toys

#931: Our Arsenal

A prequel to #796:  Improvisation

RECORD STORE TALES #931: Our Arsenal

One of the greatest joys of youth was improvising.  What continues today with music and tech, started back then with toys.  We made our own games with what we had.  Bored with the toys already sitting in the basement, we simply invented new ones of our own.  Board games using army men as the pieces, or Star Wars playsets made of shoeboxes.  We did it out of boredom and necessity.  Kenner didn’t make a Cloud City playset, and even if they did it would be too large and expensive.  Instead we made one ourselves, complete with sliding carboard pocket doors.  It had multiple levels and was scaled to work with Kenner figures.

At the cottage, the need to improvise was multiplied.  We couldn’t count on TV for entertainment, with only two channels.  We could not bring all our toys and games with us to the lake.  Therefore we had to have fun with what we had.  For the first 10 years or so, the cottage was under constant construction.  Rooms were not finished all at once, but a little bit each year.  Same with exterior elements like porches and sheds.  That meant there was always scrap wood, nails and a hammer available.

I recently dug up some of our cottage improvisations.  They date back 35-40 years.  These haven’t seen the light of day in so long, that there was also an abandoned nest of some kind in the box.  Unsurprisingly, given my early penchant for being a Tony-Stark like arms dealer, all these home-made toys are built for war!

First up are my weapons.  My dad made me a bow and arrow when I was a kid.  The bow broke but he kept it along with one of my arrows.  I can see where I taped a little fin on the arrow.  The arrows were not sharpened; there were no tips.  It was just to see how far I could shoot them.  Not far!  You couldn’t really hurt anyone.

Also in the weapons locker was my old tomahawk.  I found the perfect stone and branch, lashed them together, and voila!  35 years later my tomahawk is still intact.  I can’t believe this stuff wasn’t burned up for firewood ages ago.

Next, and ripe for a tetanus infection, is our little flotilla of battleships.  We always had offcuts hanging around.  These look to be made of tongue-and-groove panelling.  Decent toy boats were always hard to find.  They were either super fragile, or leaked and sank.  Our boats always floated and were armed to the teeth.  Look at the all the guns!  Rotating turrets too.  My sister’s boats weren’t as sophisticated as mine.  She got into the boat making game too, adding her own graphics and designs.  We brought these boats down to the water and had some pretty fun adventures.  And nobody got hurt on the rusty nails.

Finally, we had some plastic beach cars and trucks that we always had a blast with in the sand.  We built roads and bridges.  I found plain old cars a little more boring than my sister did, so I took things into my own hands.  I got my favourite yellow pickup truck, and armor plated it.  My mom gave me hell for using too much tinfoil.  “Expensive!” she would always remind me.   But I had to take my time and get it right.  I had to do it twice.  The idea was to leave no Scotch tape visible on the outside.  At the end I had a shiny silver armored pickup truck.  And amazingly enough, some of that armor plate is still on the truck.   It was combat ready.  I always thought it would be cool if I could find a little helicopter to hang out in the truck bed, but I never did.

I found these old toys sitting in a cardboard box in the shed when I was looking for dry firewood.  Of course there was no way I could burn these up.  The battleship, which I have now dubbed Bismarck, might even float again one day.  They’ll never sink the Bismarck!

#889: The Dreadnoks

RECORD STORE TALES #889: The Dreadnoks

I’ve always had trouble letting go.  Even though rock music was my true obsession, there was some overlap.  Even  into grade nine, I still bought GI Joe comics and figures.  It was always hard letting go of an obsession.  My “favourite things”, in order of discovery were:

  1. Star Wars until its natural end in 1983-84.
  2. GI Joe/Transformers from 1984 to 1986-87.
  3. Rock music from 1984 to present.
  4. WWF Wrestling from 1985 to 1990.

