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


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.