Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Not Attending the Third Party

-          Ben Watson

     You know when your mates text you to get you to go out with them and you just give them an excuse because you don’t really want to? I feel like this is all I’ve ever been doing in response to the Third Party Transformers scene. You’ve already seen plenty of love for 3P here on Refined Robot Co. – we’re not going to shy away from it - but in case you didn’t know, there won’t be much coming from my particular corner of the blog. Hey, we’re not all the same! So I feel it’s time to stop replying with a different excuse every time and lay it out for you (and me) to see. Why don’t I like 3P? What’s to not like?

      As time has marched on and it’s become apparent Third Party efforts aren’t ever going away, my stance on the medium/scene/issue has cooled down a bit. Really at this point, you can’t rail against it with any kind of real conviction; you can’t affect anything. It’s pointless to pile hate on something that a lot of other people enjoy that’s become so entrenched. So I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I agree with it. What I’m trying to say is I’m no longer against Third Party, but I’m not for it.

"You ain't no brother of mine..."

     Let’s address the most prominent point first: intellectual property. Even now, I see plenty of people view 3P as IP infringement, but is it? This is where we enter a massive grey area, like Birmingham or somewhere. When each figure is in essence an entirely new design, nothing’s being stolen. They’re not knock-offs. Sculpting, engineering, not even names on the box are lifted from Transformers but you know the core of the thing - the character it tries to say it doesn’t represent that’s the only reason anyone buys it - is. To begin with this could have been seen as less of an issue as companies would aim to only deliver C or D-list characters envisioned through a lens of particular in-house style. But now, as each begins to feel more and more invincible in the wake of an ever increasing number of years Hasbro has left them alone; we’re now in a situation where Optimus Primes are blatantly saturating the market. You literally can’t get any more A-list than that. I don’t care if you call it “Primorion” it still feels like a huge middle finger to Takara's more than sterling efforts. Is MP-10 suddenly not any good? The audacity some of these companies express is certainly something which doesn’t sit right with me. The entire business model is built around them providing a niche of consumers (who clearly have the cash to spare) things that they can see they’d buy in a heartbeat. “I saw you coming” doesn’t begin to cover it and while for you – the discerning reader who really wants a Masterpiece scale Weirdwolf even when a deluxe one just came out – that may be playing right into your hands but you have to see you’re playing into theirs. Myself, I just feel like they’re taking you for a mug (US: sucker) a lot of the time.

      This all amounts to, admittedly a very clever tactic. Realising that collectors are (apparently) chomping at the bit for *throws dart at wallchart* Masterpiece-esque Sixshots, the companies prepared to do so can capitalise on that perceived demand. All that’s left is for you to crack out the heart-eyes emojis and proclaim your wildest dreams have been made manifest. And then do so again five minutes later when another company does the same. Maybe it’s an emergent phenomenon; like swallows swarming, but every few months without fail we’re treated to a new cycle of the same product being offered by different companies and something has to be going on there right? Whether it’s internal competition fueled by some kind of espionage or literally just 7 people getting the same idea at once, it does amount to more choice than you need and the inevitable “war” of the Springers/Grimlocks/etc. Multiple companies deciding that this is something you won’t get from HasTak so you’re definitely gonna be interested and then looking round to see all their peers have stolen their thunder. Suddenly that fringe item that might have been a genuine shoe-in isn’t unique at all and to me this just results in a feeling of wasted resources, a mild chuckle and a hit of irony as their USP careens into oblivion. Which brings me to the next point, 3P lovers’ boldest statement: “We’ll never get that from HasTak!”

      While I sit writing this surrounded by brand new Headmasters and Combiners, you’ve got to accept that we are being given more and more of the figures we thought we’d never see in a million years - at main-line level no less. A Leader Class Sixshot just came out I mean, Odin's Stones, who could have ever expected that? Whether it is in fact some kind of response to the efforts of Third Party companies or not, it’s impossible to deny HasTak are providing the stuff you – as an “adult collector” – have wanted for years. So to say you prefer 3P because they give you what you want while 1P doesn’t, is - let’s be honest - complete toss. A huge part of this market is based on impatience. Look at how many Backdrafts have suddenly found themselves in sales piles now MP Inferno is here. I’m prepared to wait for that MP Jazz and if it doesn’t happen, oh well. As a fan who places less importance on G1 than most I think I can safely say 90% of 3P efforts aren’t things I need right now. Having a smidgen of faith in Hasbro has for the past few years paid off as each toy fair or comic con has given me more figures I didn’t know I wanted. I don’t want to be given what I actually want, because then what’s left to stay in this game for? Tease me baby. To me Generations is the perfect blend of new spice with good old… spice. They can mix it up and still deliver you that Galvatron you’ve been waiting for. Ok maybe they still wouldn’t come up with a transforming Death’s Head, I’ll give you that… This is the area 3P legitimises itself in, truly original design not relying on the bankability of widely known characters. But here we are with at least three companies still trying to sell you another Optimus Prime as if you haven’t already got twenty. If there’s one thing I’d like to see more of, it’s definitely designers putting their skills to use on the kind of thing there is no precedent for. No matter what sort of tone you’ve taken from this article so far, please know that I am still impressed with a good measure of 3P offerings. There’s some really cool stuff out there. But just because I like the look of something doesn’t mean I want to buy it…

Yet another unrealistic body expectation for Gears. 

      Here is where we enter the most nebulous area of my own opinions on Third Party. One which I’m not sure I know how to navigate. It could be described as “brand loyalty” but I just think that makes me sound like a capitalist sycophant. I buy Transformers because they are Transformers. Maketoys Rioter Despotron is not a Transformer. Therefore however flippin' cool it looks, I’m simply not going to buy it. Perceived legitimacy doesn’t enter into it here. Similarly outlying but actually fully licensed converting robot brand Action Toys’ Machine Robo catches my eye too, but I still don’t feel like throwing cash at that Blackbird one. What’s going on here? Permit me a bit of on the fly self-exploration and maybe we’ll get to the bottom of this.

