Just like with music, in the world of giant robotic war machines, there are only so many combinations you can make, so many design choices you can use, and so many themes you can follow before things inevitably start to repeat. It’s not that one party consciously steals from another, it’s just that you can only make so many combinations of notes that sound pleasing, or, in the case of robots, there are only so many design cues that look good when used together.
I’ve encountered this numerous times. Two previous cases are how the Ez-8 looks like Megatron, and can be thusly converted, and how the Gundam 00 looks like Tekkaman Blade. There are others, too, but I haven’t had the chance to explore them fully in styrene… yet. Whenever it happens, though, I get a particular rush out of seeing just how far the similarities either go, or can be made to go. Sometimes, it’s almost like the similarity is part of some cosmic riddle, a tantalizing secret waiting to be sussed out of a particular design.
Thus it was with the Gundam Tryon 3, from Build Fighters Try. Build Fighters Try is a Bandai commercial for Gundam kits. Okay, it’s a show about an international competition in which teams of three build Gundams and fight them in a semi-virtual environment. It should sound offensively cheesy and commercial, and it is, but it’s also great fun. Add to that the TONNES of great fight scene animation, likeable characters and (of course, duh!) really excellent tie-in kits, and you have a recipe for unmitigated success. And succeed it did.
From Disdain to “Must Have” – How My Mind Works
As you may know, I had the great fortune of winning 20 Build Fighters Try kits. However, that’s not all of them in the series. There were a few more released after the contest ended. The majority were very cool, and I picked up a couple of them. One kit, though, made me shake my head and derisively toss it aside. That particular kit was the Gundam Tryon 3.
In the anime, the Tryon 3 is a single unit based on the ZZ-Gundam that can split into three animals. Having a team of animals that form one super-robot has been done. Voltron (Go Lion in Japan) and Dancougar have done it, and done it way better. What made the kit even lamer was that the Tryon 3 looked goofy. It was far too much a “super robot” vs. Gundam’s “real robot” genre. It had all the ZZ’s odd angularity fused with a huge lion head, right on its chest. Wait, that’s not right. The entire chest IS a lion’s head and mane. It didn’t really work stylistically, although the kit’s engineering was, as always, top notch.
While I was cutting my lawn one day, I got thinking about the Tryon 3. I was sad that such a weird design was even in Build Fighters Try, as almost any other mech would have been cooler. I don’t like the Super Robot genre as a rule, and the Tryon 3 was just too clichéd to bother purchasing. After all, what kind of cool robot has a dumb lion head for a chest and carries a huge sword? The guns on the back that could elevate over the shoulders were cool, but that was about it. There was that bird head that formed the sword’s hilt, and that was just corny. Then, it hit me like a runaway cement mixer:
– lion’s head for a chest
– over-the-shoulder guns
– big sword
– bird head present somewhere in the design
Wait. I know a COOL robot that has all of those design features, albeit in a somewhat different arrangement. It’s a robot so famous to my generation that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it right away. That robot is PREDAKING.
Predaking was a Decepticon gestalt (combiner-type robot) in the Generation 1 continuity. He was the combined form of the Predacons, a team of wild animal Transformers. The team consisted of a lion, a puma, an eagle, a bull and a rhino. Yes, he had (at least in the show) a big sword and over the shoulder guns and he had a lion’s head for a chest. However, would the few similarities be enough to make the Tryon 3 into a convincing Predaking look-alike? Fuelling my desire to find out was the fact that Predaking’s toy was pretty disappointing; he was chunky and his proportioning didn’t match the lean-and-mean lines of his animation model. I’d always wanted a good replica of Predaking as he was supposed to be, and I didn’t want to pay third-party Transformer prices.
However, more investigation was needed. I found that the ZZ’s legs had been reworked on the Tryon 3, so that there were eagle talons on them now. Two claws at one end, one at the other. With some rearranging, they could be the two horns of a bull, and the one of a rhino. I could use the bird head for Divebomb’s bird-mode noggin, and the Tryon 3’s eagle mode came with appropriate-looking beam wings. It would be a lot of work, but I decided that yes, I could make Predaking out of the Tryon 3!
Like all robot kits, I started Predaking at the bottom. One of Predaking’s most distinctive features are that his feet are actually twin-barrelled cannon (or mortar) turrets. This was the first problem. Nowhere in any of my spares do I have a single, let alone two, spare twin-barrelled gun turrets. Thankfully, in one of several moments of cosmic alignment that would accompany this project, Bandai took care of the problem. The answer was yet another Build Fighters Try kit: the Leopard DaVinci. It has two twin-cannon turrets among its armament!
