My first ever kitbashed toy was a transforming Jazz with a cybertronian mode based on his appearance in the very first Transformers episode. I did that in July of 2002 as part of a diorama I entered at that year's Botcon. I used an existing Jazz toy and I removed most of the car's outer skin, replacing it with styrene fenders and panels I made myself. I had a great time making it and once I got home from Botcon I started thinking about what my next project would be. I wanted to continue with making transformable figures with cartoon based cybertronian alt modes, and of those shown in the first episode there were only five other characters I could choose from-Wheeljack, Bumblebee, Soundwave, Laserbeak, and the tetrajets. I chose Bumblebee and I figured I'd do Wheeljack sometime later.
It was at Botcon 2002 that I met John Spangler, a fellow fan whose transforming DeLorean kitbash named Steelskin won him first place in the 3d figure category at Botcon 2001. We would become really good friends over the next year. It turns out he lived only a few blocks away from my house back in Tucson, Arizona. John's what I call an engineering mind. He's got the uncanny ability to envision 3-dimensional mechanisms in his head and then create them in real life. It was great knowing him and he served as a constant source of inspiration and without his influence and engineering philosophy I would never have finished the Bumblebee project.
In August of 2002 after Botcon I tried making my cybertronian Bumblebee with the same technique I used to create my Jazz. I used the Bumblebee keychain figures that were plentiful at the time. I cut up a lot of Bumblebee keychains and added the modeling clay called Sculpey to give me an idea of the form I wanted Bumblebee to take. So my first few prototypes were hybrids of clay and actual Bumblebee figures.
Once I got the shape I wanted for the vehicle I tried making styrene fenders and engineering a transform that would work within the limitations of the existing framework. It was an ambitious project, and I realized after making a few prototypes that I did not have the skill or ability to complete the project as I envisoned it in my mind's eye. I honestly felt a bit defeated at that point, but it was better to be honest with myself and take a step back then to give up altogether. I shelved the prototypes and made a small webpage showing what I accomplished up to that point, figuring nobody would really pay much attention to it.
Around that time, John began working on an idea for another transforming robot kitbash he called Redline. His first one, Steelskin the DeLorean, was made using the body of the Transformer Sideswipe. He stripped it down to the frame and then built styrene panels and body parts on top of that. John came to the conclusion that working within the limitations of an existing figure wasn't the way to go, and it would be better to make his next figure totally from scratch using styrene. He let me in on the progress of the project as he fabricated the parts and I was just floored. I couldn't believe he was able to do such a thing. His skill, engineering ability, and attention to detail are just mind blowing. I wish everybody could live next door to John Spangler like I was lucky enough to do for a while.
I recognized the truth to his philosophy and I decided that if I were to continue with Bumblbee I'd have to make it from scratch. But I wasn't as skilled as John with styrene. I didn't know what I was going to do because at the time using styrene was the only thing I was familiar with. For some reason working with it this time around was more difficult than it had been with Jazz. It just wasn't coming together. I came to the conclusion that I needed some other way to make my own custom engineered parts.
I was living in Tucson, Arizona at the time and one day in September '02 I went to a hobby store called 'Models Models Models'. I mentioned to the husband and wife team that owned the store that I was working on a project and I needed to figure out how to make my own parts. They told me about a mail order company based in Tucson that could help me do just that. That's how I learned about resin casting and met the people who run Ace Resin.
Resin casting is a process mostly used by model building hobbyists to copy existing model parts. A rubber mold is made of the part and then plastic is poured into the mold. Once cured, this plastic resin is an identical copy of the original. Ace Resin is a company that sells inexpensive kits that the average person can use to learn resin casting. In an unbelievable stroke of luck for me, I found out Ace Resin is based in Tucson. I spent the following months talking to and spending time with John and Mary-Ann Nitka, the people behind Ace Resin. They were unbelievably friendly and helpful. John was a constant source of encouragement and wisdom and he really got me addicted to the whole resin casting thing. The time I spent at their house talking with them and learning are among my favorite memories of Tucson.
I didn't give up on Bumblebee, instead I shifted my focus onto what I needed to learn and I spent the next few months learning about the different techniques required to complete the project. There was never any rush on my part to complete my cybertronian Bumblebee, so I enjoyed taking my time making parts and figures from resin and developing the skills I needed for the eventual return to the Bumblebee project.