Self  Vs. Self

     Transformers have always been toys made for children. I played with them as a child. I looked at them in shops as a child. I continue to look at them in shops as a man and buy them for the child that lives in a crystal prison inside me. Third Party figures are not toys made for children. Kids don’t play with them. Kids can’t look at them in shops. So what is my inner nine-year old clawing at his amethyst cell going to get out of them? While I’m an “adult collector” I only want to take the adult side of that equation so far. I still want to buy toys. I still want to buy things that smaller me would’ve gotten a kick out of after picking it up in Tesco's. “Oh, but what about Masterpieces?” I hear you intone. I’ve got to admit, I feel mostly the same way about them. But then once in a blue moon, the swish official logo on the box swoops in to say “Hey, you want this really,” in a suave inflection of Japanese and before I know it I’ve dropped sixty quid on a Hot Rod I didn’t need. I think I’m trying to say that as long as it says “TRANSFORMERS” on the box, I’m game, boy. But there’s already so bloody many of them that as soon as you push Carnifexes and Striker Manuses into my vision, I’m good to leave 'em alone. You see plenty of people who go and buy all of it; anything and everything. HasTak, 3P and even KO’s line their shelves and well, more power to ya, but that isn’t the way I roll. I guess when it comes to my “collection” (a term we might explore the connotations of in more depth in future) it’s one of Transformers. To some people that word means “toy robots that transform” but (and I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this) to me it means “this particular brand of toy robots that transform which appear in films, cartoons and comics of the same name.” When it comes to anything else, I’m simply not interested. It’s not for me, but if you want to weigh up which one of five MP-alike Springers you want to buy because you can't wait for an official one, please be my guest.

     So that’s about it. Some main points in the case of Ben Vs. Third Party stated for the court. While I’ve not mentioned unregulated safety standards, hit and miss quality control, hit and miss good design, the fact I simply don’t like the plastic they use or how the headsculpts are always off; all that’s really straying into the name-calling, unjustifiably subjective area of critique. We want to keep it above the belt here and while I’m very aware I’ve already set some reader’s backs up, we want you to too. This is an immense topic of discussion in our robosphere and while I could go on, it’s time to let that discussion flow; in the measured and introspective tone I hope I’ve just been using. Keep it #refined, yeah? 

Pictures by Leigh Gregurke (Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

We Need to Talk About Fansproject

- Dorian MacQuarrie

Once they were arguably the king of the Third Party (3P) scene but these days I doubt Fansproject even maintain a seat at court. Never one to follow the trend, they seem to have struggled through a transition period the past few years as the world of 3P moved away from the Classics scale (Generations, CHUG etc, use whichever at your discretion) and exploded with releases aimed at filling out your Masterpiece shelf.

In the beginning there was City Commander

The majority of 3P companies are currently engaged in an arms race for the biggest and best representations of the Generation 1 cast of Transformers characters but here we have Fansproject releasing Diaclone inspired robots and a combiner so obscure it required a TFwiki search on my part when the announcement of Ryu-Oh was first released. More power to them for giving consumers more options when it comes to our preferred plastic but when numerous companies were previewing their versions of Masterpiece Hoist and Trailbreaker earlier in the year, Fansproject were showing a teaser for their Axelerator inspired line of toys and they were certainly not MP scaled. And who outside of Euro G1.5 fans can summon their likenesses to the mind?

Clear progression from City Commander to Protector

If Masterpiece is currently the name of the game in the 3P scene and a company makes the decision to not jump on that particular bandwagon then it can seem as if said company is out of touch with the market and is falling behind, doomed to dwindle until they are but a footnote in the history of 3P toys alongside the likes of Impossible Toys and iGear. This it seems, is how a number of collectors view Fansproject, sticking to their guns and refusing to adapt to the changes that have dictated the focus of many 3P companies. 

Severo, keeping it Classics in 2016

Fansproject's fall from prominence isn't purely down to their fixation on obscure characters though. A focus on Masterpiece toys isn't necessary to remain popular, just look at the wildly successful War in Pocket line from DX9. What has tarnished their reputation are a number of questionable design choices and some outright manufacturing snafus. These include a lack of clarity between marketing and the final product (all versions of Severo released with a chromed chest rather than the option for matte gold), inconsistencies within the Lost Exo Realm line (a lack of wrist swivels across the board, securing shoulders on Cubrar but not Severo) and incorrect construction of their toys (Dinosan's combiner connectors are backwards, something very few people have even realised).

Ninja Insecticons, definitley not MP

A more recent offender comes in the form of Function X Browning II. Normally you would expect cross compatibility with headmaster toys, able to switch and swap heads and bodies, well not with this guy! The would-be-Gort doesn't fit into other bodies from the Function X line as the little head is too large. This is the sixth headmaster released by Fansproject with the previous five all successfully taking part in the exchange of heads so I have to does this happen!? And let us not forget the waist shattering flaw with Trianix Alpha, one which required replacement parts to be sent to consumers. Think of those poor souls experiencing a brand new toy only to have it snap in half during transformation. The nonconformist design ethos which marks Fansproject out from the crowd may be their undoing if they aren't able to regain and maintain their traditionally high levels of design and engineering.

Our would-be-Gort letting the side down

As a fan and as a supporter of Fansproject I feel duty bound to defend them wherever I can but that doesn't make me blind to their recent mistakes. These are not the growing pains of a fresh young company, hell, City Commander saw release eight years ago! For Fansproject to make such rookie mistakes is galling. These problems might not be so grievous in isolation but string them together and each one feels like another resounding nail in Fansproject's coffin.

Quadruple U, still relevant in the days of Titans Return?

Now to be fair, Fansproject did announce they were have some issues with their factory which may have held up releases and resulted in the myriad QC issues listed above but this doesn't change the fact that the Gods damned primogenitor of the Third Party scene is off their game. Maybe things are hunky dory at headquarters and they're actually following a master plan but Fansproject have never been one for open communication unlike say Mastermind Creations or Maketoys who are terrific at keeping consumers informed about future projects. With Fansproject you're likely to see some renders of upcoming releases shown off at a convention and then silence until the toy is finally released months years later. 

