REMARKS 06/02/01 - 09/09/01

Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2001 1:06 PM

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09/09/01 Let me indulge myself... Yes, this has absolutely nothing to do with customizing unless you recognize the hobby to be an output function that's influenced by the stuff you take in. What you experience can't help but influence what you do (or don't do). See?

Customizing is fun, but I'd rather be in Cancun, hanging out at the beach in the lap of luxury. Eating grilled steaks and shrimp. Drinking funny-named drinks just to find out what they taste like. Totally relaxed, man... Taking in the view. Body surfing. Visiting Maya ruins and snorkelling coral reefs. Partying at night. Hanging out in a pool or jacuzzi. The list of worldly pleasures goes on and on, and I had no idea that raw hedonism was so much fun! (Well, actually I did-- but I just can't afford it on a regular basis.) In comparison, customizing seems so... flat.

You can't help but marvel at this oasis of pleasure on the periphery of the relatively resource-poor and jungle-covered Yucatan peninsula. Outside the hotel zone and the isolated pockets, the cocooning effect of big bucks tourism sharply drops off. It's a wild and barely tamed land with a long and mystical history, inhabited by proud, hard-working people (and large iguanas).

The tour of the Maya ruins at Chichen Itza was disappointing as an activity-- long bus ride, too little time at the site for exploring, an overly long and mind-numbing exposition about Mayan numerology from the tour guide, plus it was really hot and exhausting. The Cancun hotel and beach would have been more pleasurable. But despite these physical unpleasantries, experiencing the magnificent site inspires awe. That's something which lingers. It makes you curious about the history of the people, perhaps interested enough to do some supplementary study after-the-fact. That interest can branch out, from the Mayas to the Aztecs, and to the Incas of South America.

With Paradise still a strong memory, the temptation to create a Mesoamerican flavored figure (or a backyard replica of a pyramid) is strong. So is the urge to eat steaks. Since visual costuming references are damned hard to come by, I've been eating lots of charcoal grilled steaks and drinking Planter's Punch instead, hoping to recapture some of Paradise Lost.

This guy's a result of the of the Cancun experience, plus the fact that I've got some Neo Guy bodies that I didn't buy heads for. Initially, he looked more "normal", but I moved his mouth down (maybe too much) and gave him a receding chin, to make him look more "primal". Since Volks gives you a rubber head adapter plug, it was natural to use that as a basis for building up my own removeable head. (and it's much easier to remove this head than the optional factory made ones.) The hardest parts proved to be finding an approximate match for the tint (Volks didn't get it exact either) and tapering the joining area so that it presents a minimal seam where it joins the neck-- and still allows the top ball joint to work. That's tough with a rigid material since it can't be made thin without being brittle. The part about getting the matching tint is actually pretty silly since I'm not fond of the figure's natural color and I'll probably paint this one anyway.

As I said, Maya costuming references are absurdly difficult to find on the Internet, so this will be another one of those lazy fantasy creations. That's okay --I'm just revisiting the quasi-Mesoamerican influence that Verotik's "Jaguar God" has already stamped on my mongrelized and ever-evolving "Primal World" theme park. The headdress mockup gave me a chance to test whether Peacock feathers could approximate the look of a Quetzal feather-- hell, who knows? I've never seen a Quetzal feather. But it's a start. And the Barbie fur coat confirms that the basic mix is okay. All I need to do is find the motivation to plug onward...

06/24/01 See? I still do get around to customizing, and I do eventually finish stuff. But honestly, I'm much more into outdoors customizing-- landscaping -- at the moment. It's a more mainstream hobby, one which more folks can relate to (as opposed to trying to hide that look that sez, "...weird...").

Yes, miniature taxidermy is weird. A person's gotta be pretty weird to spend hours gluing hairs to a piece of leather. Or wanting to do this in the first place. Still, a weirdo's gotta do what a weirdo's gotta do. I decided to glue it instead of just cutting a piece of fur because the result is less fluffy, more pliable, and looks more to scale (even though the hairs' lengths aren't really to scale-- that's a shortcut sanity preserver). It also lets you control the "grain" of the hair and the placement of different hair textures.

