Friday, 19 January 2018

Jurassic Renaissance

- Ben Watson

I've never been much of a fan of the Dinobots. In fiction they're either portrayed as a group of lumbering dimwits or 2edgy4me "badasses". Couple this with the fact I suspect I grew out of a childhood fascination with dinosaurs around the age of 9 and these iconic staples of Transformers history have never had much sway over me. But now, thanks to their latest incarnations I think that's about to change.

Having grown up with Beast Wars adjacent to the second Jurassic Park film, Young Ben loved some dinos and would happily reel off their names like some kind of cretaceous incantation. Back then T-Rexes were suave Machiavellian villains and Velociraptors, cunning warriors. However upon unearthing the Dinobots some years later left something to be desired. Here I was met with something that should by all rights be extremely cool - proper robot dinosaurs - but due to the toys' dated appearance and the group's lacking characterisation I think the best I could muster in response was "huh."

Subsequent reanimations for the team did equally little to stir my interest. I didn't pay attention to Animated at the time, never had any access to the early 2000's Dinobots subline and was made to groan and scratch my head at their apparently pivotal inclusion in Age of Extinction only to see them perform very little on the big screen. Of course at this point new dino figures in colourful imaginative forms flooded shelves and my personal saturation point was quickly reached. I can probably chart a solid 6 weeks of 2014 where I genuinely found appeal in the reinvented team and their perfectly fitting new members. Now though, I honestly think they'd be the first lot to go in a sales purge. Leave the movie lines to realistic vehicles, if I wanted some Digimon, I'd go buy them. But where does this leave the present day and the clear turnaround of thought that's making me write this article? 

After a brief moment of going "I actually really like this" when met with RID 2015's gold version of Grimlock I did stop and think equivalent figures of the other lads would be something I could go for. Of course, that never came to be and we were left with a single solitary big-name-from-previous-movie-hype-cash-in dino. But he was enough to open my eyes to the possibility of new G1 themed Dinobots being a bit of a hit. Roll on Power of The Primes' first wave providing as much dino content as the whole of Animated in one fell swoop (pardon the pun) and I became firmly fossilised in the notion of getting my hands on every dino the line would have to offer. 

Initial photography showed some wonkiness to the figures but when that's the sign of combinatorial sacrifices being made, I can certainly live with it. You may expect I was indifferent to the reveal of Volcanicus, the team's new combined form but this emergent behemoth may be a huge factor in the revived Dinobots' status as Actually Rather Good. 

I loved Combiner Wars' ethic of putting Special Teams and higher tier characters on the same footing by making them all gestalt ready and seeing the same being done with the Dinobots is a delight. Let's face it, most other five man teams in Transformers combine already, it's a no-brainer to add the dinos to that list and it adds a layer of fun to these figures that really makes them shine. That and the fact they're quite shiny. The uniform shade of gunmetal plastic for their bodies is spot on along with an applause worthy clear plastic over gold detailing effect. Hell, even the stickers on Grimlock add that necessary retro vibe to make him feel perfect. Somehow, where the G1 Dinobots always looked dated, the POTP Dinobots look both fresh and perfectly evocative of their iconic original selves. 

Excellent mechanical detail abounds in that modern crisp manner. Articulation and G1 proportions coexist. Headsculpts are more on-point than any predecessors. Paint jobs do everything they need to (unless you wanted Swoop to be red, sorry) but also much more than ever before. Now, the Dinobots don't just represent a uniform team with their shared colour schemes, but also the most visually cohesive combiner around - at least once Sludge and Snarl are released. In short, the POTP Dinobots seem to be a masterclass in updating G1 designs and they've totally won me over. 

I'll always value the qualities of a toy over the nuances of the character from fiction it represents every time (if indeed that character even appears in any fiction. Lookin' at you Slash). So with the sheer satisfaction these figures bring, I can totally overlook their 90% Furmanism By Volume personalities and for the first time also really appreciate the incredibly strong design the G1 - or Diaclone - originals represent. Thus the Dinobots have proven themselves to be the strongest slice of Power of The Primes so far and not only deliver a huge segment of the core of G1 that's been missing from updates for more than a decade, but a set of very fun new figures certainly worth your time. Even with the missed opportunity of Primemaster compatible Diacloney cockpits...

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23 

Read an earlier article here

Thursday, 11 January 2018


 - mantis nine nines
The brown headed cowbird has a very successful breeding strategy. It lets other birds do the hard work. Momma cowbird lays her egg in the nests of other species, where it hatches alongside the eggs of the native bird. When it hatches, the baby cowbird is nurtured and fed alongside its adopted brethren, growing strong and continuing the cowbird lineage, even if it thinks it's a titmouse or finch.

