Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2001 7:51 PM


12/21/01-- Change in Plans: This is an easier, lighter, and less esoteric way of doing the shoulder hinges. The retaining pin on the arm from the spare parts bin (a CC Joe?) fits snug into the cut off retaining pin from the kit's arm. That creates a more solid structure which can be pushed into the hole in the vinyl body. The fit between these three parts is tight (for now), creating a fair amount of friction. Hopefully, this will be adequate to deal with the weight of a completed arm. The structure is not as rigid as I'd like, but that's the nature of vinyl kits.

Another advantage of using this part is that the upper arm covering can be easily screwed to the piece, if desired. It's important that the covering be removable to put the bellows material on and to make repairs if necessary.

Looking further down the design road-- it seems like the forearm's hinge could plug into the upper arm to give you an elbow hinge. An extension of the retaining pin might be necessary. The hinge would need to be covered, which would deviate a bit from the kit's design. As is, I can't figure out how the design is supposed to work anyway-- some kind of ball and socket? I'm wary of taking the appearance of the mechanics too seriously though.

12/22/01-- Even if you don't bother with trying to make the suit "wearable", adding the poseable arms adds a lot to the model, transforming it into a poseable figure. With a figure like this, you're not going to get the expressive posing of a regular figure: There's no neck or head and waist articulation is effectively nil. The legs may not be worthwhile messing with since even if they were articulated, there wouldn't be a huge range of poseability-- the suit's just too bulky for it to do the same kinds of things that a ganged hinge figure can do. So for these hardsuits, the arms alone express most of what the figure's trying to do. The best part is that it's the easiest way to radically customize the model, with a high payoff for your effort.

For my quickie conversion, the CC Joe forearm hinge is inserted only to the first stop in the upper arm-- this makes the upper arm just a little bit longer. I sliced the end ringed segments off of the suit's upper right arm to increase the poseable range at the shoulder and to make it shorter so that it didn't interfere with the forearm piece at the hinge. Where the arm coverings were loose (forearms, left arm), I placed slit bellowed conduit over the arm, or into the opening. Several different sizes were used and the left forearm required 2 sizes, one on top of another. With these in place, the coverings slid onto the arms for a nice snug fit. No glue, no screws.

There is one strongly recommended modification to the CC figure's arms: Drill through the hinge pin and place a screw/washers/nut assembly there. This will keep the elbow good and tight, capable of holding poses with the extra bulk of the forearm additions. Mine didn't require this treatment at the shoulders.

The last step would be to find some kind of flexible covering for the articulation. I'm using the bellowed fabric, but any kind of flexible material would work-- The suit's original design doesn't use a bellowed material, so flexible vinyl would probably be more accurate anyway (if you care about such things).

Dad won't mind: If you see rubber pipes like this in Dad's car, go ahead and yank 'em out. They're just for decoration. That's what Eddie Haskell told me, and he should know since he builds models and races slot cars.

The smaller pipe really does work well: Three-rung sections are glued to the openings in the girdle and the bottom rung is worked into the opening at the leg. When suited up with the Cy Girl figure, the figure's thighs are held snug, the head is at a height which gives enough clearance for the 2-part hatch assembly, the legs can be positioned front/back/inside/outside (slightly) plus they can be rotated, which is helpful for balance. When the figure is removed, the legs stay on the suit. If you jam the legs down tight (shown in the "loose" position-- you can fit the second rung in the leg for a smaller gap), the suit can stand without the figure, and adjust it so that it doesn't have that stooped-over pose. This seems to be another easy win-win modification which looks and works better than the vinyl nubs/openings that it replaces. You don't even have to make the suit wearable or do anything with the knees or ankles. You just need to find one of those nifty pipes... (I found 'em in the parking lot of a demolished service station.)


12/26/01-- "The hardest part" isn't something that you can know until you've finished a project. Since I'm writing a running commentary, it's possible for me to erroneously christen a modification option as "the hardest part"; that is, until I run into something even harder! Well, this is one of those steps which I would be tempted to call "the hardest part."

This is unfortunate. Putting a working hatch on the kit is prerequisite for modifications that rework the kit's interior for inserting a figure. Even if you don't, it would be nice to have a working hatch to expose the hatch underside and cockpit detailing. Without a working hatch, your options are to display the hatch open using the faux hinge stick, or displaying it closed with the hatch laying on top the cutout-- tip the figure and the hatch slides off. Very uncool (and irritating).

Besides construction of the hinge, there are several other general issues which make this difficult. The very first problem which you run into is the poor fit of the hatch and the underside detailing. These are provided as two separate pieces which, in the case of the SAFS (but not the Fireball SG) are crudely molded with tons of excess material. This makes for a lot of dicey grinding (without grinding through) to get the pieces thin enough so they'll fit together AND fit in the hatch opening. You've gotta do this whether you make a working hinge or not.

