Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My philosophy

What's really good, everybody? Time again for Sanjeev's big year-end round up! This is my way of talking a little bit about what kinda ish I got cooking on the toy-production front, how techniques and technologies have evolved, and also to document this creative process for posterity. I suspect I'm gonna get a kick outta reading some of this stuff in years to come. ;) Anyway, instagram's still the best way to follow my day-to-day toy rambles...but at the same time, I don't really like to post too much of my own toy-development progress there. Sure, I'll post announcements of new releases and whatnot on ig, but I use it primarily to talk about what I love about toys in general. From a collector's perspective, feel me? This blog, however, still serves as my personal playground focusing on the toy-making side of this hobby.

So let's get it popping!

First off, I had actually planned to post after last summer's East Coast Chogokin Summit in August. The event was held in East Boston and was "closed" (invite-only) this year, given the limited space we had. That's unfortunate because it's always fun to meet new people and grow the community. But it is what it is...and while I had some pretty cool things to show off at the Summit, nothing was really production-ready (hence why I held off on making posting at the time). So what were those reveals? Heh, well, I'm gonna hold onto those secrets for just a bit longer still! 2015 was a solid year of learning and growing. And 2016 is already shaping up to be a year where we'll be able to enjoy the fruits of that labor!

Before I get into the philosophical stuff, I got a quick announcement I'm real excited about! There's a new member of the fam. But don't get it twisted--this is NO rookie by any means. This dude's been slinging resin for a ill minute, and he's apprenticed under none other than the great Ron Daley and Matt Doughty for even longer than Onell's been around. And now with the recent boom in 3D printing, he's thrown his lot in with dangerous individuals like myself, David, and Ben. He is PJ Bartlett of Spaced Out Design! If you get a chance, please check him out. He's been rocking some amazing Glyos-compatible 3D-printed figures that are blowing up the spot.

So probably the most interesting challenge I've pondered this past year is the concept of scale. See, just like with any sort of manufacturing process, there are strengths and weaknesses associated with using common FFF technology to produce toys directly. For example, if the resolution on these machines were better, it would be a snap to produce MUSCLE-style figures that you could sell for peanuts. Or if they printed MUCH faster (and if the parts required a fraction of the cleanup work), you could sell a Transformers-style toy for about how much you could expect to pay for a mass-produced one at retail.

Now, as it turns out, producing runs of smaller toys like the MicroClones is actually surprisingly labor-intensive. The parts come off the printer much faster than with a larger toy, so you're constantly having to keep track of all the tiny parts and stay on top of the post-print cleanup workload. And just because those parts are smaller, that doesn't mean the cleanup's all that much easier! So in a lot of ways, a MUCH bigger toy like the Powered Bio Suit ends up being easier overall to produce! It seems counter-intuitive, but the reality is that the bigger, chunkier PBS parts are ultimately easier to clean up...and because those parts take so much longer to print, there's a lot more time available between print jobs to do that work. Sure, it still takes 3 days to make a single PBS (while I could do half a dozen MicroClones in that time), but you can imagine how less taxing it can be to produce larger toys that sell for over $100 than it is to produce smaller toys that sell for a lot less.

The philosophy of scale, therefore, boils down to the question of whether or not I want to sustain the toil required to keep on churning out cheaper offerings, or switch over to producing exclusively high-end items at a more leisurely pace. On paper, the high-end approach looks more amenable to my lifestyle. But there's an undeniable allure to producing cheap toys: your offerings become more accessible to a larger number of folks...plus you gain the ability to give away large numbers of your toys. That last bit may sound a bit odd, but trust me--after having given away dozens of dozens of Glyos figures over the years to kids I know, nothing beats that feeling. NOTHING.

So for now, I'm gonna stick to doing what I'm doing. The response to the "Wave 0" MicroClones (see last post) was intense. The couple dozen or so figures I offered on Monster Kolor sold out in just over half an hour! Clearly heads are feeling them...and unlike the first generation Shogun Voyagers (yeah, remember those??), they don't break my back to produce! I'm still working out details for a sub-$10 Shogun Voyager mini that will fill that cheap toy role...but I don't think it will expand into a whole line. We'll see how things progress into the next year as I grapple more with this question...

And speaking of the MicroClones, the intrepid forces of Earth and their allies from Micro Earth [or the Microverse, if you prefer! ;) ] are getting some upgrades to their gear in the coming New Year! Yup, the standard MicroClone explorers will be joined by two new troop types for when the action calls for more specialized roles.

The Powered Bio Suit is what I'm really excited about for next year, though. Now, keep in mind that the PBS was the *very* first toy I ever tried to develop when I first got my own 3D printer. That was one helluva learning experience! Over the years, you guys have seen quite a few iterations of the toy on this blog. Each and ever piece I produced sold (THANK YOU!!), but clearly it's taken me some to get it perfect. And, yes, being a perfectionist is part of being a toy-maker! Well, after a recent few months of design tweaks, I've finally got it right. At least, as far as I'm concerned--your mileage may vary. ;) I've completely overhauled the packaging design, hardened several joints and connection ports, upgraded some aesthetics, and added some new gimmicks. And probably the most significant change is that I'm folding the toy into the overarching "MicroClone" brand. Of course, the MicroClone line didn't exist when I first started developing the PBS, but now that the MicroClones are an established thing, the move just makes sense. And to commemorate this ultimate iteration, I'm calling it the "Mark II" PBS:

I don't have a set date for when the next MicroClone wave will drop, but it will certainly include the original figures, the two new augmented soldier types, and at least a few MkII Powered Bio Suits. A little something for everyone! Of course, all the details will be revealed here and I'll be making the announcement on ig and on the usual facebook groups.