Momma's widdle baby...

So what the hell am I talking about? Does it seem my mind has finally collapsed? Let me connect the dots to the cowbirds of the Transformers franchise. These are the designs which snuck into G1 and have been with us ever since, contributing little to the greater mythos but continuing to find life long after their source toyline has vanished without a trace.

My favorite examples are the duo of Whirl and Roadbuster. In 2014 I was able to buy updated versions of toys from a show (Special Armored Battalion Dorvack) which was such a miserable failure it helped kill a toy company. 

Generations Roadbuster and Whirl photo courtesy of Ben Watson 

Even third party companies have produced figures of these two. Why? Not because either has been an iconic character over the years (with apologies to fans of the comics due to their limited pop culture impact) only because they were stamped with that magic "Transformers" logo 30 years ago.

FansProject Revolver photo courtesy of Vigadeath

Another of my favorites (and one of the most bizarre transforming toys of all time) is Sky Lynx. Originating from the same company (Toybox) as Omega Supreme, Sky Lynx has achieved a longevity far beyond anything a spaceship/cat/dragon with no humanoid mode could expect. Yet there he was in a fresh new version on mass retail shelves in 2016. Incredible!

Combiner Wars SkyLynx photos courtesy of Ben Watson

An honorable mention goes out to Shockwave. His origin at one-hit-wonder company Toyco is amazing considering how many incarnations he has had at this point, but he was given character and exposure early and often so thus lacks the anonymity that defines a cowbird. It's all about slipping under the radar...

Photo from ebay

So what do you think? Are there any I missed? Hit me up on twitter or post below and let me know what your favorite cowbirds are.

Until next time, thanks for keeping it #refined

Contact Dan on Twitter @mantisninenines 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

RRCo. Reviews: MP-39 Sunstreaker

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

It's not often that we review things in the traditional sense at RRCo. but sometimes a toy comes along who demands the attention. With that in mind let's go for a spin with MP-39 Sunstreaker.  

MP-39 Sunstreaker, the toy which was both never going to happen but also completely, inevitably, was going to happen. It has been many years since his brother Sideswipe was released and while time has been very kind to the MP-12 mould, Takara and their design department have not. The face of Masterpiece Transformers has changed from a shiny example of robotic perfection to something a bit more grey, a little bit disturbing in some cases but somehow still very attractive. 

I've waxed lyrical about the MP line numerous times and with every post I end up writing about the subject, my opinion is compromised shifts ever more into a stable, more accepting position. I'm still not fully supportive of cartoon focused Masterpiece toys but the quality of toys we have seen to achieve this goal is astounding. Now, I am aware that we could have still had this quality of toy but with the earlier MP aesthetic but I'll casually ignore that thought and press ahead.......

Masterpiece Sunstreaker is a wonder to behold. My initial reaction upon opening the box and seeing that sleek, sexy alt mode was pure elation. It has been a while since I experienced such an initial excitement at opening a Masterpiece car as many of my recent purchases consisted of Diaclone repaints and as amazing as they might be, it isn't the same as a whole new mould.

From the opening hood and doors and on to the chrome intakes, the attention to detail is stunning and harkens back to the Diaclone line itself in representing a thoroughly convincing alternate mode. 

Of course there is the option to display him in a more real-world accurate manner. The mechanism to achieve this is fairly ingenious but I can't say I'll ever display Sunstreaker this way, on the times when I do indeed have him displayed in alt mode (we all like to have an alt mode party sometimes right?). Put him alongside Sideswipe and the magic is complete. Finally, after five years we have this dynamic duo in official Masterpiece form! 

Before we even get into the robot mode (and thus the transformation, oh boy oh boy), the alt mode, as is now the norm for toys of the Masterpiece line, is covered in paint. Hard wearing, glossy, luscious paint. Sunstreaker practically glows a rich golden yellow, something which could never have been achieved with base plastic and this just adds to that initial awe upon opening the box. 

So about that transformation process..........

This is really where the differences between Sunstreaker, the most recent car-bot and Sideswipe, the first, become apparent. Actually, the qualitative differences start a moment before this as the second you pick up Sunstreaker it becomes very apparent that he weighs much more than Sideswipe due to so many more parts being packed into that alt. mode.  

