Interview - Rabid Squirrel's CyberFembots

Its no secret that that we all have a secret adoration for female Transformers. Few could argue that adoration is driven by a passionate desire for a true Generation 1 Arcee action figure. Over there years, various characters have been made. From the Energon Arcee to the BotCon exclusive Blackarachnia, and even a very rare model kit released only in Japan. All were nice homages to this much desired robot maiden, but none have delivered on the real thing. That's when a group of self described "Female Transforming Robots" fans banded together to make not just an Arcee figure, but something more.

We spoke with Hal Zucati, owner/operator of Rabid Squirrel Productions. He is responsible for coordination and production and overall management. He gave us the inside story and background behind this project and what its all about.

TFormers: Tell us about when you got started with this project and why you took it on?

Hal: This project started at the beginning of 2003. The first time we thought about doing a custom figure was about 6 months before that but then it wasn't for anything specific. I think the actual real beginning of this project was when a friend showed us a picture of the Studio Epsilon piece.

We took on this project because we believed that if we didn't it simply wasn't going to get done. We also believed that we could produce a piece that was both detailed and affordable to at least some of the market. We HAD to make these CyberFembots. Once we caught the bug. It wouldn't let us go.

TFormers: What struck you about the Epsilon figure?

Hal: I think what struck us about the Studio Epsilon figure was that it was hand made, and it had a nice clean look (I'm talking about the pics posted on toynewsi.com (customs section).

TFormers: Was it Arcee, or the toy that you were into?

Hal: Arcee. More specifically - Female Transforming Robots.

TFormers: Yeah, there are not enough of them. That's for sure. :D

Hal: In Hasbro's (tm) world there were I think 6 or so females. Only a few of them transformed and there are no plans or transformation sequences to show HOW they transformed.

TFormers: Did Studio Epsilon have any role in making this toy?

Hal: Yes and no. As you know they are no longer in business and during the beginning phases of development we did talk with them about production of an Arcee. Figure. At that time we were working through a go-between, Xian of JD productions.

TFormers: I think you guys really captured the essence of the Arcee. Was it hard to make the figure faithful to the Cybertronian Arcee and still have a good toy?

Hal: I guess you could say that they proved that another Female transforming toy could be made other than the Botcon98 version that everyone references when you say "Arcee." I think that there are certain liberties in both artistic style and creative engineering that have to be done to translate a 2D "magic transformation" character to a 3d functional transforming toy.

Let me be very clear about this point. We're making CyberFembots, not Arcee. I'm not going to deny that there is a resemblance but its not what we set out to make. She played a part in the initial shape and style but we wanted to go beyond what she was and create something unique.

Now, I know that on the street the word is: Rabid Squirrel Productions made an Arcee figure... and "Its not as good as the Botcon 98 piece" At least that's what many of the forum topics in the last year have boiled down to. The thing is we couldn't make Arcee exactly. That would have been both stupid (legally) and boring.

TFormers: Very interesting. What were some of the hurdies to the version that you arrived at?

Hal: Its very hard to make a female transforming toy that changes from a robot to a car and not have it resemble Arcee.

TFormers: Was that the original intention, to do a new character?

Hal: The intention was to walk the line. Along with what I've just said there were several reasons we chose this figure. Female. The Hasbro(tm) transformers line didn't have any females... Sure there were "female figures" but nothing that looked female... Stryka? Come on... it barely looked bipedal. AirRazor? Again... not to good an effort.

TFormers: I agree, with you. Go back to the 1919 Movie Metropolis. The Maria Robot. There she is. Arguably, you can see the influence that robot had on Arcee.

Hal: Exactly. We started with the concept of "Female Transformer" Emphasis on FEMALE

We wanted the following:

1. SEXY
2. FEMALE
3. FULLY FUNCTIONAL

In that order.

No more of this ambiguous "is it male or female" crap. Something that jumped out and bit you in the ass. Proportion. Check this out (below). This is on our archive page and was created as part of a forum discussion. Making the Female the right size was way harder than making the car roll. If you know what I mean.

TFormers: How much planning was done before you started working on the final prototype?

Hal: This project has been mostly planning up to this point. About a year and a half.

TFormers: Was it done on paper first, or was there a lot of fabrication to get to what we see now?

Hal: It started with colored modeling clay. Then we moved to plastic and started sculpting the parts and working from there. We did do some paper planning but we're a tactile group. Its not as meaningful or useful for us unless we can touch it (Which is why we don't have CAD drawings of this piece yet...).

TFormers: The kit looks like a lot of engineering went into the product. What is your background in making toys? Are you guys formally trained in this kind of thing?

Hal: There was a lot of engineering that went into it. Given that its still hand made and that does show, for good or evil. Our backgrounds are pretty varied. We've got writers, machinists, modelers sculptors... its a pretty diverse group. As far as if we've ever collectively done anything like this before? No. I created Rabid Squirrel Productions with the express intent of bringing together a bright, talented group of people to work on this and future projects. CyberFembots are our first product.

TFormers: Of the fans for the fans so to speak?