You can see how the evolution of this worked.  A GI Joe figure was in the same scale as Star Wars, but with far more articulation well suited to an older kid.  The first wave of figures even featured real-world accurate weapons.  They were a natural step for a kid still wanting that action figure experience, but geared for someone older.  Transformers went hand in hand, since Marvel were producing a comic line to go for each.  Transformers resembled the die-cast cars that older kids (and adults) collected and displayed.

I discovered heavy metal music on December 26, 1984.  A  few months later, wrestling appeared on my radar with the very first Wrestlemania.  A lot of those guys looked like rock stars, with crazy costumes, long hair and male bravado.

As my interests shifted and evolved, so did my collections.  The Star Wars toys were put into storage in the crawl space.  I was given tape boxes, Christmas after Christmas, to store my growing music collection.  A typical Christmas would see me receiving some new tapes and action figures.  I’d sit in my bedroom reading GI Joe comics while rocking out to Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  I was a weird kid but I liked what I liked and didn’t much care.

The Joe characters diversified along with me.  In 1984 they got a little more outlandish with the introduction of Zartan and the Dreadnoks.  Zartan, the master of disguise, was a deluxe action figure whose skin colour turned blue in direct sunlight.  This gimmick only worked outdoors, which meant we played with Zartan outside in the summer while giving him a rest in the winter.  His backup didn’t arrive on toy shelves until 1985.  They were three bikers named the Dreadnoks:  Buzzer, the Brit with a ponytail and a chainsaw, the mohawked Ripper, and the flamethrower Torch who had a bit of a Lemmy beard going on.  Their Mad Max inspired outfits would have allowed them to fit into a rock band quite easily, if only they came with musical instruments instead of weapons.  They’d make a cool punk trio.

The Dreadnoks expanded their lineup the following year.  On explosives came Monkeywrench, bearded and obsessed with Guy Fawkes.  Then in a deluxe set came the vehicle driver Thrasher, and his definitely Mad Max inspired Thunder Machine car.  Made of bits and pieces of scrap, it hit the same post-apocalyptic notes as the other Dreadnoks, as well as rock bands like Motley Crue, Kiss, and Armored Saint.  Thrasher had a punk rock streak of green in his hair.  And now they were a quintet.  They were literally begging for me to make them custom musical instruments.

There were always wooden match sticks in the house, so I used them for guitar necks, drum stands, drumsticks, and a microphone.  Cardboard boxes were cut up to make the bodies of guitars and a few drums and cymbals.  Black electrical tape held them all together.  And so the Dreadnoks became a five piece band, and I put them on display in my bedroom on a shelf with my Kiss cassettes.

If only I had a picture of my Dreadnok band.  Not everybody had a camera back then.  Even if you did, it seemed film was always out!  You can imagine what they looked like!

 

#836: Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Schnauzers – How It Was Made & Full Movie

GETTING MORE TALE #836: Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Schnauzers

For one weekend in the summer of 2012, I put the music on pause.  Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Schnauzers was the title.  It was a series and  I made four movies in total.  Five, if you count the final one that I shot but never edited.  There’s something so satisfying about animating Transformers.  I wanted to go big or go home this time, and what I ended up with this time was a 44 minute movie (originally split into two parts for file size reasons).

It’s amazing to think I did this movie in a single weekend in July 2012.  Probably Canada Day weekend.  I filmed the whole thing in just two days.  You can see the the light change as I filmed from sunrise to sunset, in order to squeeze time out of every minute.  And this movie was just my side project!  At the same time, I was also posting 1-2 articles per day for my main gig:  reviews and Record Store Tales.

I came prepared for Canada Day weekend with my Nokia C3 cell phone as my only camera.  Here’s something you didn’t know.  Cell phones back then were so much easier to do primitive animation with.  There’s a pause button you could hit when you’re making a video, and it essentially allowed me to do the stop motion very single-handedly, very quickly, just by hitting that pause button.  Sure, I made a few mistakes along the way.  I had to reshoot entire scenes when I didn’t know I was pausing “off” instead of “on”, but it did enable me to do this entire thing in just two days.  I barely stopped to eat, and I was just wiped by the end of it.  I think it was a manic episode to be honest with you, but a doctor never diagnosed that so it’s just my opinion.