Weight aside... where Sideswipe had a fairly traditional transformation scheme with a few neat tricks, Sunstreaker pulls out all the stops, with bells, whistles and extra panels to boot. The first run through, while not difficult or complex, definitely took a bit of time. Maybe I was hesitant to scratch the paint (which has held up after several transformations) or maybe it was just the experience of a completely new toy as I had sworn off watching any video reviews beforehand, but still, I took my time and was careful with every port, peg and panel. Maybe I just wanted to savour the whole experience and not rush things as it's not often I get my grubby hands on a toy at the actual time of release

The legs are fairly straight forward and the outward swing from the body of the car is quite a graceful movement before all the tidying up of the inner legs occurs. The feet are surprisingly simple and I love how they look in bot mode for such an iconic design element. 

Moving up to the torso, it should be a simple matter of rotating the windscreen to the back and flipping the chest over but alas, here is where we get into the few issues of this toy. The clearances allowed at every stage of this process are minimal. Were it not for the pieces involved being either clear plastic and/or painted I would feel pretty comfortable allowing them to clash and rub against each other. It is definitely the most nail biting part of the whole transformation. 

The arms thankfully, return us to the land of elegant efficiency with minimal fuss and some very nice tidying up taking place along the elbows. As for the head, it simply slides up and into place, revealing that handsome mug of Sunstreaker. 

The final piece of the transformation and probably the most fiddly (not to be confused with the most nerve-shredding mentioned previously) is the backpack. Lots of small painted parts with tight tolerances and small clearances. It's a fairly simple set of motions but I still find myself double checking to make sure everything is perfectly in place rather than relying on them to naturally fall into their designated positions of their own accord as the layers of Sunstreaker's backpack come together.

There is one more moment of nail-biting as you rotate the backpack around on what honestly feels like too-soft a piece of plastic but maybe this was intentionally used to allow a measure of flex. The very final step is the satisfying CLICK of hooking the backpack into place for maximum solidity. 

The overall motions of Sunstreaker's transformation are fairly simple, fold out the legs, pull down the arms and tidy up the backpack but there is so much more going on with every step. Initially it felt a little laborious but it's now something I really enjoy if maybe not to the same tactile degree as Ironhide or Inferno. There is less of a 'Masterpiece moment' with Sunstreaker as with the two just mentioned and I'd even say the most impressive piece of engineering is flipping the intakes back and forth but even that is met with small clearances and a lack of fluidity.

Once you have successfully navigated the transformation process you will be met with one gorgeous robot (robots can be gorgeous right?). Where Sunstreaker really succeeds is in the initial impression. From the silhouette, to the shining paint work and finally to the chest panel and headsculpt, he looks incredible. Screen accurate and quite critically, very well proportioned. But regrettably, when you look a little closer things begin to unravel somewhat. I find that there are just too many panels, hinges and separate parts on display to capture that true cartoon likeness seen by other recent Masterpiece toys. While this isn't something I necessarily lament, it feels like there could have been steps taken to tidy up some of these panel-puzzles if they could have diverged a little from the source material. 

My final criticism is the backpack. It is indeed a mighty rucksack intended for a weekend camping in the hills but honestly, in hand, it's not that bad. I don't think it's necessarily the size of the backpack which is jarring but more how much it feels juxtaposed against the sleek proportions of Sunstreaker. From some angles the figure's frame feels too small to accommodate the backpack as successfully as I would like. 

Beyond these minor issues, I think the figure is massive success. 

Keeping in line with recent releases, Sunstreaker comes with all the added articulation you would expect. From the wrist swivels allowing for more accurate gun-holding and hands-on-hip poses to the lovely double knees, double elbows, ab-crunch and shoulder joints, Sunstreaker is packed to the cyber-gills with joints aplenty. This is where, as said in a previous article, the Masterpiece line is headed and I am fully on-board. 

In the pictures for this article, I opted for more dynamic yet tighter and more expressive poses which made use of whatever head tilts, shoulder-joints and wrist swivels available. My photography game is still on Beginner mode so I hope this comes across. 

With every subsequent release I find myself treading further into this world of 'cartoon accuracy' but I can't help myself! Every dissenting notion I have had is swept aside by the in-hand experience. The dark greys replacing full black? Love it. The silver/grey paint used for the faces? Love it. The only aesthetic criticism I have for Sunstreaker is his chest. I dearly wish there was a more toy-styled display option with less of the faux hood and shrunken windows and something approaching a middle ground between this and what we saw on Omnigonix's Spinout but still, it looks great and does the job as intended. 