Sigma L, relevant or not, much better than TR Mindwipe

Look, I'm not crying doom, the sky is not falling but it takes a measure of faith to stick with a company who acts in this way and keep pouring your money into their insatiable gullet. Do I believe Fansproject will right the ship and get back to business? I hope so. It looks like they are back on track with regular releases, wrapping up their Lost Exo Realm and Ryu-Oh lines and the eventual completion of Function X is on the horizon. Maybe Fansproject will be able to kick off 2017 with some new exciting lines but if you want to go against the grain, especially in this Masterpiece dominated market, then you better have something pretty special. Maketoys have done this successfully with their tremendous Cross Dimension line. In fact Maketoys can be seen as what Fansproject may have become if they had balanced their own interests with that of the market, releasing toys in their own style but based on characters with a greater level of investment and likely returns. 

'I-can't-believe-it's-not-Maketoys' M3 aka Intimidator

For those who pay attention there are obvious connections between Fansproject and the early days of Maketoys but it's clear that at some point a designer (or team of designers) left Fansproject and started Maketoys, applying what they had learned but also aiming for a wider appealing product while maintaining their distinct style. 

Some may say that Fansproject have fallen behind but they were never about keeping up. At the beginning they may have seemed to have their finger on the pulse as City Commander and Defender were both releases that had a massive appeal to the Classics and Universe 2.0 collectors but it wasn't long before Fansproject showed their true intentions of releasing toys that were not intended to cash in on a popular trend or take part in the ongoing wars between 3P companies (Dinobots notwithstanding).

Defender, a primitive but pivotal release

Revolver had broad appeal but it had been an age since we saw a Roadbuster toy. Riftshot and Recoiler may have hinted at what was to come but the release of unique characters such as Steelcore and the Retro-Future Glacialord (a bold statement in itself) took things to the design space we now know Fansproject to inhabit, that of seemingly doing whatever the hell they want. 

The myth,the legend, Steelcore

I imagine Fansproject will continue their trend of releasing toys based on more niche and obscure characters if these upcoming Axelerators are anything to go by, but unless that is met with the design intensity and high quality construction they were once known for that won't be enough to keep them afloat.

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

mold mind/mind mold - choices/decision making and complexity.

 - Leigh Gregurke

Generation 1 Sixshot; considered collection of forms, trailblazer, puzzle,"imagination required", brand blueprint exaggerated and when required, wing-ed wolf.


Alternity Thundercracker, complex, the craft of an origami master, eclectic super-car prototype, diagonal design evolution.... a showroom piece.

Two toys are informed by choices, on a design level in its creation and then through ours as the viewer in the way we engage the object through play. I am interested in examining  the relationship between choices, decision making and transforming robot toys through these two daring designs and also analyzing the way in which those choices impact our habits as consumers.

Thundercracker's Mitsuoka Orochi form is a delicately produced sculpture, individual and flawed much like the car mode choice itself.  It achieved without question the goal of replicating this vehicle, the disguise is successful. The prestige however, condenses like ball of tinfoil, a flurry of little movements occur in small spaces wherein elbow space is limited. Like unfolding origami it reveals itself in waves, fold over fold, but similar to highly intricate paper art that makes you question its validity things get a bit twisty and it becomes hard for the eye to identify the strong defining lines and planes. The process of transformation.... it can be stressful, unfulfilling, goes over its run time and is oft terrifying, it always feels over-compressed and ready to pop at its seams.

Sixshot is an outsider of design, an advanced prototype, a bold experiment. It doesn't quite nail any of its modes representations %100 , there is little articulation or poseability outside the static mode choices themselves. Sixshot demands a generous portion of your imagination and the puzzle it was promoted at the time is more a flip and rotate exercise than winding maze. It was a precursor, a gamble, not just 2 modes, not three, the prime gimmick of toy-line x 6. Occult like in its numbering, chromed coated  satanic plastic. Only the Japanese television series utilized him as a character, Sixshot doesn't quite fit the mainline...

Sixshot is also the best transformer ever made, it's a fucking Picasso.

Two toys defined by Choices. Choices are great. They are engaging, interesting and promote agency. As design and production capability advances so does complexity of design. In an a time of material affluence we see new materials used in mass production and streamlined engineering methods accessible to more creators. Toys and action figures have become more involved  crawling from 5 points of articulation to an exhausting sprint wherein it seems like a chore to count them all. Part-counts are multiplying. This complexity shift has opened up a number of new choices to the viewer.

Transformation beats at the mechanical heart of the line; A series of actions required to alter the planes of a form. It offers both explicit and implicit choice to the viewer in the process that has often two desired outcomes and a multitude of other choices we consider in-between or 'mistransformed' . It is a process of making choices to get a desired outcome. To have six outcomes allows more choice than the traditional two and by that equation there should be more choices yes?  Sixshot presents at face value complexity compared to the Alternity lines simple binary options. Is this the case though? Thundercracker eclipses Sixshot's complexity and range of decisions much in part to its contemporary design and engineering.
With this increasing complexity and parts count in toys, with more designers, lines, sub-lines, exclusives and third parties there is even more options, more choice. This is the best time ever right?

its terrible.
Well, too many choices might be terrible.

