REMARKS 07/09/02 - 08/31/02

Last modified: Thursday, September 5, 2002 5:23 PM

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"Ahhhhh yes... I was once the Lord of all Demons! Feared by all creatures of the world, my powers rivaled those of the gods... The ground quaked when I walked and the trees trembled when I spoke... And... Hey, what's with the face? I haven't told you this story before, have I?"

09/01/02- (right) IMPOTENTATE
...a staple of storytelling. Just like the good Duke Leto Atreides of Dune whose sole purpose is to not have what it takes so he can get offed and replaced by someone who does. This guy's the result of as much effort as befits his role: It's a re-haired and (poorly... arrrgh!) re-eyeballed head from a weird scientist figure I picked up at Suncoast a while back. He's wearing half of a Rio Rondo bridle as his glorious crown. Fortunately, I had a spare armoured chestplate from the electroforming project, which I painted with a "hammered metal" spray paint (looks like my charcoal grill's finish). He probably won't need more than that since everything else is covered by a Qui Gon Jin cloak. This guy's definitely a "furniture" figure.

08/22/02- ANOTHER FOOTSOLDIER CONCEPT? Viewing The Fellowship of the Ring rekindled my interest in making some kind of demonic footsoldier, hence this quickie clay doodle (left). I think it resembles a FOTR creature; or a vampire... but that's not surprising. The FOTR designs, while extremely well done, aren't revolutionary and were selected expressly to meet our expectations: Imagine the outcry if they hadn't!

That's perhaps one of the main limitations of this genre: It doesn't lend itself very naturally to the kind of design freedom that's resulted in the Star Wars or Alien creatures. (And even there, the general look-and-feel of the original groundbreaking designs has been imitated and plugged into some very B-grade movies.) The Fantasy genre has a long, established history. Since childhood I've been exposed to its conventions through Grimm's Fairy Tales, Disney movies, the Tolkien books, the Dungeons and Dragons fad... and everything else since, supplemented by some directed "research" (okay, browsing) on world mythology. While there's a lot of range in creature designs and to a lesser degree in costuming, they're all pretty well known. Consequently, to fit comfortably within this genre, designs are most often derivative, not revolutionary.

Within the general parameters of distorting facial features, there's only so much one can do. This one is closer to a human face than an ape face, flattened, with an exaggerated jutting lower jaw. The nostrils are slit/bat-like and the ears have exaggerated points. There's a hint of horns under the forehead skin.

I reiterate that clay doodling is low-committment way of testing the waters for a potential figure project. A crude sculpt can give you an idea of how a figure "fits in" with the others you've made-- assuming of course, that you're guided by some kind of unified vision. I can't say that I am, but at least my last "Demon Monkey" doodle didn't inspire me to proceed with a project. On the other hand, the "Troll Demon" doodle did. Most of all though, these visualization doodles are fun. (The pic on the right shows him sculpted in a more permanent form. Gawd, I hate the fat Hasbro necks!)

08/18/02- GRAND HIGH WITCH This is another Sunday clay doodle, inspired by the 1989 WB flick The Witches. The "Grand High Witch" (Angelica Huston) is one of the most outrageous, funny, and scary villainesses imaginable... and the flick, while maybe a little intense for young children, blows vapid techno eye-candy like Harry Potter away... IMO. But I've got weird tastes, so what do I know? (I thought Roger Corman's The Raven was a great flick too, but mainly because of Hazel Court's magical pushup bodice.)

This is as close as I get to doing likenesses nowadays and I took some minor liberties like shortening the nose and adding a few under-eye warts (and using green instead of purple eyeballs). It was supposed to be a quickie doodle, but I was having fun and kept going-- I even baked this one.

Polyclay is a pleasure to work with: It's got a great texture and consistency for sculpting, and blends so effortlessly. The ability to work and tweak until you're ready to bake is a big advantage over putty, which pits you against the clock and requires rematches to fix that which you didn't have time to get right the first time. I just wish it were as sturdy as putty; the advantages of clay's immediacy are lessened if you have to solve that problem by casting. There's the prepping of the sculpture to eliminate terminal undercuts (the open mouth), the moldmaking, the casting (the quickest part), and finally, the cleanup of the casting (to resculpt the open mouth). IMO, that's overkill for a OOAK ("One-Of-A-Kind") figure. This was just supposed to be a fun exercise, anyway.