I'll close with this... when put aside Sideswipe exclusively, I think the time between their releases is evident. The aesthetic has changed and try as you might, squint as much as you want, the truth is Sunstreaker and Sideswipe do not go together as seamlessly as when put alongside other releases from their respective times. The solution to this is of course, for Takara to release a new Sideswipe mould altogether and not just a repaint. In the meantime, as long as you display your toys with a mind towards this shifting aesthetic, Sunstreaker can fit in to a larger group display, just fine.

Oh yeah and he also comes with this dumb mask.....

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

Saturday, 30 December 2017

An Alternative List

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

I don't really do lists. 

I certainly don't take part in the tradition of gathering all the toys I've bought in a year and select the best of the bunch. Yet, as we come to the end of another year, filled with fond memories of the mountain of plastic accrued over the many days, weeks and months, I find myself looking over my collection as whole and lingering on the purchases which have in some way had a profound impact on my buying habits or fulfilled some collecting goal of mine. Be it a key piece I finally managed to acquire or an example of a very purposeful direction I have tried to take my collection in, certain toys have dictated the course corrections of my collection. While I won't be presenting any sort of top picks of the year I will still mention a few key purchases and highlights of the year as well as commenting on how I tried to take control of my collection in 2017. 

This year more than ever I trimmed, pruned, cultivated and curated my collection as never before and as I to take you down my path of 'Top of the Pops of Bots Bought' I will tell you where each purchase has found its place in my collection and how it has added to the whole. The patchwork that is my collection is slowly changing into into a grand tapestry, one with a broad theme that is also replete with smaller displays therein.

While it's common for a lot of collectors to put together their own list of Best Bots, I feel they hold the most for me as a reader or viewer when someone can tell me why a certain bot made the cut. Reasons beyond "I liked it more than the others" or "it's a cool toy" which tell us why a few purchases are ranked above all else from the year. At times there are some wondrous posts, articles or videos where people can creatively express their choices through critical reasoning backed up with great photography, editing or even just a healthy dose of personality. Unfortunately this isn't always the case and at times these lists can feel more like a run-down of a bunch of shiny toys and that's it. Show and tell but it's all show and no tell. I am often left wondering where these bots stand in a collection? How have they affected a collection at large? 

As I mentioned at the beginning, this year I have reduced and focused my collection in a bid to align more and more of my purchases with a greater mindset towards my collecting goals. This has seen me concentrate on certain lines such as Masterpiece with a focus on the Diaclone repaints or particular Third Party companies, picking up certain toys I would normally pass over or even older releases to fill some gaps in my collection. For example, thanks to my purchasing habits of 2017 I now have enough toys to populate two exclusively Fansproject shelves which incidentally, allows for quite a range of aesthetics for such a narrow selection. From the now outdated but still incredible Colossus to rounding out my Function-X Headmasters, these purchases signify a very purposeful purchasing choice, that being, eventually, to own the complete catalogue of Fansproject products. Possibly a strange collecting choice to some but one I made nonetheless. So it is that I would place Colossus in my list of Best Bots, not necessarily because of how good the toys are (and they are indeed, very good) but because of what the toys represent for me as a collector and my collection at large. 

Next on my list is the magnificent, radiant, Maketoys Hyper Novae. This toy. This Gods damned toy. I have wanted this for years an eternity! Time and again I have searched forums and eBay and on the rare occasion it does pop up, it has either been for a ludicrous price or is in some way flawed or damaged. This year, shortly before TFNation (which meant a good chunk of my convention money was eaten up before doors even opened!) I came across one on a sales board. Complete, in good condition and an early run with the translucent orange wing inserts. It was mine. After years of waiting and biding my time, it was mine and for a more than acceptable price. The toy itself is incredible but it doesn't receive a spot on my list because of how well designed or how aesthetically pleasing it is, no. It earns a spot as it was an enormous tick on The List. Ah The List, the fanciful list of the bots I will one day own, ones that I passively seek out, waiting for the right time and of course, the right price.

Speaking of The List......while I have a passing interest in Diaclone car robots I am currently in no position to own any of the more desirable releases from that line. I am left to seek out the Diaclone repaints of Masterpiece toys to quench that thirst but those I do buy and proudly display are influenced by the real Diaclone cars I would one day love to own. So it is that MP31, Delta Manus finds a place in my Best Bots of 2017. Truth be told, MP-23 Exhaust is actually my favourite Diaclone repaint in and of itself but Delta Magnus represents my burning desire to one day own a Diaclone Powered Convoy. This will probably never happen as rarely do I find myself with a few thousand dollars lying around but for the time being I can enjoy this modern interpretation of such a beautiful Diaclone toy.