The second difficulty is the thickness of the hatch "sandwich" and the limited headroom in the cockpit. If you've fit the two hatch sections together, the result is a fairly thick sandwich of parts. When you place a head within the cockpit--depending on the particular head-- there's a chance that there won't be enough clearance to close the hatch fully. The insertable figure route should give you a little more leeway, you'd think... But it doesn't. Depends on the figure, I suppose. The Cy Girl can't be made shorter from the crotch to the head except by leaning her back within the suit. Without the Max Steel helmet, there's enough clearance for her to lean forward with the hatch sandwich closed. But with the helmet on and the figure leaning forward, there isn't enough clearance for the hatch detailing. As you can see, the fit is extremely critical in a lot of areas, and the figure you choose can be extremely important.

You can also see that a number of modification decisions are intertwined. Even if you chose not to remove the padded deck, fitting a working hinge would probably require some amount of cutting into that area. Because I've gone the full blown route, I'm facing a number of decisions which compromise Kow's design in one way or another. To accommodate the insertable figure, I may have to abandon the padded deck concept and completely redesign the interior so that it's figure-friendly. I also may have to redo the hatch detailing in order to gain extra clearance-- probably by shaving off the detail and gluing it to the hatch underside. These are decisions I regret having to make since I'd rather have the conversion be faithful to the original design. But my priority is to make the suit "work" (and I like the Max Steel helmet); regrettably, some of the kewl aesthetic things will be sacrificed to functionality.

So, what about the hinge? I decided to mount the hinge on the side rather than the back because I thought I could do it and wanted to conform to the original design, if possible. The brass hinge shown above could be considered attempt #3. I first diddled around with using bent wire with the underside detailing and got very frustrated. Hinges aren't really that complicated, but in this case the clearance and fit requirements called for something beyond a simple door hinge. That's where it gets into the mysterious voodoo of parts design. I'm not a mechanical engineer but instinctively, I knew that the hinge would require some kind of curved, sliding component in order to keep it fairly unobtrusive. I mucked around half-assedly, wondering how I was going to attach the lame contraptions and ultimately gave up in disgust. You've got to be in the right frame of mind to do this kind of thing.

My second attempt took a "just fuckin' work!" approach: a vinyl strap superglued between the parts. This actually did work-- it allowed the hatch to fit flush when closed and held it open at the proper angle. It had one problem though: In closed position, if the hatch was bumped out of its seal, it would slant diagonally. That's the problem with using a vinyl strap-- it allows that sort of thing. But it's also partially due to putting a downward sloping hinge on the side: Gravity pulls the hatch and hinge forward and downward and it puts more strain on the back of the hinge. So this called for a more rigid hinge. Even without this problem though, the vinyl hinge was funky as hell, and I couldn't live with it.

Attempt #3 was a "bite-the-bullet, cross-yer-fingers" attempt. I didn't have the knowledge to scientifically design the pieces required, so I eyeballed them and hoped for the best. I wouldn't know whether it worked until I completely assembled and fit the hinge. I also knew that I wouldn't have the patience to keep recreating and fitting these brass parts until trial and error got it right. Fortunately, I got it right the first time (or else this project might have drifted off into obscurity). The opening and closure are good, the fit is okay (flexible vinyl presents some problems for precision fitting) but the side mounting is still a bit of a problem due to the slight amount of play in the way the hinges are attached to the vinyl. That was its own separate problem.

Installing the hinge wasn't easy either, due to the limited access to the tight area (in a way, like working on a car), the materials involved and consideration of the appearance. Above all else though, the hinge should be attached so that the hatch fits! This isn't easy when you can't attach the hinge with the hatch closed. So there's a lot of finger crossing when you commit to where you think the hinge should be.

The most secure way to attach metal to vinyl is with screws. That worked for the lower attachment because the screw could be fairly well hidden by the edge of the hatch, open or closed. I didn't want to do this for the hatch attachment though since there would be visible screws through the top of the hatch. For that, I used a combination of contact cement and Zap-A-Gap. Zap-A-Gap bonds well with vinyl, but only so-so with metal; shearing forces easily pop the bond. Hopefully, the pliable contact cement (boot glue) will act as a last line of defense. The "play" in the part actually comes from the tentative, experimental means of attachment. I didn't know if I'd get the positioning right so I drilled a single screw hole throught the vinyl and hinge. The top attachement is designed so that the hatch could be removed if necessary, without removing the entire hinge.