Hal: Exactly. Without being TOO MUCH for the fans so as to get our... as they put it in the forums... "Asses Sued". :)

TFormers: Have you gotten any responses from the toy companies?

Hal: Nothing in writing.

TFormers: Once the design was all ready, what was the production phase like? A lot of us have no idea how something like a toy is made in quantity, so if you could share some on that process...

Hal: Sure.

1. Toy is Sculpted by hand. (This is called the "Master")
2. Toy is molded and checked for fit and finish. (This is called a "Test Shot")
3. Toy is refined and a "Master Mold" is made based on the final refinements.
4. Master Mold is replicated.
5. Toys are produced using the replicated molds.

This is pretty general... A test shot is technically a "cast" from the master mold.

TFormers: Who makes those kinds of things? Was it done overseas?

Hal: Molds can be made in the U.S., but typically the process is prohibitively expensive. In our case we're working with an overseas partner for this work.

TFormers: How long does it take to have to parts made up once the test-shot is approved?

Hal: Once the test shot is approved then its just a matter of making the mold set, preparing the materials and casting. For us casting typically takes about and hour or so per mold but this can vary depending on temperature and humidity. Once things get set the actual casting goes pretty fast, its all the pre- and post- work that takes the time.

TFormers: You guys do the casting yourselves?

Hal: Our overseas partners are doing that, nothing is being cast in the U.S. We do the cleaning, fitting and assembly of the pieces where required. We're also refining the assembly process and minor engineering details as well.

TFormers: How many of the figures are planned in the CyberFembot line?

Hal: At this time we've got basically one figure with color, face and hand variations. We've got big plans but unless this project gets off the ground financially we're not going to be able to follow through with them. The "pie in the sky" plan is to have 5+ figures. I'm not at liberty to go into details, but I will say that we're looking to explore other modes of transportation besides just cars.

TFormers: I noticed there is a transparent plastic version on the site. Are there plans for any exclusives or limited editions?

Hal: Yes. Think Metal.

TFormers: Like die-cast?

Hal: We're still working on the details but either Die-Cast or Milled.

TFormers: What are some of the expenses that factor into the price the figures will be offered for at retail?

Hal: Ok... why do they cost what they do...

1. Materials are both expensive, heavy (translates to high shipping costs) and hard to source. (Working with industrial materials companies can make ones hair turn grey). And yes we're not using TAP plastic or something you could get from Michael's crafts. We're using the real heavy duty nasty stuff. The kind of stuff you want to read the MSDS before using.

2. Talent is expensive. Sure many people can "sculpt" and many people can "mold" and many people can "cast". To get a quality product that has both aesthetic beauty and functionality takes skill and skill costs.

3. Logistics. We're working with overseas partners as well as partners in the US, Netherlands, Europe and the UK. Staying in contact, keeping appointments and providing resources and personnel for keeping the whole business going takes both time and money.

4. Quantity. Doing things small, believe it or not is way more expensive on a per-part basis than doing things large.

Now that the generalities are out of the way here's a sampling of our expenses:

A. Materials - In the last year we've spent about 6000 for plastic, molds, dyes, tools, accessories etc. (That doesn't include paper, ink, toner, or any other fees. That's just raw materials.)

B. Shipping - In the last year we've spent about 2000 on shipping both to and from our partners around the world. (Total goes up to 8000.)

C. Talent. Think 15k + to pay for Sculpting, drawing, painting, and other artistic items in general.

So without even being very specific or detailed, in 2005 we've spent more than 23k just to get us to the point where we can start to sell. And its only November.

Bottom line. Since this project has started we've paid out more than 60k to start, maintain and develop the CyberFembots. We've planned for an initial production run of 200 pieces. So what IS 60000/200? That's $300 each piece. Minimum. Just to break even.

Now one thing that I think often gets overlooked (Besides the fact that we're not making any money on this project) is that we AREN'T selling these pieces for that price. (Well there is one piece at $350) but there are TWO at WAY below our cost per piece. Also. We did a pre-sales offering to anyone who really wanted a piece back in August. We hit several major forums (Including Tfans) and offered the kits to anyone who was a forum member for just $70. There was a modest response to this and since then we've sold several of each price point.

TFormers: What is your future plan for Rabid Squirrel? More toys in the works?

Hal: Right now, honestly we're happy just to keep the lights on. The plan through the end of this year is to produce CyberFembots, ship them and see how it goes.

TFormers: Finally, are you Autobot or Decepticon?

Hal: Neither, I'm a CyberFembot. (The Grey One). (I do have a Decepticon logo on my carů but that's just for show.)

TFormers: We would like to thank Hal of Rabid Squirrel Productions for speaking with TFormers.com about their CyberFembot figure's. That was both fun and educational! If you would like to learn more about the company and how they were made these nifty toys. There are scores of images and test shots from the whole process available at their web site: https://www.a-rabid-squirrel.com/. To purchase one of these limited edition of 200 figures, check out their products page for info on the various packages and pricing here: https://www.a-rabid-squirrel.com/buyacyberfembot.htm






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