We all love a massive Transformers robot, one that towers far above anything else we own and shocks any non-collecting visitor to our display. Figures like Fortress Maximus, Metroplex and 3rd party equivalents like Terminus Giganticus, Pandinus etc have another wonderful element to them than just being the size of a child in robot mode. This week I want to talk about the pleasures of displaying and playing with these figures in city and base mode, especially the larger ones.
Last year I asked a select group of collectors to explain why they bought certain types of Transformers, these included Kit Tang and his citybot focus. Here’s what he said at the time:
“So the question is why do I collect City bots? I mean, there are a lot of negatives. They can be prohibitively expensive (the money for just one could probably fund 10 deluxes!). They take up a lot of room, which is a problem because I’m not lucky enough to have space for a permanent display for them and in ‘City mode’ they don’t look good with anything Legion scale and above… So why do I bother? Because when they’re all laid out, fully populated with WST’s and Micro Machines, Autobot city is right there. A living, breathing, fully functional metropolis that (in my head) could just get up and walk away. It takes my breath away every time I set it up and if anyone experiences the same awe and sense of childhood fulfilment that I do? Then there wouldn’t be a question anymore!”
While on its own, a citybot is rather limited in how much it can actually convey its scale, combine a few cities and bases together and you can come up with a coherent mass of buildings, highways, hatches and a fair amount of cannons. As Kit says, these figures can be hugely prohibitive in terms of cost and space. Well, the space concern is unavoidable, especially when you try to set up a display of inter-linked bases and cities, but the discounts on Titans Return Fortress Maximus have certainly given more people financial access to this kind of toy. Myself included.
Coinciding with my completist approach to Titans Return and Transformers Legends, I have ended up with 5 enormous Titan Class cities in Fort Max and Trypticon (plus variants), as well as a fair number of leader class Titans Return/TF LG with base modes. I have a very tiny collection – literally and numerically – of World’s Smallest Transformers for populating them, and an army of Titan Masters of course. But, Titan Masters do not a cast of well known Transformers make. How would I be able to use my larger and more recognisable Transformers or 3rd party products with the citybots and still have them look good and somewhat in scale?
I found that instead of trying hard to make the smallest Transformers I had fit with the easily identifiable citybot characters, it worked better to uncharacterise the citybot by surrounding it with other citybots, creating a larger and more anonymous cityscape for photographs and dioramas. This had the added benefit of allowing me to better identify the toys that would populate the cities, simply because I was no longer restricted to the smallest of the small or just Headmasters. Whether it was chaining together a bunch of Titans Return base modes or placing multiple Fort Maxes together, it inspired me to become more creative and ambitious.
However, when you place a bunch of cities together, that does not guarantee a coherent display, especially not when it comes to toy photography. Very quickly things can get busy and overcrowded, and if they do not all fit together snugly then it just looks like toys left on the floor as opposed to a seamless city, bustling with robot activity and life. Also, it was important to not make one part of the city stick out massively from the rest, which can be a bit of a trick when Fort Max, Metroplex and the like are so immediately recognisable in amongst a mass of other colours and bases. Although, you can make this work for you if the rest is so anonymous that it seems Fort Max landed in the middle of a Cybertronian district and connected himself up to the rest of the city.
What I decided to do was fill all the gaps in the city – and my photographs – with other smaller toys that could convincingly pass as buildings, towers, bases or any sort of city-like object. The TakaraTomy Diaclone Dia-Battles figures provided a magnificent key to unlocking the futuristic and character-free city buildings I required, while at the same time not looking too much like toys because of their hyper-detailing and quality finish. Suddenly any number of Titans Return toys could double up as futuristic buildings thanks to their Cybertronian jet modes (Triggerhappy, Misfire etc) and small complexes (Sky Shadow, Overlord). In the many pictures of my setups in this article, you’ll spot all manner of parts and figures not usually seen in a city set up. I was immediately grateful for the inherent sculpting and detailing that companies (especially Hasbro and TakaraTomy) incorporate onto the surfaces of certain Transformers toys.
Occasionally, to not break the immersion, I have added fake futuristic backgrounds to the pictures in Photoshop. I have tried to make them extremely subtle and out of focus so that they don’t detract from the foreground. Enough about the photography, though, the actual physical display aspect of these setups is another thing altogether. It takes a whole evening to set up one of these dioramas, and that’s not just the building of it, but the consideration given to how something could be improved, expanded and made more stable. Some of these citybots have lovely translucent sections that can be used to give an extra futuristic feel to the setup, especially Titans Return Trypticon with his translucent green sections.
I’ve done so much of this kind of thing recently, and incorporated toys of all sizes convincingly into cityscape displays and photographs that I have gotten quite resourceful and quick at achieving the result I am aiming for. This includes both the setup and the final photographic result. To think, the whole reason I ever started down this path was because I was getting review samples so late due to my Icelandic adventure that I needed some way to make my late reviews stand out from the earlier, quality material being put out by the rest of the community. Who wants to read a review of Fans Hobby Flypro six weeks after all the expert photographers and video reviewers have already told you everything you need to know about it? Well, I needed a draw and I think this has worked very well. It once again proves that wonderful things can come out of actually playing with your Transformers toys as they were meant to be, as a child would. Sure, three Fort Maxes standing on display together was a lovely sight and achievement, but I’ve used them in my work and play now more than almost any other toy in the Titans Return line. I have also made more use of Masterpiece MP-10 Convoy’s trailer than any other collector in the world, I’d wager! I’ve built this city, now, and I hope it never sleeps.
All the best