Galactic Resin Studio Scale Y-Wing model

July 17, 2016

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!

An unexpected journey

December 30, 2011

An article about me — or rather, my toy collection — was featured in last year’s Christmas issue of Town Joho magazine. My business partner Katsumi (who has appeared in a magazine herself) recommended me to the staff, who visited my home with a professional photographer. While the published photos aren’t particularly flattering, the staff was very pleasant and I enjoyed the attention. They asked me if I had some appropriate attire to wear that would reflect my interests, so (since I had yet to acquire my Boba Fett or Biker Scout armor) I put on an old Halloween costume for the photo shoot: an Earth Federation uniform from the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series.

Having been impressed by a photo of Shaun Wong on his Website, I decided to follow suit and wore sunglasses. It didn’t really work with the ensemble, but my wife was relieved; I’m harder to recognize this way, you see.

The toy room was photographed with a wide-angle lens, which actually makes the room look even smaller than it really is!

The staff spent some time debating where and what to photograph in my house — I have showcases and displays in almost every room — and also took separate pictures of larger items, like the three-foot long “Tumbler” Batmobile from Hot Toys’ 1:6 scale Batman Begins line.

These infamous photos of the toy in my driveway I shot (from a deceptively low angle) have fooled numerous people over the last couple of years!

I was asked what items were the most valuable, and which I liked best, and in both cases I pointed out event-exclusive Boba Fett figures from Medicom’s “Kubrick” Star Wars action figure series, my favorite of which accurately reproduces the original vintage Kenner figure and packaging:

I also gave a shout-out to Shoji Kawamori, the genius mecha designer responsible for the transformable fighter craft of Macross, as well as the recent Yamato Toys’ 1:60 versions.

Of course, if the interviewer asked me to pick three favorites now, I’d likely give three completely different answers.

With so many fantastic figures and vehicles, how could I possibly choose?

If you can read Japanese, click here to read the full text of the article.

Since the magazine publishes interviews with collectors on a semi-regular basis, I was hoping the staff might introduce me to a like-minded individual. I asked the interviewer if she knew anyone with a similar collection, and she appeared to give it some thought as her eyes moved from one showcase to another.

“No,” she answered, “nothing like this.”

She pointed to my Bearbrick shelf, telling me she’d met someone who collected those figures, and had also seen a similar collection of 1:6 scale dolls (although apparently not nearly as many as I have on display). My collection far exceeded everything else she’d seen in both amount and variety. According to her, Japanese collectors tend to restrict themselves to a single product line — or at least, a single media franchise — rather than the ever-expanding mass of interests my action figures represent.

However, subsequent to the article being printed, there was a collector who contacted her wanting to be introduced to me. Koji, a vintage Star Wars enthusiast, had seen the magazine in the convenience store where he works, and was eager to meet other dedicated fans. He’s a member of the 501st Legion, a worldwide organization of costumers with exacting standards for membership; only screen-accurate costumes are accepted, requiring the investment of a great deal of time and money to meet their rigorous standards. I helped him put together this Stormtrooper costume.

Affiliated with both Lucasfilm and charitable organizations like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross Hospital, he’s one of “the bad guys who do good.” He’s encouraged me to join the Japanese garrison of the 501st, which meant I needed to put together a costume of my own:

Now officially approved, I have the membership badge to prove it.

My debut appearance with the 501st will be in Tokyo on New Year’s Day, promoting a new Star Wars-themed clothing line from A Bathing Ape. Lucasfilm has requested numerous promotional appearances in movie theatres across the country over the next few months, and I’m joining a charity marathon in Nagoya to benefit sick children as well.

Toy collecting can lead your life in unexpected directions!

When 1:1 equals 1:18

November 25, 2011

Ever since I acquired a Rubies “Supreme” Boba Fett costume back in September, I’ve been researching and exploring the world of Star Wars props and costumes.  In my attempt to accurize that costume, my attention has shifted away from the 1:18 scale Star Wars miniatures, and more towards 1:1 scale reproductions of weapons and armor.  This has led me to a whole new group of friends and Star Wars aficionados, and toy collecting has taken a back seat of late.

