The LEGOformers are some of my most popular and most iconic creations ever created, and also some of my most challenging projects to date. Each robot can transform from video game peripherals to robot and back — in most cases without removing any pieces. Some of the handheld/console robots contain transforming accessories/games, akin to the transforming cassettes and weapons of Transformers toys.
Background: in late 2011 as I was progressing the construction of my LEGO Super Mario 3 airship “The Fireflower”, I was genuinely looking forward to showcasing my ship at a small art gallery for exhibiting custom nerdy toy creations, similar to SUCKADELIC or Battle Babies. When brainstorming of ideas to build and include in my exhibit, I wanted to tackle some projects so incredibly nerdy and geeky that I would draw fellow dorks from all around — and so that I could forever carve a niche in the geeky fandom community. That’s when I came up with ideas for Domaster (Game Boy) and Plasmashock (Zapper): inspired by the unpopular Star Wars/Transformers crossover toys from the 2000s. In my early concepts when thinking of unique crossovers based on preexisting Nintendo characters, I noted how the Game Boy’s color scheme was grey and green, and the Zappers were orange and grey. . .
In other words, my first idea was to make replicas of a Zapper and a Game Boy that would transform into Mario and Luigi robots! Unfortunately this genius idea was hindered with obstacles that made it impossible.
- The Zapper was supposed to be Mario, and the Game Boy Luigi — this is contradictory of the Mario brothers’ respective body types: Mario is short and stubby, Luigi is tall and thin, whereas the body shapes of the two robots would mismatch.
- Despite my best efforts, it was physically impossible to design the robots accurately and detailed enough to resemble the Mario brothers: as in, Domaster and Plasmashock didn’t have enough clearance in their transforming parts to have designs that resemble Mario and Luigi’s hat, suspenders, et alia.
As great of an idea it would be to have legitimate crossover toys that truly resemble Mario in Luigi in robot mode, but a Zapper and Game Boy in “vehicle mode”, I scrapped the idea and instead opted to make the robots resemble more traditional Transformers robots.
Plasmashock: Orange NES Zapper
The first robot to be built was Plasmashock. During downtime of the Fireflower Airship (when I first came up the idea for these robots) I acquired some orange pieces as well as various Hero Factory parts to tinker with. His name has no real meaning behind it; it’s simply a generically-sounding sci-fi name that I thought sounded cool. Although, the word “shock” in his name is an homage to Decepticon Shockwave who transforms into a laser pistol as well.
When I was a teenager I’d often make my own transforming robots out of LEGO bricks, many of which were inspired actual Transformers like Megatron, Shockwave, Starscream, and Ironhide. That being said, Plasmashock wasn’t the first transforming LEGO robot I’d built — but it was the first one I built in almost ten years. Luckily by late 2011 my LEGO-building skills have improved drastically, and although it was frustrating to build this guy at first, I used some of erstwhile skills and savvy with The Transformers.
Future site of Plasmashock.
Prototype skeletal Plasmashock.
Partially completed Plasmashock, missing the left side of his body. This was a teaser photo for Facebook.
Plasmashock was built progressively throughout January 2012 and completed by early February. When released online in that month, it gained a decent bit of traction on Tumblr and was soon picked up by Kotaku; a friendly article was written by a fellow video game nerd to praise this cool concept, and with the positive reaction, it gave me more than enough confidence to make the final touches on the Fireflower and build Domaster. Essentially, this particular creation was to test the waters and see if anyone would appreciate my work — and when no one judged me for it, it gave me the green light!
Domaster & Tetrawing: Game Boy and Tetris Cartridge
These next two models were made towards the tail end of the Fireflower Airship and Plasmashock. The name “Domaster” is an amalgamation of “Dot Matrix With Stereo Sound”, the blurb written above original Game Boy models. Domaster’s working title was “Start Screen”, an obvious parody of Decepticon Starscream! As for Tetrawing, his name was coined by a Twitter follower when I asked my fans to come up with a name for a bird-like creature who transforms into a Tetris game. At this point in my engineering abilities, creating both Domaster and Tetrawing proved to be a challenge to say the least. When building Domaster, I had multiple issues with things such as making the head fold back and have enough clearance for a game cartridge to slide into the slot on his shoulder. To create the robot to be sturdy and have functional transformation abilities, I had to build it to be much larger than a real Game Boy model.