I'm ambivalent about turning this into an articulated figure for other reasons-- I know the movie too well to imagine this character, with her distinctive personality, outside that movie. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I digitally colored the first photo-- all she needs are some wisps of hair on her head and the hairy wart on her nose. Of course, it would be much better if I turned this into a upper quarter bust...



07/23/02- Your Mileage May Vary These pics belong on the project article but I needed a pic here and I haven't done anything to the figure since the the last project update (except junior's quickie for-the-pic hair job). It's amazing how much mileage I can get out of a figure which isn't even painted and is posed with an unfinished tensioning job. You can blame everything on the new kitty. He requires lots of attention during this very important window of opportunity for proper socialization...

Scott's Back!   One of my favorite customizers has returned his site to the web, with a new URL. Scott Baker is the guy who made the real handmade chainmail which I've raved about. Although he's lately been busy with other aspects of Life, his past work is distinguished by the unique and interesting subject matter, his workmanship, and his high standards of fidelity to the real thing (when he isn't making two-headed creatures). His site should definitely be on your "must visit" list.

The Message Board's Sci Fi Hardware Survey Thanks for all the ideas, pics and suggestions-- they've been very interesting and helpful. Before we get too far into this, I'd like to remind you that my role in this is strictly as a "matchmaker" who's adding his 2.5 cents. When Mardon Callanta first wrote me to thank me for helping him discover the joys of 1:6 Machinen Krieger SAFS, my brain put 2 + 2 together: I believe there's a demand for 1:6 mechs and Mardon's one of the few customizers who could make and sell them. Plus, he's got a proven record of delivering. So naturally, I suggested and prodded... that's what prompted me to solicit your feedback on the idea. Mardon and I have read the comments, and while I can't speak for him, we've corresponded and seem to be in general agreement about a few things:

The ideas for outfits and accessories are a little outside the "entree" being considered. These would be tasty side dishes for commercial customizers to capitalize on now, while it's still a frontier. Mardon has a unique talent for producing large vehicles, like tanks, which are beyond the abilities of most customizers. While he probably could produce smaller armaments and outfits, it would be an odd use of "resources", IMO, and a much bigger leap from making WWII tanks.

Although specific licensed properties have been mentioned, it wouldn't be wise to pursue that for obvious legal reasons. I believe it would be wiser to produce a more generic design with a "look & feel" that would fit in with some licensed properties. My personal feeling is that "organic" shaping is more "signature" and specific, and that boxy armor (like the Armoury's "Dust") is more generic and an all-around logical choice which works in the broadest range of future world scenarios. That functional look is a fairly natural extension of WWII armor, which would probably make the job easier for Mardon.

Soooooo... realistically, what are the prospects? Mardon is excited about the idea, and has some coals in the fire for underwriting the production. However, sci-fi is new territory for him and there's considerable design groundwork to be done before his usual starting point for producing WWII armor. He's also kept pretty busy with his WWII production jobs from Eklyps and other clients. So "patience" would probably be a good word to remember.

I think that one cold, hard fact should also be mentioned: Like most custom anything, the pricing may leave some people out in the cold. This isn't from anything that Mardon has said, but it's really just common sense. The fact is, something like this usually isn't cheap, especially when it's produced in small quantities. Even the factory-produced 1:6 SAFS kits are out of the price range of some people. For the producer, the motivation is to cover costs and make a profit-- That's the reason we all work, right? So be realistic (and resist the temptation to whine). As collectors, we benefit from having something neat made available to us that we couldn't make ourselves-- and if you want something badly enough, you find a way to make it happen (like... bring home a bigger paycheck, win the lottery, marry well?).