Resin casting wasn't something I was able to figure out overnight. I realized I'd need time and experience figuring it out. The first resin casting project I attempted was making non-transforming resin tetrajets based on those from the first episode of the Transformers. Then I really went crazy with it. I started making copies of existing Transformer PVC figures, I made totally new non-transforming figures, I made a nine inch tall resin Megatron statue, I even made a fully transformable cybertronian Starscream figure based on Don Figureoa's War Within comic designs. Thanks to my excitement over resin casting I had a lot of stuff to enter in 2003's official Transformer convention art show.
One of the fringe benfits of resin casting is that you can make multiple exact copies of the same thing before the molds begin degrading. One of the fringe benefits of going to Transformer conventions is you get to meet and make multiple friends. So what I did in 2003 was I made a number of resin tetrajets, painted them in an orange paint scheme like the TF character Sunstorm, and gave them to friends at OTFCC. I called them my crazysteve WTF?!? convention exclusives. There was also a set of clear resin 'ghost' figures I gave away. The WTF?!? exclusives are a tradition I've continued with every Transformer convention I've attended since. I also took my tetrajet mold to OTFCC to demonstrate how I made the tetrajets live in front of my friends.
About a month before 2003's OTFCC, I was posting in-progress pictures of my various art show projects on different message boards relating to Transformers. It was at that time that I was contacted by Richard Mistron, co-organizer of Cybcon, a fan run Transformer convention held yearly in Washington state. Richard said he'd liked what I was doing and he wanted to know if I'd consider making something for Cybcon as a sort of convention exclusive toy. At first I was confused. I didn't know who Richard was and I didn't know if he understood I was just an amateur figure maker. I didn't want him to think I was experienced at making stuff or that I was making professional grade product. I'm proud of what I've done, but it's not going to be putting Hasbro out of business anytime soon if you know what I mean.
I wanted Richard to know what exactly he could expect from me, so I sent him an extra set I had of my WTF?!? exclusives. He wouldn't be able to go to OTFCC '03, but I wanted him to have examples of my work. Then if he felt they were substandard after seeing my stuff in person he could rethink his request. But despite my best attempts to discourage him, he still liked what I was doing. So I said yes, and then we agreed to brainstorm on what we'd do for Cybcon after OTFCC '03.
During OTFCC I got to meet Don Figureoa. A fan himself, it was great talking to the guy about kitbashing and making things. It was a year since the first preview comic for The War Within came out, which was the first public release of his cybertronian character designs. I asked him why he didn't attend Botcon 02. I thought it would have been great timing since the TWW preview book hit the stands just days before the '02 convention. I was surprised when he said he was unsure what the fan reaction to his work would be and he felt it would be best if he skipped the show just in case. I was floored by that. I didn't understand why anyone in his position who had created something that I really enjoyed would be concerned about any sort of negative reaction to his work. It puzzled me. I told him that was crazy and he should have gone. But now that the tables are turned and it's my work that's coming out at Cybcon, I totally understand how Don felt. There's no real correlation between his work and mine as my trinkets are rather insignificant in the whole scheme of things, but now I understand where he was coming from and why he didn't attend Botcon '02.
When it came time to brainstorm and figure out what to do for the Cybcon convention exclusives, Richard and I threw out ideas. At the time I was getting the hang of making non-transformable PVC sized resin figures and I was also on a real War Within kick. I suggested that I could do War Within style seekers, possibly non-transforming robot mode figures of Skywarp, Starscream, and Thundercracker based on Figureoa's TWW designs. I was throwing out all sorts of ideas based on contemporary trends in the fandom. Richard wasn't as excited about those ideas as I was, and after he looked around my site he found that old page I had put up with the in-progress shots of the then abandoned cybertronian Bumblebee. So he raised that as a possibility, and I figured why not?
The Cybcon convention exclusives had previously been fan modified versions of widely available existing Transformer figures, and they were made in quanitites of 10-15 each year previous. I think that when Richard saw I was working on a project with an existing figure at it's core, he thought that's what he'd be getting. But while he was thinking we'd have to locate 10-15 Bumblebee keychains and a bunch of styrene, I was thinking about how the best way to tackle the project would be to engineer it myself and resin cast every part from scratch. I didn't mention I had changed my approach on the webpage, so at the time it looked like I was going to use a Bumblebee keychain and styrene to make the figure. I told Richard that a totally unique design and resin casting everything was the way to go with the figure, and I could probably make 30 units before the molds degrade to the point where they're unusable.