Early skeletal version of Domaster, when I was experimenting with his transformation cycles.
In the first draft of Domaster, he was much bigger and bulkier than what a true Game Boy should be. Using the first draft base design and concept, I tore it apart completely and rebuilt him to be slightly smaller and more streamlined. The same went with Tetrawing: his prototype was also bigger than an actual Game Boy cartridge, and thus had to be compacted. Both Domaster & Tetrawing were completed by late February, and were given the final touches to be published shortly thereafter in early March — just days after the release of the Fireflower Airship. The final touches for both robots consisted of applying the labels: Domaster required waterslide decals like a model car, and Tetrawing required a glossy print to be decoupaged on his exterior.
After being photographed and posted online, this project was immediately a big hit. The main contributor of its popularity was when I posted it on MOCpages — where one of my fans saw it and personally sent it to everyone he knew in the video game industry! As a result, numerous sites were picking this up and causing it to go viral throughout March 2012! I was rapidly picking up new Facebook fans when a particular publication directly linked my fan page. The crowning achievement for Domaster & Tetrawing came about when I was personally contacted by a representative from Nintendo Power to do an interview involving video game fan art. Holy shrapnel, I was ecstatic to maxx1,000! To this day, Domaster remains one of my most iconic creations, and I still use it incorporated in a lot of my branding and themes. This model eventually paved the way for similar robots such as Gearhead and Vantage — a Game Gear and Game Boy Advance, respectively.
Moltron: Pokemon Red Cartridge
Moltron was actually supposed to be one particular robot of an intended three-part series; a series of transforming Game Boy cartridges that resembled Legendary Birds from the Pokemon franchise, each corresponding to a specific title (Red, Blue, and Yellow = Moltres, Arcticuno, and Zapdos). This robot uses virtually identical transformation cycles of Tetrawing — in fact, the only difference in transformation is adding/removing the flames and weapons. The Pokemon Red label is even decoupaged in the exact same manner as Tetrawing’s. I wanted to build a blue Arcticuno bird and a yellow Zapdos bird to accompany this in a set, but at the time I didn’t have adequate parts and instead built/photographed this as a standalone creation.
Gearhead, Knucklepunch, and Supersonic: SEGA Game Gear, Sonic Blast & Sonic the Hedgehog Cartridges
Gearhead was built to be the rival of Domaster — arguably the Decepticon to the Autobot, albeit both Gearhead and Domaster look like Decepticons! Gearhead’s production started in the spring of 2012 after the hype of Domaster and the Fireflower waned, and I wanted to tackle another challenge rather than being a one-trick pony. Gearhead’s construction was of course built with the preexisting knowledge of Domaster, hence a lot of obstacles were easily overcome, and some major design issues saw improvements. There were however multiple errors that I faced with this project:
- Trying to make the games Knucklepunch and Supersonic: the difficult task was making them fluid enough to transform into robots, yet small/thin enough to fit inside Gearhead’s game slot.
- Applying labels and stickers: unfortunately since the waterslide decal paper [that I used on Domaster] had to be printed off a computer, it could only print in CMYK with no white — ergo, I was unable to make labels to place on dark surfaces. This challenge halted Gearhead’s release by several weeks as I scrambled to find a method of getting custom stickers for his body and for the two game cartridges. I attempted to print on label paper from the computers at my office, but with no luck. I finally succeeded in finding a local shop in Manhattan that could print durable glossy labels for $5 a sheet — thus I printed a master sheet with all necessary sticker.
- Because Gearhead was so bulky, he had little room for storing batteries; I even considered scrapping the battery idea, but I wanted to maintain consistency with his predecessor Domaster. As a result, this robot inaccurately only held two batteries.
- His transformation cycle was significantly more elaborate than Domaster’s, and often times converting it from Game Gear to robot resulted in me accidentally breaking off pieces. In a non-released video interview I starred in for the new Myspace in early 2013, I showed off Gearhead to the interviewer and accidentally broke off his arms during the demonstration, and ran out of time before I could repair it for a second take. I felt embarrassed and told the guy to cut that portion from he video. To this day, I still haven’t seen the video, which means I don’t even know if they jokingly kept it in or not just for spite!
