Author Archives: Andrew Green

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!

Transformers Animated Kup (custom)

Transformers Animated: Kup

Transformers Animated: Kup

This old rust-bucket to the left is my custom-made Transformers Animated Kup. He is by far the best custom figure I’ve completed to date. He’s also the first to have extensive sculpting work.

The character of Kup in the Transformers universe is traditionally a representative of an old Transformer. Transformers, while millions of years old, do age. Kup has usually seen it all; having been there since the early days and seeing many, many battles throughout the centuries. He has loose parts, doesn’t move as fast as the others, and in general is just a grouchy old guy with lots of stories to tell.

Kup did show up in the Transformers Animated universe, but only as official artwork in the Transformers Animated Allspark Almanac – Volume 2. In this universe, he’s an old retired member of the Elite Guard and has transitioned into being a drill instructor for the Autobot troops. He also has the distinction of naming some of the prominent characters.

While I would have loved had they actually made a real toy for the guy, it was up to me to create my version. Taking hints from previous customizers, I used the deluxe-class Cybertron Optimus Prime toy as the base. Then with a bit of sculpting and paint, he’d be transformed into a version of the beloved Kup. I tried my best to transfer design cues from the official artwork onto the appropriated toy as best I could.

This guy has the distinction of being the first to have any sculpting work. I used a modelling material called Apoxie-Sculpt. It’s a two-part clay-like material that you mix together and then sculpt. You have a few hours to mold it to your choosing, after which it turns into a hard plaster-type material. You can then sand down or trim, and then built upon further if you wish.

I first disassembled and cleaned the base figure like all the customs I do, and then I started sanding down the original Optimus Prime toy’s head. Particularly the large chin and “ears”.

I then mixed a bit of the apoxie and placed it on his head. I wish I had more photos of this entire process, but I did build the head layer-by-layer over the course of a week. Starting with a base form for his chin and face, I let it dry, and then built up the helmet and nose afterwards. Then I let it dry some more and built the ears or sides of his helmet. In between each phase, I would sand down or straighten hard edges with sandpaper, files, and an exacto blade. A bit of water on the fingers also helped to smooth out bumps and ridges, just like other clay because you will leave fingerprints in the stuff. The material also would stiffen if you let it sit for a few hours in case you wanted to shape it with more refinement, as when it’s fresh it is a very soft putty. Furthermore, the other nice thing about the Apoxie-Sculpt is that it lets you build upon itself, even if dry, letting you fix earlier mistakes and fill imperfections.

I did end up using a little trapezoid of styrene so his chin would have a hard edge. I also had to make sure his lightpiping would still work and that presented a challenge as well. After a bit of shaving, the light piping from the back of his head was able to squeeze into place when I was done.

At the same time, I knew that I needed to make some additional sculpted details. I wanted Kup to have a thicker torso than Optimus, and so I built up some detail around his waist. I also wanted to try to match the artwork with his very wide torso and to differentiate him from Optimus. I’m happy how it turned out, but in the end I had to carve out more from the torso than what I had initially built due to transformation limitations. I had to sand, then test fit, then sand some more in order to get his chest to lock into position in robot mode.

The other sculpted detail, while tiny, was important. Recent versions of Kup have all been seen smoking a robotic stogie called a cy-gar. What it does in the various fictions is unique, but here it helps to sell Kup as a drill sergeant. Beginning with a penny nail, I slapped some apoxie-scuplt on it and tried to form something similar to the art. Once that dried, I started to bore a whole into the appropriate place on his mouth. Unfortunately, I was stubborn and did not use a drill bit, but instead actually used the cy-gar and my fingers to very slowly drill out enough material from the head so it would fit snugly. I’m very happy with how it attaches securely, but I did end up with blisters on my finger and thumb from trying to hand-bore the hole for almost half an hour.

The final bit of ingenuity with the cy-gar was that since it could not be kept in his mouth during transformation (it would stick out too much), I simply used the empty screw hole on the back of his crotch as storage in vehicle mode.

With the sculpting complete, it was onto paint. I tried my best to 1) match the artwork colors, 2) match design cues, and 3) try to make differences in the color palette work for the better for the toy with more contrast.

Using a newly purchased motorized color mixer, I mixed my colors. I’m happy with the end palette I chose, but I ran into a big, big problem near the end; one I will try not to repeat.

