Tuesday, 27 April 2010

McCoy's Umbrella and other new products

Last week I had some rather good fortune. I managed to get hold of an original mid-eighties umbrella body of the same type and vintage used for Sylvester McCoy's famous question mark umbrella.

The umbrella has been a project that I've not really had the heart to tackle and finish mainly because of the difficulty in sourcing an umbrella that was 'just right'. This means the umbrella had to be to same vintage and model from the same maker as the original base umbrella used for the prop. Having an umbrella that was close just doesn't cut it and would put me in the same league as those idiot cosplayers out there. If I was to do it, it would be done right or not at all.

The actual question mark handle shape and dimensions were not actually that difficult to find or work out and the dims would actually surprise you.  Hence why past attempts to replicate this iconic piece have fallen woefully short. The Who Shop's version was just a cheap approximation designed to cash in on a moment and the current group run organised by, who else, our window licking cosplay wunderkind Bob Mitsch, is so seriously inaccurate on many different levels, one wonders if the designer actually possessed an optic nerve.

Enough about the riff-raff, let's discuss what I've got planned.

So I managed to get, through my contacts in the UK, the last remaining umbrella body of the same model and vintage used for McCoy's prop. This was very exciting as the manufacturer of the original umbrella, whilst still in business, has drastically changed the designed and materials used in their umbrellas. In particular, the vintage nylon used has been superceded by the cheaper and entirely different polyester and the overall construction has been tweaked to make the manufacture more efficient. For me, this was a deal breaker and meant any replica that used the modern model was compromised. Don't get me wrong, the umbrella is still in a league of its own. The manufacturer is a fine old traditional maker of handmade umbrellas that start from about £120 and upwards. However, it wouldn't be the same and I want perfection.

So here's the brolly:

Having got the umbrella I am going to be making the handle using the same materials, techniques and dimensions as the original prop. Once I've installed it and finsihed it, I fully intend to replicate every single mm of this umbrella for you, even down to the original manufacturer's label. This will not be a replica so much as a straight 1:1 facsimile of the original prop.

Speaking of 1:1 facsimiles, I am also working on the most accurate recreations of Peter Davison and Colin Baker's shirts ever made. They will be exact repros even down to the Dometakis and Harvie & Hudson labels. I am very excited about these and once you see them, you will too. Remember I promised you museum quality replicas? I'm delivering, so watch this space!!!

New Paint

I am a stickler for accuracy when it comes to props and will often try to use screen used materials, techniques and construction methods if I can and it doesn't compromise the final product. In fact, I often try and improve upon the original provided the changes are invisible and genuinely add value whilst compromising nothing of the original product. A case in point has been my sonic screwdrivers.

One issue that has bugged me since the beginning has been the paint on the sonics. The screen used sonics used commercially available (in the UK, at least) Crackle Touch paint from Plasti-Kote. The two colours used are unique and cannot be approximated using other paints of this nature. To my mind, there was simply no getting away from it, I had to use it on my replicas. So, through various means, I obtained some.

The only problem is that, durability wise, it was shit. Actually, it wasn't as bad as I had expected but it could be improved but still fell some way short of the durability levels I demanded.

By adding a quality primer and several layers of automotive clearcoat lacquer, you can achieve something that approaches an everyday durable finish. But I wanted more.

To my mind the only way I could get what I wanted was to develop it myself. So after consulting with an industrial paint maker, we set about creating a two stage baked crackle powdercoat that achieves a level of hardness and durability that is comparable to a car finish. I shit you not, I have rumbled the test pieces with coins, keys and various bits of crap one finds in the average pocket, to negiligible damage. Colours have been Pantone matched to the original samples and only deviate one or two shades and the crackle is slightly more pronounced. (It is worth noting that the original Crackle Touch has inconsistant colour and crackling that varies depending on thickness of base coat, thickness of top coat and the clearcoat tends to dull the colour too, rendering the colony cream colour grey).

Here's the results:

All sonics ordered in the past month have been stripped of the old paint and the new powder coat has been implemented, hence the delay in getting orders out this month but all pending orders are shipping out today and tomorrow. Enjoy the new paint job!

Tennant Season 3-4 Sonic finishing line in sight

As some of you already know, I have been very busy of late,  fulfilling orders, prototyping new products, reinventing paint and generally being pretty bloody marvellous.