I really liked, and bought, the DaVinci, but didn’t like the turrets. They were just too much, and looked silly on the mech. However, they were PERFECT for Predaking’s feet. I shaved off the attachment post, and then proceeded to rework the Tryon’s feet. I cut off a lot of the front of the foot, to make a “block” that I could glue to the turret, and which would form part of a complete “foot unit”. I tidied up the hollow cut-off area on the feet with sheet styrene, and with a bit of Apoxie Sculp I filled in some of the small divots. I glued the block to the turret and was amazed at how well it all went together. I painted the two feet in Neutral Grey, which is a bit dingier and a bit more yellowish than Light Ghost Grey; this is perfect to represent the G1 Predaking. That old grey Hasbro plastic has a tendency to yellow slightly with age!
For the legs, I found that one of the design features of the Tryon 3 was that the eagle’s legs were the Tryon’s, but upside down. This worked out great, because that meant the leg could be put on the mech upside down too! This adds visual interest, and allowed me to put two talons up on one leg, and one on the other! It was also interesting to note that the “calf thrusters” could be moved to either end of the leg, too
To describe all the changes made to the Tryon 3, I think it makes more sense to discuss how I modded each piece to represent its Predacon original.
Headstrong is a predominantly yellow, red and black rhino. He makes up one of Predaking’s legs. For the “Headstrong leg”,I put the leg on right side up. However, to simulate the red packs that are characteristic of Headstrong, I used all four of the calf thrusters; two at the top where they belong, and two at the bottom. I used sheet styrene and Apoxie Sculp to block off where the thruster nozzles would go; Headstrong didn’t have thrusters there! Even better was the fact that I could put these packs on when all was painted since they just snap into place!
A major problem, though, was that the leg was “hollow” at the front. Because of the way I re-engineered the leg, it had no material to the lower half; Predaking was “shinless”! To fix this, I used some thin sheet styrene and glued it over the gap. I then sanded it flush, and etched in a couple of lines, to simulate Headstrong’s legs in their collapsed form. On the toy, these show in the combined form of Predaking. One other thing that shows is the bottom of the rhino mode’s front feet. These black rectangles are a very distinct visual cue as well, and thankfully (once again) the Tryon’s design had this covered. The ZZ has small thrusters below the knee, right around where the rhino feet should be. Painting these black did the job perfectly.
To simulate the rhino mode’s horn, I took one of the eagle talons and put it on backwards. I then painted it black and the rest of the support structure red. The red is to simulate not only the rhino head, but also the folded down form of Headstrong’s robot mode head. I painted the main part of the leg using Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Blue Angel’s Yellow. This is a bit more intense and orange-y than the normal yellow I use on MS kits, and it more accurately represents Hasbro’s plastic. I painted the ‘robot mode leg’ blocker plate in Virsago black, and then satin coated all the pieces using Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish cut with Future. I combined the separate components and was very pleased with the result.
The original Tantrum is an orange and grey bull, with a red head and black horns. He’s a simple toy; his arms fold into grey blocks on the bull’s side and there are matching bulges at the rear. His function is actually “Fueller”, and those grey things are supposed to be external tanks for keeping his team mates running. That’s actually a pretty cool way to camouflage weak design! However, it was a problem for me. Since I used all the Tryon 3’s Calf Thruster packs on Headstrong, I had nothing left to be the fuel tanks on Tantrum.
This is where, as modellers, we can all say “I told you so” to our doubters as regards keeping every possible spare piece. When I built my Wagtail Custom, I had no use for the original RGM-72C’s arms. Still, I kept them anyway. Looking at the arms now, I was struck by how, using them in their component halves, I could make them into Tantrums external tanks. With a bit of cutting and some Apoxie Sculp to fill in the holes, I had 4 trapezoidal “tanks” ready to go. Unlike Headstrong’s red thruster pack bulges, these had to be glued on ahead of time, since they were NOT ever designed to fit for this purpose.
I altered the way the eagle talon went into the leg so that I could point the two-clawed end out, simulating bull horns. As mentioned earlier, the design of the ZZ/Tryon 3 makes it possible to flip the legs upside down and still attach them, so I did that for Tantrum. It keeps things interesting, although a bit of modification was needed on the ankle attachment! Unlike on the Headstrong leg, though, I didn’t need to put a full blocker plate, since I wasn’t missing so much in the way of material. A small blocker at the ‘bottom’ was enough.