There's more coming in 2016, of course...including a Shogun Voyager release that's bound to snap necks and cash checks. As I'm often fond of saying, stay tuned. ;) Oh, and more keshigomu collaborations are on the way. If I can somehow carve out the time to do it, I'd love to do another Spiral Zone keshi vehicle with my homeboy, Eric Nilla. So, yeah, LOTS going on!

Stay sucka free in 2016, y'all! Now go listen to some KRS-One!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

MicroClone

What up, people? Happy First Post of 2015...and as usual, I'm here to announce a quantum leap here at Brownnoize HQ! It's been several months in the works, but now I'm finally ready to reveal the big (micro?) project I've been cranking on. See, the response to the Powered Bio Suits (see previous posts!) has been crazy. And humbling. But I knew from the get that these things would be only realistically accessible to a small segment of the Micro-collecting community. When it takes around four days of blood, sweat, and tears just to make *one* toy, you have little choice but to charge a lot. I have no regrets, though, because the whole point of the PBS was to push the limits of what home-grown 3D printing could accomplish...and I'd like to think I made an impression in that regard! ;)

On the strength, the Powered Bio Suit was a ill learning experience for me. On one hand, it was a crash course in design-for-manufacture: not just CAD-modeling what you want the final toy to look like, but reconciling that with what geometries are optimal for printing, clean-up, assembly, etc. But on the other hand, it also forced me to get serious about package design, social media (peep my instagram feed!), gallery shows, and other stuff beyond the physical objects I was producing. Those lessons were vital to this whole game.

But it's time to take it back! This one is for the people. Now that I've had a chance to sharpen my swords, I can take bigger risks and continue testing the boundaries of what a consumer-grade FDM printer can do. And the result is something that I'm excited to be able to share with fellow collectors. I'm happy to present: the MicroClone!

It's kinda funny how this project came about...not to mention what it evolved into. See, I was sorta expecting *just* Diaclone and Microman fans to take notice of the PBS when it first dropped. But I was getting hit up by folks into "art" toys, 3D printing, or DIY jams in general. At gallery shows, it was getting kinda awkward to have to explain over and over why the toy was "empty"! LOL To be fair, the whole "Suit" thing isn't automatically obvious outside of Takara SF Land fans. So it dawned on me: why not develop a cheapie 3-3/4" action figure that I can just stuff into these suits for shows or other displays? And from there--since the PBS is a bootleg of the Diaclone Powered Suit--it was a no-brainer to design my figure around the "type 2" Diaclone driver that was originally sold with the vintage Powered Suits!

Well, you know it goes. At first, I said, okay: five points of articulation. I'll just use the 5mm ball-and-socket joints I'd been developing for the Shogun Voyager minis and call it a day. But then I kept poking and prodding--mostly at the behest of Matt Doughty and Ben Mininberg (see? this is why we peer review, folks). I quickly found that with a little massaging, I could work those ball joints into more areas of the figure. Yeah: a chance to design a *legit* 1/18 scale action figure with articulation that can rival a vintage Micro. No custom toy-maker would pass that up! So at the risk of potentially doubling my original target pricepoint, I decided once again to push the boundaries and see how far I could take this thing. And I'm happy to report that the result far exceeds a mere accessory for the PBS. It's a durable, nicely-poseable 10cm action figure that can interact with existing Microman/Micronaut figures and vehicles. And it can stand alone as a fully-fledged product.

The MicroClone now features 14 points of articulation, 10 of which are ball-joints. The head is on a 5mm peg for some Acroyer head-swapping fun! The waist is a 5mm swivel joint as well, and the wrists can rotate on a peg compatible with original Micro figures (more on that later!). The shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and ankles are all ball-joints with a wide range of motion. In play-testing, I'm happy to report that these joints remain tight even after a considerable amount of abuse. Unlike your typical ABS plastic toys (which are completely solid and can actually "polish out" and become loose after excessive joint use), these 3D-printed parts are actually semi-hollow. That gives printed joint mechanisms a bit of springiness that's perfect for play! Still, after some destructive testing, I found that the old nail polish trick works perfectly: if a joint gets loose, simply pop apart the pieces and apply a thin layer of clear nail polish to one of the surfaces...wait 24 hours, reassemble, and you should be good.

