Custom Transformers

May 21, 2013

I’m often unsatisfied with the inadequately-painted and inaccurate Transformers released by Hasbro, TakaraTomy, and third-party manufacturers, and frequently make modifications to my toys to more closely match their animation models, comic book designs, and live-action CGI appearances. Sometimes all it takes is a few well-placed stickers, but other times it requires extensive repainting, parts swapping, and kitbashing accessories to satisfy my aesthetic sensibilities. Here’s some of the work I’ve done over the past year or so.

Using the new “gallery” feature, you can now browse each of these images in a slideshow. Click on any of the thumbnails below to start!

A makeshift Decepticon

February 28, 2012

Last month at Toys ‘R’ Us, I managed to find one of the elusive Transformers from the final wave of Dark of the Moon figures. A deluxe scale Mercedes-Benz E-class (“deluxe” meaning “small enough to crush in one hand, but not small enough to slip between your fingers”), this navy blue luxury car transforms into Que, the mechanical engineer who appears in the third Transformers movie.

Originally intended to be Wheeljack, the mechanic and inventor from the original TV series (who appears as Wheeljack in comic books based on the movie), director Michael Bay reportedly decided to name him after the James Bond character Q instead, who outfits 007 with high-tech gadgets just as Que outfits his Autobot brethren in the film. Furthermore, Bay thought it would be funny to give him a ridiculous faux-British accent, and make him look like the alien equivalent of Albert Einstein; Mercedes-Benz is a German company, after all. The result is disgustingly ugly, especially for an Autobot character.

While not entirely accurate, the Takara designers based the look of the toy on the CGI character. The result is depressingly ugly, especially for an Autobot figure.

That head has gotta go!

Otherwise, however, the figure is pretty sweet. The vehicle mode is very accurate, and looks even better with a little touch-up paint work to bring out sculpted details (like the front grill):

I added a little flat black to bring out the panel lines, and silver highlights around the Mercedes-Benz logo. The license plate was made in Photoshop and printed onto adhesive paper.

His hand-held tools can be stored under the chassis in vehicle mode, a feature undocumented in any of the instructions (nor anywhere online, as far as I can tell):

The robot is very well-proportioned, with long limbs and broad shoulders, and features a great deal of articulation; I just couldn’t abide that face, though. I removed the head entirely, and replaced it with the head of a “Gundam Converge” Delta Plus mobile suit. Now he looks like a kick-ass Decepticon, not an ugly-ass Autobot! I particularly like the look of that translucent red visor.

Also, since there are prominent 5mm ports on his back, I decided to attach the large cannons Big Daddy wasn’t using.

All that was left was to decide on a name for this new character, who now fits in better with the aesthetics of the ongoing comic series and toy line. There was a navy-blue Autobot luxury car among the Mini-cons in the Universe line named “Makeshift,” which seemed an appropriate name for a character born of a half-assed headswap; Makeshift also happened to be the name of a short-lived Decepticon spy in Transformers: Prime, who infiltrated the Autobot base pretending to be Wheeljack. Thus, the navy-blue Autobot luxury car (pretending to be movieverse Wheeljack) becomes Makeshift, a navy-blue Decepticon spy (pretending to be an Autobot mechanic). Serendipity, if I do say so myself.

Makeshift may not be showing signs of stress in this laid-back pose, but his plastic joints tell a different story. One thing to be aware of, for those of you who managed to acquire one of these figures: there are already prominent stress marks forming in the hands and the insides of the front fenders, where they attach to the arms. Note the white lines that have formed in the plastic, and take care not to subject those areas to significant pressure; it looks like breakage could be a definite possibility, if you’re not gentle with him.

Oh, and since the Delta Plus head attached so easily to Que’s body, I figured Que’s head might as well go on the Delta Plus body:

Somehow, the childlike proportions suit this head better, don’t you think?

AT-TE: A Ten-Ton Elephant?

July 28, 2008

Actually no, it’s an All-Terrain Tactical Enforcer, a massive new Star Wars toy from Hasbro’s new Clone Wars line. This one’s so big, I decided I’d have to borrow my wife’s car just so I could get it home from Toys ‘R’ Us!

The AT-TE is a pretty imposing sight, heavily armored and bristling with cannons, although the driver looks a little exposed in the front there. I’d feel much safer in the cockpit of an AT-AT, an AT-ST, or even on a speeder bike…!

It’s too crowded in the toy room to get decent shots of this behemoth, so I brought it down to the living room. I’d love to fill it with Clone Troopers, but (as you can see in the background) all my loose clones are already in the Republic Gunship!

There are two interior sections to the AT-TE, both of which feature gunner stations for each of the projectile-launching cannons. The forward section features four highly detailed stations, from the grating on the floor to the ceiling controls.