Yes, there's something weird about making a miniature wolf pelt out of rabbit hair, cowskin and putty...

06/17/01-    For all practical purposes, it's summertime here in the Heart Of Texas and it's HOT. What better time to take a break from the hobby obsession and lug rocks around in the midday sun for another pond? Just a shallow one this time: the "perfect" place happened to be right on top of a humongous slab of rock that kept getting bigger and bigger as I uncovered dirt, searching for an edge to pry (which I never found). But it's a purdy thang, with a waterfall and lights, and suitable for waterplants and small goldfish. I'm gonna wait till much later to decide whether I want to stream the ponds together: Fancy plumbing adds to the difficulty of troubleshooting leakage problems (something I know from experience).

No new figure projects in the works, but I'm taking care of some minor things. One of those things was gold plating Queen Dragon Momma's chainmail choker (I don't have the stamina to wrestle with her Golden Globes yet). I hadn't checked this figure in a while, and dammit... one of her arms was loose! When I discover things like that, I immediately try to guess why it happened, while simulaneously considering what an hassle it's going to be to fix. The why is pretty clear: If you know these figures as well as I, you'll know that the reason she's called "Dragon Momma" (besides the Inframan gag) is that she's made from one of those broken and notorious for being breakage-prone Dragon figures -- Klaus/Hans/Gerhard. I thought those figures were salvageable, and even did a fix-it article. Since this is the second spontaneous breakage of this figure (the first was the repaired torso connection), I must now conclude that those figures are unsalvageable. Lost causes. Time-wasters. Junk. The quality of the plastic sucks, and anything short of totally re-engineering the design of high-stress areas will probably fail. That's what I've had to do to fix her. For the original torso repair job, I stayed faithful to Dragon's spring-loaded design. But when that broke some time down the road, I said "screw it!" and adapted it to the vintage Joe design. This time, I said "fuck it!", gutted the rest of the torso interior and cross-elasticized the arms, similar to... gee? A vintage Gee-Eye Joe. Hasbro really knew what it was doing back then.

Which leads very nicely into what Hasbro's doing today. I haven't been a very active patron of the TRU circuit lately, so I was a bit out of the loop about most of the stuff people have been talking about. Natch, I had to see for myself. Even though I didn't feel tempted enough to buy anything, it's clear that Hasbro is launching a major blitz. The giant has awakened. Obviously, the movie "Pearl Harbor" offered a big opportunity and they're throwing more resources than usual into drumming up interest in GI Joe, generally. Whether the general public will buy it is something we'll have to wait and see, but I have a gut feeling that Pearl Harbor's coattails won't be that long. And I'm somewhat skeptical as to whether Joe will ever rule the toyshelves as it once did-- the world's changed a lot in 30 years. And if Hasbro has disappointing sales, they may turtle again. I think that they have a tendency to set themselves up for disappointment, by flooding the market with too much product in such a short timeframe. Yoda might say that they have no patience. Still, it's nice to see them play the game as if they really cared.

Of the new stuff, I can't say that I'm particularly thrilled about the "Gung Ho Grip". While it may have great play value, it's definitely not a looker-- besides being grossly oversized. However, the figures it's currently available on are kinda neat-- the idea of offering different headsculpts for a figure is a good one. The only stuff I was tempted to buy were their foreign soldiers-- the Zero pilot looked pretty good with decent-sized hands and a nice headsculpt, and the Russian soldier also seemed well done. I was looking back and forth at 21C's Russian and Hasbro's, and decided that Hasbro's probably had the better balance of overall kewlness. But nowhere near the amount of gear. On the other hand, Hasbro's other Japanese offering-- the bald-headed guy-- looks ridiculous. Over at KB Toys, there are plenty of clearance bargains to be had on 21C's stuff. I finally gave in and bought their German Grenadier-- waiting was a good idea since after the product corrections had been made, 21C routinely put buttons on the Greatcoats and eventually packaged it with their new Super Soldier figure (which unfortunately, still can't stand). For the amount of stuff that this figure comes with, $15 is a great deal. It's also hysterically funny to see how much rubber 21C used in places where steel rings were obviously the best solution. Assuming that this was done to "protect the kids" per some child safety standard, the amount of frustration that a kid would have assembling this (and bending his own replacement rings) almost guarantees that a kid would hate this product. 21C deserves some kind of "Darwin" award.