And while you *can* disassemble the ball-joints, it's not really recommended as part of the play experience. It can be done, but I noticed after snapping them in and out a dozen times or so, they will eventually start to get loose. So if want to create a unique color combination for your figure, go right ahead--it should be fine. But don't get in the habit of doing it a ton. These aren't Glyos guys! ;)

Bits connected via 5mm pegs can be swapped all day, of course. The head, for instance, is actually available in four styles, representing different "modes" of the mechanical helmet. There's the open face helmet, which is it's default configuration. The visor mode features a shield that I like to imagine slides down from under the forehead shield to provide enhanced optics. Similarly, I imagine the armor bits for the mouth plate mode slide into place from the sides and lock into the chin strap to help with breathing in harsh environments. And finally, the full armor mode incorporates both the visor and mouth plate for combat missions in your sandbox. Each basic MicroClone figure will come with a single head, so when you click on the page of the color scheme you want, just select the desired head from the drop-down list at the bottom of the page.

But the 5mm-compatibility doesn't end there! There's a 5mm port (hole) on the back just like a classic Micro. There are additional ports on the thighs for mounting accessories, as well as ports on the bottom of the feet for connecting to display stands or for perching a figure on a vehicle. And speaking of the feet, they also have neodymium magnets. Because Diaclone. ;)

Each basic MicroClone figure also comes with a Pulse Pistol accessory, which incorporates a 5mm peg into the design for attaching to the figure when not in use. The handle of the pistol is roughly 2.5mm to match existing Microman weapons. Yes, that means that it can be used by stock Micro's, and vintage figures' weapons fit just fine in MicroClone hands. But y'all know me--I had to take it a step further! Remember when I mentioned that the wrists swivel on a Micro-compatible peg? Well that means hand-swapping! If you don't like the stock MicroClone hands, you can always give him an upgrade. Or if you need replacement hands for a vintage figure, it's no sweat.

One last note about these figures is the color schemes. I'll obviously be making them in a variety of colors, but there are two main "styles" available. The Microman-style figures will feature color separation reminiscent of the original Microman/Micronaut figures: the chest, arms, and thighs are the primary color of the figure, while the pelvis and lower legs are the figure's secondary color. Alternatively, the Diaclone-style figures will be separated like the original Diaclone drivers: the chest and pelvis are the primary color, while the full arms and legs will be the secondary color. Both styles will have black feet and Pulse Pistol, and glow-in-the-dark head and chest piece (though I may switch up these colors in the future for fun!). The hands of the Microman-style figures will be GID as well.

As for the fluff, I like to imagine that these guys come from an alternate dimension where the Microman and Diaclone universes are truly one and the same! After having protected Earth time and time again from the Acroyer invasion, the Microman race has formed an alliance with humanity in exchange for their continued hospitality. In order to respond to extra-dimensional (as well as extra-terrestrial) threats, the Diaclone Corps were developed using a hybrid of Earth and Micro Earth technology. The standard "Diamond Cyclone" armor suit (the MicroClone) is powered by the Phase Driver (the figure's glow chest piece), and allows the human wearer to shrink down to Micro-size (roughly 10cm) and even withstand the rigors of inter-dimensional travel. Their continuing adventures are up to you! ;)

Much like the Powered Bio Suits, these toys will be sold exclusively through Monster Kolor. The initial run of these guys will be a limited "wave 0" release at 8PM EDT, Saturday night, May 30th. Rather than delaying their release even further, I wanted to do this sort of pre-production run of the figures. These older-generation figures have stable, fully-functional joints and work fine overall as action figures, but their hands don't have 100% compatibility with original Micro's. The full hand-swapping functionality described above won't be available until the official "wave 1" release later this summer. Also, existing Micro weapons don't fit as snugly as I'd like in the hands of these older figures. I know these are very minor nit-picks...but if I weren't a damn perfectionist, you wouldn't be getting figures of this quality in the first place! ;) May 30th's "wave 0" release will be discounted to $18 (from the regular retail price of $20) to make up for the hand-compatibility issue.

I really hope you guys like these figures! It definitely stung hearing from fellow Micro collectors who dug the Powered Bio Suit but couldn't afford them. My hope is that these guys will make up for that and allow more folks to get into the game and appreciate how far home-printing has come. Please spread the word and always feel free to let me know what you think! Peace, peace.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Never look back

I don't live by a motto or anything like that. I don't even like using clich├ęs! I like to stay on my toes and take each new situation as it comes. BUT...if someone asked me to sum up my modus operandi--at least when it comes to toy-making--it would probably be "never look back". Every new discovery...every lesson learned...prompts me to throw away *anything* I'd previously held onto that's now invalid or out-dated. It's pretty much automatic with me, in fact. I'll completely bury old paradigms or nonchalantly step over their corpses in the name of progress. I guess that sounds pretty artsy-fartsy--especially for me! But it's accurate. And it drives people nuts!

I can't count the number of times Matt Doughty has yelled at me for straight up throwing out failed prototypes, primitive versions of designs, even preliminary sketches! Visiting Onell HQ is an amazing privilege, but it becomes immediately apparent how different Matt and I are! His place is like a museum for all the amazing toys he's made himself or produced for others. My place? A trash bin full of yesterday's models...and the latest-and-greatest standing, alone, on my work bench. Don't get it twisted--I'm definitely the nostalgic type. Hell, I even have a few Foe Gokin Gin Gin prototypes hanging out somewhere in my mother's house! But ever since the home-3D-printing thing got established with me, the breakneck speed of development has made it so that even passing whims can be actualized in minutes on my computer and hours on my printer. That leaves little room to archive milestones on the way to "production level" toy designs.

