Thursday, January 05, 2017

Monochromatic Ad ReCreateAtron: Devastator!

For as long as paleontologists have been unearthing fossils from deep beneath the ground people have wondered, 'What did that Tyrannosaurus skeleton REALLY look like when it was alive?' And for as long as I have been digging up old toy robots ads from black and white reels of microfilm I have wondered, 'What did this Devastator giftset ad from 1985 REALLY look like when it was in color?' I know it's silly wanting to see ads for toys I already have, but the ads were such a big part of the experience at the time that these monochromatic microfilm slides don't cut it for me. Being in the presence of dinosaur bones at a museum is as close as I'll ever be to a real dinosaur and I appreciate that, but sometimes you just want to pull out Jurassic Park and see a Tyrannosaurus eat a lawyer.

Sears 12 Dec 1985
Sears 29 Dec 1985
Toys Plus 19 Dec 1985
Devastator line art is quite common in ads for the Constructicons as demonstrated above. However, most ads it appears in are not for the actual Devastator giftset! Note the '-tion' misspelling commonly found in Transformer ads where '-ticon' is intended.


This ad for the Constructicon giftset is unusual in that it uses the Devastator line art. All other ads I've found use pictures of the combined figure and/or the box. Note the incorrectly attached wing and the detached upper torso and legs. Hasbro apparently did not create 3/4 viewpoint Devastator specific line art so retailers used a version derived from illustrations used in the transformation instructions.
Microfilm works great for preserving the simple line art used in newspaper ads from the seventies and early 80s. Where it fails is in the preservation of color photography, which was used extensively in circulars and fliers starting around the late 60s. Not only are colors completely gone but most scans of photograph based ads are so badly underexposed it's hard to make out any details. This is true for ads of just about every robot toyline and case assortment I've found but it especially bothers me in the case of Devastator and the Constructicons. Usually I would be satisfied with whatever line art ads I can pull off microfilm but Hasbro really dropped the ball with Devastator's line art. It's as if they were content to use the final step in the transformation instructions booklet which shows the Constructicons just about to combine but not quite there yet, and use that for the repro art they sent to retailers for use in ads. It's horrible. Devastator just didn't get good ad representation except for when retailers took color photos of it for their ads. But a nice full color Devastator ad is not completely out of my grasp. I do have at least two options.

Target 22 Dec 1985
Gold Circle 27 Nov 1985
Zayre 11 May 1986

This ad can be seen in context at the Chicago Tribune.


I know of at least three Devastator giftset ads from color store fliers that came out in 1985 and '86 (pictured above). One was from a store called Gold Circle in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Another was in a Target ad I found in Rapid City, South Dakota, and another was from a Zayre ad in Chicago. My first option if I ever want to see these in color is to wait for an actual flier or circular to come up for sale online. Several people all across the country would have to have kept entire newspapers in storage for decades and then decide to sell all of their collections at prices I can afford. Unfortunately the chances of that happening for any one specific ad, especially from the lesser known regional stores are astronomical. The is like hoping a dinosaur still survives in the Amazon somewhere and when you travel to go see it you pray the natives won't scalp you. But then there is a second, more convenient and Hollywood special effectsy option: digital photo manipulation! I could take the ads trapped in microfilm like dinosaur DNA trapped in amber and build my Jurassic Park of K-Mart toy robots ads!


Close inspection of the Target ad shows the head is placed ON TOP of Hook 's right shoulder peg instead of behind on the waist connector. The figure holds together because the chest wing has a tab inserted into a slot in Long Haul's grill.
I figured that adding color to some old ads was not outside the realm of possibility for me. Many times while going through my collection of microfilm ad scans I've thought-hey, I have that toy. How hard would it be to just take a picture of it and digitally superimpose my toy over the ad? As it turned out, it was very hard. If I wanted to replicate the ads exactly I had to figure out what angle the photographer was shooting from and how far away they were from their subjects. Getting everything lit and lined up exactly right is actually extremely difficult. Thankfully I was able to get satisfactory results with some distortion and perspective effects in the photo manipulation software I was using. (aka: cheating) Then there was the question of exact replication or idealized recreation? I had to ask myself how true to the source ad I wanted to get when recreating the scene-should I mistransform my robot the same way the photographer did? Should I leave accessories out like they did? I decided I wanted to recreate the ads as closely as possible so I tried repeating all the same mistakes the photographers made. It was actually kind of fun that way. I didn't even know it was possible to transform Devastator without his head connected to Long Haul! How did that Target guy even do that?

Target 22 Dec 1985 (colorized)
Gold Circle 27 Nov 1985 (colorized)
Zayre 11 May 1986 (colorized)


I was pretty happy with how the ad recolorizations came out. There are some obvious tells that give away their being digital manipulations but the point of the exercise here is to get in the ballpark. My wife and I got into a discussion about the ethics of doing this because she works in the media and is very conscious of her responsibility to be accurate and factual with photos. I don't believe there is much to worry about because we're not talking about recoloring old movies or bringing velociraptors back to life here. Still, she raised the point that Devastator's arms may have been black in one of the original ads instead of purple like the production toy I used in my photos. So I may be glossing over details that are important from a historical perspective to Transformers historians. I suppose that's true but we'll never know until the original ad pops up, which is unlikely to ever happen. She wanted me to use watermarks and disclaimers and all sorts of other heads up about the manipulation of the source material. I didn't think I needed to go that far. In the meantime my personal policy will be to not include these over at my online ad archive. But I will include them in blog posts here where I'm on the same page with my audience and we all like looking at these old fossils of a bygone era when Dinobots ruled the earth.

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