The back section features gunner stations for the two rear cannons, as well as weapons racks and space for twelve additional Clone Troopers.

Watch this video demonstration of the sophisticated mechanism that controls the disembarkation ramp, and hear the sound it makes as it automatically lowers. So cool!

As has been the case since the early days of Kenner’s Star Wars playsets, strategically-placed pegs molded into the floors allow for figures to be firmly attached all over the surface, making for some pretty dynamic poses!

In fact, I liked this pose so much I took a few more pictures.

The rear-projected background is just the screensaver my computer happened to be running at the time.

Now, if only I had as many Clone Trooper figures as Hasbro had on display at the San Diego Comicon…!

It’s been a long time since Hasbro released a Star Wars toy this large — larger, in fact, than any released during the twenty years Kenner produced Star Wars toys. It’s not as tall as the Kenner AT-AT or the Imperial Shuttle, nor as long as the Rebel Transport or the Naboo Royal Starship, but it’s bulkier and more sophisticated than any of them.

What’s more, it’s got one important advantage over every other Star Wars playset or vehicle produced at this size, even the new “Legacy Collection” Millennium Falcon: it’s actually to scale with the action figures! Way to go, Hasbro! It’s about time.

My Star Wars teddy bears

July 20, 2008

I now have a complete set of adorable Bearbrick Star Wars characters, thanks to my adorable friend Akimi!

Like all Bearbricks, these are plastic action figures of a teddy bear, identical sculpts that differ only in their paint schemes. These 16 have been painted to represent various iconic Star Wars characters, both from the original trilogy and the new films, and some of them are quite inventive in how they reproduce established creatures and robots. I particularly like the upset expression on Chewbacca’s face (front row center), the shiny vacuum-metallized paint job on the C-3PO bear (back row center), and the creative license taken with the R2-D2 paint scheme — not an easy design to apply to a teddy bear! As these are only sold with 500ml bottles of Pepsi NEX, they’re only available in Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets; completing a full set required a lot of running around town (not to mention the cooperation of my friends Kevin, Jason and Akimi). I could’ve simply bought a full set from the secondary collector’s market — an online auction site, for instance — but where’s the fun in that?

A Prime find

June 26, 2008

Transformers nostalgia week continues here in the toy room, thanks to a trip to the Toys ‘R’ Us in the big Kurashiki City shopping mall (about 40 min. outside of Okayama). I found several of the aforementioned “Classics” Bumblebee there, and the other characters from the line, too… and when I saw this new version of Optimus Prime, I couldn’t resist. How cool is this?

Thanks to Hasbro’s “light-pipe” technology, the eyes refract any light from behind or above the figure through the blue-tinted plastic piece that forms the back of Prime’s head. Is that awesome or what? I’m so impressed by the proportions of this figure, and the articulation; it makes for some very cool poses. Even non-transformable Prime action figures never look this cool, and this one just-so-happens to transform into a stylish little cab:

The chrome grill and bumper identify this as the Japanese “Henkei” version of the toy, as opposed to the ugly US release. Note the smokestacks, that become Prime’s gun in robot mode — like the “Binaltech” line, these Transformers have fully-integrated parts (something the toy line sadly lacked back when I was a kid, when leftover parts like weapons were often lost or misplaced). The Spike figure is included for scale again here, beside the “Classics” Bumblebee. Turns out Bumblebee wasn’t the only cool new toy in this product line!

Hoping for another winner, I also bought the Hot Rod figure:

Not quite the triumph of design his “Classics” brethren represent, Hot Rod still makes for a pretty cool robot, and far more sophisticated than any previous incarnation of the character. Gotta love those light-pipe eyes!

The parts don’t fit together as tightly as I’d like in vehicle mode, but the gold-plated spoiler is a nice touch:

Look closely, and you’ll make out the steering wheel and the seats sculpted into the body of the vehicle (giving the illusion of depth that isn’t really there).

I wasn’t so fond of his simplistic cannon accessory, but again, it’s well-integrated into the vehicle mode:

It’s designed with a spring-launch mechanism and a silly missile accessory, which explains the cross-shape of the opening. Since I had no interest in play features like firing missiles anyway, I hollowed out the opening and painted it to look more like a jet engine, something like the modern Batmobiles feature.

It won’t have much resale value now, but I think it’s a definite improvement.

Now, if any Transformers toy collectors are reading, can you tell what minor modification I made to the Optimus Prime figure above?

Bumblebee’s finest hour

June 20, 2008


Like most of the men of my generation, I grew up watching Transformers in the ’80s; and like most of the men of my generation, I lost interest in the Transformers mythology after the original TV series ended. I was disappointed by what Japanese producers did to it after the US abandoned it (Headmasters, Super God Masterforce, Victory); dismayed with what Canadian animators did to it after the Japanese abandoned it (Beast Wars, Beast Machines); disturbed by what Japanese writers did to it after Canada abandoned it (Car Robots, Super Link, Galaxy Force); distraught with what American producers did to it after Cartoon Network imported it (Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon); and disgusted by what Hollywood studios did to it after Spielberg acquired it (Transformers: a Michael Bay film, Transformers: Animated).