The other funny thing I've noticed in this regard is how little resource I want to spend manufacturing production designs once they get to that level...when I could be spending those resources teasing the next big thing into actuality. See, there's no waiting for a mold-maker. There's no waiting for test shots to come back from a factory. This medium of toy-production is almost entirely DIY...and at first, that may sound a bit daunting. The reality, however, is quite different. And a bit shocking. Toy design is becoming a drug for me. In quiet spaces, my mind fills up with different geometries I want to experiment with. I see objects in the real world, and my brain instinctively resolves their shapes into individual CAD features. I'm a perfectionist and as I work through the engineering flaws in my latest prints, my mind burns with the thought of getting back to my printer so that I can test out new solutions. It's all so...fast and easy. It's perhaps then not too far-fetched to conceive of toy-design as an addiction. At least the 3D printing side of things!

Of course, this isn't ideal because while I share most of the stuff I'm working on, I eventually turn into the biggest slacker when it actually comes to making these toys to sell! The perfect example of this is the Powered Bio Suit. Just scroll down to my last post: PBS' right around the corner, huh? Well, I've been sitting on these finished toys since around that time...but haven't gotten around to listing them for sale! I know. I suck. Life happens. :P Folks have been politely urging (HAR!) me to get off my ass and share these cool toys with them. I assure everyone reading this, it'll happen soon!

In fact, here's a quick teaser I posted on instagram a while back:

But in the meantime, while I continue organizing the release of these guys, lemme give you another great example of how the slightest whim can rapidly be spun into reality. A couple weeks ago, big homie Matt Walker hosted an epic gallery show at Monster Kolor Studios HQ called "There Goes The Neighborhood". I was one of over forty artists contributing to the event, and rather than simply cook up another PBS in off-model colors (like the Reverse Jungle version I did for UGLY Gallery), I wanted to spice things up a bit further. I decided to make a Type A suit in eye-melting Constructicon colors, but with a slightly modified hatch to pay homage to the characteristic purple chest piece Devastator has! Peep this:

Sure, I'd prefer if the purple was a bit less violet-y and a bit more indigo-y...but the colors give it more of a fun bootleg feel this way. And I wouldn't have it any other way! ;) For real, as impossible as it may sound, the colors on this toy are even more harsh on the eyes than they seem in these pics. The star of the show, however, is that additional chest piece I added to the Type A main hatch. I modeled that piece to attach seamlessly to the normal hatch, and while it's not exactly a game-changer, it illustrates just how easy it is to produce a slick one-off for special events such as these.

Oh, and now that the gallery show is over, this particular beast is now available on the Monster Kolor website along with other amazing pieces from the show!

So what do we have to look forward to in the new year?

Well, besides the Powered Bio Suit becoming available outside of art shows (and in normal model colors!), there are a few other projects I'm working on. Naturally, they're all top secret. :P Nah, lemme try to be a bit less vague than usual and at least give some hints about what's in store. First off, not everyone on earth can afford a PBS. That's real talk. Each one takes several days to make, and there's just no realistic way to get the price down--and it burns me to no end to see fellow Takara SF Land lovers talk about how much they dig the design...but not be able to pick one up, y'knowmsayin? So to do right by my homies, I'm currently wrapping up a very closely-related project that's 100% for the people. And given the reactions from a few members of the inner circle who've been critiquing the project, I have a feeling it's gonna blow up the spot. Stay tuned...it should be dropping soon!

What else? Well, it's hard to ignore the stalled-out Shogun Voyager brand. The minis were fairly successful, but only really within the mini/LRG collecting communities. They never truly caught on among the vintage Japanese robot toy crowd...y'know...the intended audience. The "standard sized" ones met a similar fate: much like the minis, they proved to be an amazing learning experience (that rocket punch is BOMB, yo), but the toys just felt...unfinished. The two-tone color schemes just weren't working. Sure, I could've worked in more color-separation, but that would have added substantially to the cost per figure (remember: the vast majority of the cost associated with all of these home-grown 3D-printed toys is time/labor)...and the final product still likely wouldn't have looked THAT good--especially standing next to a vintage chogokin on your shelf! But I believe I have an answer now. Every production method has its limitations, right? You won't find many resin/rubber slingers out there trying to cast standard-sized kaiju figures. Nah, instead, they do keshigomu/LRGs, 3-3/4" guys with limited articulation, and occasionally 5-1/2" fight figures (He-Man-style dudes). The same thing's true with 3D printing. It seems like home FDM printers really excel at big stuff, right? Well, if I'm trying to design an homage to vintage Japanese robot toys, it may make sense to aim higher. MUCH higher. ;)

And speaking of resin/rubber slingers, watch out for more keshi-collabs! Just a few weeks ago, I *finally* completed my vintage Bandai Spiral Zone set. Took a few years to do it, but I've now got at least one of every sculpt (though not a "master set", which is one of every sculpt in every color). Fans of the Japanese "real-type" aesthetic, or near-future scifi military stuff will dig these keshigomu...and hopefully, I'll be designing more supplements to this line, like Eric Nilla and my Monoseed II "Rimfire Cannon" from this past year.

