Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2005 9:30 PM

Chances are that you don't have a clue who this is... That's because Ultraseven is the superhero of a Japanese TV show which originally aired in the sixties. These "Ultra" shows were the brainchild of Tsuburaya Eiji, the man behind Toho studio's (Godzilla) special effects-- not surprisingly, they center around monsters and aliens. The series began with a b&w show called Ultra-Q, which didn't star a superhero, but dealt with mysterious and eerie stuff, and introduced some "classic" Japanese monsters like Garamon, Kanegon and Pegira. Next came Ultraman, which was shot in color and shown in the United States dubbed in English. The camerawork of Ultraman was moody and artfully done, and unlike today's shows, the scripting doesn't feel as though it were "dumbed down" to appeal only to children. Whereas Ultraman mainly fought giant monsters, Ultraseven usually fought evil aliens who plotted to take over the Earth. Ultraseven is regarded as one of the best of the Ultra series with its serious themes. It's the last of the "vintage" Ultra shows which didn't seem to blatantly pander to children.

More recently, Turner Broadcasting aired English dubbed versions of the show-- sort of. The hackneyed editing and jocular translation seemed designed to mock the show rather than just present it. On the other hand, maybe it just doesn't translate well in today's jaded climate, and to Western culture? However, on the other side of the world, Ultraseven lives on-- two feature-length TV shows were released a few years ago, and three made-for-video shows were released this year. Members of the original cast play integral roles, with an older Moritsugu Koji reprising his role of Moroboshi Dan, aka "Ultraseven". Additionally, the Ultra series is still showing on TV in Japan; Ultraman Dyna (with CGI effects) just finished its season.

(photo) Ultraseven among some of his Bandai friends: Vira Seijin, King Joe, Borg Seijin, Icarus Seijin, Godora Seijin & Eleking.

If you've read this far, you've probably figured out that this offbeat subject matter has some personal significance to me. It does. I grew up in Asia, and watched this stuff on TV-- I had lots of plastic and vinyl monster models, courtesy of an overly generous grandmother. In fact, my very first GI Joe "Custom" was probably an Ultraseven alien I sculpted in plasticene over a GI Joe body, carefully applied tiny scraps of paper mache over, sanded and then painted. He didn't have much articulation left, but he was really cool.

In recent years I've acquired videos of the shows and have had the pleasure of reliving this nostalgia. It's amazing that you can still remember obscure pieces of trivia (like monster names and bits of dialogue) that you learned as a kid, considering that I have trouble remembering what I ate yesterday!

This project was fairly standard, technique-wise. During the preplanning phase I mentally went over the different areas of the project, thinking of how I might solve specific problems through using different materials. This is generally what I consider to be the idea/inspiration phase. It's enjoyable, and something that can be done when your mind is idle, like while driving to work. It's during this phase when you either decide to go ahead with a project or realize that there's a problem that you have no satisfactory way to solve. In some cases, you can overlook minor problems and hope that later you come up with solutions. So even before touching a blob of clay, I had a fairly good idea of how I'd do all the parts of this project, including the types of molds I was going to use, material I'd have to buy, and tests I'd have to run.

The head sculpt itself took many, many hours. The biggest challenge with a mechanical looking sculpt is getting good symmetry and smoothness. For this, I decided to use Super Sculpey, knowing full well that-- because of the various projections and depressions in the design-- the clay sculpture might not survive demolding. I was fortunate though: my mold was thin enough to permit gentle demolding, yet rigid enough to cast without distortion, even without a mother mold. While there's no good reason to agonize over the condition of a pattern once you've got a good mold, it's still somehow comforting. On the other hand, if your pattern is damaged and the mold is flawed, you've got a problem. The neck and head were cast in rigid resin, and the blade along the top of his head was made from styrene plastic.

The neck and shoulder armor were more sloppily sculpted directly on a bare body. They were only baked enough to provide a hard surface for molding-- in fact, during demolding they were damaged. No great loss, since I'd intended to scrape them them off anyway. These were cast in tinted latex rubber.

I decided to use Spandex for the suit, although the authenic costuming is made of rubber. Unfortunately, rubber causes some difficulties at this scale-- it's just not flexible enough at a reasonable thickness. I must admit that I hate Spandex-- not only does it flaw easily when snagged, but it's frustrating to sew. It's very limp and keeps trying to slip from your hands: This makes it difficult to align. The solution was to tack the pieces together with a temporary glue before sewing. Another new experience for me was the problem of installing a zipper in the back. I had to trim the zipper to size and install wire zipper stops, then figure out how to sew the thing to the outfit. I'll look in a sewing book soon to figure out if I did it right...

The stripe pattern was a minor detail I hadn't considered until I encountered it. I ended up gluing ribbon on, although I did a number of tests painting it on scraps. Likewise, other adhesive tests were conducted to determine the best product to use for attaching rubber parts, like the shoulder armor.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the fact that the brown Soldiers of the World boots took paint so well. I had expected this to be a problem, since they were made of rubber and paint tends to flake off rubber pretty easily.



Hoo boy! There's more Ultraseven stuff!