More Choices sounds like a great idea right? We love 'more' don't we? 
What seems like more 'value' and more 'choice' is instead often leading to potential anxiety, regret, and paralysis. Research by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lipper for example point towards us as consumers being cognitively overwhelmed by choices. We have become trained to see "more" as equaling desirable rather than just being a way of measuring an amount.
Our brains see value in brands for example because they are familiar, signposts of quality but also roads we have walked before, they limit choice. The research conducted found that in retail settings where there was abundant amounts of brands and  options customers were more prone to passing on a purchase, that little touch of anxiety as they gaze at the varied wall of different options can be overwhelming. Stores that limited their inventory to more manageable numbers had increased sales, we appear to desire options.... but not too many. One thing I have learned in early childhood/adolescent behavior management is creating a simplified wedge of choice, the individual wants to feel empowered to make a decision but not overwhelmed by chaotic futures and chance. As an educator if you give the option of "choose your own topic" it will result in weeks of floundering trying to make a decision, however a curated handful of options provides variety but allows direction and limitations.  I equate this to a transformation process that involves a port and post system. You put A in B, where that does not exist though you are left without a signpost or road.

Choices often lead to regrets and considered mistakes. We think "what could I have gotten instead?" or "maybe if I had chosen the other I would enjoyed it more" " maybe this isn't as good as I thought" You know the feeling, its the one you get when you get home and crack open your product, the excitement fades and your imagination drifts back to the stacked product shelf of things you passed on. Where we once had possible futures of surprise now we have disappointment upon receiving our pathway. The decision is ours, it has been identified that with less choices we can place blame on the other, with more choices, we see ourselves being the agent of mistake. Research suggests that the more options available the more likely we are to see ourselves at fault for the mistake, with only two or three options we see the product/creator/store at fault for our emotional reaction. Transformations that involve simple port and post, clearly defined hinges and sliding joints give us a task but also inform us how to do it. Transformation processes that deny order and clarity are without doubt more challenging and present more choices, ball joints took a traditional two directional hinged option and put us in a position to consider the multitude of dimensions now explorable.

This anxiety and regret formed around our choices might also be why we can be hasty to discard one toy when another comes out, like some weird plastic populated highlander shelf the new one makes something offensively obsolete. While I don't consider myself a frequent consumer of third party products I can only imagine the anxiety of choice as we see literal graphics created to compare often five or six different companies design approaches to the same character. The psychology of loss aversion tells us that we focus more on what we miss out on, our perceived losses rather than our gains. Spoiled for choice is something you hear often, but if everyone's needs are catered for why do so many individuals feeling the the need to defend their purchases and proclaim one as the definitive option? Is it the individual dealing with the challenging emotional state of choice and potential regret? 

Whilst the relationship to our consumerist habits is apparent perhaps the relationship to the two toys in questions lies in the decisions we make in process. Simple transformations attract criticism but they can also be the most elegant and effective routes between two forms. Despite six outcomes Sixshot never lets the viewer feel lost or that they are not in control of the movements. The representational square blocked forms and panels encourage us to make leaps of creative acceptance, it is hard not to play with Sixshot and find yourself exploring new potential fan-modes with that enabled creativity.  Each process in Sixshot's transformations hits similar beats and movements, you see suggestions of one in another and a pattern becomes apparent as to a natural flow from form one to six.  Alternity Thundercracker has a very specific outcome that requires precise placement of hinges, ports and panels, all which move and bypass each-other like frenzied traffic during the process. There is minimal room for imagination or creativity and a series of apparently loose and non connected motions of parts require precise ordering and direction. There is no doubt in my mind that it is more of the proclaimed puzzle than Sixshot was upon release.


It is nice to master a series of physical movements, to know them closely and be able to describe them. Speaking or scribing a method of transformation that involves sliding dozens of parts and jamming panels together lacks poetry, think of the simple but iconic transformation processes that have stood out over time. From Ben's article on Seeker patterns to Grimlock's sliding chest the best transformations are simple choices with important and meaningful results.
Transformers Sixshot, complexity in simplicity, elegance and choices made meaningful and exploratory. Like building blocks they interact in simple ways but without a feeling of tiring precision, you find yourself wanting to explore. Alternity Thundercracker, stunningly complex and uncompromising, a simple form unfolded into a thousand planes. Frustrating, tiring, stressful and unrewarding. An object of beauty I feel at times too clumsy to behold, Alternity Thundercracker punishes me for the smallest of poor choices. Two wonderful pieces of design at tremendous contrast.

(Follow Leigh on Twitter @AmbushThem)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

An Interview With T2RX6

- mantis nine nines

T2RX6 (Justin Jonaitis) is a well-known and active member of the Transformers Community. His YouTube Channel has over 7,000 Subscribers, and he is one of the hosts of the Shattered Cast Uncut podcast. T2RX6 is also known for his modifications for both Hasbro and Third Party figures, and for his customs.

-Thanks for your time, Justin. To start off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

By profession I'm an engineer, I went to Penn State and got my BS in Mechanical Engineering.  After school I worked for a Semiconductor company prior to finding my current job as a Patent Examiner for the Patent and Trademark office.  After falling back into collecting Transformers I started watching videos by Vangelus, Thew, C-Spray, and ilovemess (Ray) and got interested in doing reviews.  It wasn't until I started talking to Kaleb (Hucklebubba) that I actually felt compelled to start trying to do reviews of my own.  The rest has been history I suppose!

-How does that engineering background impact your Fandom? Seems like it could help you appreciate them more, OR ruin the experience somewhat. Like a painter at an art show or a musician at a concert.

My engineering background does a lot for my fandom of toys.. First off I had a hard time for a very long time accepting scales of various things.  That's the one thing about Transformers that REALLY irritates me.  It's also odd because I can selectively turn a blind eye to certain scale related issues too.
It also hasn't helped my wallet as I'm more likely to pick up a toy just to check out how it was done as opposed to being something that really fills out my collection.

It's actually one thing I wish some 3p company would take note of.. I have an engineering background; I've made fix videos.. I wish someone would ask me to look at something and make suggestions.
I feel like I have a lot to offer in that regard.

The T2RX6 Carry Upgrade kit is an example of Justin's skills at work.

-Tell me a couple of your favorite transforming robots?