This is where I think Richard was wondering if I was for real. Nothing like this had ever been done at the time. What I was proposing was that I could make a fully transformable resin toy not based on any previously existing figure. The closest thing to convention exclusive molds in Transformer fandom were the recolored figures with retooled heads from the Botcons and OTFCC. To think that it was possible for an amateur to do a totally unique working figure and make 30 of them was probably a bit much. Heck, if I was Richard I wouldn't have believed me. That's one of the amazing parts about all this for me. I was a total stranger, yet Greg and Richard put their trust in me to get this job done. I could have bailed out at any point and said I wasn't going to do it, and they'd have to start from scratch. Like I say, I guess I'm not as trusting as they are.
At that point my life was in a bit of a transition. My wife and I had to move to Turkey a week after OTFCC '03. This was a big downer for me as I loved living in Tucson. But them's the breaks and we had to do what we had to do. When we got back to Tucson after the convention, all of our things were packed or already on their way to our new place. That's when I noticed I still had some unused bottles of resin lying around. I couldn't take them with me because the movers wouldn't ship chemicals and the resin was nearing its shelf life so I had to do something with it quick. One of the things I hadn't sent away yet was the tetrajet mold, because of the demos I did at the convention. So I figured I'd just make tetrajets until I used up all the remaining resin. I got 16 of them done, but I had no idea what to do with 16 raw castings. So I had an empty house and 16 raw resin tetrajets. I mailed them to myself before leaving for Turkey.
In August of 2003 I said goodbye to the US and hello Turkey. It was really tough because I had grown so comfortable living in Tucson, Arizona. It's a great place to live if you're a model maker or have hobbies that involve buying lots of styrene. I lived just outside of Seoul, South Korea before moving to Tucson, and Korea had an awesome modeling scene. The model stores there were fabulous. While Tucson wasn't as great as Seoul, it was still a great hobby town. I was worried that moving to Turkey would be the end of my easy access to model making materials, but I guess that's what the internet's for.
During our regular emails I told Richard that I had cast 16 tetrajets that I didn't really know what to do with. It seemed to me that the crazysteve WTF?!? convention exclusive idea was dead now that I was in Europe. I thought maybe I could paint up my jets like Skywarp and sell them at a European TF convention, but nobody in Europe knew me. I figured my online friends were the only ones interested in my resin tetrajets. I made some European online friends that were into TFs, but they had all gotten out of the hobby so I figured even if I went to a Euro convention I wouldn't have anyone who'd buy my stuff. I love seeing other people's custom work, but I've never shelled out money to buy it, and I didn't expect total strangers to do the same for mine. So I was stuck with 16 tetrajets and it was starting to look like I wasted a lot of resin.
That's when Richard proposed we use the jets as Cybcon toys. At first I thought he wanted me to paint them like Skywarp since that's what I told him I was thinking about doing. Then he told me it would be really cool to do them up in a an original paint scheme based on a generic color model used briefly in the cartoon. It would be a resin tetrajet version of a character created by Dave 'Zobovor' Edwards. Zob had gone as far as repainting a HoC figure in the proposed color scheme and he named the character Slaughterhouse. I think for a while they were considering doing PVC repaint Slaughterhouses as the 2003 Cybcon toys. Slaughterhouse really was Zob's baby and I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of using his paint scheme, honestly. Sure the tetrajet mold was uniquely mine, but I'm a bad painter and I was worried that my sloppiness wouldn't do justice to the character. I didn't mind goofing up my own ideas, but now I'd be goofing up somebody else's. At first I asked if Zob could paint the tetrajets, but he and Richard told me they had faith I could pull it off. I really wasn't comfortable with all the faith these guys were putting in me. Zob had waay more experience in painting and kitbashing than me. Didn't they know I was a rookie, and a messy one at that?
I got to Turkey and my worst fears were realized. There was absolutely no modeling scene. I couldn't find any store that had my favorite paint brand, Tamiya. I couldn't even find stores that sold models. The retail store on base where we live had a horrible selection of modeling matterials. They only had seven pegs worth of Testors brand paints in only four colors, and they were weird colors-silver, gold, yellow, and brown. Ugh. They didn't even have paint brushes. Luckily John Spangler gave me a ton of Testors paint brushes as a sort of joke going away present before I left Tucson. John goofs on me because I like those cheap Testor's brushes and he thinks they're horrible. So, faced with a craptastic selection of hobby materials, I realized that I'd have to get my supplies via mail order. Luckily I mailed myself some Tamiya paints before I left Tucson and they arrived with my raw tetrajets.