I chose the characters (and more importantly, toys) that I wanted to use for the movie.  Most of them are from the Generations lines, with some third party add-on kits for Hound and Goldbug.  Others are reissues of G1 originals:  Soundwave and his tapes, Predaking, and Ultra Magnus.  I needed figures that would be easy to transform on the fly.  Magnus and Predaking were brand new in my collection and I wanted to show them off.  I decided to bring more Decepticons with me than Autobots to give them a real disadvantage.  I built the teams and roughed out a story.  Dialogue was improvised on the spot but not fixed in place until the editing stage a few days later!

I used Windows Movie Maker, then and now, to edit.  It was much less stable then (or at least my computer is more powerful now).  The amount of edits I used numbered in the hundreds and crashes were frequent.  Even though I was essentially editing “live” in-camera as I filmed and animated, I was also tightening up those edits with Windows.  Funny enough, Windows has no more features in the current version than it did in 2012.  For the laser blasts, I added a “split” and inserted a “fade in from white” effect.  They are remarkably effective.

I originally edited the movie with mainstream rock music as the soundtrack.  I used Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson, and AC/DC among others.  Needless to say, YouTube never let me upload it, so it sat on my various hard drives and DVDs all these years.  Until I recently had an idea.

Uncle Meat’s hatred of my “playing with action figures” inspired me to use his music to get around the YouTube issues.  More accurately, Max the Axe’s music (with a little of my sister’s mixed in).  It worked brilliantly.  Just as well as the original version, though with music you’re not familiar with.

Now you can hear many of these great Max the Axe tracks for yourself.  While watching robots blow each other to bits!

Sure, it was cool when I used “Accident of Birth” by Bruce Dickinson as the entrance music for the Colossus Schnauzers and….

Oh!  You’re confused about the Schnauzers.  Having grown up around the wee beasts, I realized that in action figure scale, you could use them as giant monsters if you could get them to do what you wanted them to do.  With Kathryn Ladano’s help, we used treats as incentives to chase and attack Autobots.  I affixed Decepticon logos to their foreheads and wrote them into the story as Shockwave’s latest creation:  Colossus Schnauzers.  With DNA stolen from a secret lab (named after the two doggies Laci and Ali), the Decepticons engineered giant versions of the beasts.

It’s up to the Autobots to find out what they are up to, with a small squad led by Ultra Magnus.  (I had focused on Optimus Prime in the preceding chapter with his death and rebirth as Powermaster Prime, so I wanted a different leader figure this time.)  I used two Bumblebee figures.  One was modified with a third-party head that made him into a Generations version of Goldbug, his rebuilt form.  This is all roughly based on an original Marvel comics storyline.  I also took inspiration from the TV show.  One figure that I wanted to show off next time was my transparent “Ghost Starscream”.  I didn’t have time to get into that with this chapter, so I ended it with some foreshadowing that would allow me to introduce my ghost version of the figure next time.

I coloured the dialogue to make it easier to tell which ‘bot is talking. I did an “infodump” introduction for the Predacons.  This is the much-critisized technique used by Bob Budiansky in the 80s Marvel series.  Each new toy had an introduction, because the comic was just a device to sell toys.  That was my homage to Budiansky.  The characterisations of the figures in my film are meant to be true to their toy bios and comic book appearances. Although my story takes place in a universe all its own, it’s similar to the ones you know.  The “release the Schnauzers” scene is of course a parody of the the Kraken scene in Clash of the Titans.  I wanted something that reminded me of Poseidon pulling the chain that opened the big gate.

I haven’t watched this movie for a long time. I had forgotten that I even included a “blooper reel” at the end. This is the only part of the movie that still has its original music soundtrack. Though I’ve forgotten the name of the track, that’s Kathryn Ladano’s music playing and that’s her in her only cameo!