I painted Tantrum’s “main body” in a custom-mixed MMA Orange, made of Guards Red and Blue Angels Yellow. This was a bit bright, so I cut it with a bit of white and light grey, and the result was exactly what I wanted. I painted the horns black, as on the toy, and the support component red. This is to represent the bull’s head and the red flip-down piece on Tantrum’s chest in the toy. I also painted the thruster nozzles at the bottom of the leg (they used to be the knee thrusters, but being upside down changes you…) red. In yet another (and by no means the last) bit of cosmic convenience, Tantrum’s toy’s robot mode feet are red, and can be seen just above the grey foot unit. This is right where the thrusters ended up. See how fate was keeping things going?
The leader of the Predacons was a lion named Razorclaw. He formed the main torso and upper legs of Predaking. He was mostly black and yellow, with some orange. The upper legs of the Tryon 3 conformed almost perfectly to the colour breakdown on Razorclaw. The lower part could be painted black, and the small upper parts, where there’s a pivot, were painted yellow. Why not one colour? Well, the toy of Razorclaw has yellow hips and upper legs, with black lower legs. When combined in Predaking form, the lower legs are flipped over the uppers, showing only the yellow hip joint. It was hard for me to believe just how perfectly split up the Tryon 3’s parts were!
One thing Predaking doesn’t have is side skirts, but I do like them on a robot, and I decided to use them on my Predaking. I kept with the yellow and black scheme, of course. Like most Transformers, Predaking doesn’t have any “skirts” at all. He does have a waist piece, though, and it’s black with four gold stickers arranged in a cruciform layout. To simulate this, I used the Tryon 3’s skirts and painted them black, with the raised parts in gold. I used the Jet Exhaust of the thrusters to simulate the other gold sticker applications. It’s not as gaudy as Predaking’s decals, but it does get the point across.
What’s really convenient is that, unlike nearly every other Gundam, the ZZ (and thus Tryon 3) DO NOT have rear skirts. Rear skirts are almost a given on a Gundam, so to find one that doesn’t have them is very unusual. It’s certainly another indication that my idea of making Predaking from this kit is correct, though, since of course, Predaking doesn’t have rear skirts either! It would have been awkward and required work to leave the skirts off of a Gundam, but here, it all just took care of itself! Gotta love that!
One of Predaking’s most striking features, as alluded to earlier, is Razorclaw’s lion-mode head smack-dab in the middle of the chest, basically forming the chest. They Tryon 3 makes this part too easy, and all I had to do was change the paint a bit. I used my scribing tools to mark lines in at the mane/head junction, so I could paint the head yellow and the mane orange. On the toy, there are gold decals on the flat surfaces on the “front” of the mane; however, given that the mane on the Tryon 3’s lion folds back along the body, I thought this would look a bit too overdone. Thus, I just stuck with the orange. I painted the teeth in steel and gave them a black wash of Citadel Nuln Oil to make them stand out.
The real engineering on Razorclaw comes at the sides and back. Let’s start at the sides.
In the toy, Razorclaw has two short, stumpy “guns” on his arms, right where other members of the team plug in to make Predaking’s arms. They don’t really show up much, and thus aren’t important. However, in Predaking’s animation model (done, I believe, by veteran mech designer Mika Akitaka) these are exaggerated supremely, to the point where they are long over-the-shoulder cannons, completely changing Predaking’s look (and improving it, in my mind). However, there’s no provision for this, of course, in the Tryon 3 kit.
That’s what I thought at first. However, closer inspection showed there was a way. Due to all the extra parts from the Tryon’s combining gimmick, I found I had a lot to work with. Some ZZ parts were also included, but not to be used in the Tryon 3, so I had even more spares! I found that, with some work, I could fashion an arm extension block. I think they were parts from the shoulder system originally, actually. However, I drilled holes in them, and used styrene tube to extend the shoulder pins on the arms, so that they would pass “through” the extension blocks. This gave me somewhere to put the guns, but where would I get them?
Again, the answer was spares. The Tryon 3 uses the ZZ’s stupidly huge beam rifle, which is double-barrelled. The barrels are held on by pins. The pin holes in the barrels were a DEAD NUTS fit over the pins on the shoulder extensions. The pin holes are far back on the barrels, too, so there was no overhang at the rear. What was even cooler was that the entire cannon mount/shoulder extension system a.) actually improved the proportions of my Predaking model and made it closer to the animation model and b.) can rotate independently of the arm. Thus, I can position the shoulder cannons at different angles. This is common in the animation model, and as you can see, it looks cool on the kit, too!
