The Good, the Bad, and the Blackout

I listen to a Transformers podcast called WTF@TFW which is run by some of the guys from the Transformers site, TFW is one of my favorite sites that I visit regularly looking for news and toy sightings. Of the group of different TF sites, I prefer TFW.

On one of the podcasts I little while ago, they decided to have a contest amongst the fans for a few prizes that were donated to them. The contest’s title: WTF@TFW’s Poncho Photoshoot Contest!

A little background on the contest is in order.

There is a character in Transformers Animated called Lockdown. While being lumped into the Decepticon forces, he is a bounty hunter in the TFA universe. He’s a shady character, and in a few episodes he wore a poncho while hiding in the shadows. The fans have since made a note of his distinctive poncho look. The podcasters and TFW decided to run with it.

So the idea behind the contest was to submit a single photo of a Transformer wearing some sort of poncho. It could be photoshopped, but real ponchos would be favored. The concept behind the photo would be judged for atmosphere, effectiveness of the poncho, and the humor.

I don’t know why I latched onto the idea of submitting an entry for this contest, but it sounded fun and simple.

My immediate idea was to use a Transformers Animated toy called Blackout, based off the 2007 movie character, as my primary subject. As it currently stands, due to TFA’s cancellation in the states, the only way to get this figure was to import it… and import it I did. Being the latest toy I was going to receive after a long drought and his grimacing scowl, he seemed a perfect candidate.

I foresaw Blackout standing in a western town, ready for a gun duel at sunset. He would have his hands (claws really) at his side ready to draw his weapon like the classic spaghetti westerns.

With the idea in my head, I shared it with Jessica and she was game to help get some shots.

After the Japanese Blackout arrived, we went to work fashioning a poncho. Using some quilting squares from the local craft store that looked poncho-esque, I cut out some holes in the middle and fit on Blackout’s first poncho. With some additional fabric, I decided to take my TFA Freeway Jazz and fashion a poncho for him as well to be Blackout’s adversary in a duel.

Initial tests we made inside, with a projector in the background. This didn’t work as I intended because of several factors: no good western town backgrounds to display, the projection wasn’t wide enough, and the lighting was terrible.

We quickly hopped outside into the hot Arizona night to shoot in our front yard. We have some desert landscaping in our front yard (no grass anywhere, even in the back) with some large sandstone boulders along a riverbed. We plopped the two plastic toys down in the rocks and took some test shots.

The “natural” lighting from our porch lights actually lit the scene quite well when using a long exposure. It was a nice soft yellow-orange that matched the hue of the rocks.

The one issue is that we had to place Jessica’s DSLR flat on the hot concrete to get the right angle. This meant I had to lay flat on my stomach on the hot concrete driveway. Lots of tiny little bugs and beetles were also flying around us as we shot.

I was pretty happy with the initial shots but, Jessica was correct in that they needed something a bit more. The ponchos needed a kick… maybe tiny little hats?

Over the next few days, Jessica picked up some tassel-like fringe and some tiny little black cowboy hats. Using some tape and some scissors the ponchos for both characters got a little bit more bling.

We had tried some other shots in the front, but I kept coming back to the idea of blurred shooter in the foreground with Blackout in focus, scowling in the background. We had tweaked some of the positioning and actually started to get some eerie glowing sun / bright full moon shots. The cause was the long exposure we were using coupled with the street light in the background getting blurred. The shot to the left almost made it as my final choice, but the ponchos and character positioning just wasn’t as good as my final selection.

Jessica also took a few cool shots that she had thought up, and the shot to the right is one of those. The two figures look good dueling on the boulder or cliffside.

On the morning that the final submittable photo was due, I looked through my favorite shots and chose the image at the very top of this post. I sent off the image to the podcast’s gmail account and waited.

On a prior contest, a poetry contest, it had taken them a while to judge the entries and choose a winner. In addition, their 100th podcast was coming up and that was bundled with the fact that Botcon 2010 was also just around the corner. I did not expect the crew to pick any winners anytime soon. The only hint that I had to the status of the contest was that they posted that there were 41 entries.

Much to my surprise a week before Botcon I got a stealthy private message on TFW from one of the guys on the podcast, Vangelus. He coyly asked if myself and three others in the same message were going to be attending Botcon. That sure was strange and out of the blue, especially when there were 4 prizes for the contest…

As it turned out, just a little while later when I got a response from him, I did end up placing in the contest. In fact, I got third place out of the 41. And in addition to that, I got to pick between 2 of the remaining prizes: Alternity Bumblebee and Japanese Animated Lockdown, neither of which I have.

Of the original 4 prizes, Alternity Bumblebee would have been the prize I would have picked from the 4. As luck would have it that was the one I got to pick!

I responded with my desired prize and was told not to tell anyone that I won until podcast episode 100 was up for everyone to hear. At this point I was feeling pretty good and proud of my photo.

A few days pass and just before Botcon, WTF@TFW episode 100 was released. That morning I loaded up iTunes, downloaded the podcast, and synced it for the drive to work; ready to hear the results from the crew.

Another odd occurrence that preceded episode 100 was that the crew was joined by a very special guest on episode 99. That guest was Transformers Animated art director and character designer Derrick J. Wyatt. DJW is a enormous Transformers fan that got to work on the last TF cartoon series. The sleek, simple lines and designs of the characters were mostly his doing. In addition, he added lots of fanservice into the show. He joined the crew on episode 99 and gave his thoughts on the latest TF news. As an additional surprised, he also was part of episode 100.

About 5 minutes into the 100th podcast, they began talking about the contest winners. They spoke of the first two guys and their entries, as well as the number of votes they got for each member of the podcast team. First place had 18 points, second place had 8 points, and then third and fourth tied at 6 points apiece.

A tiebreaker was needed. That tiebreaker was Mr. Derrick J. Wyatt. While they were recording, Vangelus sent Derrick the third and fourth entries to cast his vote. After a bit of deliberation, he chose my entry with Blackout! He also commented favorably on Blackout’s poncho fabric. Having a member of the crew responsible for TFA choose my entry was an extra layer of icing on top winning third place. That really made it special.

So at the end of it all, I had won third place in the WTF@TFW Poncho Photoshoot Content. I, along with Jessica, had taken a great photo and we were proud of our accomplishment. I also gotten a free Transformer out of it. In the near future, I should be receiving Alternity Bumblebee (seen below) in the mail… all thanks to putting a poncho on a Transformer.