Monday, 21 August 2017

RRCo. Report: TFNation 2017

- Dorian MacQuarrie

We are just over a week removed from TFNation 2017. Social media is still abuzz with friends both old and new sharing their experiences, there are still haul and reflection videos coming through on YouTube and the official TFNation account remains a presence on our timelines. 

Just like toy cars
Photo by Ben Watson

Building on the success of their debut last year, the team behind TFNation sought to put on a convention that catered to the myriad flavours of Transformers fans and I can safely say they succeeded in presenting a wide array of guests, panels and exclusive merchandise which extended beyond the brand we all know and love. There's always a chance that by trying to cater to the many you can dilute your product but when the guests range from the legendary Geoff Senior to the ever-popular James Roberts and you're offering a convention exclusive Transformers Animated comic, there was no lack of quality for the sake of quantity.

In the months leading up to TFNation, information regarding tickets, hotels, guests, merchandise and general advice for attendees was communicated through official social media platforms, showing from start to finish, the TFNation team had the attendee at the heart of the convention. This also helped to fuel the oh so important hype train, ensuring excitement was at a fever pitch.

Traditionally, the Friday of convention weekend has little to offer and outside of a screening of the 1986 Transformers: The Movie was mostly a bar experience where people could catch up with friends and welcome first timers. Last year TFNation set a precedent with their Rock Lords panel and presentation of the line, showing not only do they aim to cater to early arrivals but also to those would hold interests outside of Transformers specifically. This year was no different, with various panels starting from as early as 12pm, including a Q&A with popular Youtuber Thew Adams and a special look at the Brave series, including an eye watering showcase of many vintage Brave toys. I've never seen so much gold chrome in person.

Saturday morning and doors open. As with the previous year, the dealer room, staging area and signing stations for the multitude of guests were all in one large hall, allowing you to make multiple rounds of the various dealers, artists and writers.

For many attendees the dealer room is the main attraction of the convention. The opportunity to pick up toys normally only available online, the chance of stumbling across some rare gem from Transformers lines of old (or maybe even a cheeky Gobot or two) or even just the satisfaction of seeing such a vast selection of toys in person. This year Titans Return Trypticon was definitely one of the key toys to snatch up, also there was a surprise splash of Maketoys products available in limited number, Thunder Erebus and Galaxy Meteor, the latter of which, as Maketoys has recently announced, might not be available for some time now if at all at this point. Beyond those particular items there were impressive displays from Kapow Toys, The Spacebridge, In Demand Toys, Max and Me Love Toyz and of course, the ever eclectic mix from Toy-Fu. 

Next to the main convention haul was the much lauded Forge, a space for artists from within the community to sell their wares including prints, badges and commission pieces to name a few. This represents a key pillar of the TFNation experience, the community. It is said time and again that the community makes the convention and the team behind TFNation have supported the multitude of artists and creators by providing the space and the means to sell their wares and showcase their talents. 

Over the weekend there are many opportunities to interact with guests, through panels hosted in the main hall or one of the secondary rooms, signing stations which also serve as pick up points for commissions and prints or even at the hotel bar. There is a very relaxed environment surrounding the interaction with guests. Other conventions often operate on a system of premium tickets and paid-for photo opportunities and autographs, not so with TFNation, where you only have to queue up to meet the likes of Simon Furman or Kei Zama and if you're lucky you'll even have a chance to buy them a drink at the bar. The accessibility of the guest experience is yet another unique aspect of TFNation compared to other conventions around the UK. 

As Saturday trading comes to a end, and the main convention hall closes, preparing for another day's trading on Sunday, the secondary hall opens up for the evening's entertainment. Starting with the cosplay competition, attendees are treated to a plethora of various characters from the Transformers franchise. From Sideswipe to Censere the Necrobot, from humanised "Pretenders" to full robot-regalia, the quality of work and craftsmanship on display is astounding. Every year the cosplayers improve and innovate, with increasingly elaborate costumes and evermore obscure characters. 

Following the pageantry of the cosplay competition, the script reading provides some humour and light hearted situational comedy, bringing together the voice actors in attendance and anyone capable of a good Beast Wars Megatron. It's a special event and not one you'd easily find at other conventions. While the entertainment continues, downstairs at the bar other attendees are catching up with old friends, sharing experiences with new ones and of course, tinkering away with their purchases from the day. Try to imagine the entire bar of a hotel, crammed full of Transformers fans of all kinds playing with toys, it's slightly bizarre to be honest. 

This is the heart of the convention, this is the reason many people travel from far and wide, to take part in the most welcoming, accommodating, exciting and satisfying weekend of the year. For many people their love of Transformers might be a private affair or at the very least they might be very limited in speaking about their hobby to friends and family. At TFNation, regardless of whether you're a fan of G1, Bayverse, Animated, MTMTE or even Kiss Players, you'll find common ground with the hundreds of others in attendance. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to talk to some of the organisers and through our conversations I came to the realisation that TFNation is more akin to seeing your favourite band. Sure you might prefer a different album from the fan next to you but you're all still there to see that one band. In this case everyone present is a Transformers fan and that sort of common denominator allows for unparalleled levels of interaction between complete strangers. 

Sunday morning and once again, doors open. Given the options for weekend, Saturday only and Sunday only tickets, the experience of welcoming newcomers and old friends starts all over again. For those who arrived in the previous days the dealer room is less of a focus, allowing more time to peruse the Forge or spend time at a panel in the main hall or of course, a return to the bar for a drink and some more socialising. For those who may have train or plane tickets booked for the Sunday evening, time can weigh heavily on the afternoon. The desire to spend every remaining moment with friends versus the very real need to rest after a weekend of indulgence can create something of a dull mood. Thankfully the Hilton is well placed with opportunities to explore the surrounding lake and foot paths for a chance to recharge and create a little head space before diving back in for the last few hours. 

The closing ceremony of TFNation is a bittersweet moment. Full of cheers, smiles and joy but also the sad realistion that it's all over for another year. In the final moments, the feeling that it has only taken place over the weekend yet somehow your entire world was this one weekend at this one hotel is palpable. The final farewells are more akin to the what is experienced at a family gathering, hugs, handshakes and I'm sure for some people a little sorrow. While a handful remain until the Monday morning, taking up the mantle of "survivors" many head home, their journey back to reality and whatever work, education or other activities make up their day. 

This was TFNation's second year and it was clear that the team are learning from their experiences and are dedicated to providing the best convention experience possible. With plans to deliver a bigger and better event year on year I can only guess at what will be in store for 2018. Enormous praise must go to everyone involved with setting up and running the convention. Their hard work ensures that attendees can enjoy what for many is the best weekend of the year, safe in the knowledge that their tastes are being catered to and that the TFNation team keep them at the heart of all their work. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

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