 My favorite characters are Jazz, and the Protectobots, but outside of the actual characters, I've got an obsession with the Transformers Animated line (they're just so much fun to mess around with!).  MP-10 Optimus prime is among my favorite transformer toys ever created due to its realism in vehicle mode as well as how great looking Prime himself turned out.  It's also no surprise I'm a big third party fan (See my YouTube channel).  In the third party world even though they have their issues I like pretty well every FansToys release as they just feel like they are top notch quality toys.

-Earliest toy related memory?

That's a tough one.  So much of my toy related memories are a jumble. I remember quite a few things like going to a flea market with my parents and wanting to pick up a junky Tracks from a seller as well as going to the doctor and seeing a kid playing with Metroplex and First Aid (I had Metroplex but had never seen First Aid).  I also remember finding a Rodimus Prime that was only the truck and trailer no accessories.  I also remember visiting my cousin in Canada who had a G1 Devastator (and GI Joe Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, the originals).  I remember harassing him all the time to give them to me since he was 'too old for toys.'  He never did.  I think these things led to my renewed interest in TF later in life.

-Favorites from childhood?

Gobots!!  I actually liked Gobots more than Transformers as a kid because they were more fun toys to mess with. Typically speaking their transformation took a second or two, so that iconic transformation type sound that every kid made when they played with their toys was usually plenty of time to transform them back and forth.
Sometimes Transformers took too long to transform back and forth (without breaking them) so they stayed in one form or another.  My stand outs for Gobots were, Turbo, Crasher, Rest-Q, Hanscuff, and of course the Guardian Command Center!  Love 'em!!
I guess if I'm forced to pick favorite transformers toys I had, it'd have to be Optimus and Metroplex (I didn't get a Jazz until much later).

-When did you become a hopeless collector?

It was a combination of times.  Toward the end of college I went to a party and saw a guy who had the Alternators.  I was blown away how nice these model cars looked and was floored when the person who owned them showed me they were Transformers.  I then started actively collecting them.  That's where the collecting kind of stopped.  However, when I first moved down to Virginia after college I had moved away from my friends and tended to work some pretty odd hours (night shift every few months) which tended to throw a wrench into hanging out with my new friends in Va.  That gave me plenty of time to start looking at eBay.  I thought it would be nice to own a Devastator and G1 Protectobots which I never had as a kid.  Once I got those, the flood gates opened.
How good is Justin's Collection? This is just his desk at work!

-Guilty pleasure toy or line?


-Why is animated a guilty pleasure? You said that's one of your favorite lines! Usually a guilty pleasure is something we think of as bad but love anyway, do you feel that way about TFA?

I think it's because not everyone universally loves Animated.  At least among my group of friends SCU (outside of Matt (Deluxe) who loves all things Hasbro) most of them don't share the love for TFA with me.  The animation style itself is polarizing.  But I think it's one of the best TF related stories out there (at least where TV shows are concerned) and the style of the toys is pretty well second to none.
It's also a guilty pleasure as for the most part I've stopped collecting anything that doesn't fit into my MP collection (with a few exceptions here and there).  Largely I've lost interest in a classics style collection.

If you want a TRUE guilty pleasure (I guess), then I offer you the iGear minibots. They SUUUUUUUUUCK.. But have fun very g1 car modes, like articulated G1 toys.

Also, Rescue Bots. Most adult collectors wouldn't consider them super engaging, but somehow I love those simplistic transformations.

-Tell me about what/who inspired you to take the step to get your work out in the public?

I just thought it would be something fun to do.  I had seen some people do it and got urged on by Kaleb and Clint who got me to film my first review and it just snowballed from there.

-And what keeps you going with those reviews?

Sometimes I feel like I don't know the answer to this question. For a while it was that the revenue from making videos helped fund the hobby but that seems to have changed over time.  Whether I just get less viewers than I used to or the way ad revenue was generated I'm not sure.. It just decreased.  But the real reason to keep going is that there are a lot of great people that I only became friends with by reviewing and talking with them.  I'm sure there are more great people out there to get to know as a result of talking through reviews.  So the friendships I've made are more compelling than any monetary compensation.  Though sometimes when reviews don't turn out the way you want or the overly negative start hitting your channel it can definitely be a bit discouraging.

-Collect anything non-robot?

I did collect some Power Ranger stuff (I guess that's robot though), but sold most of that off. I've only got the Megazord, Thunder Megazord, Dragon Zord, and Tiger Zord.. Past those toys my nostalgia for that franchise ends.  The only other thing I really collect is Dragon Ball Z Sh Figuarts.  I've got a few other things but nothing that I really keep up on.

Bebop and Rocksteady hang with the robots at work

-Favorite robo media (TV, movie, YouTuber, music, video game, anything)?

Hrm.. Tough to say.  I haven’t' watched RID, I'm not a huge fan of the movies.. I'll give a show an episode or two and if it doesn't grab me I tend to let it go.  Surprisingly I have enjoyed Rescue Bots even if I'm not the intended demographic.  Most of my TF related enjoyment anymore comes from watching various youtubers.  Though I do find the videos that dabble in the obscure more interesting than actual TF videos.

-Did you have a mentor/idol in collecting?

Not really collecting.  Collecting is such a personal thing I don't think anyone else’s collection inspires my own.
I'm going to change this question to an Idol in reviewing.
In which case yes!
I'd love to be as recognized as Peaugh.  He's probably why my review style is similar to his.. I can't figure out how he seems to make videos so brief as mine always feel so long winded, and yet he still tells me everything I need to know.  I've had the pleasure of talking to him a little bit and he's a great guy. I'd love to get to know him more given the opportunity.  His stature on youtube is something I hope my channel will someday be.

-You have been on a couple of different podcasts, how did you get started?

Good Morning Cybertron. I got started on by being asked to come onto the show for an episode. I had been a listener and commented on them fairly often and someone reached out and asked me to be on the show for an episode. I enjoyed it and kept coming back.  I enjoyed podcasting so much that when Shattered Cast Uncut splintered off of GMC to do its own thing and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it I said absolutely!  I kept up with both podcasts for a while but ultimately there's not enough time in a day to manage my personal life, my YouTube channel, and the podcasts I liked to do so I ultimately had to make a decision on which podcast to continue recording.  Since I have been with SCU since episode 1 and it felt like I was one of the creators of it I went that route.  I still want to find time to guest on GMC sometime soon though.  Love those guys!