I don't mean to rub salt in wounds. For us adult-type customizers, 21C was probably one of the best things to happen. Their puzzling market strategy worked primarily to our benefit-- it provided us with lots of great fodder that most of us wouldn't have been able to scratch build or sculpt, at a bargain price. Most of the fixes for their figures required simpler customizing skills, like making replacement straps, rings, and repaints, so it's very accessible. Taking a Formative Int'l figure to the same level would require much more work and skill. In this respect, 21 Century Toys' product was closer to a "model" than Dragon Model's. Dragon's stuff is more refined and finished out of the box, and hence, more Toy-like.

We'll have to wait to see what Jakks Pacific's likely acquistion of 21C will bring... In the meantime, despite some website changes, 21C is acting as if nothing has changed... right on down to their upcoming S&M Queen figure, The Baroness. That's one I'll definitely pick up at TRU! ;^)

06/10/01- Mall Gal, Variation #?    Rule #?: Never call a figure finished. Revisiting, experimenting with and recycling figures is fun and an economical way to approach customizing. It alleviates the problem of vanishing display space and makes those neglected and dust-gathering figures once again relevant. For this figure however, I can't say that I prefer this sorta "Aeon Flux-ish" look-- in fact I don't-- but it was easy to reverse and was an interesting diversion...

There are some more pics of the Volks Neo Guy figure on Z-Man's page, including a comparison with a Dragon figure. It looks very cool and the side-by-side comparison makes you wonder why Dragon did such a funky stylized body sculpt: In this direct comparison, it looks awful, LOL! Neo Guy appears to have some innovations, although the pics don't really explore them deeply. Technically, the shoulder turrets aren't really innovations, since the Neo Henshin Cyborg 99 has 'em... and from the rifle sighting comparison, it's not clear that they contribute anything to that pose. That pose tests the hand's articulation on the forward grip and the neck articulation. (A pistol-holding stance would have better shown the shoulder articulation.) The neck articulation is clearly better than Dragon's, although that's not saying much. One of their best ideas is the neck connector, designed with an adaptor for the "standard" head. Now that's a hopeful sign from a manufacturer! Unfortunately, that concept isn't followed through: The hand's articulation and redesign doesn't appear to be an improvement-- there doesn't seem to be an additional rotation axis (like Sideshow Toy's figure), and switching hands for gloves in this manner is of dubious benefit (much simpler just to pull out the whole wrist/hand assembly, the way Dragon currently does this). On top of that, the disassembled hinge looks fragile and doesn't seem to be more than a simple friction fit. That raises a minor flag: Volks' female figures have a slight "model kit" quality to them. Their hands pressure-fit into a slot and can fall out unless you glue 'em in. It's also unclear whether the extra torso sockets do anything of value except increase the assembly part count and make the figure look more complex. I remind you that this is just speculation based on what it looks like to me. Obviously, a more informed review is going to have to wait until these things are released to the general public; from a submission in the Guestbook, that could be sometime in August for around 30 bucks?

UPDATE, 06/11/01: From the Guestbook, Paulo provides more pics of Neo Guy which answer some of my questions: The torso articulation really does make a difference, and the the additional views show the utility of the added shoulder articulation a little more clearly. This looks like a great figure folks, and thanks to Paulo and others in the Joe community for giving us this heads-up.