As I mentioned, the closed position fit is only okay... trial and error construction and flexible vinyl aren't the best formula for achieving a tight, precision fit. (hey, pressing down on the hatch, it fits perfectly!) This might be helped by the addition of a retaining flange on the opposite side, since that would keep the hinge in better alignment. At the very least, it would keep the hatch from falling open whenever the figure is tipped from the vertical orientation (which happens a lot when you're working on it). Of course, that's another functional divergence from the original suit design.


12/27/01-- It's hard to show a bunch of different things in one picture, but I can try... The hatch underside was detailed as described above. I reused a few of the details from the front of the hatch where there was adequate space. Towards the center and back, I made up my own low profile stuff, including a fabric pillow/pad. It doesn't look very integrated so I guess it needs some more work. (Making the hatch removeable was a good idea.)

Although I could have used the original pillowed deck (by placing it around the figure's neck and devising a means for securing it), I chose not to. Instead, I used a more traditional upholstered interior. The advantage, as I see it, is that it's more convenient and seems more "honest". The figure is inserted into the suit and doesn't have to then be fitted with the faux padded frill (looking like the monster Jirass, for you Ultraman fans). The upholstered interior is made with three pieces of foam rubber backed with cardboard; a coarse woven material is sewn to that. It's secured to the interior with velcro along the top and sides. Its main purpose is to define the cabin area and make it seem as though there might be mechanical stuff behind (instead of a big cavity of nothingness). The forward cabin is still undetailed, and I can see that the tight fit of the figure around the arms will make it difficult to disguise the kit's structural elements.

This may be an innovation: a hagged-out CY Girl? (She looks the way I feel.) I usually go the other direction with my fem-figs, but thought it would be fun and unusual to make her look tired and grungy. Hey, she's even got the familiar Joe scar on her cheek, so I guess she's one of the the boys now? Despite hacking off bunches of her hair, it's still kinda pouffy. Headgear is pending, now that I've decided that the Max Steel helmet looks too high-tech for the cast iron robotsuits of the future. I need to scent the cabin with Comino for that authentic "lived-in" smell.

Articulate, articulate, articulate. The robohands had this written all over them, so it seemed worth a try. I used the same approach I used in the "Artie" skeleton article, but due to the larger size, was able to make hinges with pins. It works, sort of... Vinyl has good friction characteristics, but cast in kit form, isn't terribly strong. I think it's the material's density: Bending one of the hinges produced a small tear in one of the hinge leaves (even though it was a fairly big chunk of vinyl), so I'm not eager to force the issue. The hand isn't really set up to hold anything anyway.

The hatch also screamed out to be articulated. I wasn't very impressed with the shallow scribed detail in the first place-- it seemed destined to disappear beneath the primer coat. So with a very steady and cautious hand, I cut the hatch out. That was extremely nerve-racking, knowing that a slip or a straying cut would fark things up royally, and with very few good options for patching things up. I made a shallow box for interior parts detailing and attached a wire hinge to it. Working on this outside the figure made it much easier to see how the hinge was going to work, so I was able to avoid the usual trial & error routine. The only problem is that the panel fits so well in the body that it's hard to peel the edge to open it. I can live with that.

I'd like to thank Steve H. of boeing.com for the great tip about beveling edges to avoid chipped paint. At the time, I wasn't exactly sure of what he meant, but I ended up beveling the interior "handle side" of the panel door and the interior hinge side of the cutout. This gives the door the clearance it needs to do its thing without binding.

(pic 2) Whatever that thing's supposed to be (it's probably identified on an instruction sheet somewhere)... it needed to be articulated! I took the idea from a pic of a SAFS I'd seen somewhere. After slicing at the cut line, two brass rods were loosely fitted with heat-shrink tubes (for friction) which were glued to a piece of vinyl (to space them) which was glued to a carefully cut and drilled styrene cover (for a finished appearance) which was fitted and glued in the lower "chimney" opening. A second cover was placed over the rods, the rod ends were capped with heat-shrink tubing (firmly this time, to retain them); the HS tubes were glued to the cover and the cover was glued to the underside of the top vinyl piece. Whew. Got that? The lazy way would have been to use putty, but I think this ends up looking better. I also replaced the molded "lens" with a curved, clear plastic one. Wiring it with an LED would have been easy, but I couldn't think of a compelling reason to bother-- like I need more stuff with batteries?

I think that just about does it...? Well, except for the lens on the hatch. There's also a small panel on the backside, but I'm not gonna mess with it. The rest of the interior can be finished later. Does that mean it's finally ready to be painted? Maybe after the texturing. Y'know, the painting phase is supposed to be fun, but I feel strangely drained... especially when I think about the Fireball SAFS, the other SAFS which should be arriving shortly and the stack of 1:20 Ma.K. models sitting in the closet! How can fun seem like work??? This is prolly just a phase I'm going through.