I've also got some other cheap toys in the works. No, not keshi...home 3D-printed stuff. But definitely friendly pricing! More on that next time...

Okay, so what about events? Well, it looks like the Future Factory boys are at it again! In the next month or so, Mechazone, Prometheum5, and I should be wrapping up planning on our second 3D-printed toy-making class hosted by Matt Walker at Monster Kolor HQ. With what we learned from the last year's class, this one should be dope. We sold out of the limited slots in the class in under six hours last time, but we've since figured out how to streamline things and accommodate more folks. Good times ahead!

And lastly, SRGM2 planning is going on as I type this! I'm not sure what capacity I'll be involved this year, but make no mistake: I'ma be there repping for the MA$$ toy community!

*PHEW*...aiight, I think that's it for now! Yeah, yeah...if I just updated this blog more often, I wouldn't have to drop such massive TL;DR walls of text on y'all! :P But it's all gravy. Last year, I predicted that 2014 would be big for me...and it was. I've learned so much in terms of 3D-printed toy design, and I should finally be able to share the fruits of that labor in a BIG way in 2015! So, Happy New Year, y'all!

Peace, peace. And smoke that jibba-jabba.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PBS: right around the corner

How y'all doing, guys?? Hopefully, this'll be a quick update...but you know how wordy I get! ;) There've been a couple cool events that I've sorta neglected to cover. First off, we had the East Coast Chogokin Summit last month, and as usual, it was hot! Now, just a few words about it--mainly because a LOT of folks have been asking about the nature of the event and why there weren't any public announcements (or much post-event coverage, for that matter). Well, I mentioned this a bit before with Super Robots Giant Monsters, but we essentially wanted to split the Summit into two distinct things. With all the public fanfare, the Summit was quickly becoming unwieldy and just not appropriate for hosting at an individual's home...so SRGM would function as the big, public "con", where everybody was invited. The Summit would then be free to go back to being what it was originally intended for: a smaller get-together of locals and other long-time pillars of the toy community, hosted in someone's home in order to share their toy collection. I think we really accomplished that goal. As far as I'm aware, there was no "announcement" of the Summit on facebook or any other social media outlets, so the crowd was much more intimate this year. But that's a great thing because we actually had time to get to know newer members of the community and pull in other locals and not leave 'em out to dry. Now, the big question, of course, is whether or not there'll be a second SRGM! I haven't heard anything...but my fingers are crossed!

Another local event that may have flown under folks' radar was another paint class at Monster Kolor Studios in Middleboro, MA. This time around, our kaiju pal, Mark Nagata's latest standard-sized kaiju Eyezon was the canvas for these painters' imagination! As usual, I was there just to heckle--er, hang out--but participating were toy-makers, toy-collectors, robot fans, kaiju fans, packaging designers, and tattoo artists. Some new faces, some old friends...all positive folks looking for a fun, creative, static-free event.

Yo, for real, don't sleep on classes at Monster Kolor! You don't often get the opportunity in the toy game to meet up with good people in person and actually enjoy yourself. We all know how online social media are anything but that [Yes, I've broken down and taken over the "Sanjeev Teh Jerk" joke account Fray-Fray created for me. But don't think for a moment I'm accepting your friend request!! :P I'm in this crap only for the groups!]. And cons have become an utter nightmare of narcissistic cosplayers and big-media coverage pushing out independent comic, toy, art, and video dealers. The writing's on the wall: times are changing and the hobby's in decline. But as the larger corporate aspects of "geek" pop culture start to eat themselves, local events like these classes--or even small-scale cons like SRGM--are an oasis for heads still in the game for right reasons. If you're down, if you have the love, I encourage you to support local events like these. If not, it's all good--we're gonna keep moving forward regardless.

Which brings me to the main point of this post! To kick off an actual production run of Powered Bio Suits (tentatively scheduled for Halloween), I have a one-off for sale at UGLY Gallery in New Bedford, MA! This show is being put on by local artist and long-time toy-maker, MCA, and Dead Presidents/Monster Kolor, himself, Matt Walker...and from what I understand, this is the first toy-related show for the guys at UGLY! They're psyched about it, the venue is flavor, should be a live one, yo. So come check us out at the reception on October 25th.

The one-off PBS (type C) I'm entering into the show has been done up in "reverse jungle" colors--an homage to the original Nitto model kit series, which offered the Diaclone Powered Suit in a number of killer real-type color schemes--and it's likely going to be the ONLY one I'll ever do like this:

Sorry--the Micronaut in the suit actually belongs to Walker, and is not for sale with the suit. We just stuffed him in there for these pics.

And finally, production packaging will be available with this guy!

Not feeling the real-type steez? It's cool--very soon after the end of the Evil Ugly Monster Show, I'll be making a handful of traditionally-colored Powered Bio Suits available. They'll have the standard grey bodies, with red and blue armor parts. Stay tuned to my instagram or the MicroFans fb group for the most up-to-date announcements. Who knows--I may even update this blog in time for the drop! ;)

Monday, July 7, 2014

LOOK 4

What's shaking, kids? I figured another update was long overdue, so here I am with my usual flurry of announcements! First, y'all feeling the new look?? My main man, Larry of Minutia Studios helped a brotha out with the new logo design and overall visual philosophy. For a while now, I've been wanting to "downsize" the look of Brownnoize. And I think we pulled it off!

