ready for the primary brown stripe. I actually came up with a pretty good idea of templating the masking tape by cutting them all out a once so they’d have the same curve. They still were a pain to line up, and on both sides of the car.

 

Completed Copperheads ready for dutyAll the figures had been painted with final touch-ups and reassembled. They had gotten a coat of clear semi-gloss as well to add a bit of sheen. Only thing left was packaging.

 

 

 

Finished PackagingFinished PackagingBrad and I completed the packaging right before they were due, outside of the Tempe Marketplace Dave & Busters. We were down to the wire.

 

 

Copperhead with lots of firepowerCopperhead with lots of firepowerCopperhead with lots of firepower

I think these shots are quite funny. I had 9 weapons available at the end of the project, and so what better way to utilize them other than stacking them on top of each other? Copperhead is now ready for business anytime of the day.

Copperhead - Sports Car to Robot TransformationCopperhead - Robot to Sports Car TransformationHere you can see how I lined up the Copperheads in a row to show him transforming from car to robot, and back. A rare occasion to take a shot such as this.

 

An army of CopperheadsAn Army of CopperheadsThe Army of Copperheads is ready for duty.

 

 

 

So in conclusion, I’m happy to be done with this project. I’m pleased with the results, and the response has been pretty good. The shear effort needed to get these guys done was mind-numbing. So much paint, so much masking tape, so much repetition. I also didn’t make any money on the project, but that wasn’t the point. The finished outcome was what I was concerned about.

Would I do this again? Maybe, but I’d have to think long and hard about it. I’m definitely burned out at the moment and my other projects have stalled.

But I am proud that our group finally has a little custom exclusive to call our own, named Copperhead.

Copperhead (legion custom) - Robot modeCopperhead (legion custom) - Sports Car modeAn Army of CopperheadsBumblebee and Copperhead at Dave & BustersPile of partsBumblebee inspects the carnageLegs and hoods brown paintFinished grills and ready for red highlightsFinished red highlights and mound of used masking tapeReady for red highlightsReady for final paint touch-ups

And don’t forget to the look at the Flickr set for more details!