March 11th of 2018, I had the extreme honor of helping Cheryl Sparks with her table at the Bakersfield 2018 Mini-Comicon.
Back when I interviewed Cheryl Sparks for Amazing Figure Modeler magazine, one of my questions was if she’d ever considered being a guest at a convention. Cheryl laughed and said that sounded like “a kick-in-the-butt good time!“ She’d made an appearance at a UCLA screening of SILENT RUNNING with director Douglas Trumbull in 2012, and had no idea she’d be asked for autographs or treated like a celebrity for her appearance in that film. I’d interviewed Cheryl over the phone for the magazine, and we’d become Facebook friends, but we’d never actually met.
I flew into the Bakersfield Airport and my good friends Bart and Bret Mixon, who’d driven up from LA, picked me up.
I stayed at the convention hotel and the next morning we were setting up the table with some of the fun things I’d brought: a painted model of Huey the Drone, an iPad with a continuously repeating video snippet of the “Drones” section of THE MAKING OF SILENT RUNNING (Thanks, Mark Dowman!), and two large vinyl VistaPrint posters I had made.
And then my phone rang, and it was Cheryl asking for help in the parking lot. She’d lucked into a good parking space, but it was not a Handicapped space with the extra room for loading and unloading a wheelchair. So here she was, Cheryl Sparks herself, halfway into her parking space, asking if I could park her car after she got out. She pulled the wheelchair out from behind the driver’s seat, and hopped in. I was amazed and impressed with how well she got around. Though her car has hand controls, the factory controls are still there, so I squeezed in and tucked the car the rest of the way into the slot. We hugged, and the day was off to a great start.
I was sorta star-struck all day long. Cheryl had brought a photo album of pictures she’d taken during SILENT RUNNING, and 8×10 glossies she’d been given. She also brought her script, in a flowered 3-ring binder hand-labeled “This Belongs to Cheryl Sparks” like a 17-year-old girl would have done.
During the day, several of the other convention guests came by and took pictures. Many of Cheryl’s family and friends came by, too. It was a wonderful day for Cheryl, and for me. The Mixon brothers, as always, had incredible stories to tell, and Bart was wearing his AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR crew jacket. We all made some new friends, too, like Walter Evans.
We all went out for dinner with the convention’s producer Steven Wyatt and several of the other guests.
Cheryl and her husband Toby drove me back to the airport the next day. And Cheryl loaned me her script, letting me take it home. An incredible weekend. Spending the day together behind the table made our friendship grow.
We’d do it again 8 months later at the bigger and better version of the Bakersfield Comicon!
I’m often asked just what colors the Drone kits should be.
- Light Blue (Dewey)
- Pale Orange (Huey)
- Light Green (Louie)
But the colors are more complex than that. They’re muddy, muted colors, dull, dusty and dingy in appearance. I’ve painted a great many Drone kits over the years, and I’ve learned a few things. I’ve especially learned (the hard way) what doesn’t work.
I attended a presentation by Jason Eaton at WonderFest called “Painting the Millennium Falcon.” Jason shared the basics of mixing that magical warm pale grey paint that ILM used on their STAR WARS models, and then said that he’s been in the LucasFilm archives, and no two of their Falcon models are exactly the same color. He finished up the presentation by saying that a person should ultimately paint their model the way they see it, as the model will be on their shelf, in their home, and theirs to enjoy. He added that if you’re building/painting a model for a client, you should paint it the way they see it.
Paint it the way you see it, or paint it the way your customer sees it. Mic drop.
I’m providing my favorite frame-grab reference pictures, courtesy of Mark Dowman.
I’ve been custom-mixing acrylic airbrush paints for my last few Drone builds. I’m not aware of any close paint matches available in spray cans, but you may find something that works for you. What works for me is to mix a paint that matches these photos fairly well, and then APPLY IT OVER A GREY PRIMER (like Tamiya). Applying the paint over white will make the colors way too bright and neon. Don’t be afraid to add grey (or black and white) to your paint to dull and muddy the color. I like to view these reference pictures on my iPad as I work.
