Saturday, July 23, 2011

Customization project: begin!

If you hang out at action figure websites for more than a few minutes, you learn that the next step after collecting toys is *customizing* toys.  This can be as simple as popping the head off of one action figure and putting a different one on, or it can get really complicated: original toys can be heavily modified both by taking them apart and by adding spare parts, modeling clay and paint to create a very different item.  I was wowed by the results of different projects posted around the web.  I saw threads that included pictures of custom work on, and even found a website 100% dedicated to action figure scale toy customizations at  The creativity and sheer awesomeness of the projects made me want to do some custom work of my own.

Raw ingredient number one.
I had a few ideas.  I had seen the Iron Man Rolling Battle Headquarters vehicle at Target on clearance for a few weeks.  I figured it was a great candadate for a repaint in order to bring it into the GI Joe universe, but oy... I haven't done any custom work before.  Where do I start?  What do I do?  How do I turn an idea into a cool custom and not moderately expensive messy disaster?

I lucked out.  While doing some searches on youtube, I found a great movie featuring custom work on this very vehicle by a guy whose YouTube handle is ArticulatedComics.   I figured 'what the heck.' and shot him an email, telling him I loved his work and wanted to know if he would give me a few pointers for my own project.

And provide me with pointers he did. AC was nice enough to show me the ropes of custom work.  Take it apart as much as possible before hand, he told me.  Check out the places you think will be difficult to paint and remember them."  He also recommended getting krylon fusion for plastics spray paint, and thought the project would probably take two cans of the stuff.

Ready to rock.
With that advice, I figured I could try this out.  I purchased the toy for $20 (down from $30), and got two cans of paint at the hardware store.  I took the toy apart as much as I could.  It took me about half an hour to do this with a regular Phillips screw driver.  Four large parts of the toy snapped right off without any problems, but there were several others that did need to be unscrewed. I covered the sections of the toy I did not want to paint with painters tape and hoped it would keep them protected.

I brought it all out to the garage and put down a paint sheet.  This ended up being my biggest mistake, as I found find out shortly.  You can give a guy plenty of advice, but lack of experience and insight will still get ya.   For more on this custom adventure, you will have to read the next post.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Ready for action!
Well folks, the project is done.  I have all of my parts for the Killer Whale, and today the ship is sitting proudly on a shelf for all to see in my basement man cave.  She is *huge*.  I am so pleased with this project; its been a lot of wish fulfillment shipped to me in little packages from nice people all over the country on eBay.  I learned a few things about this- first, its much more expensive to buy the parts for the ship via eBay than I thought it would be.  It would have been much cheaper in the long run to spend $150 plus shipping to buy a complete ship from an online vendor then doing what I did, which was basically buy parts individually and in lots.  I bet my grand total for the ship came in at over $300 with shipping.   And that's a pretty steep markup over buying the thing in one big purchase.

At the same time, it was pretty cool to buy the parts this way, a one or a few at a time.  It was really something seeing the ship come together, and checking ebay in the end for those last parts to show up added to the tension and anticipation of putting the set together.  There are two sets of parts that are hard to find online and only show up every few weeks or so on eBay for this vehicle- the cannon tips and the vertical steering vanes.  You need four steering vanes and two cannon tips to make the ship complete, and the cannon tips were easy to loose back when.  They come off easily.  And the vertical vanes are easily broken. Each have two small tabs which could snap off, and both have two thing sections of plastic that represent 'hinges' that can break due to aggressive play.  I purchased two vanes individually just after my last post, and purchased the last two vanes together about two weeks later.  Then I had to wait for the cannon tips.

Yeah, this missile pods just don't like to stay up. :-(
I waited for a few weeks for the cannon tips to show up on eBay.  There are a few stores online that had listed them in stock at various points, but when I went back to check them out, they were gone.  I *had* to go through eBay.  I found one for sale with a "buy it now" option.  The second took another week to go, and then I found one- there was a seller with a Killer Whale parts lot, with a picture of the items.  In the picture, I could see the lot included a cannon AND the tip, and a few other parts.  The parts were not listed specifically in the description, which may have reduced the attention this particular lot received from other would be buyers.

There was no "buy it now" option, so I just had to bid.  It was rough actually waiting for the several days to see what the bidding would get to, but thankfully, I had the winning bid.  In the mean time, I had collected the other parts I needed- the bike, fans and shroud assemblies, and was good to go.

This toy is so cool.  There are so many things that can be done with it.  A drive shaft extends from each fan into a gear box, which has a button.  Pushing the button really makes those fans spin.  the fans have steering vanes that can be adjusted and shifted; there is a cockpit with space for two figures, two machine gun nests, really ferocious looking cannons, a spring loaded scout sled, and room for a lot of stuff inside the hovercraft itself.  This is a *fantastic* toy, one that I probably would have loved as much as my personal favorite toy back in '84, Castle Greyskull.

The one big draw back to this item is how fragile it is; there are a lot of parts, and they are not very securely fastened to each other.  It must have been very expensive to make, especially when you compare it to toys on the shelves today; I rarely see action figure vehicles as big as this when I do make sentimental trips down the toy aisle at my local Target; 95% of the stuff I see is much smaller, and I would assume, less complex then this guy.  I appreciate all the work that must have gone in to designing this bad boy.

Its a great toy, and I had a wonderful experience putting it together over these last several months.  If you are thinking about doing this yourself, I recommend it- even at $300, the experience of  getting myself something like this that I had wanted ever since I was a little boy was well worth the time, effort and money I expended to make this happen.  If you have the means and find yourself longing for this item, I say seriously consider picking one up for yourself on eBay.  I'd recommend saving up and buying one all at once if you can, but even if you can't, the experience of watching it come together is bitter sweet at worst, and at best, deeply, deeply, satisfying.

David Draper