One project that has dragged on for a bit is the Tennant Sonic Screwdriver. I am a perfectionist and I will never release anything until it is ready, or I deem it up to the requisite standard  for it to be released. If it takes time, we wait.  No use in halfbaking something. A case in point is the Tennant Sonic. Now the cynical amongst you, of which no doubt there are are many, would point out (and quite rightly too) that most of the hard work has already been done and that the Tennant version only requires some minor detail changes. That is true to an extent but it also unduly simplifies the situation. The Tennant Sonic is an entirely different beast and although shares some of the main dimensions of the Eccleston prop, is on closer examination, quite a different beast.

So what have we got? Here's the current unfinished prototype:

There are obvious issues that need correcting and things yet to be added such as the slider block. The first thing is the slider plate. The above slider plate was cobbled from some brass tubing so is a little thicker and less curved and not as finished as the final plate. Here is the production slider plate:

Much nicer no? The shape is more accurate than the MFX, rectangular rather than square and has rounded corners and a more accurate hole placement.

We are also implementing an engineering change for the button and will be installing an extended button microswitch:

The benefits of a microswitch such as this will be apparent to owners of the MFX but will allow the sonic to be held and activated in positions that the MFX cannot be.

One further change we will be making, and this is not shown in the prototype above, is the ridge shape. MFX got it close but not correct. Here is the correct profile for the ridges:

The ridges have been softened and reprofiled to lose the harsh semi circular channel profile that the MFX suffered from. The result is a softer and more accurate shape.

The final touch is I have been secretly developing an industrial powder coat analogue to the screen accurate Plasti-Kote Crackle Touch paint used on the prop and the MFX. The problem with this paint is not only is it a 12 week wait for each consignment to arrive by boat from England, but its deplorable durability. My solution has been to develop an industrial powder coat, matched for both colour and finish, that is tough as old boots. The results, I can reveal, have been astounding. Here is the comparison pic (the MFX on the top in Plasti-Kote, my test piece below it):

I should have the final prototype finished this week and will be taking orders soon after.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sonic Car Key?

A buddy of mine mooted this idea to me a few months back and the idea has resolutely lodged itself in the back of my head and has nagged at me ever since.

Basically, the idea is to build the door opening function of your standard RF car key into a static version of my sonic replica. Basically, point your sonic at your car, the emiiter lights up and it makes a nice buzzing sound and your car is magically open. Doable? Possibly. Cool as fuck? Liquid nitrogen baby!

The question is, is there a market for it, and how do I do it?

The former question is something only you can answer.

The latter is my job.

From what I can gather, there is no real universal chipset for RF car locks. Each sonic will need to be individually coded using a duplicate key and essentially be custom made.

This is not going to be cheap. £200+ and probably nearer £300. Still, what price coolness eh?

Shall I make it?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

A review I wanted to share

Spring has sprung, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. All is right with the world on this wonderful sunny day. What better way to wake up than to be greeted with a fantastic email from one of the harshest and most critical customers I have.

I won't divulge who he is but suffice to say he is an active member of the RPF and other boards. He's got a keen eye and knows his stuff. He and I haven't always seen eye to eye but I respect the fact that unlike some of the cunts out there, he put his hand in his pocket and without prejudice, bought one of my sonics to check out for himself.

His email to me makes for some interesting reading:

"Hey CT,

Got back from work an hour ago and just logged on to share my honest and frank and super critical views on your sonic.

Been a long time coming, and my hopes were high as I had got the details of the screen used sonic burned into my retina from seeing far too many stills and screen caps over the last few months, plus you pointing out the shortcomings of the MFX sonic and minutiae detail that was promised which no doubt were fuelled by your eye for detail and ginormous ego.

Opening the package was a good sign as I got a good whiff of quality automotive sealant.

So, what can I say? The emitter head is spot on, the lens the perfect colour and height and the specs of the head, to my eye, perfect to the prop. the butt cap is also great, nicely shaped and in the correct gloss finish. The main body is also good. Not accurate [actually, the shape and dimensions are entirely accurate to the Season 2 prop albeit there are some minor details that have been tidied up. The Season 2 prop just featured a narrower slider channel and a slightly different button - we used the button from the static prop as opposed to the blobby chewing gum style slider button], but who wants a 1CM wide slot.. not me. The button is correct, but large as it sits on the top of the smaller recess. A nice compromise to the original shitty prop and a great idealisation.

The paint job is cool and the sealant does it for me as it seems far far better than the MFX version. You could actually carry this for years with minimal wear.