However, the more I learn about what bits and pieces were used to construct the various costumes, the more I find this new hobby overlapping with a previous obsession of mine, the studio-scale filming miniatures.  The same model kits that were cannibalized to detail the spaceships in Star Wars — a time-saving process known as “kitbashing” — were also used for detailing the props and costumes worn by the actors (Carrie Fisher’s Boushh outfit, for instance), and having spent as many years as I have obsessing over the original Millennium Falcon miniature, rediscovering these parts in other areas of the Star Wars universe is as exciting as an archaeological find that links birds to dinosaurs.

And thus it occurs to me that, while spending all that time researching and constructing my own replica of the “studio-scale” Millennium Falcon model, I’ve really been reproducing a 1:1 scale prop, rather than a 1:18 scale playset for my action figures.  It was that glorious coincidence of scale that prompted me to begin my reproduction to begin with: having discovered that the filming miniature built by ILM for A New Hope in 1976 was almost exactly 1/18th the size of the Falcon set constructed at Elstree Studios in London, I realized that the original model was the perfect scale for 1:18 (otherwise known as 3 3/4″) Star Wars figures.

What followed was years of online research, various attempts to reconcile discrepancies between interior and exterior sets, prototype mockups in foamcore and styrene, and combing through hundreds and hundreds of Tamiya, Bandai, and Airfix model kits trying to find the exact parts used to detail the original model.

While the pioneering work of Robert Brown and David West Reynolds has been instrumental to my project, the actual work of fitting 1:18 scale reproductions of the Falcon interiors into a replica of the studio-scale model required months and months of planning.  I used Photoshop to produce blueprints of the model, utilizing multiple overlapping layers to determine exactly what would fit where, and deciding where and what to compromise to actually make it work.  The documents themselves are extremely detailed high-resolution images, but this simplified multi-layered rendering should give you the basic idea of what I’m attempting:

I started with a foamcore mockup of the outer hull, to determine the exact shape and dimensions required for an accurate reproduction.  The base was this large piece of dense foam I bought at a hardware store, and cut to the proper shape:

I cut foamcore ribs and hot-glued them to the base to provide an endoskeletal structure to build on.

Next, curvilinear parts were measured, cut, and folded into the proper shapes to form the hull.

The unique and distinctive shape of the cockpit required particular attention…

…as did the port and starboard docking rings, below which our heroes are often seen entering and exiting the ship.

Having attached the lower hull and the cockpit, the Falcon was beginning to take shape.

Next came the upper hull, and the boarding ramp.

The hydraulic struts on either side of the boarding ramp are a combination of wood, styrene, PVC plastic and metal rods:

The engine grill is comprised of 68 separate styrene fins, each cut to exactly the same shape and glued one centimeter apart from each other.

The rectenna dish, carved from a wooden tea saucer with PVC detailing, is the only part to have been primed for painting:

I then began to attach the model kit parts I had identified from the studio model, starting with the Tamiya 1:35 Panther engine covers (seen behind the lower three exhaust vents on the engine block).

Given many of these vintage model kits are quite rare and expensive to acquire, I did my best to scratchbuild whatever parts I would require multiples of:

After building a styrene skin to attach all the kitbashed parts to, the engine deck began to take shape.

The exhaust grills are cut from exactly the same material ILM used in the ’70s (which is also the texture used to mimic the solar panels on the TIE Fighter wings):

Having discovered that the seats used in the Falcon cockpit set were taken from a Porsche 911, I found a 1:18 scale diecast Porsche (with accurately-colored upholstery) to steal the chairs out of:

Han’s chair was mounted much higher than Chewie’s, to account for their considerable height discrepancy.

Luke’s chair (behind Han’s) is just a temporary LEGO mockup.

The front mandibles were then covered with a styrene skin, so that kitbashing could begin in earnest.  The panels on the front are Tamiya 1/12 Ferrari 312B engine blocks, identical to those on the original model.

The inner mandible walls are lined with the undercarriage of an AMT/Ertl 1:25 ’57 Chevy Bel-Air.  Quite an exciting find!