And finally, we come to my third pick. When I think of the lists I'm sure to see over the coming weeks I imagine they will be filled with everything from the lowliest Legends to the most mighty Masterpieces. There are also those who would have a few novelty purchases in their top ten, maybe a gift or a prize of sorts. I could point to some oddities I have acquired over the year myself and highlight one which presented a moral conundrum. While on holiday in London earlier in the year I popped into Orbital Comics on the recommendation of some local collectors. In their cabinet was a knock-off Gaihawk and not some tatty Poundland special but a 'vintage KO' if such a term even makes sense. Being quite the fan of Liokaiser (also on The List) and hoping to one day (probably in the far future) own the real thing, I bought it. Now, I am vehemently anti-KO but this was something special, something strange that I would likely never come across again and furthermore, something that would give me the barest taste of what it'd be like to own what will surely one day be the crown jewel of my collection. Throw in the location and the events surrounding the purchase and this charming figure is definitely deserving of a spot on my list, not because of how great or how well made the toy is (it's actually pretty good) but because of the story surrounding it. Still, I have let a dirty KO enter the ranks of my collection and I feel all the more tainted for it so maybe I should have hid my shame and omitted 'Flyhawk', part of the 'Bestforce' from my list..........

And there we have it. Hardly a Top 10 and certainly not Top 17 of 2017. Of course there are other wondrous bots I picked up this year, Thunder Erebus, MP-39 Sunstreaker or even Generation 1 Prowl but, the ones I have chosen all hold much more significance than just being a pretty dolly. 

Even now, as we bid farewell to one year and welcome the next, I am mindful of how my collection will change in 2018 rather than dwelling on my collecting achievements of 2017. Hopefully I will continue my recent trend of ending up with fewer toys than I began the year with, a further trimming of the fat until only the best cuts remains. It's difficult to forecast future purchases when a bombshell could be dropped from either Hasbro or Takara or any number of Third Party companies within the first quarter of the year but nevertheless, I intend to continue on the path I have chosen for my collection as best I can. 

One notable side effect of concentrating on select lines of transforming robots means I have passed over a number of releases, regardless of how much the community raves about them or how much I fancy taking a punt. While I have picked up a handful of Titans Return releases they were largely bought as they would fit into a pre-determined display. Topspin and Twintwist were bound for my Wreckers, LG Wheelie was shipped off to my Season 3 shelf and as for Quake and Shuffler, well okay, there were some impulse buys but they were few and far between. How can anyone resist a tiny robot Oliphaunt?

In other cases this means I have sold off toys which, by my own displaying decisions, no longer have a place in my collection. These were not necessarily bad or uninteresting toys and in some cases I wasn't 100% set on getting rid of them but as the years tick away I find myself ever driven to refine my collection to fewer and fewer pieces and some sacrifices will be made for the greater good of that ever elusive, ever changing, Perfect Collection (a misnomer if there ever was one). 

I hope this article has given you some things to think about, that it is the larger collection which should be reviewed rather than just reducing it down to ten purchases you have made in the past year. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas Collector Conundrums

- mantis nine nines

As a man-child whose proclivity for toy robots is well known among family and friends, I face a dilemma this time of year. My wife, my kids, my mom, everyone wants to share my passion and get me "the one you've been looking for" as a holiday gift. Despite years of telling them not to bother I have learned they will just hit Target and scoop up a movie Bumblebee or something similar that is bound for the donation box. Not that there is anything wrong with donations, but my family wants to see their bot on display and know they were able to show they get ME. 
We can all relate, I'm sure. I've been on the other end perusing Magic the Gathering cards or Skateboard gear for my nephews, yarn and crochet needles for my sister, books about vintage revolvers for my brother, with only the most casual understanding of what I'm looking at but determined to not be THAT GUY and give another gift card this year.
With that in mind, I wanted to celebrate the season by looking at how different our experiences can be with this issue, and end with a few tips for those still struggling with how to best balance their fandom and their loved ones generosity. I asked a few people from around the community to share their stories.

Rob Clay

I've been on both sides of the "Collectors Are Hard to Shop For" coin. When I was young and wanted to be surprised more than anything, I'd spend a day or two making up a detailed wishlist for me and my brother to give to our relatives. The first year, I had to reassure my appalled aunt that we didn't expect EVERYTHING on the list. (This all started in 1992, when I got a very expensive copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Christmas, which I knew in advance, and my brother got the entire Incredible Crash Dummies toyline and G2 Optimus Prime, which were all on sale. Sonic 2's a good game, but that was kind of a bummer of a Christmas morning.) A few years later, we tried to get something my uncle, a model train collector, would like - and missed the mark pretty hard. He didn't say so, of course, but you can tell. We've probably all forced that smile at least once in our lives.