Anyway, let's get down to business! Local events seem to be a running theme around here, so let's kick things off with that. First up, a quick report-back from Super Robots Giant Monsters. We blew the doors off the hinges! For real, I forget the exact tally, but we had some 700 visitors for the event...and that apparently shattered records for the venue! I keep telling heads: us Massholes know how to throw down. ;) Not surprisingly, I didn't eat a crumb throughout the day--I was constantly bouncing back and forth between the vintage toy gallery I curated and the vendor table I was sharing with Prometheum5 and his Mini-Me, Mark. I barely even got to see the rest of the vendors' wares or the (2D) art gallery! Other highlights included seeing old buddies like Frankie B. Washington and Matt Doughty. All in all, it was a great time...and given the event's enormous popularity, I can't imagine there not being a sequel in the works! ;)

Naturally, as more of a social butterfly than a hard-hitting journalist, I leave event coverage to the pros! Check out DoomKick's round-up of the vendor tables here and his coverage of the vintage toy gallery here.

Okay, now for some upcoming event news! This Friday night, July 11th, you can catch me at FOE in Northampton, MA for the opening reception of the "LOOK 4" show. It should be pretty live...lots of locals will be coming through to show support and just to hang out. Many of us haven't connected since SRGM(!), so it'll be good to chill.

LOOK 4 isn't meant to be a dedicated toy show--more of a general showcase of several local artists--so it was a bit daunting to me at first to have been invited. To have my toys on display among all these talented artists' work is no joke! But Jim and Nicole at FOE have been great and are experts at encouraging artists and fostering the creative community. How could I refuse??

So what goodies am I bringing?

Well, first up, I'm gonna have over a dozen Shogun Voyager minis of the characters, "Scorpia" and "Gorgen". Ah, but these are NOT the same as the prototype figures I had at SRGM! These "2.0" versions feature two-color construction and much more stylized designs. These are NOT to be missed, as the format of this toy line is going to be radically changed later this summer. This may actually be folks' very last chance to grab Shogun Voyager minis with this articulation format...

Next, for the first time ever, I'm going to have the prototype versions of my Shogun Voyager ST "Gorgen" figures available! Yup, these are slightly tweaked versions of the test shot I had on hand at SRGM. Each of these "standard" sized (5-1/4") figures features durable ABS plastic construction, spinning shield blades, and of course, firing fists! In my opinion, among all my offerings at LOOK 4, these will be the stars of the show!

And lastly, I can't forget to mention the big boy, a Type B Powered Bio Suit, complete with a Microman pilot figure!

Before I hop on outta here, I gotta send a shout-out to Jesse of DoomKick.com. Stay tuned to his site for #RampagingRobots, a sick collab between me, Prometheum5, Mechazone, and Jesse himself! I know that barely qualifies as a teaser, but don't sweat it--when the time comes, there'll be plenty of info!

Oh, and lastly, this year's East Coast Chogokin Summit is August 9th. Look for it on facebook. And be there! ;)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Incoming: Super Robots Giant Monsters!

I know it's been ages since my last blog post, but things have been moving at a breakneck pace since Future Factory! The class went amazingly well--tons of local folks involved with the hobby or just interested in 3D printing in general came through to check out what we were doing. All eyes on us! And why not? What we're doing is kind of ground-breaking, after all. As far as I'm aware (and believe me--I've been searching!), there really aren't any other folks directly 3D printing complex toys and hand-finishing them in their own homes. I'm sure in a few years, this medium for custom toys will become as commonplace as resin/rubber casting...but it's kind of an amazing experience to be among its pioneers. And, of course, having all of you folks along for the ride to give us feedback and support is what makes it all worth it. So Thank You for letting us do our thing as independent artists/DIYers!

But like I said, we ain't resting on our laurels. Here's some big last-minute news, folks!

If you're actually reading this blog, I'm sure you've already heard about Super Robots Giant Monsters by now (via my crankin' instagram feed or via the other various social media outlets talking about such toys and events)...but I just wanted to make a quick post to talk about it a little more. I'm actually going to be involved on TWO different levels. First off, I'm sharing a vendor table with none other than the inimitable Ben "Prometheum5" Mininberg! Together, we'll be selling armies of 3D printed toys. Remember those 3D-printed super robot minifigs I teased about in my last blog post? Well, if you haven't been following my instagram feed, they're called the Shogun Voyagers...a rather obvious homage! ;) These micro figures debuted at Future Factory and every figure I produced for the class sold out before the end of the day! Well, these production-level, fully-packaged figures will finally be available to the public!

Also available for the first time publicly will be the mighty Powered Bio Suits! It's been a long time coming, but the production versions of these toys are finally ready for prime time. Go big or go home, Micro-fans! ;) I'll only have a few available at Super Robots Giant Monsters (since they're so time-consuming to manufacture), but I'm just looking forward to getting some in fans' hands after all this time.

These guys are enjoyable to mess around with, they're durable, reasonably well-articulated (given the source material), and they come with nice packaging and accessories. As I've mentioned before, I'm transitioning away from copying existing designs and doing more original stuff (like the Shogun Voyagers)...but damn if these aren't cool figures! I think they're a fun way to enhance your Microman/Micronaut action figures, and they simply make for excellent, high-end 3D printed offerings.