I stumbled across a site from a nearby-parallel universe, where plastic figures also get augmented with oversized boobs and put up for sale: Fury Dolls. It's a Mike Cherry-like enterprise from the Barbie universe, where there's apparently little awareness of, or interest in the Joe universe. There's the obvious overlap in the appeal to male hormones, but what's also interesting is the area of differences. True to the Barbie universe (and what seems to distinguish the universes), is an apparent disinterest in the quantity of articulation, and a focus on the tailoring of outfits and hair styling. Regardless, for the open-minded and hormone-ruled, there's some off-beat and imaginative work worth perusing.

06/06/01- He's dead, Jim!    It's nice to be in a relaxation mode, working on little things like this. My brain is empty of ideas for Figures-I-Must-Make, and compulsions for Things-I-Must-Buy. Serenity is actually a pretty good feeling, once you get used to it.

Little wolfie here is one of those stylish headwear things, but I'm not making it for any specific figure. It's just an idea I've been curious to try, centered around the technique angle. It's kind of a tough modelling problem. You could make something like this as a sculpture since that's the most obvious way to get the shape, semblance of texture and coloration-- a manufacturer would probably do it in flexible plastic, and you can easily visualize the result. It's also easy to see that getting a soft, wrap-able fur-like body skin mated with the head is a problem: If you do the whole thing in a flexible plastic (or latex), the body skin should be very thin to be as flexible as fur-- difficult to do, with the dimensional thickness that sculpted texture would add. And awfully fragile, if you were able to do it. Real fur, leather or fabric seems like a more practical and workable choice for this body section. You could do a hybrid-- sculpted head and material body --but mating the two sections would look cheesy, no? So that's the thought process I went through when I decided to sculpt the head, cover it in fur and blend that into the fur of the body section. (That would be the next step here... but I'm extremely confident.)

As usual, there are some trade-offs. The hairs of the fur covering are severely out-of-scale, and make wolfie look kind of like a rat. You don't have that problem with sculpted detail. Still, it has an organic textural realism that you can't achieve with painted sculpture, kinda like taxidermy. (I'm still waiting for some more ballsy customizer to do the H.R. Giger thing...)

[About 5 minutes after I uploaded this, my wife comes in from work and sees this on the kitchen countertop-- steps back, grossed out, thinking it's a rat's head...]

06/02/01- Post-Minerva/Lindsey thoughts: It's hard for me to accept, but I like the way the quickie Lindsey figure looks more than the month-long Minerva project. Maybe I'm just too sick of that one to feel anything about it, other than glad it's over?

Buffy's here, and I don't know what to say! So... I won't be doing a review-- there are already plenty on the net. There really wasn't much surprise for me since I'd already seen the pics and read the reviews, and from those, I expected to be somewhat disappointed. Still, it's exciting to get that package you've waited months to receive: You've gotta see for yourself.

The reviews were right-- the feet suck. Molded boot-feet don't bother me, but ankles that don't work do. It's an overly tall and skinny figure (Jacqueline/Matilda-sized), with lots of articulation. The head does look a little large, but not horribly as some pictures indicated. The facial likeness is very good although the expression is a little catatonic. The crossbow looks kewl and has a great finish, but wasn't as detailed as I'd expected.

One big component of the disappointment is Hype. Their website presentation (naturally) made her look great. In person, she's good, but she's not great. For the consumer, disappointment is one of the risks of preordering and buying anything sight unseen. Expectations fulfilled or unfulfilled has a huge impact on a company which elects to do direct sales on a preorder basis.

I think that some of my disappointment comes from having too high expectations from a new toymaker, Sideshow Toy. Their first releases were very promising with new features to get excited about, so some weaknesses of those product were overlooked. I guess there's a natural (maybe unrealistic) assumption that the future stuff will be even better. Realistically, they're just another toymaker who makes figures designed for the mass market, despite their recently changed distribution focus. These are MSRP $25-$30 figures, utilitizing the familiar construction techniques and materials of comparable figures in this price range, with a few extra tricks thrown in. So you shouldn't expect much beyond the familiar mass production thinking (make it cheaply).