The great thing about being given so much time in advance of the show was that I could really take my time figuring out how the heck I was going to make those Bumblebees. At first I truly believed I had the ability to pull it off, I just wasn't sure how exactly I was going to do it. I looked at the previous Bumblebee prototyes I built from the keychain toy and styrene, and I wondered if starting from scratch was the right thing to do. I doubted myself and my engineering ability a lot. John was so much more advanced in that respect than I was. I hadn't figured out how to incorporate screws into my designs, and he was already doing that with Redline. I wished I could be back in Tucson and I could go over to his place and compare ideas like we used to. I was honestly feeling a bit deficient. There are many people in the Transformer community who are way more talented than I, and there's lots of them out there resin casting, too. Lucky for me they were too busy making reproduction parts and not original figures!
I spent a few months second guessing myself, my abilities, and not being quite sure if I was the right guy for the job. I knew I'd be able to come up with something, I just didn't know if it would be good. Greg and Richard were really nice guys and I thought that even if I came up with something crappy they'd still be polite and supportive and they'd probably use it. But I wanted them to be happy with their convention exclusive. I didn't want them to think they had to go along with whatever crappy thing I came up with. So I made it clear in my emails to Richard that I'd totally understand if at any point he and Greg decided to go in a different direction and have Zob do something else. Richard was really understanding. In fact, he even gave me an out once. He emailed me and asked me if I felt I could pull off the Bumblebee idea, because he could have something else lined up and it wouldn't be a problem. That was the moment of truth. I decided that I was selling myself short if I didn't give it a shot and see the project through. If it sucked it sucked, but I owed it to myself to try, and try hard. I told Richard I was sure I could do it and we went forward from there.
(After I finished and Richard got the Bumblebees, I asked him in an email what back-up plan they had if I didn't come through. His answer was really interesting but I'm not sure if I can relate it here without permission. I'll ask him and see if he'll let me tell that story.)
I began work on the projects in earnest starting January of 2004. First up was the tetrajets. I was really greatful that Ace Resin ships pretty much anywhere. I got the feeling that they're a company with lots of customers living overseas. Thanks to their prompt shipping, I ended up making more than the original 16 tetrajets. I decided to keep pouring resin until I ran that mold into the ground. I kept making more until the mold was totally destroyed. It was fun to see just how much abuse I could put it through. The final number of useable jets was 24. I painted 21 of them as close as I could to the paint scheme that Zob came up with, and I kept one for myself. They were the first things I shipped off to Richard and I was pretty happy to find out he was happy with them. But that was the easy part. Painting 20 tetrajets may have been a bit boring and repetitious, but it was nowhere near the challenge that making the Bumblebees would be.
It took me a month to do the first 20 jets, and as I started painting the last three I started really thinking about how I was going to do the Bumblebees. I began doing rough sketches of how I figured the transform would go, but it wasn't something I figured out all at once. It took weeks of thinking and mulling over possibilities. The way I planned it, I wanted to draw out every little part of the figure before I'd start making the prototype. So for about a month from mid January to mid February I was obsessed with figuring out the transform. I swear I even dreamed about it once. I didn't know how I was going to make the head work, and the legs in particular had me confounded. I just didn't know how I was going to get those legs to come out of the main body. One night I dreamed I completed the toy and I was playing with it. I remember thinking in the dream, "Oh, so that's how I did it!" But unfortunately I couldn't remember the specifics of how the toy worked in the dream. I woke up flustered.
So I was determined, but the engineering was proving difficult to figure out. One thing that was hard about the project was that I was alone working on it. I didn't have friends here in Turkey that were into TFs I could bounce ideas off of or show what I was doing. My wife was very supportive and she can appreciate the little things I make, but she isn't into Transformers and she's not much of a toy designer. Since it had to be a secret I couldn't tell anyone online what I was working on, but what I really wanted was someone in real life to talk with like I used to do with John Spangler in Tucson. I accepted that I was working on it alone, but I still could have used some encouragement. So I'd read the various Transformer message boards and use their search functions to look up terms like 'cybertronian mode' or 'cybertronain kitbash'. I'd get results where people would post about how cool it'd be if someone would make cybertronian Bumblebees or something similar. It made me smile and I felt like what I was working on was worthwhile and something people would like. It was as close as I could get to a real life pep talk.
