Category Archives: Transformers

The toys, shows, fandom, and culture

Missing Sunstreaker Commission

sunstreaker-art-07-2014So there is a Sunstreaker commission that I wish was currently mounted on my wall. You see, commissioned artwork is by far my favorite convention souvenir. The artwork you see to the right are some of my prized TF possessions. While toys may come and go off my desk, that artwork is always being displayed.

Sunstreaker Sketch by Sarah Stone
Sunstreaker Sketch by Sarah Stone

Unfortunately there is a piece missing, specifically a Sunstreaker sketch from Windblade comic artist, Sarah Stone. The second unfortunate fact is that the piece is complete, but I unfortunately do not have it at this time.

I want to start by saying, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be an in-demand comic artist. Being an artist is hard enough as it is, but being popular must ratchet it up further. Artists are pushed and pulled in a million directions.

I also know that things take time, and there are other priorities. It took me 2 years to complete TFA Brawn, and took almost a full decade for me to get my novels printed. People get busy and things fall through the cracks.

Finally I do not wish to shame Sarah on this, nor give her more stress for an already stressful line of work. That is not my goal at all. My primary wish is just have the artwork. But at the end of the day I’d really just like to know if my messages were delivered or whether they fell through the cracks. I’ve become a pest at this point, and I do not like it.

There is a bit of a story behind the sketch, that I will briefly try to cover. I apologize if this gets a bit “venty”, but its easier to explain my concern with all the details laid out.

The sketch in question was commissioned at BotCon 2014 in Pasadena, CA on June 20, 2014 . I did not originally plan to attend due to budgetary concerns. However, several things came together and I was able to make the trek to California on a shoe-string budget.

One of those bigger factors to attend was to get commissions from artists I had not yet gotten artwork from. That included Andrew Griffith and Sarah Stone. As such, as soon as I got my walk-in boxset, I went to Artist’s Alley in the dealer room to get on Sarah’s commission list. I had to wait for about ten people ahead of me to buy artwork and place orders, but I was fortunate in that I was able to get on her list (and show off my custom TFA Windblade to both her and Mairghread). I said I’d be there all weekend and that I was looking forward to seeing what she produced.

As the convention went on, I would stop by occasionally to ask the status. Obviously she was super busy, and so I said no worries and that I’d check back later.

Come the close of the show on Sunday, unfortunately she had not gotten a chance to get to the sketch. So she took down my address and she said she’d mail it to me. I said that would be great, and so I said my goodbyes and thanks for coming to the show.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, and I pinged her on Twitter to see if she had gotten to it. Unfortunately other duties like having to finish the comics had taken up her time, and I said okay just let me know when she might be done.

Thankfully, come the days leading up to TF Con 2014 in Toronto, she was able to squeeze some time in and finish the sketch. She posted a photo of it to Twitter and I was ecstatic (seen above). The sketch looks amazing. I connected with her on Twitter and she’d let me know when it would be in the mail.

I did not hear anything for a couple of weeks, so after some time had passed into August, I asked if she was going to mail it. Unfortunately deadlines were looming, and so she said she’d let me know when it was in the mail.

Fast-forward again to TF Con Chicago and she was fortunately able to complete some of the commissions she took in Toronto, and people who could attend both were able to pick them up. I also had a fellow TF friend actually ask her in person about my status, and she said she was sorry and would look into it.

So a little while after the convention in October, I pinged her again on Twitter with a DM, and unfortunately got silence. I tried to send a mention via Twitter asking whether she had seen the DM. Again I got no response.

I then sent an email on November 4, five months after BotCon, hopefully trying to get a response. Once again I got no response. The email I sent to her is listed in full below:

Hello Sarah,

At this point, I’m kind of tired being a pest with regards to the status of the completed Sunstreaker commission from BotCon 2014. Even one of my friends pinged you about it in Chicago. Others have been able to pick theirs up at later shows, but that isn’t possible for me.

I’ve honestly been waiting almost 5 months to receive the sketch. I’d like to get it so can frame it and then put it on my wall. It’s a beautiful piece of art that I would love to have.

I know that your talents are in extreme demand, and you’re probably being pulled in a million different directions trying to get tons of paying projects done.

I also know that you charged an extremely low rate for commissions in Pasadena.

I have previously tried to reach out on Twitter to say that I am willing to reimburse you if you were to just take it to a UPS store or something, and have them safely pack and ship.

I unfortunately will not be making it to any other conventions anytime in the near future, so self-pickup isn’t an option.

If mailing isn’t an option, then I’m going to just consider the whole commission thing a wash and call it done with. I’ll consider it a $30 tip to an artist who’s talent I appreciated.

Again, I’d love to have the piece if you could get it in the mail somehow.

Now had I known whether she got this email and/or the other messages, I might have considered the thing truly “a wash”. Unfortunately, since I did not get a response of any kind, and that has led to this silly little sketch thing becoming an issue that I cannot seem to get out of my mind. The whole transaction feels unfinished. There is no closure.

Sadly, there are other side effects from this silly, stupid little thing as well:

  1. I have stopped reading the comics entirely as of a couple of months ago
  2. I think, “Why go to a con when something like this may happen again”
  3. I have not mounted any other commissions yet (3), because I was waiting on this one from Sarah
  4. I pretty much can’t stand looking at my custom TFA Windblade anymore. A thing of pride for me has now soured.

Again, I know it is really silly and stupid to have this as a hang up, but that is just how it is. Maybe it’s because money changed hands (as miniscule at it was), that things are different. Maybe it’s because the piece is done and complete. Only the shipping is in the way.

So again, I’d really, really love to have her art hanging on my wall. It would be framed along all the other pieces I have. I would be proud to own it.

If I can’t have that, well then I’d at least like to know that she at least received my messages, and that they fell through the cracks again.

/end rant

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 HeadsSculpted 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 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 FembotsTransformers Animated Windblade - Vehicle ModeTFA Windblade and Chromia (customs)Wing testTest fitting wingsHead DesignsTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated WindbladeTransformers Animated Windblade

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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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

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 Bumblebees

The 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 Packaging

Brad 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 Transformation

Here 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 Copperheads

The 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.