The feet are indicative of this type of thinking. By now, toymakers should realize that the soft plastic hinge construction does not work well if you're designing a figure to stand unassisted. If your mindset is MIB Collectible, maybe that's not important. They've extended this use of questionable materials to other areas too: the rotation joints in the limbs don't have that sure, solid and smooth twist of a nylon bicep rotation pin, or even the hollow & mated feel of a two-piece hard plastic-enclosed pin... Instead, you get a rubbery PVC pin inserted between the harder plastic segments. When it works as designed, it works okay (even though the flexibility allows the pieces to bend away from each other-- not a good "feel" design) If the pin binds, then you're just bending rubber when you should be rotating. In addition, the ball-socket joints of the torso and neck don't have much stay-put range and have that funky "why bother?" feel... and the legs have that destined-for-floppiness design curse. But within low-cost modern figure parameters, it's not surprising-- you get what you pay for.

Naturally, Sideshow Toy is very conscious about designing things out to meet their targeted price point; the outfit and accessories further illustrate this balance of cost and value. The heavy solid molded rubber "Vampyr" book and the crossbow are both good, but would have been much more cool (and expensive) if they'd been more functional. The outfit is appropriate, but minimalist and nothing to get excited about: The subject matter justifies that. Throw in a couple of molded plastic stakes, a flat plastic stand and you've got a middle-of-the road figure set priced to sell at or around $25. The price/value ratio doesn't compare well against 21C's Jacqueline/Matilda figure, but this is a licensed product, which adds to the overhead.

A point worth mentioning is that this isn't being marketed to folk like me. The typical Buffy fan isn't interested in esoteric construction details. While I like the show, I don't need a plastic idol of Ms. Geller for a shrine, and I don't have any desire to create Buffy adventures-- I'd rather Mr. Whedon make those Buffy stories, and I'll just watch 'em. I wanted to see what Sideshow Toy was gonna do with their first female figure.

This has helped me make my decision about preordering their Monty Python figures. I like Monty Python and their movies, but I'm not looking to erect a shrine to them either. The Medieval costuming is cool, but November's an awfully long time to wait for a heap of fair-quality figures in (probably) fair-quality outfits. Like I said, you get what you pay for. And I suppose that as a customizer, the cost has become less important to me than the desire to be really impressed. I should give up ranting about this stuff, but I still hold hope that someday a manufacturer will approach figure design with an uncompromising passion, designed from both the heart and mind. But good news: Thanks to Volks, I get to keep dreaming, hoping someday to see their Neo Guy made available to us (so I can bitch about it!).

In terms of customizing potential, at this time, I'm not convinced that Sideshow Toy products are good prospects, especially their female body design. Customizing is a stable, long-term hobby which favors using stock, well-established figure designs. ST's products are produced in a brief window of time in limited quantities, depicting specific individuals and with little priority given to fitting in with the increasingly disordered "standards" of the hobby. Sure, with enough cutting and gluing, these aren't absolute limitations. But they do make their figures less accessible for these purposes. The first question that will likely pop up is how to do a headswap: Their unique design doesn't make the task a no-brainer, and the limited availability of their figure isn't likely to motivate many third parties to make it a no-brainer. With their production strategy, ST would have to find quite a few female personalities to render with their body design to give it some hope of longevity.

Meanwhile, Takara's/BBI's "Cy-Girls" line is making rapid inroads in this area by producing lots of variations on their theme-- something you can easily do if you're producing generic, outfit-defined figures instead of specific media personalities. Hasbro is probably the current de facto leader in this by having been there first (after the old standby of last resort, Mattel's "Barbie"), but has only haphazardly devoted resources to protecting this. To this day and two floundering tries later, Dragon seems to be thrashing about in their efforts to produce their standard female figure...

So there... Aren't you glad I didn't do a review?

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