At the onset of the engineering phase I wondered why nobody had done anything like this before. I wondered why the people out there with resin casting ability hadn't attempted something like this. I knew there were talented people out there, and I knew they were in the Transformer fandom. I figured it was just a matter of time before things came together and some fan out there made the first unique mold convention exclusive, official or otherwise. I was convinced that it would happen soon if I didn't do it. I felt that even if my design was primitive or lame, at least I could say that I was the first person to do a unique mold TF fan convention exclusive. It was a goal that I felt was worth working towards, and I was doubly excited that I was doing a fully transformable figure. Then that's when I realized there were a couple of Transformer fan conventions coming out before Cybcon. What if one of those had some sort of unique figure? It didn't have to transform, it could be something like the HoC scale original figures I was resin casting at the time. As long as it was totally original and not based on a previously existing figure, anyone could claim the title of first unique mold convention exclusive. So I held my breath and hoped that Dotcon in Singapore, Auto Assembly in the UK, and Cybercon and Botcon in the US wouldn't beat me to the punch. As it turned out, Botcon came the closest. Why those guys didn't just go with a totally unique design I'll never know. They surely had the talent and ability to do it. I'm kind of glad they didn't, though!
I could only do so many drawings before I had to break out the Sculpey clay and start sculpting. The vehicle mode was where I chose to start. I took one drawing I did of an overhead view of the vehicle and I plopped some clay down right over it and started shaping. I began forming the vehicle mode as one solid piece. There were some styrene parts I had fabricated back in August of '02 that I dug out and positioned next to the clay. Those styrene parts were the wings, forward hood area, and cab. I wasn't going to use the styrene pieces in the final design but they were good references that kept me in the scale I wanted. So that's how I started-with a mound of Sculpey and a drawing.
At that point I wasn't really thinking about the transform and I just wanted to get the vehicle mode into a recognizeable shape. Even though I started sculpting I still didn't know how everything was going to work. I don't think it would have been possible for me to plan out everything before I started sculpting. There were just some things that would have to be figured out as I molded the physical forms and made my first prototype. I remember reading an online interview with Kobayashi Hironori, the guy who designed Takara's Masterpiece Convoy, and he stated that he was able to think up the whole transformation process for that figure in his head and thus they didn't have to make a prototype to figure out the transform. I thought to myself, damn, I can't even figure out how to do a simple minicar and that guy can design masterpiece level transforms in his head. It must be nice to be talented like that, but then there is always the possibility that I am mildly retarded and everybody can do it that way!
As I began the earliest phases of the project I started taking pictures of everything. It wasn't so I could look back on what I had done, it was so I could have something to show Richard to prove I was working on the Bumblebees. If I was in his place I would be a bit nervous about the whole thing, so I wanted to keep him updated on the progress of the project. I ended up taking 286 pictures total throughout the whole project, emailing him four or five at a time whenever there was any sort of significant progress. I wanted him to be confident that I was going to come through. Like I say, I wouldn't have trusted a total stranger halfway around the world with something as important as my convention toys. It sounds weird, but maybe I was sending him pictures to prove to myself that I was working on it. There were times when I couldn't believe what I was doing. I'd wake up some days and look at my work area and I'd see all these figures and it would trip me out. I'd think-did I do that? That's pretty cool!
There was a point where I had to figure out exaclty how I was going to engineer the legs. They were the single most difficult part of the tranform to nail down. Every other part was relatively easy. I'm not some master designer so I wasn't worried about articulation or complexity for complexity's sake, I just wanted to make something that could stand up as a robot. That was really all I wanted. I was at my wit's end trying to figure out how I was going to get the legs to work. I only had so much space I could use within the framework of the body as I had designed it and it couldn't be too complicated because I still hadn't figured out how I was going to join the parts together. It was a real problem. I never mentioned any of these concerns to Richard because I didn't want him to think I didn't know what I was doing or that I was making it up as I went along, when in fact that's exactly what was happening. My plan was to tackle the problems as they presented themselves, and now I was at the point where I had to figure out the legs before I could continue.