Now, the back is something altogether different. In the Toy, Divebomb’s wings/jet pack form Predaking’s jetpack, and the wings just splay outwards adding visual impact. The wings are bent mid-span, and are orange at the base and black at the outer panels. There’s gold chrome decalling on the “facing” side of the wings, too. The backpack is yellow, with two square thruster nozzles. Making this affair on the back of Predaking promised to require a lot of cleverness. The wings seemed obvious; there are four “beam wings” in the Tryon 3, and two of them looked perfect for the job. They were the right shape and spread, more or less, and even had an attachment point for a ball-joint polycaps at their base. However, there was no division line mind-span for the orange-to-black transition. My etching tool solved that easy enough, but attachment was still an issue.
That’s when I drilled some holes in the Tryon’s back plate and inserted some styrene rod. The rod is the same diameter as the post to which the ball joints are designed to be attached. Amazingly, the spacing was perfect, and I found I could attach the wings quickly and easily, right to Predaking’s back, once everything was painted! At this point, I also cut off the flap behind the Tryon’s head. Predaking has no flap there, and I didn’t need it. I filed the top flush with the back of the chest.
To make the backpack, I found an old Zaku II pack from one of the old 8th MS Team Zaku kits I’d used for something else, ages ago. It was just about the right size, and it fit perfectly between the two wings. That was a good start. With a bit of cutting and sculpting, and using Apoxie Sculp to fill in the “hose holes” on the sides, I found that the pack sat in place quite nicely. What was yet more amazing was that the polycap in the Tryon’s back (originally used to hold the ZZ’s backpack) lined up with a hole in the Zaku pack. With the addition of a homemade post from styrene rod, I was able to make it so that the backpack could be added at the end. To simulate the square thrusters on the real Divebomb’s pack, I used some left over Master Grade engines that I cut down to work. I don’t remember what they’re from, though, to be honest.
Divebomb is the eagle in the Predacon group, and forms an arm. Now, the ZZ/Tryon’s arms aren’t that “animal like” to start with, so making them look appropriate was a bit more challenging, even than for the legs. Thankfully, the Tryon’s sword hilt is an eagle’s head, so I had something to go on. I cut the head down, hollowed it out and kept working it until it could fit over the shoulder of the Tryon 3. I had to cut the mounting posts off the Tryon’s shoulders to make it work, but since the whole unit was destined to be glued together anyway, it didn’t matter. There were some sizeable gaps, but these were filled in using Apoxie Sculp and sanded to shape.
If you look at the “Divebomb arm” you’ll see it’s quite a quilt of colours. There’s a reason for that. Divebomb’s chest is yellow, and his arms are orange. Thus, I painted the outside of the upper arm yellow, and the rest orange, to simulate the retracted robot-mode arms. I should have painted the inside of the arm black, now that I think of it, but that’s a minor issue. Divebomb’s hips are red, and thus the red on the elbow block. His lower legs are black, but the eagle’s tail is orange. Again, the ZZ/Tryon’s design aesthetic came to the rescue: There lower arm armour looks like the tail, in that it appears to be an extra plate of armour over the rest of the lower arm.
Thus, I painted it orange. I kept the hole for mounting the ZZ’s cannon; in both the animation model and the toy, Razorclaw’s large cannon bolts onto Divebomb’s tail to form an arm gun. The kit can do the same thing! To finish off the effect, I painted the hand with the same Neutral Grey as the feet. Predaking’s hands are supposed to have spiked knuckles, but at this scale, they were too small, so I felt better just leaving them off. While it was a bit of physical work, making the arm look like Divebomb was surprisingly easy!
Rampage is a puma, and forms Predaking’s other arm. He’s mostly red and orange, with a bit of black. The problem I encountered at this point was that I didn’t have ANYTHING that could simulate a robotic puma head. (We’ve all had that problem, I know…) I could simulate the body easily enough by leaving the shoulder armour off, and using the round attachment points to simulate the circles on Rampage’s retracted arms. Because Rampage doesn’t have a bird’s tail, I shortened the arm armour, and painted it red to simulate his waist and upper leg pieces.
To create the Puma head, I had to dig WAAAAY back. Way back to the original (1995) 1/144 Altron kit. My brother built it in about 1997, and it came with a spare “Dragon Hang” (or whatever it’s actually called) from the Shenlong. It got tossed into the spares box, and I actually used one of its aerials for the Dra-G’s “commander’s aerial”. I dug it back out, and determined that with a lot of sanding, filling and reshaping, it could be made to do!
I cut off and recontoured the blunt nose, to make it more pointed and feline in shape. I reshaped the “ears” and filled in all the holes where polycaps should have gone. I then drilled a hole in the bottom for some styrene rod. A similar hole was drilled in the upper arm, and thus I was able to attach the head when all was said and done. I painted it red, and that was that! I painted the hand the same Neutral Grey, but this time used the open “sword hand”.