The steel is light, did you use stainless in the end or go with aluminium, it is difficult to tell. I assume it's 420 if it is stainless.[it's actually 303 stainless, aluminium and brass internals - the reason being was that the stainless head kept fracturing during machining due to its brittle hardness and it kept destroying tool bits in the process. Galling is also a problem with stainless especially on threads with a tight tolerance so we used dissimilar materials next to each other for the threaded construction. In the end we have something about 18% lighter than the MFX due to the MFX using a lot of brass]

Anyway, my only gripe is the bore hole through the acrylic tube which shows small drill fractures. MFX used oil smeared up the tube to soak into the cracks, which hides it well and stops the white misting and makes the whole tube clear. Personally, I like the way your sonic looks, as two wires never looked alien and hi-tech to me, and the partial masking of the wires is a bonus. I understand why the Beeb coated the bore hole with crackle on the later versions. Looks much better. The other thing is the ease in which the whole emitter head unscrews from the stem. An easy fix with Loctite Green though, so no drama for clever folks. [yes, that caused me a lot of headaches. Too fast a drill speed and you get clouding and melting, too slow and you get drill marks and microfractures. Probably need to work a new technique for that or source predrilled acrylic rods]

I had a problem with the sound and light and it crackled like it was going to fail. After blowing out the connection with compressed air, it worked fine, so looks like some paint or debris got in. Works well now.[stick in some fresh batteries and it'll go fine. The sound chip is incredibly power hungry and the batteries needs to cycle for a few seconds after each use to regain charge.]

I did tell you that there was friction tape on the prop though, yours needs it as well. I can't see how you could have made an extending version without using the tape, the acrylic would get scratched up to buggery.[have a play with it and you'll realise something quite profound. The engineering tolerances mean that there is only about 0.5mm clearance between the acrylic rod and collar. The acrylic will never touch the sides of the collar even if you were to try your hardest. It seems tight but trust me, I have worked out every micron on this thing. The MFX will waggle all over the place. Mine doesn't. It slides up and down in the straightest path possible with only about 1mm deviance at full extension.]

All in all it is a difficult sonic to make as it is not screen accurate and more of a hybrid and idealisation of what it should be. In my mind you got it 100% spot on. Fuck knows what it must have taken to get the details right.

I look forward to the Tennant version. I want one in the white crackle as it looks so much better, plus DT hardly ever used the gold coloured thing in the later episodes. You may want to look at making a fixed non extending version with a resin body and butt cap for the cosplayers. If those details can lower the RRP then you should sell loads. I was expecting the sound to be quieter than it is due to the design, but you have done really well to make it that loud without drilling extra holes and slots.

Nice one CT. Tis the dogs bollocks.

Now, please don't let me wait so long for the DT version.

Keep well,"

Thank you Mr D, you've made my day!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

11th Doctor Sonic Screwdriver

Many people have emailed me about the 11th Doctor Sonic and asked whether I will be producing a high quality version.

Ok, here's the answer:

I DON'T KNOW!!!!!!

The reason for this is twofold.

1. An official licensee, Wow Stuff,  has announced plans to make a die cast metal version of this sonic with an RRP of £19.99/$27. This will be released in October.

2. I have yet to get my hands on one of the props and until I do, I cannot be sure my item is as good as could be.

Wow Stuff have claimed to me at January's London Toy Fair that they provided about 50 of their prototypes to the BBC so the prop that Matt Smith uses is a Wow Stuff made Sonic. I find this an extremely bold claim and something tells me that it may not be strictly true.

The other thing that bothers me is the pricing. Confucious once say "if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is".  The Wow Stuff sonic is said to feature light, sound and integrated screwdrivers, as well as being made from metal and screen accurate.

To bring it in at an RRP of £19.99 you will need to seriously cut corners. I shit you not, I have priced this up and also spoken to several major factories here in China. Most told me 'fuck off', some laughed in my ear, and the rest walked away mumbling something about crack pipes. The small handful that were willing to bring this in for a unit cost of under £5 told me I would need to order something like 450,000 to 500,000 units.

Something tells me that no way will they ever sell half a million sonics - even 50,000 would be more than a triumph.

So something has to give. I am more than willing to bet that the Wow sonic will feel cheap and be made from thin die stamped alloy strips and painted.

That sort of RRP goes against all principles of manufacture, even here in China.

If I was to make a Matt Smith sonic, it will be done without compromise:

Machined aluminium and stainless steel
Anodised copper look metal
ABS or resin handle
Leather mid section
Dimensions taken directly from a filming prop

The only thing I can do is wait for the Wow version. If I can improve upon it, I will. Until such time, let's just wait.