-Me too, Scott runs a great show. Speaking of great shows, are there any podcasts you listen to regularly inside or outside the genre?

I used to listen to Podcasts all the time but then I started working from home and my time to listen to podcasts got reduced (no longer is 12+ hours of my day being devoted to work).  That said I still like to try to find time to listen to WTF@TFW, GMC, and Open Your Toys regularly.  I wish I had more time to check out even more shows including some of the ones my friends put out!

-One of the things you are most known for are your repair and modification videos, how did you get started?

Short answer.. I don't like when my toys don't work right so I am a big proponent of taking them apart and trying to fix them.  I figured there are other people out there who would want to know what I did to improve their toys too as I couldn't possibly be the only one bothered by it.  I need to make more of those!

-Any you are particularly proud of or that get mentioned most often?

I think the Metroplex fix video was one I'm super proud of.  It sort of put me on the map for fixing toys, and it was real nice to get the attention of people like Vangelus and such when at that point I felt invisible to those guys.

Justin's custom Omega Spreem (R) next to the G1 (L), owned by Vangelus

-What is the most important aspect of a figure to you? 

I think the essence of the character is most important.  Like I'm ok with departures in looks and such as long as it's still clear to me who the character is supposed to be.  In the MP line I'm a bit more rigid that I want to see reasonably close versions of the real world vehicle they are intended to be.  A fun intuitive transformation is also a good thing to have but a little less important to me if you can nail the aesthetics and essence of the character.

-If you were in charge of hastak, how would you steer the ship?

I'd give transformers the same love they give other properties.  Frankly I think its fine to have stuff oriented towards kids and I think they should keep putting out their RID's and combiner wars and stuff like that.  But I really think Transformers needs its own "black series" and I think the MP line a lot of times kind of is.  So I think Hasbro should be putting some of their better designers into making MP scaled versions of characters and putting them under this TF black series label and start pumping them out more.  The reason 3p does as good as it does is because it plugs the holes that the MP line leaves open.  So if we got more well designed, nicely scaled, fun to transform, and most importantly better produced (better paint, less hollows to save a few cents here and there), I have to believe they'd make a killing and really hurt 3p companies in the process.

-Best figure this year? 

Best figure of 2016?? oye.. that's a tough one.. I think for me I think it's a toss-up between FT Stomp who is just so satisfying in many ways (including being my favorite dinobot), or FT Willis (since the alt mode and robot mode just are so darn perfect).  I forget if Sphinx came out in 2016 or if he was a 2015 release but he's amazingly good too so he's pretty high up on the list but I still think Willis and Stomp are higher for me due to character preference..  I will say MMC is one of my favorite companies out there now and after having looked at their Inferno I'm all about trying to sell my MT Inferno and Grapple to get him!

-Worst figure all time/biggest disappointment?

Worst of all time?  Probably anything impossible toys made that transforms..  That Arcee was bad, their tetra jets are worse..  Omnigonix spinout also ranks up there..  Which is a shame because I really like how he looks in both modes (even if bot mode isn't g1 cartoon accurate he looks nicer next to sideswipe in my opinion) and he was teased for so long only to suffer from poor tolerances and screws which were too short.
I've heard that the factory that manufactured the toy is the reason it turned out how it was and not his own design which is a shame.

-Okay Justin, real time. I would love for you to address the haters but if you don't want to, I understand.

I don't think there's really any reason to address the haters.  I know people have commented on my voice or whatever and it's been something I spent my whole life being insecure about.  The thing is I really can't change my voice and if someone wants to hate on me for it, so be it.  They made the conscious choice to be a crappy person and have the ability to change their attitude (unlike my voice).  This is something I've realized at some point and now I don't worry about what someone says anymore.  I certainly still don't love my voice, but YouTube has at least made me able to deal with it.  Getting subs and people who want to actively engage with me about topics has been a huge boost to my own self esteem.  It's surprisingly made me more confident in many aspects of my life.

Also another thing I like to keep in mind is that the people who say these types of things behind the glow of their computer probably don't have the guts to say it to your face.  Most of them haven't put out anything of their own and don't put themselves out there in anyway..  There's probably reasons for that.. Their own insecurities and such, so finally being the one who can 'pick on someone' probably makes them feel better about themselves.  It's silly that they'd be that way, but whatever..

So to anyone out there who is interested in doing their own reviews and worried about putting themselves out there.. Don't be.. Let the haters be words on the internet; don't let it stop you from being you and potentially meeting some great people.

Check out some of the awesome T2RX6 customs below:

Follow Dan on Twitter @mantisninenines

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Photographic Robotic

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Photography plays a large part in the world of toy collecting. At some point most of us will have taken a few snaps of our toys and these can largely be sorted into two distinct categories. At one end of the spectrum you have the lush ultra-high quality photography requiring a suite of equipment: a light box with an accompanying light source, dedicated photography space and of course, an expensive DSLR camera. Full of crisp details they are often used for promotional reasons or by collectors who have a keen interest in photography itself. Then at the other end you have the much more humble pictures, possibly of a favourite shelf or set of toys and of course the haul or “new toy joy” pictures. The only equipment needed is a camera phone, although these days that’s no longer such an issue with the quality of phone cameras but they still exist in the realm of a quick snap with less planning or focus on the quality of the picture itself and is more about the toy in question. In this article I’ll explain why I prefer one style over the other.

Each of these has a different motivation. Reviewers might want to show off as much of a toy as cameras will allow, with all the details and paint apps on full display and possibly hoping to gain exposure for their work; someone showing off their latest acquisitions or a random bot is probably just looking for a quick thumbs up and the general appreciation from the community they post in. Quite honestly, I much prefer this second type of photography.