An interesting design note is that Gearhead’s batteries are grey and blue: Domaster’s are black and copper as an obvious homage to Duracell, whereas Gearhead’s were supposed to be parodies of Rayovac. In fact, when making custom labels printed, I did in fact print parody Rayovac logos that had the word “Sonic” written in the same style/font as Rayovac’s. Another design note is that Gearhead’s primary shotgun weapon has several multicolored gems as a nod to the Chaos Emeralds in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise — which is evidenced by the screen shot on Gearhead’s torso screen!
When released online, this project was met with lukewarm reaction, and received little exposure. I seriously assumed it would top Domaster in terms of going viral, as I personally believed the design, engineering, and appearance to far superior to his predecessor. Unfortunately, SEGA’s current following is rather minuscule compared to Nintendo’s — therefore, this project didn’t receive any real recognition until an entire year later in the summer of 2013 when featured in a Buzzfeed article. During the entire year from Gearhead’s release to its new sleeper hit following, I didn’t make any new LEGOformers, and instead focused on several other big things that occupied my life: the giant NES controller, a TARDIS prop for Nelson Lugo, a stressful job at Tzumi electronics, and a breakup with a girl. Luckily new ideas for the next LEGOformer were in full bloom after the start of 2013.
Ultra Hexacon, Tetragon, Mecha-Kong, and Hot-Shot: Nintendo 64, Controller, Donkey Kong 64 Cartridge, and Goldeneye 007 Cartridge
Although initially brainstormed in the summer of 2012 following the release of Gearhead, I came up with the ingenious idea of making an entire transforming game console with a slew of minions, akin to huge guardian Transformers like Omega Supreme, Metroplex, and Fortress Maximus. Unfortunately the remainder of the year was spent with several big projects, and 2013 started off with immediate production to a major elaborate project for Nintendo World Store. By the time I decompressed from the release party at Nintendo World Store in spring 2013, I finally was able to pick back up where I left off and tackle yet another challenge — to create a replica Nintendo 64 with a controller and games!
Creating this whole masterpiece was essentially how I spent my entire summer of 2013. As I mention in my autobiography, I tend to be an introvert who goes through periods of reclusiveness. Pretty much the entire year of 2013 saw little social interactivity on my part — thus I was successful in bringing this creation to life. I spent about a few weeks just conceptualizing how to design the transformation cycle for Ultra Hexacon. I ultimately based his general transformation pattern off Autobot cassettes Eject and Rewind.
Here were the challenges/obstacles with Ultra Hexacon:
- Trying to arrange the design in a way so that his game slot wouldn’t appear on the robot’s rear end, so that inserting games wouldn’t be rectally like a suppository.
- A potential rigging of springs to have an automatic trapdoor where the game slot is, like an an actual N64. This of course was never perfected.
- Designing a front insignia: actual Nintendo 64s have a round, black interface on the front center, and I struggled to come up with a way to convey this. The semi-mosaic method I used was actually a last minute addition, and required rebuilding the robot’s legs.
- Creating accurate controller ports.
- Building a retractable head: the head was actually built last, and when I struggled to find a way to have the robot’s head fold inside the system, I considered having the controller’s memory card or potential Rumble Pak transform into the head, akin to the Transformers Headmasters.
- Finding use for the power supply on the back of the Nintendo 64 system (the black thing where the plug goes in): I ultimately made it into a shoulder cannon, but prior to building the head, I considered having the power supply transform into the robot’s head.
The controller Tetragon was never intended at all to be a scorpion. In fact, in all early concepts and designs, it was always meant to be an anthropomorphic robot. I may have spent a few weeks or so constantly trying to build a decent transformation cycle with Technic bricks in numerous configurations in an attempt at making the controller resemble a robot, but alas failed. The whole scorpion design was a last minute idea I threw together and constructed over the course of a weekend. Tetragon’s cord is a hard-to-find Technic pneumatic hose; most other pneumatic hoses are significantly shorter, and I didn’t want to use non-LEGO pieces by substituting it with a piece of black cord or something. In fact, the only non-LEGO components in this whole set are the stickers.