As it happened, I did not make enough of the custom-mixed aqua blue paint that is his primary color, and so I ran out of it near the end. This became a problem because this guy has so many rub points. His joints were tight, the base plastic was red, and I had thinned the paint too much. Furthermore, the dried apoxie-sculpt isn’t as hard as the plastic and therefore “chips” if rubbed against, leaving a bright white base. It has gotten to the point with the figure and the lack of paint, that I’m afraid to transform him. Another nick on his helmet or ears would be nigh impossible to repaint because I can’t match the color again. Word to the wise for the future: mix a lot more paint for cases like this.

The final modification to this guy was re-purposing the shield accessory as a backpack. All I did was bore a hole, using an actual drill bit this time, on one of his back panels. This hole could then be used to peg in the shield so it could be positioned as a backpack. The other nice thing was that this hole was hidden in vehicle mode. I’m quite pleased with this simple mod for Kup.

Now he was finally painted and I put him together for the first time. I added a few more robot mode details, and repainted some details that I felt were too sloppy. Some of the black lines I had originally hand-painted, were masked and repainted again with the airbrush to have harder edges. In the future, I will try to paint any details with the airbrush when possible, as the visible brushstrokes on this guy aggravate me.

I then transformed him into vehicle mode, and came across all the rub issues. I tried to cover them up as much as possible with more paint, but I also added vehicle details this time like yellow lights and a gray bumper. As it turned out, some of these vehicle mode details helped the overall robot mode as well.

The final, final piece that he needed was his faction symbol. Kup is part of the Elite Guard and so needed the Elite Guard emblem. One order from Reprolabels, and Kup was now complete.

The overall response to Kup by folks who have seen him has been tremendously positive. I’ve shown him off to local Arizona Transformers fans to a lot of praise. Some have offered to buy him from me, but unfortunately this guy was built to be part of my personal collection. In addition, some folks have asked if I could mold his head for their own customs. While I would have liked to have done that, now that he’s painted with his lightpiping inserted; I don’t want to risk ruining his face, especially since I don’t have any more of his paint.

After this custom project, I’m now much more comfortable with how to add sculpted details, and Kup is just the first of a series of Transformers Animated customs yet to come…

Skywarp (custom)

Transformers Prime: Skywarp

Transformers Prime: Skywarp

To the right is my custom painted Transformers Prime Skywarp. He is a follow-up to a previous customized figure of mine, Thundercracker.

If you read the previous blog, Skywarp is one of the trio of seekers that usually shows up in Transformers fiction.

The gist of how this particular guy came to fruition, is that after I had completed Thundercracker; I really, really wanted to keep him for myself. I had difficult self debates on whether I really wanted to give him away.

In fact, I went searching local Toys R Us stores looking for another Starscream toy to make into another Thundercracker. That way I could give one away and then keep the other for myself. It would be the best of both worlds.

The other side of that search was that if I could not find a second Starscream figure, then I would have to give Thundercracker away.

As it happened, searching across the valley led to no additional Transformers Prime Starscreams (and actually no other TF Prime toys either), and so my custom Thundercracker’s fate was sealed. I was content with the outcome, and then promptly gave Thundercracker away. I had also purged myself of Transformers Prime toys and felt relieved.

Unbeknownst to me, Jessica had decided to get a second Starscream online. She had hoped to secretly have one be delivered in time for me to customize it. She did in fact purchase one, but as it turns out he didn’t arrive quite quickly enough.

Fast forward to a couple of days after I gave Thundercracker to his new owner, and a box arrived in the mail from BigBadToyStore, an online toy store I use frequently. As it happens, I did in fact have another figure on the way from them, and it actually was one of the final figures of my collection. However, this box had arrived 2 days earlier than the tracking on my package had stated.

This box, as it turns out was Jessica’s second Starscream. So I opened the box, and she laid out the story…

The unfortunate thing was that I was now stuck with this figure. I couldn’t just return it to a local store and purge myself again. Plus, she had gone through the trouble of finding one for me.

After this small personal dilemma, it was readily apparent of what the final outcome of this toy was going to be: he was going to get transformed into Skywarp.

Back when people finally got a look at Thundercracker in-person and online, of course they all chimed in that they wanted to see me create a Skywarp. I mean, all of us fans was to see the seeker trio. It’s a no-brainer. So off I went to the hobby store to pick up some purple paint.