For the sake of scale comparison, I photographed my Falcon mockup next to the old Hasbro toy:

…and the new Hasbro “BMF” version, once it came out.

My accurately-scaled version will have a great deal more interior space, as Han inspects first-hand:

Chewie appreciates the headroom, while Han considers possible smuggling compartments.

Here’s a shot of my workspace, on the living room floor.  The HD video projector is an invaluable asset.

I’ve just begun cutting the hundreds of panels that will be required for detailing the upper and lower hull.

Now the real fun begins…  -_-

(Some of) the Star Wars toys

November 20, 2011

Now that I’ve made the acquaintance of several hard-core Star Wars fans through the 501st Japanese Garrison and the Jedi Order, I thought I should upload some photos of my Star Wars toy collection as a whole… which is just about impossible, actually, since it won’t fit in one room (much less the confines of a single photograph)!  Here’s the best I’ve been able to do, without the benefit of a wide-angle lens:

That’s the bulk of my Star Wars displays… at least, the 1:18 scale Hasbro merchandise.

Since you may be wondering, I’ll answer a few questions pre-emptively:

I don’t how many figures I have, nor how much I’ve spent acquiring them.  I would estimate over 2000 Star Wars figures are in my collection, but (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) there’s a lot of other stuff on display as well, even in the toy room… and among my regular purchases, Star Wars merchandise is the least expensive.  I spend far more on 1:6 scale figures, die-cast cars, and transformable Japanese toys.

Almost everything on display was purchased at Toys ‘R’ Us in Okayama (when they still distributed Star Wars toys to Japan), or through online distributors.  Some of it is acquired by friends in North America, to help me save on shipping and avoid paying Japanese import prices; some of it is purchased through online auction sites, like Yahoo! Japan auctions or eBay.  The only stuff that I brought with me from Canada are my vintage Kenner figures, a complete collection of loose figures I’ve had since the ’80s.

I’m not a vintage Kenner enthusiast, mind you; I much prefer the modern Hasbro toy line, and love to watch the product evolve from year to year.  I lose interest in older figures and vehicles as soon as more accurate versions are released.

I don’t feel compelled to purchase every Star Wars toy produced, even within a single scale or sub-line; I’m actually rather picky about what I buy, and don’t obsess about what I have or haven’t managed to acquire.  I’m even pickier about cost, and sometimes put off buying a particular figure or set until I can get it sufficiently cheap, often waiting years until it falls into my price range.  Much of my Star Wars collection was purchased at considerably less than its retail value — I probably don’t spend as much as you think I do.  ^_^

Better late than never!

July 27, 2008

In 1984, the first season of The Transformers introduced nearly fifty Transformer characters to audiences around the world, virtually all of which were released as toys — all, that is, save one significant exception.

Skyfire, largest of the original Autobot characters, played a pivotal role in two early episodes and appeared throughout the remainder of the season (as well as the Marvel comics). A Skyfire Transformer, however, was never produced, which may explain why the character disappeared after the first season. Now, however — over two decades later — we finally have a Skyfire toy.

Given the character was designed first, and the toy subsequently based on the animated design (as opposed to the first ninety Transformers released, that were toys to begin with), a great deal of compromise was required in designing the Skyfire toy. The booster-rocket backpack, for instance, is clearly modeled after the Macross Valkyrie design — as is the fuselage — and bears little resemblance to Skyfire’s jetpack.

I may custom-build my own alternative backpack for this toy later on, just to bring it closer to the animated depiction.

Moving on…

In 1986, Transformers: The Movie established a whole new cast of characters, settings, and even lifeforms to the mythology, most notably the biorganic Quintessons.

While almost all the new Autobots, Decepticons, Junkions, and even Sharkticons depicted in the film were represented in toy form, none of the Quintesson designs were released. Now, however — over two decades later — we finally have Quintesson toys.