Walking With Prehistoric Beasts   I caught some but missed a big portion of the Discovery Channel's multi-part TV presentation of this... and they haven't finished showing it yet. Soooooo, I bought the DVD. Wow. This is really kewl stuff. This BBC video production follows in the awesome footprints of their "Walking With Dinosaurs" series and both shows feature some very convincing animatronics and computer graphics creations which bring these extinct creatures to life, documenary style. You can't help but be in awe of the sheer variety of bizarre creatures which evolution has produced. From the Prehistoric Beasts show, I picked up a new respect for mammals: They could be every bit as terrifying and strange as the dinosaurs, and most of them are far weirder and more interesting than anything my imagination could produce.

Mainly though, shows like this are food for thought. For one thing, trying to grasp the scale of geological time is nearly impossible with our limited frame of reference. Our individual lives, our entire recorded history, and our species' tenure on this planet are only microscopic slivers in the "big picture". It's within this bigger picture that the forces of natural selection have worked to produce all the diversity we see today and the bizarre creatures of the past, now extinct. Many of those creatures are considered ultimately unsuccessful even though they roamed the earth for tens of millions of years.

Shows like this are humbling if you're in a serious mood but hint at the grand cosmic joke when you try to reconcile the world we've created from these humble beginnings. The desperate struggle of life, of species weathering devastating climatic changes which caused mass extinctions, all jockeying for the spot at the top of the food chain... all this so we could eat Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos? (Not that there's anything wrong with Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos, if you don't mind breath that smells like vomit) Okay, NCFDs don't really represent the pinnacle of our success atop the food chain, but it's fun to look at what we've done with our hard-won gift. Although shows like this rely on quite a bit of guesswork and speculation, the underlying principles are sound and have value as speculative tools for our future, and as general observations within our personal recapitulations of the big picture. It's the challenges in our lives which force us to grow, learn and adapt. Those bags of NCFD and endless hours of TV watching only make you grow in your capacity to be a better paperweight. While nature can still throw quite a few challenges at us, we've taken care of a lot of them so our continuing evolution as a species is unlikely to be shaped by the usual forces of natural selection. Instead, our science is giving us the tools to shape our own evolution, and this occurs in a totally different climate of our own creation: social and political. The time scale is also drastically different: While social and political change can seem to take ages, that's microscopic slivers in the big picture of geological time. Where will we be in a thousand years? Ten thousand years? A million years? It's tantalizing because there seems to be a geometric compression in the geological time scale as our technology has enabled us to produce huge global changes in shorter periods of time. I just gotta wonder though... where are the frickin' aliens?

Salma Hayek's performance in "From Dusk Till Dawn" illustrates some of the undeniable benefits of human evolution.

07/09/02- Hey, I won the 2002 Best Customizer award! Yaaaaaay!!! Don't I have to make a speech or sumpin'? Thanks to everyone who nominated and voted, and to JoeWorld-Online/USMBubba for hosting the 2002 1/6 Scale Awards. And congrats to all the other winners who remain strangely silent on this matter, like the Formative Uniforms. And to the nominees and non-nominees... The legendary Major Midnight is actually more deserving of the customizer title, considering all the areas he excels at and his well-deserved legendary status... but I guess I'm more visible these days because of the ongoing website updates which often feature breasts. So, to put it in perspective, it was actually a popularity contest and a referendum on breasts... hey, no complaints from me! Some of my best friends are breasts. However, check out the 2001 Action Figure Militaire International Competition for a genuine blood & guts competition, and to see some really fine work from talented folks, many of whom you've probably never heard of because they don't have websites which feature breasts.

After many seconds of intense deliberation, below is MY Awards list. I was gonna do a "Best Figure" category but I look at figures as part donors-- different projects call for different parts. From the more mainstream perspective, Volks' Neo Guy is probably the best out-of-the-box figure, considering looks, articulation and quality. But it's a bit too articulated, which makes it a finicky poser and a bit too floppy. It's probably the worst for slice 'n dice customizing: You hate to screw with it since they're quite expensive/hard to find.

  • Best Breasts, Female- Your Wife's or Girlfiend's If you're smart, you'll pound that into your brain until it bleeds.

