Shrapnel – My first custom Transformer

Shrapnel - Robot mode (custom)

Back in December 2009, I was fortunate enough to procure an Iwata 0.2mm airbrush, lots of supplies, a medium sized air compressor, and pretty much every Createx acrylic paint currently available (thanks Jessica). The point of getting the airbrush was because I had been talking about making my own custom Transformers. I had made the one at Botcon, picked up a couple of duplicate figures intended as customs, and I eventually wanted to make an orange Aveo Transformer to match my real car. So I now have an airbrush in my possession and toys to customize.

I originally played with the airbrush shortly after getting the set, but ended up just being frustrated. Using some random small Venom action figure from Goodwill, I tried repainting it red to redeco him as Carnage. The paint didn’t flow smoothly, it globbed up, the paint flaked when touched, and the pinpoint detail the 0.2mm was supposed to have just wasn’t there. It was not a great first impression.

Discouraged, I put it away for several months.

Then last month, I felt like trying it again. I hadn’t been creative in a while and it felt like a good time to give it another whack.

So at the same time I received the airbrush, I had received some extra Revenge of the Fallen Transformers meant for customizing tests. Using three of those figures, I had it in my mind to re-purpose them as movie-themed InsecticonsShrapnel, Kickback, and Bombshell. All deluxe class vehicles with similar color schemes.

I started by digibashing the figures. Using some macro photographs I took of the toys, I loaded up Photoshop and recolored the original plastics. Using photos of the original G1 toys, photos of the Robot Heroes, cartoon screenshots, and other images I tried to match characteristic details of each character in their redeco. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting the details exactly perfect; as I just wanted a base from which to work on with the actual paint. I tried to use colors that matched paints I already had so I wouldn’t have to mix unique colors. I thought this digibashing process would take quite a while, but I cranked all three rough redecos out in about 2 hours.

The next step was choosing which one to start with, and then taking it apart. Jolt, the basis for Shrapnel, seemed like a good starting point with a larger number of screws versus pins. Pins can be a pain to remove and put back, so I saved the other two figures for later. Piece by piece I disassembled Jolt into as many parts as I could, all along keeping track of each screw and where they went by taping them to sticky notes. Screw lengths and widths are not uniform across the figure as I found out at Botcon. I had to make sure each screw went back where in came. Each part was then separated into separate bowls that were grouped by color.

I decided to start with the pearlescent yellow that was for the windows to mimic the yellow/gold plastic on the original. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the translucency of the blue windows, but I figured the paint would look good against the other colors. The initial bits of yellow would also not need to be masked off making it a good starting point. I also tried my hand at the pearlescent silver bits with his pincers on his back.

Unfortunately as I came to find out, the non-opaque paints I have do not cover well nor spread well. I had not figured out the correct mixture of paint to illustration base at this point and so I slathered each piece just trying to get it to coat. The paint was thick and much of it was wasted. I did not start with an opaque base and so most of the paint just didn’t stick. I also had not sanded each piece prior.

I also was finding that the airbrush was clogging a lot. Constant cleaning and disassembling of the airbrush were common occurrences. In addition, I was quickly running out of the small bottle of the airbrush cleaner I had. Halfway through the painting process while trying to clean the brush, I ended up stripping the threads off the 0.2mm nozzle. That put a delay in the customizing, after which Jessica headed to Phoenix and nicely picked up both a replacement 0.2mm nozzle and a 0.3mm nozzle (which works via some slight jerry-rigging). That was an additional $80 I had not planned on…

I fumbled through the rest of the colors over the span of 2 weeks, finding better paint mix ratios and seeing that the opaque colors like white, black, and dark colors don’t need much spraying before seeing results. I tested my hand at masking, unfortunately finding that some pieces need to be perfect and ended up with some bleeding such as black streaks in the yellow. Also, the Createx paints don’t cure unless they are heated with a air dryer or heat gun. Even after that they still show fingerprints and smudges. Next time I will try actually using the clear coats intended for finished pieces.

So I had all the pieces mostly painted, they had been heat cured, and I felt anxious to get the figure together. Seeing it all in parts strewn across the table kept irking me.

Starting with his arms, I quickly found out that because I had painted so thick and/or the paint wasn’t fully cured, parts which rubbed or twisted against others rubbed the paint off in spots. Ball and swivel joints rubbed down to their base plastics which was a bright electric blue. Furthermore I found that if pegs had been painted, the pieces wouldn’t fit together cleanly or smoothly. I ended up breaking the base peg on his left knee trying to dry fit the part. At least the screw and other parts that followed still keep him together. On later pieces I ended up scraping away unnecessary paint on these pegs with a exacto knife so the pieces fit better.

Shrapnel - Car mode (custom)Once fully together, I started to paint the small details. Red eyes, detail highlights, headlights, bumper trim, and the like.

Transforming Shrapnel, or even moving some joints, is not as smooth as I would have hoped. His parts are very tight due to the paint, and he is quite hard to actually get transformed between modes. In addition, the colors that I had don’t quite match up to what I had planned. The yellow is not quite orange enough, the purple is a bit dark, and the silver is just a bit too white (even though I can’t quite get the chromed look with just paint).

But I can now honestly say I’m glad to have this first self-designed custom Transformer completed. He does look quite nice on my desk even with his imperfections.

Shrapnel and Jolt - Robot modes

The question now is when I’ll get to the other two Insections I had digibashed. I must admit I’m a bit burned out at the moment as the process wasn’t what I consider fun. Also, do I make changes to the coloring to match what I wished the scheme was or keep the other two the same to match how Shrapnel turned out?

I guess we’ll see if and when I get to Kickback and Bombshell.