I’m not a great painter, but I am learning. Combining “pre-shading” and “oil-washing” will help add a battered, used look to your Drone kits. I prime my Drones with Tamiya gray primer and then airbrush-outline most of the panels with Golden transparent black. Wherever I want a lighter shade, I wipe off the acrylic with thinner.
When I airbrush my thinned Drone colors over the pre-shading, it works pretty well. I give the Drone bodies an appropriate-colored oil wash to pop the detail a bit more. I found some great YouTube videos on both pre-shading and oil washes.
I built these kits for a diorama and an article about it I wrote for the “Robots” issue of Amazing Figure Modeler. I’ll be posting about the article soon.
Now in development is the Cheryl Sparks Tribute Kit! This the next kit I will be releasing. A tribute to Cheryl Sparks, who, at 17, portrayed “Huey” (Drone #2) in SILENT RUNNING (1972). The kit will be released with Cheryl’s participation and blessing. Each kit will include an autographed photo. Cheryl’s likeness was sculpted by Gabriel Marquez. The kit is 1/8th scale, the same as my other robot kits. TimeSlip Creations will be doing the castings. Price and availability yet to be determined.
My kits of the SILENT RUNNING (Universal, 1972) Drone robots “Dewey,” “Huey”, and “Louie” are now available!
The Kits feature:
- 1/8th scale (4.5″ to 4.75″ tall)
- Over 35 parts per Kit
- 12-piece Manipulator Arm (can be built in any pose)
- Bases and Nameplates
- Each Kit includes the Accessories shown
- Hollow-cast Bodies and clear Headlight Lenses
- Front and back Number Stencils by Aztek Dummy.
- Quality Resin Castings by TimeSlip Creations.
The kits can be bought individually ($125 plus shipping) or as a set of 3 ($325 plus shipping).
Watch for an article featuring them in the upcoming “Robots” issue of AMAZING FIGURE MODELER.
Check out more images on the PRODUCTS page.
Christmas came early for me this year.
Way back in March, Amanda and I were visiting my in-laws in Pasadena, California. My brother-in-law Russ McGregor took me to Burbank to have lunch with Bret and Bart Mixon and Greg Jein.Greg Jein is one of the greatest movie miniature builders ever. His CLOSE ENCOUNTERS “Mothership” is in one of the Smithsonian facilities now, and he’s done amazing precision work in many, many films, most recently INTERSTELLAR. He’s been called a “Miniature Giant” and has earned an Oscar nomination.
Another facet of Greg is that he is a serious collector who began amassing movie props in the 70s. This was before eBay, before Planet Hollywood, before prop-collecting was widespread. Back then, props were considered by the movie studios to be stuff that took up space and cost money to store. Some props Greg acquired at auctions, some things he was given by friends, other things he rescued from dumpsters. He had the “stunt double” of the LOST IN SPACE Robot, along with the plaster molds for making all its rubber parts. He owns Phasers and Communicators from the original STAR TREK TV series. He has literally tons of cool stuff in several mini-warehouses.
The Mixon brothers and I have been friends with Greg Jein since the late 1970s, when he came to Houston as a convention guest. The Mixons and I have visited him several times since then. Greg once snuck us into a miniature shoot on the movie 1941, and Steven Spielberg had us thrown out. Another time he allowed us to help his crew cutting and lensing fiber optic strands for the “V’Ger” ship for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Bart and Bret eventually moved to Hollywood and got into the movie business, and I kept my day job In Houston with Gulf/Chevron.
Back to March: We were having lunch at an Italian place near Creature Features in Burbank. For a number of reasons, Greg was clearing out about 80% of his collection. He asked me if there was anything I’d like to have. Restraining myself, I said I’d love to have the little FIREFOX airplane mockups he’d made for Clint Eastwood, or anything from SILENT RUNNING, which Greg knows to be my favorite film. I told him we’d negotiate a price depending on what he found. He grinned slightly, and asked “Do you still live at the same address?”
Months and months go by. At one point, Bret called me and said he’d bumped into Greg, who’d said “I think I’ve found something Tom will really like.” Bret reminded me that Greg works at his own pace, but that something will eventually show up.
Two weeks before Christmas, the doorbell rings, announcing packages on the front porch. We’ve been ordering Christmas gifts and were expecting stuff from Target and Amazon. But one box was different. It had Greg Jein’s return address on it!