Taking a look at the high quality style first, it’s often in a light box or in some sort of controlled environment. You can get some real nifty effects with a polished surface or if you really want to up the ante you can use a green screen along with special effects or a digital background but it doesn’t really speak to me of the toy, the piece of plastic which is to be held in hand and manipulated. It’s not in a “live” environment and while yes, visually the pictures are amazing with every sculpted detail and paint application represented in full I often find them to be a bit sterile and lacking in character. I actually purchased a light box with the intent of trying my hand at this kind of photography and I'll admit, it was fun and it's definitely something I will be pursuing further. Now I will readily admit to being an absolute novice at this but I feel I was able to shine a light (both literally and figuratively) on a toy which has taken the collecting community by storm, Maketoys Striker Manus. 


There’s an initial moment of wow which quickly fades away as I look through the same toy, in the same environment in different poses. Now these sort of pictures do have their use beyond simply showing off how great someone’s camera is; it can inform the buyer of how a toy looks right down to the smallest detail and it can help in deciding whether to buy a toy or not or maybe as is the case with a lot of mainline toys from Hasbro and Takara, which version to get. 

I will admit that experimenting with this sort of photography certainly has its appeal, my pictures feel "legitimate" as they were taken using tools of the trade (to an extent) and I'm quite proud of them for my first attempt. But(!) there is a very different feeling which is conjured up when I see an “in-hand” picture of an upcoming release or maybe a picture of a toy on a desk or shelf, often not the best quality picture but it’s there, it’s right there in someone’s hand which means it's real, it’s in the world around us and more importantly, it will soon be or has just been released!

This leads me on to the second type of picture, one that I gain more enjoyment from, the humble desk picture. Now it may not literally be of a toy on a desk but I mean those pictures which speak to a collector putting a toy on a table and taking a few snaps on their phone.
Often the background will be cluttered with more toys which can sometimes take away some of the focus on the main event but it represents a live environment. That is another person’s collection space and it allows us a brief glimpse into a number of aspects concerning their collecting habits. What other toys they might have, how they are displayed, what sort of bias they have regarding first and third party toys. It can show how toys interact with each other on a shelf and what sort of status the subject of the picture holds compared to the toys around them. To convey my point I took a few snaps of Striker Manus in my usual sort of style, on my desk, on a shelf, a crowd of toys behind or around him and with maybe just a touch of creativity thrown in.

They may not be as well lit and the surrounding toys may actually take the attention away from Striker Manus but these are my shelves, those are the other toys I have, that is the environment they exist in. People can infer my collecting habits from these details and somehow it feels much more personal than the previous pictures taken using the light box. It's similar to someone taking some pictures or making a video of their collection, they are inviting you into their world, their home and allowing you to share the experience. 

There is one last picture that brings it all home for me, a picture I took of Striker Manus in my room at TFNation when, at that point in time, Striker Manus wasn't on sale anywhere else in the world. This was a special moment for me as a collector, captured in all the details of what is quite clearly a hotel room table, with evidence of my other purchases in the background and at a time when I had in my possession a toy which had to yet to be released to the world at large outside of this particular convention in Birmingham. Had I not been at the event this is definitely the kind of picture that would excite me for a toy's impending release far more than the well lit, super clear, fantastically framed production shot. 

Now herein lies the peculiar aspect of my preference for quick and dirty photography. I am a huge fan and supporter of third party toys. Fansproject and Maketoys are, as the kids say, my jam. High quality, well designed, well engineered, well built toys consume the vast majority of my shelf space and I have sung the song of third party toys for many years now, often deriding current mainline toys as #FirstPartyTrash (#FPT). So why oh why would I not hold the same standards for toy photography as I do for the toys themselves? Well besides having a habit of mixing the logical with the irrational it often boils down to one simple fact: they're toys. They're toy robots, made to be held, manipulated, swooshed, TRANSFORMED! Magnificent pictures taken under a rack of LEDs using the latest DSLR camera in a light box fail to capture that gritty, real world feeling an in hand or haul picture carries with it. It's like the difference between seeing an airbrushed celebrity on the cover of a magazine and seeing your friend's picture with said celebrity at the supermarket doing the weekly Big Shop (for full disclosure I have no idea which celebrity to use as an example as it'd either be too crass or far too vague). One is very pretty and sure does look great but the other is almost tangible, it's raw, it's a real-time event that *just* happened with minimal controls put around it and then shared for the world to see without the hindrance of a serious objective or agenda. 

This connects with a feeling I have regarding Generation 1 Autobot cars, that as toys they perform wonderfully, being able to sufficiently provide a play pattern in both robot and alt mode. When a toy is seen more as a representation of a character and is photographed as such, it loses the simple mindless joy that many of us get from holding a piece of plastic in our hands. It’s less attainable and presents a barrier between what we see and what we would experience were we to own the figure. Compare this to a picture of a recent haul or a bot posed on a coffee table and we can instantly relate to that experience. We have been there, we have done the same and it allows us to take part in the shared appreciation that is one of the very foundations of a community. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Shape And Form As Character Signposts

- Leigh Gregurke

Our knowledge of the shapes and forms that depict our physical reality underpin a vital series of visual triggers or symbols, these assist us in creating initial understandings and responses to visual media. From animation and illustration to design and the creation of three dimensional objects; the way we respond to shapes has its roots in semiotics. A map of meanings allowing creators to design our emotive responses.

© 1984 Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, and Hasbro

Perhaps the most Iconic character of the Transformers universe, Optimus Prime is constructed primarily of squared forms and rectangles with right angles framing his form. What do we think and know about squares? We associate them as symbols of solidity, dependability, strength, resilience, honesty, firmness, tradition. Squares have a sense of equality and rigidity.... but they are also kind of boring right? yes however... that's Prime. As a character he reflects many if not all of these traits, a representation of traditional leadership, heroism, a father like figure of dependability and safety. Ironhide often at Primes side shares similar motifs and traits but also demonstrates the way squares can channel a certain aggression, a dedication to traditional values and ideas and a gruff demeanor against change.