As stated in the other post, this figure is really quite easy to customize. He comes apart well and has little-to-no rub spots. Starting again with a previously done digibash, I got to work prepping and painting.

I did change the design and add some bits of my own, specifically with regards to his wing stripes and dealing with his gold canopy in jet mode. I’m really fond of the stripes on his wings and they are probably my favorite feature. Some additional details I added were things like the yellow “eyes” on his chest. They are yellow to appease those that think Skywarp should have yellow eyes versus red.

So like before, I have another customized Transformers Prime seeker. I had gone into this with the idea that this guy would stay in my collection as my sole TF Prime figure, but who knows where his final destiny lies.

Thundercracker (custom)

Transformers Prime: Thundercracker

Transformers Prime: Thundercracker

The guy to the left is a recent custom painted Transformer called Thundercracker. Based on a classic Decepticon character, he’s a repaint of Transformers Prime deluxe class Starscream.

There is a little bit of history on how this guy came to be.

There is a new Transformers TV show out there called Transformers: Prime, and there is a version of good ol’ Starscream in the show. They recently released the first wave of toys from the show, and that is where this base figure originates.

Thundercracker - Robot ModeI do watch the show, but have decided to not purchase any figures from the series. I’m trying to stop collecting TF altogether and move on to other things. In addition as I’m a completest when it comes to collecting, I just don’t want to start on yet another series.

So I had a friend who kept threatening to “gift” me a figure from the show as a gateway drug of sorts. He kept talking about when the toys showed up in stores, I’d be getting my own Starscream. With knowing that this event was going to happen, I concocted a plan to give it back to him customized.

Just before the new year, he ended up dropping a deluxe class Starscream in my lap. Time to get painting…

Thundercracker - Jet ModeAs in TF tradition, there are usually 3 characters called “seekers” that all share the same body/toy in the franchise’s history: Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker. With Starscream already in the show proper, that left Skywarp and Thundercracker as neither of them have shown up in the show or toyline yet. I had initial plans to make the toy into Skywarp, but then word came out that an official Skywarp redeco would be coming out in Japan. That made the decision to make Thundercracker a bit easier, and make it so my friend would have the seeker trio even earlier.

Classics Thundercracker and Transformers Prime Thundercracker - Robot ModesClassics Thundercracker and Transformers Prime Thundercracker - Jet ModesSo using both the Classics Thundercracker figure and this already completed digibash as bases, I started to work dissecting the figure and getting it ready for paint. I removed all the screws, and pulled him apart as best I could making sure to note what pieces and screws went where. I made sure to wash the plastic with hot soapy water to remove the mold release chemicals and oils they use to make the parts come out of the molds easier. Then I prepped the parts with bits of wire and masking tape where needed.

Thundercracker DissassembledPaint area setup in my officePaint Setup

Doing all the prep was a lot easier than I had thought with this figure. The figure overall is very intricate and complicated, but he was really, really easy to repaint. There was not a whole lot of issues getting this figure completed. The only slight hiccup was that I had to repaint his left-wing twice because the stripes were not symmetrical across both wings.

The paint went on very well, and I was actually able to use certain parts of the original figure as is, such as parts of his chest, making the whole process easier. It only took about of week of work; prepping, painting and waiting for parts to dry.

The unfortunate thing is that once he was all done and reassembled, I really had a fondness for the figure. Looking at him on my desk, I was very impressed with the final output. I had very strong emotions to keep him for myself. However, after a bit of hemming and hawing, and glares from Jessica, I decided to go through with the plan.

So the other day, Thundercracker was delivered to his final destination as intended. All in attendance were a bit stunned, and I got the reactions I was looking for so it worked out.

Some of the others were a bit jealous and already coming up with requests for their own customized figures. I’m not ready to do this for money, as then it’ll lose its fun when it becomes “work”.

ThundercrackerThundercracker - Arm DetailThundercracker - Torso DetailThundercracker - Leg DetailThundercracker - Back DetailClassics Thundercracker and Transformers Prime Thundercracker - Jet Modes

Of course, I have other personal customizing projects to complete in the pipeline as I try to finish out my wild ride with this Transformers resurgence.

It’s also a foregone conclusion that Hasbro will release their own official Thundercracker as some point, as they always do, and it will be interesting how he’ll differ from my take.

I’ll still miss not having this particular figure on my desk though, but I do have a bunch of pictures to remember it by.