I must have spent hours just staring at that little clay car, wondering how those robot legs were going to come out. Hours. Whenever I'm working on these long, drawn out, time consuming projects I like to have Brian Kilby's Radio Free Cybertron playing on my computer. It just helps, I can't explain why. Well there's a part in one RFC where Brain talks about how he'd like to find the motivation to continue making shows but sometimes he finds himself just staring at the wall for hours. I thought that was so funny because I knew exactly how he felt. Here I was at a total impasse. I had writer's block, except for robots. For hours I sat at my workdesk, just staring at clay. I think I passed out. Then I wiped the drool from my face and looked up and there was the answer sitting on top of my computer monitor. It was Wheelie!
Before I left for Turkey I divided my collection into two sets of toys-stuff I can't live without, and TFs I wouldn't mind losing if my house burned down tomorrow. The stuff I couldn't live without ended up in the care of my sister back in the states, and the TFs I didn't care about losing I took with me to Turkey. That way I could have at least a small part of my collection with me at all times. Wheelie was in the Turkey group. I put him on top of my monitor because he symbolizes someone's work that, however crappy, was realized in toy form. People like to point to that toy as one of the worst TFs ever, but somewhere out there is the guy who made it and even though he may not be happy with it either, heck, it got made. So he's a success story of sorts. Wheelie might suck, but some part of his designer lives on in every home of every person that owns one. His designer has reached a level of immortality that will last as long as there's even one Wheelie out there. I think that's something to be proud of. To know that we all have the potential to make crap, but that millions of people will still eat it is inspiring.
I looked up at Wheelie and it dawned on me that his leg transform was exactly what I was going to use. I would make my own parts and they'd be shaped differently, but the basic leg design would be Wheelie. I felt like I had overcome a huge hurdle. It was time to celebrate and eat pizza. Even though that day amounted to little more than staring at clay for hours and drooling on myself, I felt I had worked hard and damn it, I deserved extra toppings. So I celebrated. This project would be an enormous undertaking and there would be many bumps in the road and frustrating moments to come, so early on I decided that whenever any significant obstacle was overcome, I would take time to celebrate. If I waited until everything was totally finished before celebrating I would have been really uptight and angry and I'm sure the pizza wouldn't have tasted as good. Did the pizza at the end of the project taste better than all the slices before? Hell yeah it did, but the important thing was not those early slices, but what they represented. Progress. Progress in a project that I was only beginning to understand the enormity of.
Once all the major engineering was figured out and most of the sculpting done, I had a working transformable clay prototype. I was very excited and I took a bunch of pictures. I wanted to show Richard that I had a proto, so I wrote up a couple pages of HTML, zipped them along with the pictures and sent that to Richard. But for some reason he couldn't get the zip file to open. So I had to upload the whole thing to my website so he could see how far I'd gotten. This was deangerous from a secrecy standpoint as anyone who guessed correctly could have figured out what the URL was and seen what the Cybcon toy would be. Worse yet, Google sends out spiderbots to crawl webpages and archive them, so if anyone did a search for Cybcon even after I took the page down, it would have been possible to pull up a cached copy of the page that the Googlebots made. So what I did was I misspelled key terms in the HTML pages. For example, I would write "and here's how I figured out Bumblxbxx's transform". So unless you searched for Bumblxbxx, our secret would be protected. Paranoid? Yes. Anal? Probably. But once I got the clay prototype done I started thinking this was probably going to be pretty cool and I wanted to maintain the surprise as long as I could, Googlebots be damned.
With the working clay prototype finished, I began to formulate how exactly the rest of the project would go. I figured the clay proto would be the first step in the process, then I would make molds of it and cast a resin copy of it. That resin copy would then be refined until I had the shape I wanted. All of this had to be done because Sculpey is a horrible hard sanding medium. That is, you can't do any serious sanding on Sculpey because it's so delicate. Since the clay form was really rough I needed to be able to work on it further but I knew the Sculpey just wouldn't hold up. So that's why it had to be copied in resin. I can sand the hell out of resin and get it where I want it to be. Then the finalized resin copy would serve as the master and I would make the final molds off of that, and cast the 30 Bumblebees from that one.
