Friday, May 29, 2009

BotCon 2009: The Customizing Class

Although my wife's and my BotCon experience this week actually started Wednesday night, there's really not too much to tell about that bit. We waited in line for about an hour so that we could pick up the box set of toys (which I'll say more about in a few days) and other registration materials. The first real experience of BotCon 2009 worth mentioning was the Thursday customizing class (another class was held on Wednesday, but I wasn't there). I'm embarrassed to say that I was actually the last person to arrive at yesterday's class, although I was there only a minute or two after 9:00 am at most. I found a seat and was given my materials in short order.

As you may have already heard from other online forums, the figure we were making this year was a "Shattered Glass" version of Thunderclash, one of the exclusive figures in this year's box set. But before we get into the changes that we made to make this figure distinct from the "real" exclusive, we need to get into the construction of the custom figure.

We are given our figure not only disassembled, but actually still on the original plastic sprues. Modelers may already be familiar with the process of cutting off plastic parts from sprues like these, and I have some minor experience in this area, myself (although it's probably been close to ten years since I've put together that kind of a model kit!). Even so, I was a bit surprised at just how many parts were involved in this deluxe-sized figure.

Thankfully, Shawn Tessmann, the instructor behind the event, created a fairly detailed set of instructions and a process from which to make order out of such chaos. While cutting the parts off of the sprues, we followed charts whereby we put parts into different groups. All left arm parts when in one tray. All right arm parts in another. All torso parts in another. You get the idea. We also had to separate all the metal screws, pegs, and springs into appropriate trays as well. With all of the parts separated and thus organized, we were ready to begin.

I knew getting into the endeavor that I would find it a bit challenging. Although I've done a few customs from time to time, the fact is that I have a dangerous combination of perfectionism and a lack of patience, which is undoubtedly why I haven't done more such projects. Still, I knew that this was an opportunity that might not ever come so readily to me again, and was glad to take advantage of it, frustration and all. Here you see my custom Thunderclash's nearly-completed arm (sorry for the fuzzy pic!).

The part I found the most frustrating about this whole process was getting springs in place. This mold uses several ratcheting limbs, so that you can pose arms, elbows, legs and knees in more or less stable positions. However, I found that some springs didn't really want to fit in the spaces I was trying to put them in, and these parts were sent flying on more than one occasion. I suppose I should be grateful that I only actually lost a spring once in the whole process. But, in the end, it was my own fault. The picture you see here, for example, actually shows a spring that was not intended to be put where it is shown. I later discovered that I had a few of the springs confused, and the one that actually goes here is a bit shorter, fitting into place with considerably less force.

Shawn encouraged class members to inform Brian Savage, president of Fun Publications (the group that runs BotCon), of any comments, both good and bad. The only criticism I actually have is that I did find it difficult to tell precisely which part was intended to go in which place on a few such occasions. Several screws, for example, are very similar, but not identical, while the consequences of getting a spring wrong has already been demonstrated.

After several hours (I think it was close to five), I finally got the whole thing assembled. I was tempted to leave things right there, because I already know that I'm not very good at painting. Remember what I said about perfectionism combined with lack of patience? Well, the perfectionist streak dictated that I simply couldn't leave the figure as it was, so I went to work on putting color on my toy.

This is what Shawn's version of Shattered Glass Thunderclash looks like (well, more or less. It's not really fully transformed into robot mode). Such perfect lines! How he managed that, I still don't know. In the past, I've tried masking tape, masking fluid, just being really careful (yeah, right!), and anything else I could think of, but I never have been able to achieve such mechanical precision.

Some members of the class, especially those with greater skill, chose to go with their own ideas rather than following the "Shattered Glass" model at all. I opted for following the instructions... mostly. I purposely left a few paint applications off, and chose one or two colors that were at variance with the "original" version. Although I still wish that I was able to duplicate the straight lines Shawn managed, at least my version doesn't look as plain as it did before I painted it. Actually, it's not quite done yet. This is a mold that I've never had before, and I really don't know how to transform it without instructions. One of the faction symbols (generously supplied by the class, and featuring a clever twist on the "Elite Guard" design of this year's box set that reflects the "Shattered Glass" version's evil nature) is expected to break down the middle of Thunderclash's front end in vehicle mode. I decided to apply those stickers when I got home and could have access to instructions on how to transform the toy properly.

By about 3:30 or so, I decided that I needed to stop, as I was simply adding more frustrations with each paint application I decided to apply. When I got home, "Shattered Glass" Thunderclash was ready to join the official BotCon 2009 exclusive in my collection. For the record, I've never considered customizing class figures to be "official" exclusives, which is why they don't appear on the data sheet (which has just been updated to reflect what's currently known about the BotCon 2009 exclusives!). Still, it's a unique toy that I'm glad to have. I haven't really been home all that much to take pictures, what with the long lines at the convention and all (I was in a more than two hour-long line by the end of the day today!), but I'll try to put up some side-by-side shots of this toy alongside "regular" Thunderclash when I review him in a few days.


  1. "the fact is that I have a dangerous combination of perfectionism and a lack of patience..."

    I thought you were gonna say perfectionism and a lack of coordination... ;)

    Just teasing, big brother.

    It looks like you had a great time - I would even have found that class interesting and fun. :) Enjoy the rest of the week!

  2. Actually, don't suppose "coordination" would be all that inaccurate... ;)

    But, yeah, it's been fun.



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