Mecha Kong took a few weeks to design as well, and was built simultaneously with an aborted counterpart that transformed into a replica Legend of Zelda cartridge. I actually completely built an entire Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time cartridge — shiny gold color and all — and succeeded in making it transform into a robot version of Link. His name was simply “Link 1.0“. The reason why this robot was never released? As I was applying his stickers and preparing the grand photo shoot, I realized the stickers didn’t fit properly on the game cartridge, and thus kept peeling off when placing it into the game slot on Ultra Hexacon. I was too frustrated to repair it and take the photos, thus I shelved Link 1.0 with the intention of slightly altering him in the future. Nonetheless, both Link 1.0 and Mecha Kong were surprisingly very challenging to develop. I’m very, very fortunate that LEGO Group released the Mixels sets, hence now I have access to tiny ball/socket joints rather than cumbersome Bionicle and Hero Factory components.
Hot-Shot was actually supposed to be Ultra Hexacon’s primary weapon — and was intended to be a rifle or machine gun, rather than a pistol. The final version was of course too heavy to be held by Ultra Hexacon’s hands, and would thus cause his arms to fall down — plus there was no method of attaching it to his hands in the first place. I figure, people can just use their imagination and pretend Hot-Shot would shrink to fit in Hexacon’s hands — similar to Megatron transforming into a gun and shrinking to a size that can be held by both robots or even humans!
The names Ultra Hexacon and Tetragon are actually based off the obscure word hexacontatetragon, which is the mathematical nomenclature for a 64-sided polygon — and of course the word “Ultra” is a subtle nod to the Nintendo 64’s original U.S. titled being called “Ultra 64.” Therefore, when Ultra Hexacon transforms into a console and Tetragon turns into a controller to plug into the system, they merge as a gestalt called Hexacontatetragon!
This creation was certainly popular when released, and in addition to being picked up on all of the major nerd communities and websites, it was published in a Portuguese design magazine called Companhia in fall 2013 — as well as Wired Italia.
Vantage: Game Boy Advance
Vantage was an idea I pondered about building after Gearhead, but decided to resurrect in spring 2014. Vantage’s transformation cycle was essentially a more refined and similar version of Gearhead’s as well, with the two sides of the controller doubling as lower legs and the screen doubling as its torso. Vantage was the first LEGOformer to be designed entire on the computer first in LEGO Digital Designer prior to being built as a physical creation — unlike previous models which were usually never made as digital counterparts. For its construction, I’d go back and forth making adjustments in both the digital and physical version, by building the real version on my computer desk. I also built this creation about a month or so after purchasing my very first DSLR camera and prime lens — hence it was one of my first LEGO creations to be shot with my own professional camera.
Vantage was rather easy and streamlined to build, compared to his predecessors. In fact, his construction only took about two weeks, and most of that time was spent struggling to build the transforming Doom cartridge. There was also of course major parts shortages and delays, namely with rare 1×1 medium blue plates which make up his screen/torso. Creating a purple model was also a difficult task, as the specific shade of dark purple is a rare LEGO color and only has a limited number of pieces made in it — hence I had to make due with what was possible, which also explains why Vantage’s entire back end is light grey. I was considering making Vantage to be blue or black in order to easily obtain pieces — as there were in fact Game Boy Advances made in those colors — but instead I wanted its ascetics to be akin to the iconic dark purple of traditional GBA models.
The gun was actually very difficult to design, and was causing major delays. It took me a while to succeed in making the gun thin enough to fit in the game slot, but also with plausible ascetics to resemble a firearm — all in all ensuring it could be gripped by Vantage’s hands. Unfortunately it doesn’t actually fit in his hands — rather, it has a small notch on it for clipping to the side of his forearm. I was originally going to use a copy of the Doom label for its outer design, but at the last minute I opted to create a custom logo featuring the parody “BOOM”; these were printed on glossy paper at Staples, and decoupaged to the cartridge in the same manner as Tetrawing and Moltron.
Since this creation was first developed digitally, I promptly made an Instructables tutorial entry for it which was rather popular and featured on the front page as a daily feature. And since its digital design file could easily have its colors swapped out, I encouraged my fans to build their own clones using color schemes of Game Boy Advance variant models, like black, dark blue, and green. As you’ve seen in my LEGO MOC section, I built some cool variants of this base design: Stealth Black, Fire Red, and Classic Game Boy Grey; that last one is like a crazy hybrid between Vantage and Domaster! As of this current update, I plan on selling the clones of Vantage at forthcoming video game conventions with their own custom packages.
-Baron von Brunk