Transforming Transformers Toys With Jin Saotome

when i was first clued to the Transformer-customs of Jin Saotome; i was uber-impressed with the "life" he had re-given the plastic-figures, with details previously unnoticed and a realism that turned the regular Transformer-shelf toys into something more, IMHO ... and thru his ebay-auctions, fans would have the opportunity to possess these figures ... i had a quick chat with Jin about his works, influences and custom-process ...

TOYSREVIL: how long have you been customizing toys and action figures?

JIN: That depends on what you consider real customizing. I was taking apart 3 3/4th inch GI Joes and painting them with my mom’s fingernail polish at age 8 or something. I’d swap arms, drill new holes for more arms, and from there it just got more involved. Soon I was putting together model kits, Gundam, painting metal miniatures, making Star Wars customs, and just about any hobby/gaming theme. I worked at various comic/gaming stores so I had access to all that.

TRE: what's your favorite base toy for customizing?

JIN: I think Silver Surfer from the Marvel Legends line was my favorite and most widely used figure. They’re six inches tall, fully articulated, and work great for base bodies when you’re looking to do a Superhero or movie custom. At one time I had purchased over 50 of him for customs like Iceman, Archangel, Silver Samurai, I mean he’s basically a featureless male body you can sculpt anything on!

TRE: admittedly i was first turned unto your works via your Transformers-customs - which is currently your fav Transformer-figure to work on / to have worked on?

JIN: That would probabaly be Scorponok from the movie. I love the Zoids-ish style of his design and he lends himself really well to metallic colors. Also the spinning claws that work when the arm is in any position... that blew me away! Unfortunately he doesn't have a great robot mode but the scorpion design I believe makes up for that.

TRE: are you a Transformers' fan?

JIN: Heck yes, and from way back! I use to have almost every figure there until like with all my old toys (He-man, GI Joe, Star Wars, etc) they were sold at garage sales by my parents. Now I collect the newer ones and may someday seek out the old G1 figures I once had. Plus anyone who paints a permanent Autobot symbol on their car cannot deny their destiny. I think that gets me into the fandom no questions asked!

TRE: no questions needed indeed! how would you describe your customizing process? maybe take your recent Optimus Prime as a 'prime example' (sorry, i hadda work that in somehow :p)

JIN: First I check joints and articulation. The head can’t look up or down? Time for a new joint. Knees have bad range of motion? Out comes the Dremel. After the hacking and gluing is done, I’ll see if I need to sculpt anything with Apoxie Sculpt. Door handles, a sword, raised logos, etc.

JIN: Then I wash the joint lube/mold release off the figure and it’s painting time. Basecoat, solid sections painted, then some washes for shadow, and drybrushing for highlights. After that comes the time-consuming part, painting in all the details like eyes, lights, pistons, finger-guards, etc. I’ll go back to a custom 20 times and touch things up until I’m satisfied.

TRE: do you normally scratch-build? or just paint? what do you prefer to do?

JIN: Pretty much everything. I like to scratch-build accessories and sculpt heads/armor/features. Trying to scratch-build a jointed superhero figure is nearly impossible due to cost and durability issues with joints so most customizing is done using a base figure. However I’ve seen some spectacular scratch-built Transformers over the years. The Optimus Prime Train and Cyclonus/Whelee kits that I saw blew me away.

Painting is something I really enjoy and found I have the patience for it. I really like to challenge myself every time I work, trying to make my next custom look even better. How many times can I repaint the Wreckage movie figure? We’ll just have to see!

I sculpt too, however that is my least favorite part of customizing and if I could skip it altogether I would. That’s one reason I like to ‘Frankenstein’ figures, or make them from pre-existing pieces.

TRE: with all the detailing and effort you obviously put into your creations, would you ever want to design and/or produce your own toys? if "yes", what would it be?

JIN: Design, yes! Produce, not in a million years. I’d love to design toys based on characters we have in comics/movies/shows today. Maybe start my own series like my superhero-parody line “Brick Ninja” that I have on my site. However that’s where I’d stop and leave it to a larger, more established company to actually produce and market them. I love how Hasbro is making that Animated Transformers line and would love to come up with designs like that! Robots and mecha have always been a favorite of mine.

TRE: dude - lurving the Brick NInjas, seriously LOL - in closing, could you tell us, WHO IS JIN SAOTOME?

JIN: I’m nobody special, just your average guy looking to make his mark on things. I got the nickname Jin after using his character to win a slew of Marvel vs Capcom tournaments back in Florida at the local arcade. It went from “There’s the guy that plays Jin!” to “There’s Jin!” Go figure, heh. Right now selling customs is my main job and I do side work for ToyFare magazine, make costume props for people here and there, and answer customizing questions on a daily basis.

TOYSREVIL: cheers for your time and trouble dude! be looking out for more of your insane work and hopefully one day, your own line of figures, yeh?

- peep more of Jin's custom-works and tutorials on his website [all images via]

[original post circa 04.08.07]


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