Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The references of good importance OR: For those with Roboplasti-Bergers Syndrome, 208 pages of alien robot Volkswagen drawings is never enough

Back in late 2002 I picked up a hobby called resin casting where I learned how to make little robots and spaceships out of plastic. Making homemade robots from plastic isn't just fannish behavior, it's full blown roboplasti-bergers syndrome diagnosis. It was pretty cool because not only could I bring to life anything I imagined, but I wasn't limited by the fun crushing restraints a real toy company would have like worrying about what would sell or adhering to child safety laws. Over the next four years I made a lot of Transformers related figures that I shared with friends and strangers and I had fun with it. Resin casting required an enormous amount of time and dedication, though, so when my son was born last year I decided I'd retire from that hobby. I thought my roboplasti-bergers had gone into remission. But damnit, I'm having flareups again because lately I've been wanting to get back into making those wacky robot figures and spaceships I used to do.

The very first things I tried to make from plastic were replicas of the triangle shaped spaceships that Skywarp and Thundercracker turned into during the first episode of Transformers. In Transformer fan circles they call those things "tetrajets". These were somewhat obscure, only appearing in two episodes throughout the series and even then only for a couple of short scenes. At first I thought it would be easy but I discovered that the toughest part of making a model based on a cartoon spaceship that only existed onscreen for a few seconds is finding good visual references.

Back then I had no access to the official model sheets that the animators used as definitive reference for what these things looked like. I watched those brief moments the tetrajets appeared in about a tryptzillion times and I used a Transformers trading card I had as references for my sculpt. I did the best I could and I thought I captured the look of the ships well enough. I was satisfied with what I'd come up with and I went on to make a buttload of those things. Heck, if you do a google image search for "Tetrajet" you'll find one of the orange ones I did. Those orange ones were the very first resin castings I gave away during the 2003 Transformer convention/roboplasti-bergers party.

In January 2003 I was able to establish correspondence with fellow roboplasti-bergers sufferer Floro Dery, the design supervisor for the 80's Transformers cartoon. Floro was responsible for much of the visual look of the Transformers cartoon. I was pretty excited about the tetrajets I made and I emailed him some pictures of them, to which he responded-

"Hello Steve! Your sculptures are good, but it needs to be bit more stylized and stretched to make it more dynamic."

I was very excited to get feedback from the guy. However, the "stylized and stretched" comment confused me a little, especially since I thought I nailed it. I would have loved if Mr. Dery could have supplied me with the actual character models for the tetrajets, but he wrote that although he did have many versions of the design, he couldn't find them at the time. I was a little confused, like if I wrote a wacky outer space movie script and George Lucas critiqued it by telling me, "Well I'm just the guy who came up with this stuff, but I think you need more incestuous kissings between your characters," and I'd be thinking, "Okay, but someone please explain to me WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?"

Then last year IDW publishing published The Ark, a book with tons of original Transformers animation models including the tetrajet reference designs I wished I had back in '02. Finally I had the definitive vision, the clearest possible rendering of what these things were supposed to look like. The Ark is the ultimate reference, like a Chilton's manual for cartoon robot spaceships. For once I totally understood what Floro Dery was trying to tell me and I saw how off I was with my original sculpt. It was as if a giant spaceship of shape changing alien robots crashed into the volcano of my mind.

It always bothered me that I never got that tetrajet sculpt right. This year would be the fifth anniversary of when I started making and giving away little plastic spaceships at robot conventions. Plus I finally have the definitive reference materials I always wanted thanks to The Ark book. More importantly, the baby sleeps for 12 hours solid each night and I have enough time to myself to work on a project. If I could manage it right I think I have just enough time to do a small run of new improved 5th anniversary CrazySteveFigure tetrajets. I can't believe I'm excited about the remanifestation of the nerdiest side effects of my roboplasti-bergers syndrome. It's like herpes people being happy about the return of their cold sores.


Rob said...

I don't care what Floro Dery thinks, your tetrajet sculptures are great. They look just like the ones in the cartoon.