We collectors can be miserable to shop for! There's so much merchandise surrounding any hobby that there is a super-narrow stripe of success stuck between "not quite the right thing" and "already own." Over my life I've known a fair number of people who simply ask their spouses "Would you get me this for Christmas?" Or even just say "I'm getting this as my Christmas present." The longer I'm around the more I understand the wisdom of it. Even the people closest to me have trouble knowing exactly what's right for me unless I tell them exactly what to look for. And if you spend a lot of time talking to other collectors with similar interests online, it can be easy to lose track of how personal and specific a collection really is.

These days, most of my relatives just hand out money because they're too old to deal with the shopping thing. I still buy stuff for my closest family members - the ones I live with, because it's easier to keep up with their collections if I pay attention. I largely bake cookies for the rest of the family and put them in pretty tins. It's hard to go wrong with homemade cookies! (Assuming you know everybody's dietary habits and allergies!) I keep an Amazon wishlist for online friends to use, which is pretty similar to the ones I used to hand out to my family, really. On those few occasions when the family wants to do something more specific for me, I pick one thing I want that's in their price range, with maybe a backup if it's sold out. (I'm pretty sure I'm getting Titans Return Blaster this year - it'll be the first time I've opened a Transformer on Christmas in probably 20-plus years. I'm excited!)

Drew Merkel

Honestly my family pays little attention to my collection, so they don’t know what I have. I’ve convinced a few to get gift cards. My dad on the other hand still thinks he’s pretty cool and tries to buy me stuff. I’m the proud owner of an R.I.D titan Bumblebee MISB that I will never have the heart to sell.

Ben Watson

I shan't keep you from the words of the rest of our excellent guest contributors for long but felt the need to chime in on Dan's subject as it's currently something that's been on my mind. Christmas for me now means "buying myself Transformers". I can't fathom a Crimbo without these bloody things, now having just about 20 solid years of them taking up residence under my tree every December. Somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that the holiday isn't complete if I'm not cracking open some cool robos. So now that my collecting is well and truly beyond the grasp of my family, even with my dad's best efforts to keep up I've now phased into becoming my own Santa in some unspoken way. Along the course of the last month I've accrued all of those bots you see above, purely for this purpose. I genuinely miss the surprise. I'll cite 2015 and unwrapping CW Silverbolt as the last bit of that I've had but it's not all bad as that feeling becomes reserved for completely different gifts, the likes of which you wouldn't buy yourself during the rest of the year. I'm expecting a random assortment of Star Wars guys this Yule and am actually excited to see which space weirdos my old pa has picked out for me. I guess in this way, while I want to keep the occasion an opportunity for a good haul, there's really very little of the Christmas spirit coming from Transformers for me now. Maybe next year I'll go cold turkey - and I'm not just talking about sandwiches on Boxing Day. 

Erica Walsh

Oah! It's Christmas! I'm Jewish! No but genuinely, I love this holiday despite no religious attachment as I'm sure so many others in this community do, and NOT just because of getting toys! Frankly, I don't get toys for Christmas anymore, despite having the time where I would receive them pretty close in my rear-view. Christmas-time is a bit of a weird one for me and my family, to be honest. Being as it's not really FOR most of us, my family isn't really 100% invested to begin with – aside from me, of course. To be honest, I'd hazard a guess that the decorations and such only go up at my own behest anymore (and because I'm usually the one putting them up at all). As such, gift-giving in my household has almost felt more like an obligation than a genuine attempt at goodwill. Now I'm still a fairly young lass; being considered a kid is still pretty recent in my memory, so the gifts have been getting more mundane as the years go on – which is okay! It still surprises me how often I find myself without a guaranteed matching pair of socks. But, I've took notice of a sort of “Christmas Sweet-Spot” common amongst adult collectors where, at a certain point, our loved ones become at peace with the fact that we love children's playthings and it makes their holiday shopping that much more simple (or difficult, depending on our specific toyetic tastes). Being an old soul of Twenty Years Old, I don't think I've reached that spot just yet, but that's alright too. I love this time of year enough that even when my parents, siblings and loved ones only feel comfortable buying me gaudy jumpers and 12-packs of underwear, I'm still pretty stoked to get anything at all. Besides, being a Proper Grown-Up has its upsides – the toys I don't get from Mum and Dad anymore? I can just buy them for myself, while coming to a sobering realisation of what a horrible drain of cash and resources Little Erica must've been. 


