A look at the madness and the machines by Erik "Superfriend" Skov
I never thought Rhode Island was big enough to have a convention. So it came as a surprise when my kids came home last Wednesday and said they had seen a sign for BotCon. I ran to the computer and googled it. This weekend, starting tomorrow in fact, was the biggest Transformers Convention ever. And it was going to be here, practically in my back yard. How could I not go? I checked with the other folks at AFI. Sure they would run a feature on BotCon if I went, took the pictures, and wrote the article. I printed down the schedule and was ready to go.
Saturday I collected my digital camera, a few granola bars and a bottle of water and I was off. Parking was easy. I walked in to be greeted by a giant picture of Optimus Prime, banners for the movie, and a giant robotic hand holding a bomb. The time shown on the bomb = the time left until the movie premiered. Then I went and stood in line.
While waiting in line I spied a bunch of AttackTix. It was the remains of the AttackTix tournament, which had been held earlier. When I asked a Hasbro person if I could take pictures of the AttackTix, Chris here asked me if I would interview a fan. I said sure! Chris has been a fan of Transformers since he was 4 years old in 1984. (Trick question – when did Transformers start? Hint – Chris was 4.) So he’s been a fan since the beginning. Chris is posing here with his two best pieces he bought today so far. Chris was also one of a whole bunch of volunteers helping out at BotCon.
I went back in line. For an hour. There was a group of 3 people, 1 girl and 2 guys, who graciously talked with me while we waited in line. Without them, the wait would have been unbearable. To them, my thanks. They also held my spot while I took pictures of things like this robot. This robot goes to science classes in middle schools to demonstrate what robots can actually do. It was sleeping. More on this later. I paid my 10$, and got a little kit from Target (with a nifty Transformer gift card), and a ticket which got me a hand stamp to get into the main exhibit hall. But no official BotCon lanyard like everyone else seemed to have. Apparently those were only for the people who bought packages for admission, which included exclusive Transformers. Those packages ranged in price up to about 300$. I still wanted one of the lanyards.
At first I though it was just a dealer room and was disappointed. As I looked around, I found more. There was a souvenir stand where I bought an official T-shirt. There was a section for customized Transformers. These were really cool. I took some pictures of them and the folks wearing costumes. Not very many of those, but the ones there were pretty good. There was a statue of Optimus Prime right in the center of the room. Then I saw it. A display of Hasbro product in showcases. They were arranged in a half circle around a desk where Hasbro employees, the Transformer creators themselves, were seated. I had found the place to be.
I asked Mike Verrecchia for a quote. “If you are a Transformers fan, this movie is the culmination of 23 years. It has adventure, excitement, it is a rollercoaster ride.”
Kristin Hamilton of International Marketing had these thoughts. “BotCon is going well. This is our 1st time in RI. We moved up the event to time it with the movie.” Did the fans like the tour of Hasbro? “500 fans got to tour Hasbro. We moved everything onto the main corridor for them to see. They loved it.”
The Transformer design team was doing sketches for people. Eric Siebenaler consented to a few questions while drawing Starscream for me. Eric has been at Hasbro for 5 years. Right out of studying industrial design at Perdue University. Eric had never drawn robots before, learning on the job. Eric’s first piece was Armada Lazerbeak in 2000, as an intern. Eric has been a fan since it started and collected the toys as a kid. I had him sign the sketch to my son.
I also talked with Steve Bono and Aaron Archer, mostly about the Kenner line “Total Justice” which they worked on while I was at Hasbro. More about that some other time. Talking to these guys and remembering some of my time at Hasbro was a blast.
I took pictures of many of the items in the cases that had recently come out or were about to. I met a fellow reporter, Gil Mikita, from ActionFigureCollectors.com. Gil’s pictures probably came out better than mine.
Another collector I met goes by the name “Shum”. Shum had a terrible experience at last years BotCon. It was so bad he was creating a documentary for his misadventures at this one. Here is Shum holding his figure of Unicron. Shum was getting everyone to sign it. When he found out I used to work for Hasbro, he asked me to sign it as well. So I did. Shum first saw Transformers on a Diet Coke commercial. “Dad gave me a Trailbreaker when I was young. I played with it every day.” Transformers remind him of his dad. Shum’s goal? To have the best time possible at this year’s BotCon.
Downstairs, there was a giant Semi. This could be the new look of Optimus Prime for the movie. There was also an interactive experience related to the movie. After watching the movie trailer 10 times while the prior group went thru, we were ushered into the back of a tractor trailer truck and told to turn off our cell phones. The two ‘escorts’ were more like Men In Black, telling us that any reports of Transformers were false. It was set up like a communications site. There was an emergency ‘broadcast’ from ‘the desert’, where we ‘accidentally’ saw ‘real’ footage of marines battling a Transformer. It was pretty good. I might just have to go see that movie. Then it was over. “Son, please look into the light.” What was I talking about? No, they just asked us to keep it confidential (yeah, right).
So there I am. I’ve covered the event, but no lanyard. Asking official folks got me nowhere. I chanced upon a man wearing two. Turned out he was a vendor and they had given him a bunch of them. After I explained my desire, he thought about it and gave me one. So I walked over to his booth and bought the starter set for AttackTix, which I’d been thinking of buying eventually. I talked to him about reporting for AFI. I told him I was avoiding shots of the dealer areas in case they didn’t want me taking pictures. He thought a picture would be a great idea. Their booth was the only one manned by more than 2 people. Here is Hany Agayby’s team from AgAbyss.com. Thanks guys.
Cobra Commander showed up, complete with attitude. This guy was great.
Back to that robot from the beginning. Here we see its real use, attacking the Hasbro podcast reporter.
And finally, my loot (not really, these are the exclusives!)
Hope you enjoyed BotCon 2007 as much as I did.