  • Biggest & Buffest- Hasbro's, from Hall of Fame to SAJOE. Despite being relatively short, these look more buff due to the obscenely exaggerated chest detailing. Looking at the whole figure, Hasbro's HOF wins because of those humongous arms, and would be perfect for your Kim Chivesky figure. Formative International's, past and present, are taller and equally wide chested but look less imposing because of the flat & mechanical sculpting.

  • Tallest & Gangliest- Sideshow Toy wins this one, especially for the side profile... appropriately enough, the figure has a "house of cards" feel and merely looking at one will often cause it to fall over. Sometimes it takes even less than that.

  • Best Neck Design- Vintage Joe(ME/TC/Cots) This is one area where I think it's okay to sacrifice seamlines for articulation, since how the head & neck are posed are a major component of a figure's expressiveness. Unfortunately many figures are cursed with either no neck-body articulation or articulation there with limited range. This honor mainly goes to Vintage Joe with its wide range swivel/tilt (body-neck) + swivel (neck-head) design. Dragon's Svetlana (and Volks' Neo EB/Guy) has a swivel/tilt + swivel/tilt design, made possible by the ball socket neck-head connector (the "Barbie" design). The range still isn't as good as Vintage Joe's, but I guess you can't have everything. Unfortunately, now you can't even have that: Dragon changed the design with their issue of Danger Gal.

  • Best Shoulder Design for Appearance- Formative International's Pre-OA Figure No kidding! Their pre-"Outstanding Articulation" figure is unique for not having a hinge seam at the top of the arm, and it doesn't look like a ball globbed onto the side of the body. Even more surprising is the fact that it works well too. I'm sorry to see that they "improved" it.

  • Best Ganged Hinge Elbows, Male- Hasbro's SAJOE Being the thinnest frontally-visible hinge segment and well-fitted, these look the best.

  • Best Ganged Hinge Elbows, Female- Dragon's Svetlana Svetlana narrowly beats BBI's Perfect Body's. Svetlana's are fitted more precisely without the open gaps at the top and bottom of the hinges. On the other hand, PB's are narrower at the sides, which gives you slightly more latitude to reshape them realistically.

  • Best Hands, Female- BBI's Perfect Body Their additional articulation axis is useful and the mechanics comes with virtually no aesthetic sacrifice. Forearm retaining pins could be a little shorter and the hands a little smaller, but I can live with that.

  • Best Hands, Male- ??? I'm inclined to give this to Dragon, but I'm not particularly fond of the way their hands connect to the forearm. Also, I know little about BBI's current male figure (and they seem to be constantly improving their product).

  • Best Hip Design- ??? No winners. Vintage Joe (including the Selena/Kelly/Makoto design) looks the best, but works the worst. The modern pressure-tensioned designs work well but look bad. Of those, Volks' Neo Guy looks the best, except for their decision to put the bizarre thigh swivel right there. Their female Neo EB doesn't have it and looks much better but has weird thigh cutaways.

  • Best Ganged Hinge Knees- Dragon wins for both male and female because of the way the kneecap blends with the leg segments, instead of being a bulbous part which draws attention to itself. The parts are all the same color, made of the same material and have reasonably unobtrusive gaps between the parts.

  • Best Ankles- Takara's Cool Girl (see "Innovation" below) For male figure ankles, this could go to Vintage Joe unless BBI has incorporated the Takara innovation into their latest male figures (and done it well).

  • Best Feet Sculpt- Dragon wins it for male (non-hinged toes) and female (Svetlana) figures, although in the female category, their ankle design is inferior to Takara's. Unfortunately, Dragon's male figure ankle design is thoroughly middle-of-the-road, which means "C-" to me. Again, I haven't seen BBI's latest male feet.

  • Most Useful Innovation in Articulation- Takara's CG Ankles I was pretty skeptical at first since ankle technology has generally taken a sad turn for the worse since the 60's vintage Joe. Surprisingly, the ball & socket ankle is stable and actually gives us additional articulation which is useful to one of the figure's prime directives: to stand. It's a little ugly, but easy to hide... and even comes naturally hidden in the smartly designed bootfeet. But best of all, the ball can be popped out for refurbishing if it wears down. User-servicible designs rule.