I have made it a bit of a known “rule” that Transformers-related merchandise is probably not the route to go in terms of gift-giving. A few times, the rule has been ignored but many frosty nights have gone by since the last occurrence. As any gift is truly appreciated, I certainly didn’t object or refuse, but it did leave something similar to a guilty feeling in me when it happened. I think as you become a collector of specific tastes within the spacious confines of a “brand” it’s hard to REALLY enjoy something as the sender intends you to, when they generally have no idea what it is you are focused on. Online-only availability, various types of product names that look like gibberish, and pricing in general can leave an outsider of the hobby completely baffled. Worse, buying things on the aftermarket by not knowing the better sources. While I’ve never gone overboard as far as spending, and I seem to have a good eye for that “perfect” gift, I can honestly say that collecting Transformers at the level I do is the real catalyst for many of these gift-giving miracles. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and all the habits and tactics I use to collect Transformers are a SERIOUS advantage when I start shopping for family. Whether it’s finding a cheaper source, better selection, or a bigger/better version of something that catches my eye - it all comes together seamlessly using the same approach as trying to find something for myself. But it’s WAY better, because I get to see and hear the joy that special find brings in someone else I love! Even better - or worse - is when I find that PERFECT trinket. I spend a good amount of time letting everyone know that a pants-shitting-level of astonishment is headed their way. (But remember, you gotta actually bring the heat if you go this route.)
That rush of finding a good deal, or winning an auction you thought you had no chance at? I
would say is about 100 times better when someone has no clue about the amount of random goodness you are going to hand them.
This is what my family deals with EVERY year - a crazed, deal-hungry, gift-giving master - who just really wants new socks and a monthly calendar.

Hello, Dan again. So what do you think? Did these essays sound familiar? I'm sure some of you are reading this surrounded by friends and family, biding your time until you open that Deluxe Bayformer and fake a smile. Hopefully you can find comfort knowing you're not alone! And for those not celebrating the season I'm sure you encounter the same problem in any gift-giving situation.

Tips for collectors:

1) Make a list (be specific). It takes the surprise out of it but it ensures a gift both sides will be happy about.
2) Learn to leave wave 1. That preholiday restock is unpredictable but almost always features tons of bots we rushed to get and then watched shelfwarm. Friends and Family love to scoop up a nice retail bot, why not skip a few you're iffy on and see if you get lucky.
3) Think outside the box. Gifts are a great chance to try something new, why not ask for an RID bot or Marvel Legend, something from a line you don't collect. Maybe get hooked on another addictive variety of Plastic Crack..
4) Socks. Or undies, or other necessities that will save your funds for the fun stuff!
5) Charity. The most important message I can send is to put aside selfish motivation and think about all those kids out there who will get nothing for Christmas. Your donation to Toys for Tots or any other church or charity could be their only present. Put that toy expertise to work and hook them up! Imagine how stoked any child would be with a sweet transforming robot picked out by a true collector!

However you celebrate, I hope your holidays are #Refined

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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Toy customisation. Play, Exploration and Experimentation

- Leigh Gregurke

That act of exploration is one of the most engaging elements of customisation for me. It provides another level of examination and inspection that you don't get sitting them on a shelf. Customising teaches you about surface texture, detail, hidden and obtuse information and its relationship with presented information, construction, texture and material. It can be a method to further enjoy something you already like on a deeper level or a way of building an appreciation of something you initially were indifferent to.

Customisation of toys for me is another form of 'play'. Rarely do I plan too hard nor do I have something in mind when I start, more often than not its a process of action and reaction, ongoing experiments that give me a chance to to discover a figure.

One of those bots that I just bounced off of was the newer leader seeker mould. I picked one up for clearance price but it still just didn't grab me. The plastic quality, the light feel, the surface detail lost in the gloss plastic finish. I didn't spend much and because it had gone almost straight form box to shelf I knew a custom job might give me some value exploring the figure.

I had recently been experimenting with some new techniques and I wanted to share some of that process. Using salt, hairspray and layered paint the technique creates realistic looking paint chipping effects. My only goal was to create something worn, chipped and rusty looking with an interesting colour palette removed from traditional seeker designs.

 I started with this.

And ended up with this.

Here is how I got there.