Thanks for letting me know about the book The Ark. The Barnes and Noble stores around here don't have any copies in stock, so I'm ordering it from Amazon.

Heavyarms said...

If you do decide to make some more, please, PLEASE let me buy one.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Wow Rob, you surprise me sometimes. After listening to the Paunch Stevenson show I don't quite see you as the kind of person that would buy a book like the Ark. It's almost three hundred pages of black and white drawings of cartoon robots. Outside of people who make Transformers costumes or models I don't see what appeal something like that could have to a normal guy.

I can't fault Floro for giving his honest assesment of what I'd done. I was clearly off now that I know what those things were supposed to look like. If anyone gets blamed for my misinterpretation of the tetrajets I think it should be the animators who drew them differently or wrong from one frame to the next. I think when they draw badly it's called being "off model". It happened a lot in the old cartoon and the tetrajets are a prime example.

Rob said...

Wow, I didn't realize the book is three hundred pages! Even still, I figure I'll like the book because:

1. I like the art style of the old Sunbow cartoons

2. I like old animation in general and enjoy behind-the-scenes stuff

3. I like technical drawings

4. I like the G1 Transformers

The book is less than $14 and I think looking through the official character models would be fun.

Is there anything along the lines of early sketches, where I'd get to see the evolution of a particular character's design? Any other cool tidbits in the book?

Weasel said...

Hold on, I'm still laughing about the final sentence in the post.

. . . .

My side hurts.

Def and I'd want in on Tetrajets 2.0, no question.

Def made sure to get a copy of The Ark back when it came out--I paged through it, he took it away when he said it looked like I was about to start drooling over Bumblebee. He says there WILL be a volume 2, MAYBE a 3.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Whoops, Rob, I meant "almost two hundred". It's 208 pages total and minus the table of contents, introduction, forward, acknowledgments, index and other space filler it ends up being approximately 200 pages of character models.

It does have many cool little extras like alternate designs for Megatron, Jetfire, a couple of combiners and lots of movie characters. There's models for the Cybertronian modes from the first episode, lots of guys that were never made into toys and little commentaries throughout the book that reveal tidbits of info about the designs. I just don't know if that kind of stuff would appeal to most people nowadays. I'm somewhat of a weirdo about all this stuff so my perspective is skewered.

I think it's great but there are some guys who wrote reviews for the Amazon page that point out some stuff is missing like the female robots and miscellaneous humans. I guess it won't impress the Transformers experts but you can't please everyone. I think I paid $20 for it through and I thought it was a great deal, especially since I have need for this sort of reference.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Yeah, Lyn, I knew it would have been more correct to use the phrase "people who have herpes" but I really kind of liked the childish simplicity of the term "herpes people". It made me laugh when I thought about it. I guess my brain was trying to figure out how to write that but it took a shortcut.

"Herpes people" sounds like a secret monster society from comic books. I picture a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic cover where the Fantastic Four go to the secret underground lair of the Herpes People. I imagine there's a blurb like "WHAT IS THE SECRET OF THE MYSTERIOUS HERPES PEOPLE?"

Would you happen to recognize or know why there are those alternate drawings of Bumblebee's feet in The Ark? On the bottom right of his page there's a couple of single left feet and I can't figure out how that's significant.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Oh, and yeah, I'm aiming for a late April completion so that I can definitely take them all to the Botcon. I figure a production run of about five to ten or so, done up in the usual last minute manner where I'm painting them in the hotel room a couple minutes before the show starts.

At this point I figure they'll all be Skywarps because that's how I painted the very first ones I ever did and this is supposed to be an anniversary celebration of sorts. I'll blog updates on the progress of the project every week.

And Heavydolls, I will definitely set one aside for you.


I'd like one too, Steve. Slaughterhouse and Sunstorm would like a brother or sister to play with.

naladahc said...

I'd love to get one!

I have no customs and a Crazy Steve custom would actually have a lot more meaning to me than most customs would.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thanks for speaking up, guys. I am getting an idea of how many to make based on the responses here. I think 7-10 might be a good number, with most of them going out at Botcon and a couple in the mail (Richard and Heavyarms).


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