I open the box and I see… objects wrapped in bubble wrap. At first I thought they were two fighter ships from the “V” TV series, which Greg made. Removing the bubble wrap, I immediately knew what they in fact were: A PAIR OF DRONE FEET FROM SILENT RUNNING. Not the external foot shells from the robots, but the internal aluminum frames that enabled the actors to walk on their hands wearing a 20-pound robot suit!
Designed to keep the fingers relaxed and to put all the performers’ weight on their palms, these frames are wonders of engineering and ergonomics. Heavily padded for the palm, they include a sort of fingerless rubber glove to keep them on the performer’s hand.Unwrapping these items was a very emotional experience, and I’m still in a daze that I have these things. There were three pairs of these made for SILENT RUNNING and now I have one of those pairs!
And thanks to the encouragement of my wife Amanda, I am now in touch with Paul Kraus and Jim Dow, who built the Drone robots for the film, and Cheryl Sparks, who actually WORE a Drone suit and performed as “Huey” in the movie with Bruce Dern. I’m sure to learn a lot more about these feet from them.
When I told him about this, Paul Kraus joked “It’s good to know the feet are in good hands.” Bret Mixon quipped “The best SILENT RUNNING collectibles, hands-down.”
Life is crazy, life is good.
I’m almost happy with the site’s basic appearance now.
There is still plenty of work to do. For one thing, I’ve got to compose a huge update for what’s gone on in the last year or so…and what’s going on now.
In the meantime, here’s a link to my Facebook album of Louie’s Leg progress, that probably should have been posted here: Louie’s Leg Album
The pictures show the master forms that will be vacu-formed to create the LOUIE’S LEG kit! This life-sized prop replica will be the leg of Louie, one of the “Drone” robots from the movie SILENT RUNNING (my favorite film). Mark Dowman has researched promotional stills and framegrabs from the film, and cross-checked against some dimensions we were confident of, like an actual Drone headlight from the 70s (no longer available). Mark then drew the most accurate plans ever created, and I made the master parts from MDF.
In the film, the Space Freighter VALLEY FORGE unintentionally “shoots the rapids,” drifting through the rings of Saturn, putting the Drones in jeopardy. Louie the Drone gets his foot caught in a grating and, unable to get to safety, is knocked off the ship by a large ice crystal. Later, Bruce Dern’s character “Freeman Lowell” notices that the other two Drones, Huey and Dewey, have stopped their maintenance routines. A space-suited Lowell goes outside to check on them. He finds them sitting, staring at Louie’s leg. He pulls the leg out of the grating, warns the Drones not to get careless, and tells them to get back to work.
The full-sized leg as shown will stand approximately 12” tall, and be vacuformed styrene, just like the originals.
In the next couple of weeks, I should have the first test shots. I have a little tweaking to do with these parts before I can take them to the plastics shop. We’ll keep you posted!
Time for an appearance overhaul. New theme installed, since the old one was just drab and dark. It’s a mess right now, but will be much better soon.
Well, buckaroos, the negotiations begun at Monsterpalooza in April just did not pan out. I was enthused about the project, the person who was the subject of the kit was enthused, I had a sculptor and an illustrator warming up in the bullpen, but the person’s lawyer and manager made the licensing agreement something beyond my little company’s capabilities. Heck, I think Mattel or Kenner would be hard-pressed to live by the arrangement I was offered.
I do want to sincerely thank my friend George Stephenson for his support and sage counsel during the negotiations. Check out his incredible kits and busts at Black Heart Enterprises. George, I still owe you that steak dinner!
Which brings us to our first non-vaporware product, a licensed Strat-O-Blaster 5000 from the upcoming Bill Hughes movie MATT MERCURY AND THE PLOT OF THE GALACTIC MASTERMIND! Facebook link for the Matt Mercury Movie.
The Strat-O-Blaster 5000 kits are castings made from one of the original screen-used hero props. Castings are by Acme Design, Inc. Very little assembly required. Easily painted to look just like the original prop. More details soon, both about the blaster and the movie!
And this is only the beginning of the MATT MERCURY merchandising. Stay tuned, friends!
Back from a productive meeting at Burbank’s Monsterpalooza, and some great things are in the works!