Normally I would consider taking a figure apart to paint separate pieces but in this case I only removed the head and small clear plastic part to paint separately. To ensure the paint would adhere I first gave the figure a quick clean, dry and then a light and quick sand. I then undercoated with a layer of Tamiya white liquid primer applied with an air-brush.
The airbrush gives you a nice even and thin coat, a spray can gives a similar result but depending on temperature and humidity can be a little harder to control.  Acrylic auto primers can be purchased for a cheap price and work well. Wanting a rough looking finished product I wasn't concerned with shaving down panel lines or a perfectly even primer coat.


They key to successful rust effects for this method is the initial paint layer. It is important to consider the underlying colour and texture you intend to appear under your main body colour. I wanted a rich brown rust colour so I started by applying thin and rough layers of a range of acrylic browns with an airbrush.

I find the key to good accuracy is using a source. I took a number of photos of objects that had the surface colour and texture I hoped to capture that I could draw upon.
For the rust coat I employed colours from both Privateer Press's P3 range and Vallejo paints. Both acrylic thinned with a window cleaning solution (alcohol and water). Once dried shadows, some more silver metallic tones and a number of washes were applied to give more depth and a less uniform approach. I found spraying through old pieces of cloth, foam and organic objects helped avoid anything too unnatural looking. It is vital to consider the scale of your mark making, a brush stroke mark will look like a brush stroke immediately ruin the illusion of scale.


The method uses a very simple idea. By applying a texture to the surface that is bonded temporarily you can spray over it, then remove the texture mask revealing the original colour underneath. The method is further assisted as the bonding agent used is hairspray which when brushed with water activates and can be removed leaving behind streaks and residue depending on the pressure applied.

With a very cheap can of hairspray I coat the areas quite liberally that I want to apply my salt texture to. I find coarse rock salt that has been smashed with some pieces ground finely works best as the pieces are no longer uniform, a range of sizes is ideal. Sprinkling them over the wet hair spray surfaces and left to dry they eventually turn white and become bonded to the surface. Depending on the humidity and temperature of your environment employing a hair dryer on a low setting may speed up the process.

In regards to placement, I like to draw back on realistic sources. In some cases chipping, rust and wear and tear is evident in frequently used surfaces such as handles and hinges. For this piece I wanted something that had its major surface areas slowly eroded by rain that might pool on flat areas and the slow spreading erosion caused by a lack of use and exposure to the elements.

The next step involves masking or removing any areas you don't wish painted with your main colour and then painting your primary body colour. With the burnt orange tone I had with my rust I wanted to find a hue that provided enough contrast but also complimented my warm scheme so I mixed up this turquoise tone with a range of different acrylics. 
Sprayed on again with an airbrush (this time at a lower pressure as to not remove the salt material) I made a number of thin coats slowly building up layers. In the cases where the brush did remove some salt material its not something for major concern as it actually provides a nice medium between the flat colour and the base layer.


Once the body colour had time to to dry I started with a stiff bristled brush and old tooth brush to remove the salt exposing the base tone underneath. Due to the effect I I desired I was not bothered if it came out a little rough and I was happy to experiment with the process.  An organic pattern was important so I tried to avoid any deliberate marks that looked out of scale.

I found that the effect had not created large enough spots of wear so applying some water and pressure with my brush I pushed away further paint exposing more areas and also focusing on areas where extra wear might be apparent. The hairspray layer while fixed currently can be activated with water, this means that the layer of turquoise paint can be further removed, thinned or chipped just by wetting the brush in the process. 


I didn't want to overwork or detail this project so I utilised only a small amount of Tamiya panel liner to touch up a few further details including reclaiming some panel lines that had been visually lost in the paint.

To keep with the dry, old and weathered appearance I used a dull-coat on this figure. There are a number of brands but I personally rate the effect of Testors dull-coat. A few light mist coats followed by a heaver layer once dry also gives a level of protection against wear and tear and some of the rigours of transformation. I purposely did not mask the cockpit transparent plastic when I applied the dull-coat to give the appearance of frosted glass from years of dust and micro scratches in the wind.


I did not set out with a great plan other than to experiment with a technique and play with interesting colour palettes. Not locking myself into creating a certain colour that matches a character gives a certain freedom that is rarely felt in a hobby that often gravitates towards prescribed character palletes and appearances.

I think what I enjoyed most was the chance to spend time with a figure I had mostly ignored. I developed a great appreciation for the surface detail and and information that went hidden, obscured by the reflective shiny plastic. Throughout the process I learned just how brilliant the jet mode is, its shapes hide the 'robot under a jet' with some success and just covered in wonderful striking mechanical angles and lines. If I hadn't undertaken this experiment I don't think this toy would have ever come off my shelf. 
I am glad it did.

To finish, here are some more images of the finished product.

As always, keep it #refined