Consider that I shot this thing in two days, sunrise to sunset, and edited it together in a couple more, all while posting new daily reviews and Record Store Tales. That’s unbelievable and probably also unhealthy. But I still enjoy the results! I legitimately like this. I also enjoyed adding the new music by Max the Axe and seeing how it worked out.  I’m proud enough to post it here for you to enjoy. And I hope you do!

Live Stream – Uncle Don Don Cutoff Shorts Countdown, Interview with Geoff Stephen, Unboxings & Guests

Thanks for watching the Saturday live stream! If you missed any of it, it is now available below via YouTube. I ran into numerous technical issues, so apologies are in order for bad audio, bad video and audio lag.

Content-wise though, woah nelly! You are in for a treat. Here are some highlights:

For a live interview with Geoff Stephen of 1001 Albums in 10 Years, skip ahead to 0:07:00!  He is doing something really special for healthcare workers, so check out what he has to say.

To check out some unboxings, go to 0:12:40 of the stream.

BONUS FOOTAGE – For a sneak peak at an animation test (not part of the actual live stream) you must go to 1:26:06.

For the Uncle Don Don Cutoff Shorts Countdown, start at 1:26:10 of the stream.

For a special Star Wars chat with all-around awesome guy Kovaflyer, go to 2:01:30 of the stream!

Technical issues aside, this live stream set one new record.  It represents the longest span of time in a single day.  I’ve done longer streams but this one had segments ranging from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, a 14 hour range.  It was fun for me and I hope you enjoy despite the quality problems.

VIDEOS: Star Wars Black Series 2020 Vignettes (Parts One and Two) – Kathryn Ladano “Masked” and “Contentions”

PART ONE (Vignettes I – VI)

PART TWO (Vignettes VII – XIII)

Lockdown got ya bored? Not me! Today I’m playing with my Star Wars guys.

 

VIDEO REVIEW (GOES WRONG): Star Wars The Black Series – Hyperreal 8″ Darth Vader (2019)

2/5 stars?

Sunday Chuckle: I bought a lightsaber

And I don’t care who knows it!

VIDEO: Star Wars Black Series random unboxings

Guest directed by: Kathryn Ladano

#678: Robots

GETTING MORE TALE #678: Robots

Long-time readers know that mikeladano.com started as a site about music, but has grown beyond that.  Mike Ladano (that’s me) is passionate about music, but that’s not all.  You may have noticed that in addition to collecting rare Japanese import CDs with bonus tracks, I also like to collect tape decks and cars and trucks and planes that transform into robots.

The music/Transformers connection is pretty solid.  First there was a Bruce Springsteen-like character who debuted in the Marvel comic series.  Then, Stan Bush and Weird Al Yankovic contributed tunes to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie.  (Weird Al’s song was “Dare to Be Stupid”, and you should certainly know Stan Bush’s songs “The Touch” and “Dare”.)  Two decades later, Linkin Park had the lead single from 2007’s Transformers.  In fact, Linkin Park have songs in all five Transformers “Bayverse” films.  Some members are so deep into the ‘bots that they even have their own Transformers action figure.  In 2013, Hasbro released a limited edition golden Linkin Park Soundwave figure designed by Joseph Hahn!

I should state for the record, because this really cheeses off a lot of Transformers fans:  I hated the old cartoon.  It was too kiddie, with nonsensical plots and characterisations.  The Marvel Transformers comic series, originally written by Bob Budiansky and later Simon Furman, was grittier and geared to older kids.  It ran 80 issues, from 1986 to 1991.  It was better than the Sunbow cartoon, and the Michael Bay movies too for that matter.

I “stopped playing with toys” around 1987, but still collected the comics for another year.  The Transformers toyline and comic were officially cancelled in the early 90s, but even that was short-lived.  Much like Optimus Prime himself, the toys wouldn’t stay dead for long.