Head and Weapons:
Predaking has two very distinct weapons: a giant gold sword and a long-barrelled, arm-mounted cannon. The cannon was the first to get made, and it started as a Mazera-top cannon that came with Garma Zavi’s Zaku II (HGUC 1/144). I chopped off the handles, filled in the holes and then drilled a new hole in the “centre” of the gun’s non-barrel section. To this hole I fitted a piece of styrene rod, and this fit into the polycaps in Divebomb’s tail perfectly.
The toy of Razorclaw’s gun is reversible; the ends are black, and the gun can be either a double-barrelled cannon (short barrels) or a single-barrelled cannon (long barrel). Predaking always carries the single-barrelled version, which was a great boon. Thus, to simulate the colours, I painted the barrel and the back end in Virsago Black, and the centre in Neutral Grey. I outlined, rather than washed, the details, because I wanted Predaking to look clean, like he stepped out of the cartoon.
While the gun was relatively simple, the sword was not. The Tryon 3’s sword was, like the rest of the mech, ridiculously overdone. It was WAAAAY too big to be useful. However, the handle part was okay, and the top half of the blade was the right shape. Thus, I cut some sheet styrene to make a new cross guard. I cut it to a rough rectangle, and then cut a diamond-shaped recess into it so the blade had somewhere to locate. This wasn’t going to be a light weapon, and I was worried it might fall apart under its own weight if not properly reinforced. I then drilled a small hole in the blade, and inserted a thin piece of spring steel wire. This was glued in place, and then glued into a similar hole in the grip of the sword. Once everything was together and solid, I hand-sanded the guard round.
I tried painting the sword by hand with gold paint, but it streaked and looked terrible. Then, I remembered I had some Krylon “gold leaf” paint. I hadn’t used it for years, so I shook it a bit and sprayed it on a test piece. It wasn’t shiny or chromy, and it dried with a “hammered” finish. Perfect! I applied it to the Colourplace-primed sword and let it dry. The end result is a sword that has the swirly metallic-ness of the toy, while having a hammered look, like some Decepticon blacksmith had actually forged this thing!
The only thing left at this point was the head. Predaking’s head is not like most Gundams. It has no face, only a visor for eyes, and is very featureless. It does have two black antennas on it, though. As it turns out, a nearly perfect head comes with the Ez-SR kit from Build Fighters Try. One of the variants has a very “grunt” head, which, while devoid of the two aerials, does satisfy the other constraints. I drilled two holes in the head so that I could insert thin styrene rod, which I then trimmed, bent to the right angles and rounded.
I painted the head orange and the antennas Virsago Black. In the toy, the eye-strip is black, but I prefer the animation model’s red. To differentiate the eyes from the rest of the face, I used bare metal foil with clear red over it to give it more shine, and make it look more like coloured glass. I painted the “sight” on the top of the head as an intake vent, and when all was said and done, I had a surprisingly good replica of Predaking’s head on my hands!
Predaking was never one of my favourite toys, but he is one of my favourite characters in G1. His animation model is so cool that I have always wanted a better replica than the toy we got. I am still surprised that Bandai was able to build such a ridiculous kit that served the purposes of my evil genius quite as well as they did!
Disbelief aside, this project was probably the most ambitions piece of Gundam re-engineering I’ve every personally undertaken. With the restructuring of entire limbs, and the repurposing of weapons and even structural members, Predaking really stretched my imagination and skills. The baseline Tryon 3 is actually an excellent kit; the fit of all parts was excellent and, like all Gundam kits, the detail was great and crisp. Even though I didn’t like the Tryon 3 enough to build it, I can tell you that it is an excellent kit for any Gundam builder, even novices, who are attracted to the design.
Just like in the Build Fighters Try anime, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, though, and the thrill of creating a totally custom Gundam that no one else has even considered (or at least proof of which I cannot find) is a big rush. While I was working on it, I came to the following (somewhat cumbersome) realization:
I was making a custom of a kit which is from a cartoon in which the kit is a custom of a kit from a cartoon. I was customizing it to make it look like another cartoon entirely.
Yeah, chew on that one!
In the end, I’m endlessly pleased with how I was able to unite all the disparate elements in the build and create an end product that looks quite close to that which I was seeking to represent. I was able to prove to myself that I can do pretty much whatever I want with a Gundam, and it’ll work out. Not much builds more confidence than that. And, best of all, I did it all out of the ideas in my head and what I had laying around. There’s no expensive custom pieces or aftermarket doo-dads. It’s just spares, sweat and styrene.
It doesn’t get much better than that!