To make the process easier to understand I ripped off a few terms from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion as I explained what I was doing to Richard. I named my clay master B00-the prototype. The first resin copy of the clay master would be called B01-the test type. The final production models would be called B02s. I kept B00 because I keep all my sculpey prototypes no matter what the project is. They're truly one of a kind and they're special to me. I don't feel the same about the B01 test shots, though. They're exact copies of the horribly rough clay master sculpt, and boy they're ugly. I can't stand looking at them, but they're a necessary step in the process. Once I made the first set of molds off the clay master, I made three B01s. The first one I assembled unpainted and I sent it off to Richard just to give him tangible proof that I was for real. The second one was the one I refined and it went on to become the master from which the production molds were made. The third one I saved to experiment on with different coloring techniques. I eventually gave that one to Greg Gaub at Botcon '04. After I was finished making the three test shots I recycled the rubber molds, so the ones I gave Richard and Greg are truly unique and I hope they never show them to anybody because they look horrible!
It took a hell of a lot of work to get to the test shot phase and I spent a month refining my B01, getting it to the point where the lines were smooth and all the parts fit and the thing stood up straight and all that. That took the whole month of March. It was an enormous amount of detail work. It's hard for me to explain just how much time and effort something like this takes to do. But something Mary from Ace Resin said to me kept playing over and over in my head. She'd always tell me, "If you want a perfect copy you've got to make a perfect master." So I really tried my damndest to make the master as best as I could, and it took a lot of time. Are the final Bumblebees perfect? Well no, they're still pretty rough by contemporary standards, but I put a lot of my heart and soul into making them and I hope that at least comes through. The love I had for the project was the only thing keeping me going at times. As the months went by I realized I needed a bit more time to work on these than I had been alloting myself. So I took a semester off and I didn't take any classes so I could devote myself to the Bumblebee project full time. This was all with my wife's blessing of course. When I told Richard I was putting college on hold because I really wanted to do this, he told me he hoped I didn't regret it later. Looking back I don't regret it at all. I've never cared much for school anyways. Don't tell your mom I said that.
It took me another two months after I made the final molds to cast, color, and assemble all 32 units. I mailed the completed Bumblebees to Richard on May 28 2004, a full month and a half before the show. It was a tremendous undertaking and I've outlined a few of the details on all the work I did in the picture galleries I made. At the end of it all I cannot describe how proud I was that I came through and delivered on my promise. When I left the post office on base after mailing them all off I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait for July 10th. Actually, Botcon 2004 was in mid June and I was able to meet Richard and Greg there in person. It was great to finally talk to the guys that I had only known over email correspondence. I had a great time at Botcon, but that's a story for another webpage I've gotta write.
I would be lying if I said I was always totally confident that I could pull off such an enormous undertaking. I doubted myself a lot every step of the way, but in the end it was important to me that I come through on my promise to Richard. I couldn't have lived with myself if I got everyone's hopes up and then bailed out halfway through. Besides, when I met Richard at Botcon I found out he's a really big guy and he could squash me like a bug. If I didn't come through on the Bumblebees I'd have to be avoiding him for fear he'd kill me!
I'd like to make it clear that we didn't do this to spite Hasbro or because we're some sort of toy manufacturing business. We weren't trying to make any deep commentary on the state of official convention merchendise nor were we complaining about how toy companies only do repaints for their fan conventions. We made these the first unique mold TF fan convention exclusives because we love the Transformers, and because we're all a little crazy.
The Cybcon 2004 toys will always be very special to me. The tetrajets were my very first resin casting project, and Bumblebee was the whole reason I took up resin casting in the first place. I am honored that those two big personal milestones were something I could share with a bunch of other fans who love TFs as I do. I'd like to dedicate this webpage to everybody who has ever had a dream that they had to put off for a little while because other things got in the way, and especially to everyone out there who (to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt) did the very best they could with what they had where they were!
Picture Gallery 1-Early Prototypes-My first failed attempts are shown here. These are the early prototypes I made back in August of 2002 when I tried to make a cybertronian Bumlebee out of styrene and existing Bumblebee toys. I scrapped these when I changed my approach and decided to engineer the toy myself from scratch.
Picture Gallery 2-B00 Clay Prototype-Pictures of the very first working prototype I made. B00 was my name for the clay proto, which was the first major step in the rebirth of the project. It was the clay master from which I made the very first set of molds that the testshots were cast from.
Picture Gallery 3-B01 Test Shot-B01 was the name I gave to the resin test shot of the clay master sculpt. Once I made this I further refined the shape and then made the final molds from it.
Picture Gallery 4-B02 Production Models-Here's when I cast the final 30 units and took them from raw resin to fully painted, fully assembled figures.