Oh, and lastly, I'll be debuting one more class of offerings at SRGM. I've only just barely teased about it on instagram, but something VERY dope is in the works...

But, yo, I mentioned I was involved with SRGM on TWO levels, right? Well, let's take a quick step back: Super Robots Giant Monsters is the first of, hopefully, a yearly sequence of small toy-collector conventions that focuses tightly on--you guessed it!--vintage Japanese robot and monster toys. We'd been talking about doing something like this for the past couple years...especially with how big the East Coast Chogokin Summits have been getting.

SRGM just seemed like the next logical step.

There are tons of folks who grew up watching the same cartoons and movies we did in the 70's and 80's--folks who have the same reverence we have for those classic Japanese characters and toys that were brought here during those years. But not everyone is connected to the organized collecting community. So JoshB of CollectionDX took it upon himself to organize this first-of-its-kind show to open up the hobby to more folks. And I'm saying, yo, it's gonna be EPIC!! A lot of the locals, of course, are involved, including Matt Doughty and the extended Glyos fam and Alen Yen, the Godfather, and his Incubot label. But they're not the only ones bringing the heat...

See, one of the focal events at SRGM is gonna be the vintage Japanese toy gallery...that yours truly is curating! That's right: I've been put in charge of melting people's eyeballs at this event. And TRUST: eyeballs *will* melt! We decided that we're gonna kick off this hopefully-yearly con with a bang. "Bring serious fire" was the mandate we set. So to that end, on display will be toys from my own personal collection, and those of Josh Fraser and Warren Schwartz. If you're familiar with those names, then you understand the gravity of what I'm explaining. If you don't...oh hell...if you don't, you will...

You.

Will.

So that's it for now, but I'll leave you with just one more little tidbit: stay tuned for a major site makeover coming soon! ;)

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Wrap-up

Wow. What a year.

First off, I gotta apologize to folks trying to follow my progress who're not on Instagram! I've been kinda AWOL on my own blog...but you know how it goes with constantly-evolving social media. IG has been a great space to share not only my day-to-day exploits in the world of custom toy-making, but also a little more about myself through pictures of the many amazing Japanese robot and monster toys I've accumulated over the years. And even a little hip hop music here and there. ;) It's so damn simple to post something fresh every day or two. Makes this blog seem clunky in comparison!

But on the strength, this blog is still my secret base of operations for whenever I need to dump a massive wall of text (like this one!) or mad pics that wouldn't be appropriate elsewhere. I can announce stuff on IG, but I'll always refer back to this blog for more info, contacting me, or buying something.

I just want it to be clear that even though my blog posts are sporadic as hell, that's definitely NOT an indication that my toy-making adventures are slowing down in any way! Word. Life. In fact, it's now been about eight months since I followed Ben's lead and bought an Afinia H-series 3D printer. And to call it a "game-changer" would be an understatement bordering on absurdity.

See, lemme explain something. I don't give a crap about 3D printing. I don't give a crap about CAD modeling. What I care about is making toys, y'knowmsayin? That's it. As it turns out, I happen to be kinda nice with CAD...given that I've been working deep in the CAD software industry for over a decade. And I've been collecting and dreaming about Japanese toys for FAR longer. But while collecting these things has hooked me up with a great group of people, once my creative side started to assert itself over my consumeristic nature, I knew I had to make at least some of the craziness dancing in my head real.

But I just never got into resin- or rubber-casting. You can make some dope little rubber guys...but the process is very slow and labor-intensive. $15-20 for a 2" non-articulated minifig that you have to wait in line for is a far cry from buckets of MUSCLE dudes available on eBay for a buck or two. No hate, of course--I love what cats like MUSCLEThings.com, Eric Nilla, and Tru:Tek/Zectron are doing. But that's not my path.

I don't wanna do vinyl either. There are some amazingly-beautiful Japanese slush-cast vinyl figures being produced by today's hottest artists, for sure. These are made using the same gloriously out-dated, inefficient techniques used in making the original Bullmark (and others) kaiju toys of the 60's and 70's. It's amazing to me that they're keeping this tradition of slush-casting alive--it's a small historical and pop-cultural treasure of Japan's, if you ask me. But this isn't the route I wanna take either. Spending $5k on a mold for a single figure isn't what I really want--especially when that means I'll have to request tiny batches of these figures to be cast in a million different colors, have them painted by...someone...and then sell them over and over to the same group of 50 people for $100+ a whack. That's fine for many others...but not me.

And mass production? Well, there's rotocast vinyl or injection-molded PVC in China...both viable options, as seen by what Onell Design has accomplished over the last six years. But again, extremely high start-up costs lock an artist into just a handful of designs that they're forced to push hard just to recover the initial investment. I want to be more dynamic. Keep releasing new material...never bogged down in marketing or politics.