With no knowledge or interest in the new characters or mythology, therefore, the toy line has held no interest for me since I was a child, and nothing of the ’80s toy aesthetic appeals to my sensibilities as an adult toy collector, either. The only Transformer toys in my collection are from the recent product lines aimed squarely at adult collectors, the “Binaltech” Transformers and the spare-no-expense “Masterpiece” line, all of which are scale-accurate reproductions of actual modern vehicles, feature rubber and die-cast metal components, extremely complex and exacting transformations, and price points far beyond what parents or children would be willing to spend… and they’re based on characters that haven’t been depicted in films or on television in over twenty years.


I scanned these design drawings from a Japanese art book (yes, the Binaltech toy line actually has a glossy 160 pg. art book entirely devoted to it!) just to show you what a new Transformers TV series could’ve looked like, if only they’d based it on these toys:

Instead, this is what now fills the airwaves and the toy aisles.

Oddly enough, this new animated series has been well-received by much of the fan community… must be because it’s well-written and performed, ’cause it’s certainly not much to look at!

Anyway, one unfortunate omission from the Binaltech line was Bumblebee, the classic yellow Volkswagen Beetle that was to have been re-designed as a modern version of the VW bug, had Volkswagen actually granted them the rights to do so. (Unfortunately, we live in a much more litigious age now, and German car companies don’t like their products associated with war, see.)

Boy, that would’ve made a sweet Transformer!

Of course, practically anything would’ve been an improvement over the original toy…

…or so I believed, until I saw the hideous abomination that bears his name in the Hollywood film.

Movie Bumblebee

But all is not lost, for (unbeknownst to disillusioned ex-Transformers fans such as myself) a truly great Bumblebee toy was eventually released, as part of Hasbro’s appropriately-named “Classics” product line. Bumblebee is no longer a VW, of course, but we have only Volkswagen to blame for that. I never actually saw this toy for sale in stores, but when I saw one online, I simply couldn’t resist. Finally, a toy worthy of the classic character!

While he looks exceedingly large next to my Spike figure, you’ll see the figure is appropriately scaled to Bumblebee when displayed in vehicle mode.  This particular incarnation appears to be a Peugeot 206 GTI 180 (or as close an approximation as Hasbro could produce without having to pay Peugeot for the rights).

Scale, of course, will forever be a problem with Transformers displays, since the apparent size of the robots depicted rarely bore any relation to the scale of their alternate modes; Megatron (a handgun) stood as tall as Starscream (a fighter jet). As a result, displays that look right are never to scale, and displays that are to scale never look right. In my toy room, it boils down a simple choice; whether to display the toy in robot mode (based on the animated depiction) or in alternate mode (based on the actual scale of the vehicle). These three, for instance, look cool together as robots, but they’d look ridiculous next to each other as vehicles!

(Nemesis Prime, 1:24th scale Dodge Ram, left; Bumblebee, 1:32nd scale Peugeot 206, center; Starscream, 1:72 scale F-15 Eagle, right.)

You’ll find a proper review of the Transformers “Classics” Bumblebee here. Mine is the Japanese “Henkei” version, which lacks the white stripe and the black sticker on the roof of the US release, and is more in keeping with the original Bumblebee look… and it came with a mini-comic book, too!

Now THAT’s what the new animated series should’ve looked like!

The new 1:5000 scale Macross SDF-1 has arrived!

June 2, 2008

Arguably the most expensive toy I’ve purchased to date (at least, relative to its size), this plastic-and-diecast Macross SDF-1 replica (based on the movie re-design, rather than the original Macross TV version) is also one of the finest pieces in my collection. Having only recently learned of this “Movie color” repaint version, I decided this was something I had to have! Not wanting to spend in excess of $200 on it, however, I waited until I found one for sale on Yahoo! Japan auctions for ¥11500… Still mighty pricey, given its underwhelming size. At under 30cm in length, this “super-dimensional fortress” is anything but!

Despite the limited depth-of-field, however, you can make out the level of detail in both the sculpt and paint applications…

The stand it comes with is one of the sturdiest and most reliable I’ve ever used.

The transformation from cruiser to battle configuration is surprisingly complex, and yields wonderful results:

The main gun firing gates are adjustable, of course.

The proportions are extremely accurate to the animation model sheets, resulting in a shape that suggests a massive scale (despite the actual size of the toy).

Thankfully, I have plenty of other little 1:5000 scale Star Trek and Yamato starships to display it with!