To the best of my knowledge, these are only available through certain online retailers, or auction sites like eBay (where I got mine). There’s nothing to indicate they’re a legitimately-licensed product, or that “Impossible Toys” has even had contact with Hasbro or Takara regarding rights issues… Indeed, look at their bare-bones Website and you’ll see that Transformers nomenclature like “energon” and “Kremzeek” aren’t even spelled correctly! Still, since no legitimate toys of these characters were ever produced back in the day, I welcome the work of anyone with the resources to mass-produce their custom figures for collectors like myself, especially when they’re done with this level of sophistication and quality. Note the transparent plastic stands are designed to light up, representing the beams of light these creatures travel around on.

They may not be licensed Transformers product, but they suffer from the same problems that plague all legitimate Transformer toys — they’re not to scale with each other. While the Quintesson Judge character seems designed in scale with the classic movie toy line (most notably the Sharkticon), the Scientist was clearly produced at a much larger scale, making it appear about three times larger than it should next to the Judge. Note the relative scales of Quintesson (Judge), human (Spike), and Autobot (Ultra Magnus) as depicted in the original Transformers TV series:

The Quintesson Scientist, by comparison, is not much taller than the human it captures.

Thus, despite all the myriad scales that Transformers toys have been released in to date, the Quintesson Scientist is to scale with… none whatsoever. I guess I’ll have to display him with my Star Wars figures or something.

Toy companies make mistakes like this all the time; dedicated fans, however, ought to know better.

Moving on…

In 1987, the first Bubblegum Crisis animated video was released, depicting a quartet of female vigilantes-for-hire fighting sophisticated androids in a dark future Tokyo.

In a market overwhelmingly dominated by male action heroes and robots as big as buildings, the women protagonists and their form-fitting armored “hardsuits” left a lasting impression on the anime scene. Of particular note were the transformable motorcycles, called “Motoslaves.”

Despite numerous sequels, spin-offs, and a TV series remake, very little Bubblegum Crisis merchandise was ever released, much less transformable toys. (Fan-produced garage kits and unpainted soft-vinyl figures were as close as we got.) Now, however — over two decades later — we finally have a Motoslave toy.

Not only does it make an imposing robot, but it transforms into a kick-ass motorcycle for the figure to ride, too!

Note how closely the sculpt reproduces the animation models designed way back in the ’80s, both in motorcycle and robot modes:

And of course, just as it appears in the animated series, the Motoslave robot also acts as an exoskeleton for the pilot.

See the Priss figure inside?

The animation never really did justice to the brilliance of Shinji Aramaki’s mecha design, and (like the “movie color” Macross SDF-1 I reviewed earlier) it takes a really accurate toy to illustrate the sophistication and elegance of the Motoslave.

An extremely well-illustrated Japanese review of the toy can be found here.

The real question, of course, is why did we have to wait over twenty years for all these wonderful toys to come out?!

1:6 stragglers

July 13, 2008

Whoops! In my previous post, I neglected to mention these twelve-inch figures, that don’t fit into my twelve-inch figure display because (despite being a consistent 1:6 scale) they’re a lot more than twelve inches high! Instead, they adorn this upright showcase in the screening room.

The twelve-inch figures that don't fit with the others

First of all, there’s the fantastically large and expensive “Hot Toys” Power Loader with Ripley figure, from James Cameron’s masterpiece Aliens. It’s got built-in lights and hydraulic hoses and more points of articulation than I can count, and despite its considerable size and weight, it’s remarkably well-balanced. It’s also more accurate than even the filming miniature… apart from Ripley’s costume, that is.

Next is a Japanese soft-vinyl figure of H.R. Giger’s “dog alien” from Alien 3, that’s so delightfully creepy and disturbing that my wife actually asked me to remove it from the living room. After some further negotiating, she learned to accept its presence… after all, it’s placement is so aesthetically perfect that even she had to admit it belongs up there.

Finally, perhaps my most popular figure is this highly-detailed Kotobukiya Spider-Man (based on the costume designed for Sam Raimi’s film), hanging securely from the speaker wire that runs down the wall to the surround channels in the back.

He came with a green stand in the shape of a spire to hang from, but as always, I have very little use for stands… And while he’s small enough to fit with all the other 1:6 figures in my living room floor showcase, the dynamic pose lends itself to a much more prominent location for display.