1993 saw the debut of Transformers: Generation 2.  This consisted of a rebooted toyline with old and new toys, and a new Marvel comic continuing the storyline of the original.  While in Frankenmuth, Michigan I picked up issue #1 of the comic, in a special fold-out cover.  Unfortunately, the new G2 comic was adapted to the 90s: Big guns, and grittier action.  Meanwhile the toys were increasingly designed with kids in mind.  They sported bright colours and gimmicky play features, like squirting water.  Around the same time, while checking garage sales with buddy Peter, I ran across a massive stash of original mint condition Transformers comics that I was missing.  50 cents a piece!  I was back collecting the comics once again.

I regret that I didn’t buy any Generation 2 toys.  Some of them, including “Laser Rod” Optimus Prime, were really quite excellent.  I thought I “shouldn’t” be buying toys at my age.

When did that all go out the window?  In 2006 I quit the Record Store and started at Aecon Industrial.  I was teamed up with a fantastic lady named Julie in their Quality Assurance department, and she showed me the ropes.  She was also responsible for getting me back into transforming toys.

We had a little office to work out of, and on the shelf was a small black Beast Wars toy.  Beast Wars was a 90s incarnation of Transformers, a complete reboot after the commercial failure of Generation 2.  This time, a new cast of characters featured robots that turned into life-like animals, on a flashy new computer animated TV show.  Julie brought in a small Beast Wars toy that belonged to a nephew.  It was a bull of some kind, and when we needed a break we’d fiddle with it.  That’s what started it up again.  I remembered how fun those little toys were.  Like 3D puzzles that you solved by twisting and turning parts around into new formations.

I made a trip over to Toys R Us to see what they had:  Star Wars Transformers!  These were famous vehicles from the Star Wars movies that transformed into robot likenesses of their drivers.  There was a Vader/TIE, a Luke/X-Wing and many more to collect. Unfortunately they were not very good toys.  The whole concept was dicey from the start.  Darth Vader flies a TIE Fighter that transforms into a giant robotic Darth?  That never made a lot of sense, but the toys were just not good.  They were flimsy and the robot modes were not very good.

A couple years later, things changed again.  Hasbro realized there was a massive market out there for old men buying nostalgia toys.  They began issuing new versions of old classic characters from the 80s, and that was all I needed to jump back in with both feet.  You could even buy “Encore” reissues for some of the original figures from 1984, ’85 and ’86!  Therefore, for just a few bucks you could get a brand new replica of the original Optimus Prime, with only a few minor changes (smaller smokestacks so kids won’t poke an eye out).

I buy both Encore reissues, and brand new iterations of old characters.  The new toys satisfy a lot of the wants of collectors today.  Unlike the old ones from the 80s, they have better articulation.  Elbows, knees and ankles all move so you can put your toys in the most action-packed poses.  But they’re not perfect.  They come with fewer accessories and sometimes lack the gimmicks of their 80s counterparts.  Materials are cheaper today, and toys are sometimes misassembled or defective right out of the package.  Design flaws and bad QA are a constant issue.  Toys are made so hastily that some can’t even transform properly like they’re shown on the packaging.

Sounds like Hasbro needs a full-time play-tester.  I’m available.

 

 

VIDEO: FansToys Terminus Giganticus (Pack A)

Balancing a music collection with a toy collection is expensive, but they do have a lot in common.  For example, both feature “holy grail” items that you simply must have.  In 2017, the holy grail category was won by toys for the first time.  Behold!  Enjoy the video at bottom.

Key points:

* Terminus Giganticus is FansToys’ version of a Masterpiece class Omega Supreme action figure, to fit seamlessly with your official Transformers Masterpiece collection.
* Fucking huge.
* Comes in two packs: Pack A (September 2017) and Pack B (November 2017).
* Thanks to Madhaus Toys (facebook.com/madhaus.collectibles) for the pre-order!

References:

* For more information on third party toys:  Getting More Tale #570: Third Party
* Incredibly galleries  from TFCon:  Getting More Tale #578: TFCon 2017

Video: