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.


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, 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.

Hot Dog Days of Summer — Final Visit

Tonight, on the last day of Joe’s Farm Grill Hot Dog Days of Summer, I ate yet another pair of wacky hot dog combinations. We figured there were at least 2 more that I was willing to try before the promotion disappeared.

Having already tried 4, the only choices I was interested were easy to choose.

The Reuben had the standard encased wiener topped with sauerkraut, melted swiss cheese, and cucumber slices drizzled with 1000 island dressing. Unfortunately the first bite revealed that this particular hot dog had been one of the end wieners in the links of sausage, with a bit of twine still attached to the casing. That first bite included the charred twine along with burnt casing bits which I promptly spit out. Not a great first impression. This was followed by a sheer inability to bite through the dog, bun, and cucumber slices. The slices slid off and dressing dripped everywhere. Had there just been kraut and swiss cheese this option would have been much better. This one was also just about as messy as the Cordon Bleu.

The 3-B was the final choice that I had hoped would end the promotion nicely. The recipe sounded pretty good with it’s three B’s: bacon, BBQ sauce, and blue cheese. However this was not the case. First off the sandwich-style bun was extra toasted and almost burnt making it rough to even bite through. Secondly, the extra chopped tomatoes mixed with crumbled cheese and sauce simply slid out of the bun. By the end of the dog, a full half of the toppings had fallen onto both the basket and table. The bacon was a bit overdone, and the toasted bun had roughed up the top of my mouth like dry bread. My hands were a mess, and the BBQ sauce was definitely a better combination on the Carolina.

With these two final hot dog combos, Joe’s Hot Dog Days of Summer came to a sad conclusion. These last two were definitely duds, but I still feel some of the other choices worked out well. In the end, I’d rank the dogs accordingly:

  1. The Carolina
  2. The Asian
  3. The Swedish
  4. The 3-B
  5. The Reuben
  6. The Cordon Bleu

I hope this wacky menu returns next year in some fashion so that I can give my tastebuds yet another wacky experience at the grill.

Hot Dog Days of Summer – Visit #2

Last Saturday Jessica and I visited Joe’s Farm Grill again for another dose of Hot Dog Days of Summer. This time Jessica chose to join in on the hot dog insanity.

My first choice of two had already been picked out on the prior visit, and I chose the other on a whim.

The Carolina was a simple concoction that used something that Joe’s is well-known for: pulled pork. On top of the wiener was a helping of pulled pork smothered in BBQ sauce, then topped with cole slaw and chopped scallions. Of the four I’ve tried so far, this one is by far the best. The trio of sausage, pulled pork, and creamy cole slaw makes this option easy to recommend.

The Swedish is definitely out of left field with its garlic mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce. I don’t even know what a lingonberry is, but it didn’t taste half bad on the dog. The mashed potatoes on the other hand, while good on their own, did not blend well with the crisp casing of the dog. The mashes kind of oozed out of the ends of the bun. I’d still recommend it over the Cordon Bleu however.

The Trailer Park was Jessica’s choice with its crumbled rippled potato chips and standard liquid cheez whiz. I did not partake of this option, but she actually liked it and did end up finishing. I still think she far prefers the garlic french fries however.

With there being 10 specialty dogs on the menu, I think I am still up for at least 2 more choices before the month-long promotion ends.

Hot Dog Days of Summer at Joe’s Farm Grill

This evening we decided to visit a local restaurant that has been featured on several television shows: Joe’s Farm Grill. We had eaten there almost immediately after it opened, before all the national attention, and this was the first time we’ve been back in a long time.

What brought us back was the re-introduction of their “Hot Dog Days of Summer” promotion, where they have a selection of 10 different hot dogs available for the month of September. Jessica had shared the menu with me and almost instantly I knew we’d have to try some of them at least once.

This special menu is as follows:

  • The Hawaiian (with ham, mozzarella, bacon and pineapple-serrano sauce)
  • The Asian (shredded carrot, bean sprouts, scallions, wasabi mayo and teriyaki glaze)
  • The Carolina (pulled pork and cole slaw)
  • The 3-B (bacon, blue cheese and Joe’s Real BBQ sauce)
  • The Sonoran (bacon, farm beans, melted cheese, jalapeños and sour cream)
  • The Cordon Bleu (smoked ham, Swiss cheese, fried egg and Dijon aioli)
  • The Swedish (garlic mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce)
  • The Trailer Park (Cheez Whiz and crumbled potato chips)
  • The Rueben (sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing)
  • The Buffalo (carrots, celery, buffalo hot sauce and blue cheese dressing)

Asian Dog and Cordon Bleu Hot Dogs

My choices for today’s visit were the Asian and Cordon Bleu (seen to the right). The dogs come in the old school folded bread style of hot dog buns. The hot dogs had natural casings and a clean flavor that were above the standard. The side was some double fried french fries.

The Asian had a nice crisp taste with the sprouts mixing well with teriyaki sauce. It also finished nicely with the wasabi mayo tucked underneath the wiener that added a bit of heat every other bite. No one flavor overpowered the other. I would highly recommend.

The Cordon Bleu on the other hand was a bit of a mess. I removed the sliced pickles from the top to see the fried egg drenched in the dijon aioli. I ran through about 5 napkins trying to clean up as I ate, my face and hands were a mess. The egg and swiss cheese were nice, but the ham was an afterthought and not noticeable. This particular dog also disintegrated as I ate.

With at least one of the hot dogs being great, and with other menu items still in my tastebud queue, I think we’ll be heading back at least once this month. Jessica had gotten a kid’s grilled cheese and garlic fries, but had initially pondered getting the Trailer Park and its cheez whiz and crumbled potato chips. Maybe she’ll venture out and try it next time we head over to Joe’s grill.

BotCon 09 Wrapup

This post is long overdue, but I assume it’s better late than never… even if BotCon 09 was well over a year ago.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

So after the Thursday customizing class, the next event scheduled was the opening of the Club store where attendees could finally purchase that year’s at-convention exclusive toys. Furthermore, the store was technically the first location where Revenge of the Fallen (RotF) figures would officially be for sale before anywhere else. I met up with Jessica some time after the class where she was waiting in what was quickly becoming a long line. This was the line for folks who didn’t get to do early registration, so this was 90% of the attendees. They did give out slips of paper in people’s packets that gave people windows when they could get in line, but the line was still getting crazy long. I came to later find out that this registration/store line always takes several hours of time to get through due to the sheer number of people. The BotCon crew came out sometime before they were going to let people in and announced that year’s exclusive at-convention figures and their prices. A few of the sets were surprises, with the 3 pack of Sweeps being the most well received. Luckily right before the doors opened, the crew pulled early registration attendees into our own line that could go in at the same time and straight to the store. To many groans from the other line, we were led into the building.

We walked past several large statues of Bumblebee and Optimus Prime on our way to the store’s new lines. The lines were split into two: one for cash purchases and one for credit. I had heard that the cash line almost always is shorter and faster and so I made sure to bring cash. I later heard anecdotally that some folks were in line for up to 6 hours including registration (mostly due to the amount of varied RotF stock available). We got price sheets to look over and fill out, and Jessica and I ended up in 10th in the cash line. I had pre-planned on what I was going to get earlier, and so filling out the form wasn’t difficult. The only question was what RotF figures they had and which ones I still wanted. We got our turn to go to the store tables and I pretty much got one of everything. It was still early so they had a couple of the limited stock RotF figures and they added them to my pile. The crew member totaled up my order and I threw down a huge wad of cash, about 60% of my convention savings. I walked out happily with the following items:

We got out of the convention center with several giant bags in hand by 6pm (way earlier than most) and headed out to dinner.

BotCon toy count tally to date = 36

Friday, May 29, 2009

The next day was the first official day of the convention. It was the first day of panels, the dealer room would open, and the initial autograph sessions would be available. I chose to see the panels primarily. I wasn’t sure how busy they’d be but throughout the convention the room was full only for the really special panels. I saw all 4 of the morning panels the first day. The TCC Magazine one was okay, the Stan Bush/Vince DiCola one was kinda sad and pathetic, and sadly the Transformers Animated (TFA) one was filled with clips. We all wanted to learn more about the animated show which had just been canceled, but you could tell they were stepping around the issue. At least the creative team was there which was nice. The Transformers Movie Q&A panel brought out the movies’ 2 writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and it was kinda cool to see them speak with the audience and be cagey out questions on the unreleased second movie.

While the fourth panel was happening, Jessica was already waiting in line for the dealer room private preview. Attendees had begun lining up to be the first to get into the elusive dealer room to pick up even more Transformers merchandise. Jessica waited in multiple lines for me throughout the entire convention. She was always there saving my spots in lines and panels, as well as helping to carry some of my gear around, and trudging it back to the hotel room 3 blocks away. It was very, very helpful having her do that for me.

I had no real idea what to expect with the dealer room, but I knew I wasn’t looking for any old Generation 1 (G1) figures like most folks. I had a list of wants and their current prices elsewhere. Upon entering, I headed for the path less traveled towards the tables manned by some of the attending artists. Those ended up being my first purchases from the room with some art prints by Marcelo Matere (TFA Wreck-Gar print and TFA Wingblade Optimus Prime print) and Alex Milne (G1 Bumblebee with Classics Bumblebee print). I also purchased my favorite poster from the convention: the TFcon 09 “Universe Divided” Classics poster by Alex. I also bought the Transformers Animated trade paperback from the guys at IDW and got a giant RotF one-sheet poster of Bumblebee.

We then moved down the aisles into the Hasbro booth. They had lots of upcoming unreleased figures inside of their glass cases. The RotF Supreme Devastator, Unicron prototypes, and TFA figures were the highlights. More and more people at this point had started to flood the room. The booth also had some free posters and we got 2 free diecast RotF RPMs.

My first toy purchase was a 5 pack Classics Devastator set for $50, which elsewhere was $200 for some strange reason. The next purchases came quicker at the Big Bad Toy Store booth. I wanted 3 Classics seekers from Japan and asked the clerk to price them out for me and haggled for a bundled discount. He stepped away and I was able to get Thundercracker, Thrust, and Dirge for $30 cheaper than I had planned. At this point, my heavy wants for the dealer room were already checked off within the first 30 minutes. After a couple of more booths I picked up the final real big want that was quickly disappearing from the floor, Classics Henkei Red Alert, which again was cheaper than I thought. A final quick pickup was a WST Sideswipe.

The dealer room as a whole was a pretty cool affair. Lots of rare old Japanese Transformers, old US G1 stuff, and lots and lots of memorabilia. Thankfully I wasn’t looking for any of the really expensive stuff. Other cool features were the Optimus Prime truck from the movies, and the contest entries which included customized figures and artworks.

After returning to the room with my purchases and messing with them, the last thing I did on Friday was attend the very end of the Transformers Film Fest and MSTF.

BotCon toy count tally to date = 48

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday was mostly spent trying to get autographs. The biggest ones were Weird Al Yankovic and Peter Cullen. I was going to get in line early for Weird Al, while Jessica got in line for Peter Cullen. We each got in these lines a few hours before they were even going to open. We had heard the lines were gonna fill up for the short and limited sessions that they had scheduled. In fact, the Weird Al session was limited to only Primus Package attendees.

In addition, walk-in attendees who didn’t pre-register began lining up along another entrance. As the convention went on, this line became larger and larger. The dealer room ended up full of local families and children.

I waited outside, in what ended up being a chilly morning, holding my print of TFA’s Wreck-Gar which Weird Al had voiced. Most other fans had sealed boxes of the toy, but we hadn’t been able to find another reasonably priced boxed Wreck-Gar and so I had some Marcelo Matere artwork signed by Marcelo. There were rules about Weird Al’s session and so our time was limited. I was able to get the print signed for my brother-in-law (he’s the bigger Weird Al fan), and was able to shake Al’s hand.

Afterward, I met up with Jessica who had been waiting at the start of the Peter Cullen line. In another nearby line, the voice of TFA’s Optimus Prime, David Kaye was also doing autographs. I persuaded Jessica to get in the line with an Optimus Prime print and Activator figure to have him sign. I held our spot in the Cullen line, and she popped over to his line and got the autographs for me, which was very nice.

A short time later Peter Cullen showed up to many cheers. Peter is the original voice actor of G1 Optimus Prime as well as the recent live action movie Optimus Prime. I had an Optimus Prime Robot Replica figure for him to sign. I made my way up to his table to greet him. I thanked him for what he has done for Transformers and then shook his hand. The entire time he seemed moved by all of the fans who had been waiting for him.

A final quick impromptu autograph in the dealer room was from Mark Ryan, voice of Bumblebee and Jetfire from the movies, who signed some free movie Robot Heroes we got.

After the flurry of autographs, we headed over to get seats for the day’s panels which included Weird Al and David Kaye, Peter Cullen, along with the big panel of the day the Hasbro Review and Q&A. All 3 panels were pretty full. The Weird Al and David Kaye one was a little odd and gave us a taste of how some fans are weird. They asked the pair of voice actors to repeat certain lines and had some groan-worthy questions. It still was a fun panel that got a lot of laughs.

The Hasbro Review panel showed a bunch of upcoming toy releases which included RotF and TFA figures. There were lots of “oohs” and “aahs” when the TFA figures were shown like Arcee and Cybertron Ratchet. It still was just a taste of what was to come with tomorrow’s Hasbro Designers panel, however.

Peter Cullen’s panel also had a full room as well and he came out to lots of cheers. He did do some of humorous bits with his other voiced characters like Eeyore meeting Ironhide and the like. The same awkward questions were asked, and unfortunately it began to turn into every Q&A person asking for a hug or an autograph, because they had missed the earlier session. Those bits put a damper on the panel, but again Peter seemed thoroughly moved by all the fan affection from the room.

Jessica had been a bit sneaky while I was at the panels and picked up a few things for me secretly. A Voyager class of RotF The Fallen (which I thought was too expensive), a Dan Khana Alternators Sunstreaker print (because I like Sunstreaker), and’s Animated Allspark set. Also as it happened I won a door prize on this day for 2 IMAX passes. My final dealer room buy for the day was a sketch request from LilFormers artist Matt Moylan.

By this point the both of us were pretty exhausted. Jessica was already back at the room napping, and I soon joined her. We had been living on little sleep and had woken up quite early for this morning’s autograph lines. There was still one final event for the day that we needed some rest for.

The official BotCon party of 09 was held at the Paramount Studios movie lot. We got dressed, went to wait in line, then hopped on a bus for a ride to the studio. They had set up a concert stage, tables, and buffet stations on their downtown-themed backlot. We got there early and were able to get some food and a table before most of the others showed up. Stan Bush, his band, and Vince DiCola played a bunch of different music on the stage; culminating in old Transformers animated movie classics like “The Touch” and “Dare”. The food was okay and the drinks were kinda expensive. It was also a bit cold and so Jessica and I traded off wearing our single jacket we brought.

Highlights of the Paramount Party were Jessica and I meeting and speaking with Weird Al, taking photos in front of movie Ironhide, watching Tyrese Gibson drive Ratchet into the backlot, and listening to Peter Cullen and Tyrese joking up on the stage.

The final treat of the evening was a special screening of RotF footage in the Paramount theater. We were escorted to the theater where we had to give up our cellphones and cameras due to the security. We were initially told we were only going to see the trailers again, but then the director Michael Bay made a surprise appearance with much hoopla. He showed us two clips from the film: Devastator combining together and Bumblebee versus Rampage. It was awesome seeing these two bits before the movie even came out, especially the Devastator scene. The fans really dug these scenes and were discussing them as we went back to the party.

We hung out around the lot a bit longer until the buses came to take us back to the convention center.

BotCon toy count tally to date = 52

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday was the final day of the convention. There were a few panels and the dealer room was open, but it was going to be a short day since we were going to drive home.

Jessica stayed back at the room to pack up all of the stuff I had accumulated into our car. I went back to the convention center one last time and picked up my LilFormer’s sketch of Sunstreaker that was quite awesome. With my last few dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I walked around the dealer room looking for pretty much anything to buy. Should I buy more WST? Alternity? Something else imported? I finally broke down and picked up a Toys R’ Us exclusive set of Whirl and Bludgeon as my final toy purchases of the show (which we sadly found at retail prices on our way home).

I left the dealer room a final time and headed back to the panel room for the Michael McConnohie and Gregg Berger panel. The pair of classic voice actors had a really great panel that played to the fans. The fans themselves seemed to be better this time around with their Q&A.

The final big-daddy panel was the Hasbro Designer’s panel. This was the one all the fans came to see. We got to see what new figures were planned for the next few years, extended from what we saw at the Saturday panel. Prototypes and concepts were shown. No photos were allowed of either Hasbro panel, but personal highlights were RotF Bludgeon, and all the TFA figures like Blackout, Thundercracker, and Wingblade Optimus Prime. Unfortunately the Q&A part of the panel was cut short by a visit from Tyrese Gibson again. I stayed for a little while he talked, but left shortly after.

I stepped out of the center, waited a few minutes for Jessica in the car, and then we headed off back to Arizona. My first BotCon experience was now over.

We did stop at several stores on the way home looking for other RotF figures that had been released, which weren’t available at the show except for crazy prices. We didn’t find anything RotF, but we did find the Superion box set which I had been looking for the entire show. Luckily it was available at a Target right near our house.

FINAL BotCon toy count tally = 57


I did enjoy my first BotCon, but it wasn’t quite as awesome as I had hoped. Maybe my expectations were too high or I only remember the bad/sub-par stuff?

I sure had spent a ton of money on toys at the show. I had saved up quite a bit of cash over the previous 6 months to be ready, and I pretty much spent it all. I did treat the show as if it was going to be my last and so I picked up all the stuff I was looking for.

I did end up talking with a few people out and around the convention, but I haven’t spoken with them since. I’m not really a social Transformers fan and try to keep my collecting private for the most part.

The thing I hated the most was all the lines. We waited and wasted several hours in a multitude of lines. I know that that was because of a few things like the RotF toy releases, the fact it was in California, and that the show was occurred around the release of the second movie. I’m usually pretty patient about waiting, but I came back from the show with a extreme distaste for lines. This got worse with the lines we were in when RotF was released.

I ended up skipping the next convention, BotCon 2010, that was held in Florida this year. I however did procure the 2010 toys secondhand. Furthermore, we are planning on attending BotCon 2011 when it comes back to Pasadena next year alongside Transformers 3.

I do feel that Transformers have taken over a lot of my life. Lots of time and money are spent on these things, and I am running out of room due to my constant collecting. I thankfully haven’t ventured into vintage G1 figures, nor have I spent myself to death. I do feel I need to step it back with the upcoming releases. TFA’s last few figures are trickling out, but Classics / Generations (my favorites) are now coming back full swing.

Hopefully when the third movie has passed, I’ll really be able to slow down the collecting if not call it quits entirely.

As far as blogging this stuff, it sure took me long enough. The first post was back on June 7, 2009, which was 440 days ago. Hopefully I’ll be more timely for next years convention.

Have you asked the Floating Cat any important questions today?