How do we view round shapes, circles, spheres... They are kind of harmless, friendly, we think of iconic characters including Micky Mouse, Casper the friendly Ghost, Winne the Pooh, Jack Black, Pandas, Mr Blobby, That cop from Noddy... they are soft edged, safe and fun. Bumblebee as the Volkswagen Beetle, even more rounded than usual in his stylized design is a series of strong curves upon strong curves, his anthropomorphic form is not hugely different, round feet, rounded torso, round head and his horns don't even feel sharp, they are cute little curved extensions.  Cosmos appears as a rounded almost kitsch U.F.O form and his personality is equally spacey, nonthreatening curious.

© 1984 Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, and Hasbro.

Shape can however challenge that expectation and our first perceived instinct with great effect.  Unicorn, the giant Spherical Planet eating terror compensates ten fold by employing a black metal show quota of spikes across his form to obfuscate and defy his rounded form, his menace even grows as he sheds this form as he is revealed to not only be a planetary form but also a colossus anthropomorphic destroyer.   Consider Cliffjumper, the red counterpart to Bumblebee. Is part of his character strength  that he defies his shape? An exercise in contrast Cliffjumper is at odds with his stylized curves with his aggression and swagger but still, this trait works because of our assumptions on shape, the viewer sees the tension between shape and our expectations.

Analyzing the effect that shapes have on our perceptions raises interest in the design process and the history of Transformer character design. Did Bob Budiansky put initial character traits and ideas to the toys seen at the Tokyo Toy Fair based on these common responses? A lot is said of the cars vs jets subdivision but its more complex than that I believe. Consider a division of shapes and their meanings, a tension between stability and conflict. Soundwave as a villain character shares commonality with Prime. It is reflected in his shape, he is logical, calculable, a known quantity that does not break the norm, this as it odds with most of the Decepticon designs, primarily I see among their ranks shapes that challenge and show action. What shapes challenge and demonstrate action?

Triangles, Pyramids, Arrows.......Jets. Seekers. The "coneheads" for example employ a literal point at the top of their head. Triangles are motion and we think of  performance cars, jet airplanes, rockets, birds... they are dart shaped, flying triangles... our first vision of the Seekers in Transformers mythology is them as pursuing and dangerous flying pointed pyramid shapes. Triangles are symbolic vessels of speed, direction, movement, change and action. Compare the symbolic representation of the two presented factions in the mythology and the choices of shapes.

© 1984 Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, and Hasbro

The power of triangles as symbols of change is important when we examine the way Prime has evolved. The first major change in the fiction was his succession in the 1986 film. Hot Rod/Rodimus is presented with a dominant motif involving triangles, his ridiculous spoiler, his low angled bonnet, his leg stickers and head regalia, his giant kinda silly looking cape thing that the aforementioned spoiler forms. Hot Rod was an attempt to show on a very visceral and basic level through shapes that this character is a direct and powerful contrast to primes square.

The success of elevation as an iconic leader is debatable. Do we perhaps prefer the square for aforementioned symbolic elements it represents?  Comic fiction work has been able to explore the space with more success. James Roberts Literary work More Than Meets the Eye visually presents Rodimus in an energetic form of jutting angles through the art of Alex Milne/Nick Roche and others. Roberts inspires this with a character whom is presented as a fractured series of risks, motions and movements often at odds with another. Another example of the symbology of shapes in the work MTMTE  is the character Cyclonus showing an arc at odds with his pointed triangular motifs and their associated devil-like appearance, we even see one removed creating a physical alteration to the pointed shape, a blunting and change of physical shape as a demonstration of change.

Triangles can be seen as symbols of risk and danger, lust, aggression and temptation and audiences struggled to connect with the literal and figurative symbology of change. In time Prime designs started to reflect elements of change as his character did. Cybertron/Galaxy Force Prime begins a trend as squares are shunted at angles, a blend of his boxed core and directive lines. Animated Optimus demonstrated youth and growth, an angled triangle growing towards a emerging bold prismatic chest. Bay's movie Prime, well he murders people and I guess his design looks like that? A massive departure from from its rigid tradition and structure, Bay's Prime feels immensely conflicting in its overuse of heroic language tropes with Peter Cullen's voice work at odds with the depicted shape. Optimus Primal might be the most emotive, warm and relatable of the Primes and well, he was the most round in form.

Derrick J Wyatt's bold approach to design and visual storytelling created a universe where all characters demonstrated a sense of depth and warmth, Bulkhead is circles upon circles reflecting his humorous, seemingly harmless and friendly character and even villains have their comedic sides extenuated through exaggerated bulging shapes and forms. Wyatts Lugnut design evokes a comical yet powerful cyclopian form chained to a simple devotion with its exaggerated rounded forms. Even without much screen time, Animated Blackout's giant bulbous form absolutely drips character suggestion.

Shapes are a vital visual language that allow our brain to make quick leaps of thought and when utilized expertly by artists, designers and writers can lead us to a conclusion quickly without a need for exposition or conversely turn on a point creating challenging contrast and interplay. Think of some of the iconic designs that have appealed to you and ask yourself if the prominent shape designs match their character representation? How have some characters evolved and have their designs matched that path? Perhaps more so than some other mediums the Geometric focus of Transformers allows play with exaggeration with shape making those visual directions more obvious and allowing the creator more space to tell another layer of story.

I want to end on an important thought, Megatron. Not quite a square, not quite a point,  is he a  Phallus?  Megatron is; ultra confident, obscene, ego driven, violent, masculine and direct, his power resides in his Fusion Cannon and when it is lost so is his power, intentional writing or coincidence? I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and feedback.

For further study I recommend the work on the Bouba/Kiki effect observed by Wolfgang Köhler and documented in his research in 1929 demonstrating a fascinating link in the way our brains connect shapes and sound connotations.

Follow Leigh on Twitter @AmbushThem