Which brings me to 3D printing. It's kind of amazing to have had this brand new medium just fall into my lap. And THAT is what it really is to me: a medium for making custom toys. This is where I differ from so many folks I've met over the past six months in the 3D printing game: I don't care about 3D printing, in and of itself. Whether you wanna call me an "artist" or a "toy-maker"...it doesn't really matter to me. The point is that my passion is the toys--not the method used to make them. I get that 3D printing is this new, emerging technology, and that playing with a consumer-grade home printer is a fun hobby...but that ain't what this is.

...

2014 will be a big year for me. I can already tell. Seeds planted almost a year ago now are getting VERY close to sprouting! But before I get into that, I have some kinda somber news to announce: I'm officially pulling the plug on Foe-Gokin Gin Gin. I started this blog about three and a half years ago as a way to track the development of a locally-manufactured, Popy chogokin-style toy of Saucer Animal Gin Gin, my favorite villain from the 70's super robot anime, UFO Robo Grendizer. Those 3+ years saw a LOT of overhauled strategies, a lot of setbacks, a lot triumphs, and most importantly, a lot of learning. All in all, it was a great project to cut my teeth on, and even though I only made a couple official releases, I feel satisfied with everything this effort has taught me.

So why pull the plug? Well, it mostly comes down to economics. I won't go into the details of the manufacturing process, but suffice it to say that the resources necessary for a fully-painted release would have *forced* the price up to somewhere around $200. And while the end result would have been nice, it wouldn't have good enough for me. The heft of all that pewter content was fantastic, but without more articulation and gimmickery, it would have felt more like a painted statue or bust than a fully-realized chogokin toy. So the bottom line is pretty simple: if I were a consumer, I would NOT have bought one for that kinda money.

Oh, there's one more reason to abandon this project: HL Pro/High Dream has now made a fully-licensed Gin Gin toy of their own! Sure, it's not quite the format/style I would have wanted in a Gin Gin figure, but the whole idea of my "Foe Gokin" line was to create toys of our favorite hero robots' enemies--characters who previously were never made into toys. But now that there's a high-quality Gin Gin toy on the market, well, that itch has now been scratched!

But all that having been said, stick around. You may just see another shield-wielding super robot emerge from Gin Gin's ashes... ;)

Aiiyo, but before I finally send Foe Gokin Gin Gin beyond the veil, I just want to say one more thing. Homemade chogokin CAN be done. If the last three years have taught me anything, it's that this sort of custom toy *can* be realistically made. I've proven it. I already talked about why pursuing this project doesn't make sense for me...but I want to make it clear that if ANYONE out there wants to pursue making a custom chogokin toy, please don't hesitate to drop me a line. In all that time, I've learned a TON about this process, and I would personally *love* to see someone design and produce the equivalent of a homegrown "diecast" toy (well, a pewter toy cast in a vulcanized rubber mold). It would greatly honor the efforts of the past three years for me to help in any way I can.

...

Okay, now for the good stuff!

Looking ahead at 2014, there's going to be a LOT more direct 3D-printed toys coming from myself, Ben "Prometheum5" Mininberg, and David "Mechazone" White. We're forming a bit of a Getter team when it comes to spearheading this medium. And obviously, I'm Ryoma. David and Ben can brawl to figure out who's Benkei. ;)

But yo, check this out: this announcement may be a bit late, but I'm actually teaching a 3D printing class next month at Monster Kolor Studios.

FutureFactory_web

Ben and David will be assisting in this epic, first-of-its-kind event. We'll be talking a little about ourselves and how we got into this mess...but the meat of the class will be a *complete* breakdown of all the steps necessary for manufacturing a robot toy using a home/consumer-grade FDM (fused deposition modeling) printer. We'll cover the actual printing process, cleaning up the parts directly from the machine, and treating them with acetone vapor. And like the flyer above says, you make it, you take it! Yes, every student gets to select a robot toy design from one of us, and over the course of the class, prints it, cleans it up, and AVBs it (acetone vapor bathes it). And you take home the toy you just made. That's kinda hot!

Like I said, the announcement's a bit late because, well, the class sold out about six hours after announcing it! So *clearly*, there's some interest in this stuff! For now, we're telling folks to come on down even if they missed out--even if you're not a paying student with space on a printer, you get to watch the whole process and participate like anyone else. And we're most definitely planning on doing MOAR Future Factory classes and other events like it as time goes by. Our goal is twofold. We want to demystify CAD modeling and 3D printing, and ultimately, to get more folks involved in this medium for custom toy-making. But we're also trying to bridge the gap between the designer/custom toy people (usually resin/rubber or vinyl collectors who prefer the artistry and communal aspects of these toys) and the mass-marketed robot toy-collecting people (usually TF or vintage chogokin collectors who enjoy the accessibility and depth of the fandom).

2014 will also be the year of the Powered Bio Suit! Development of this toy has been frighteningly fast and relatively painless. Not to mention surprisingly inexpensive! The stickers are done. The packaging is about 99% done. The toys, themselves are pretty much ready to go. The production versions of these suits might just make their debut at the Future Factory class... Stay tuned!

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And lastly, here's a bit of a teaser for a new toy line I'll be producing next year (again, debuting at Future Factory):

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In fact, students of the class will be able to pick from among these characters to print--or mix and match body parts!

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That's it for now. Have a great New Year's celebration, enjoy the weather, and keep it gully. See you in '14!