    Runner up: BBI's "Perfect Body" Hands These come in a close second because the B&S ankle articulation solved the more basic problem of feet which didn't fully contact the ground: the extra hand posing is great, but a luxury. These give extra functionality without sacrificing appearance. (Sideshow Toy, while presenting similar innovations earlier, gave us inferior implementations.)

    Runner up: Hasbro's SAJOE Ganged Hinges Even though these solve a basic problem (usually-- vintage Joe's single hinge elbow have nearly the same range as Sideshow Toy's ganged elbow hinge), they degrade the appearance, particularly in the elbows of bare-armed figures. They also force the swivel joint to be a separate joint, further degrading the appearance. Currently, Hasbro's look the best.

    Honorable Mention: Volks' Articulated Shoulders I'm not sure we really needed these and I'm still undecided about which side of the cost/benefit razor they fall on. They don't look too bad, but they do create some costuming challenges while bringing an additional range of posing for specialty situations. In either case, I admire the engineering feat.

  • Dubious Achievement in Articulation- 21CT's Jacqueline/Matilda's shoulders What can I say? BBI's custom expression mechanism might have given 'em a run for their money but BBI wisely dropped that sucker like a stinky turd. 21CT is still trying to get us to accept this stinky turd.

  • Favorite Customizer(s)- Hey, It's The Usual Suspects I include my perennial favorites, Francis Tavares and Ransome Chua at the top of the list of world-class, English-speaking customizers. I'd include Scott Baker too, for his ambitious real chainmail creations and other unique stuff... if his website hadn't dropped off the face of the earth. :^( It's difficult for me to add to that list though, since I don't do that much exploratory browsing these days. Many English-speaking customizers seem to focus on a narrow range of subjects (Indiana Jones has a reserved seat). There's nothing wrong with that, but it creates a condition where it's hard for work to distinguish itself, no matter how good it is. Nevertheless, Tony DiTerlizzi does a terrific job in bringing figures to life (even ol' Indy ;^), and Paul Data has created some really offbeat stuff. In the case of military, it's also muddied by the fact that the big producers are putting out such nice product, that few folks are motivated to try their hand at becoming the next Brian Vota. That makes it difficult to discern where the credit goes. There's no doubt that Mardon Callanta does it all on his own though, producing some of finest kick-ass armor out there (and yeah, I haven't forgotten about the SF thing... I'm just having a tough time picking it up again...) Pooyan Toys, Hayashi Hiroki... heck, I can't read Japanese, but the images transcend that stuff. I'm simple minded enough so that it takes really blatantly different stuff to blow me away and make an instant and lasting impression. Seeing Pooyan Toy's SAFS and other sci-fi customs did that for me... it's bold, it's different, and it's beautifully executed. While the subject of girls isn't new or innovative, Hayashi Hiroki's rendition of them blew me away because they're so real looking! That's one of those breathtaking things you notice the first time you see his images painting on your monitor. Again, I'll steer you toward's Bonzou's House for some kewl stuff-- I don't know if Bonzou is a person or persons, but the work impressed the heck out of me the first time I saw it.

Administrative Note: I've taken down the website "Search" function since it was clunky and barely worked; The index was huge and not really practical for the Internet. I'm sure it won't be missed, since the superb organization of the site makes it so easy to find exactly what you're looking for... (snicker) I considered closing the message board since it gets so little participation, but I figured that it didn't hurt anything by being there. It's kinda neat to go there to meditate and listen to the echos of someone crying for help. BTW, turning off Javascript does work for killing popup ads, but sometimes you need Javascript to make genuinely useful stuff work. Internet Explorer (intentionally, I believe) makes turning it off & on a hassle, and the freeware programs which kill popups tend to be more trouble than they're worth. But if you download the free open source browser Mozilla, in the "Preferences" you can leave Javascript enabled but specifically turn off a web page's ability to shove unrequested windows down your throat, along with other obnoxious behaviors. It's pretty neat.

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