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Polar Lights Model Kits: I Might Have Lost My Head…

posted by JamieH 7:00 AM
Friday, July 30, 2010

Not a meeting would go by without a certain someone mentioning bringing back the Polar Lights model kit of the Guillotine. We in the product development department had a difficult time wrapping our minds around how to “freshen up” the kit. What more could be said or done with a kit of a wooden death machine?

As we discussed other subjects like bringing back the Hunchback and Munsters Living Room kits, we decided to follow our formula used on the Witch kit last year. All of these kits had been brought back under Playing Mantis and packaged in the standard long box format so why not make the packaging part of the point of difference? Including additional glow-in-the-dark parts added an additional fun twist that stayed true to the Aurora tradition. In the end we threw the Guillotine into the mix for a “glow box” treatment.

Besides the packaging and glow parts, we figured we’d throw in another fun bit that took a baby step away from the vintage kit. Instead of using a peg to attach the head to the “victim’s” body, we eliminated in lieu of a couple magnets placed in the head and body. Now the kit really works reminiscent of the miniature toys the children of the time played with. (How I long for the days when decapitating pigeons was considered child’s play)

Anyway, back to the packaging. Most of you reading this are familiar with how un-named artists “re-worked” James Bama’s classic box illustrations which some would say were the strongest selling points of the original kits. A documentary shown at Wonderfest this year gave a great account of this happening. I felt outrage and heartbreak viewing that part of the film. Artwork was added to the sides of the illustrations to account for the space needed to make a square box out of a tall, narrow box. In addition, each illustration was painted over to key each one to a certain color scheme and indicate a yellow glow effect over certain elements.

Skip ahead a couple of months. We got a message from the factory that the packaging artwork would be due within the next week. We hadn’t forgotten the project but more or less put it off for other urgent projects. We hadn’t been in a hurry to do it because we knew we’d have some work to do to make the idea work and really had no great idea of how to accomplish it. So push came to shove and I sat down to figure it out.

We needed enough interest on the sides to fill out the scene but also be able to see the all-important guillotine (at least the important parts of it) and be able to put the title of the kit in the center of the box just like all others. I found that by enlarging some of the background elements, I could fill space with what was already there. The most difficult matter was finding something to fill space in the lower right quarter of the box. Painting in two halves of two soldiers had been no easy feet but I found enough empty room in a space where nothing but another soldier made sense. I knew I had a certain amount of skill with photoshop but how could I come up with a guy that wasn’t present in the illustration to begin with and have it look like he had been hiding off screen the whole time. I ended up picking up one of the guys I had and adjusting it from there; borrowing a cheek bone from one, changing his hairline including adding sideburns, altering the uniform slightly and changing his hand position. If you didn’t already know the difference, you’d probably never know. As with the other glow boxes, I knew I had to give it a color scheme shift. That was difficult for me to wrap my head around. I had spent almost a week straight being sure I got everything to match especially the color and had it nice and brilliant enough to look like a fresh piece of art. I copped out a little and used the original background to guide my color choice, going with a neutral blue.

It wasn’t until I was half way through this that it dawned on me… What I was doing and what I had become. A lot of time and work had come and gone since seeing the Aurora documentary back at Wonderfest. I became regretful that I was one of those nameless artists who painted over a great piece of artwork done by one of Illustration’s masters. This wasn’t what I had ever been about. I love classic illustration. I can trace my art training pedigree back to Howard Pyle and here I was bastardizing another person’s artwork. It took me a while to realize I was stuck in the middle and had no choice than to forge ahead. The only way I found to somewhat justify myself was to say, “Well, at least you’ll do it better than those hacks did back then”. That rings pretty hollow just to right it. What can I say? I’m a hypocrite just like 90% of everyone else on the planet. No one (well, hopefully not many) tries to be but every now and again we find ourselves doing something we know we shouldn’t, something we’d tell other people not to do. I’ll live with it and move on and try not to do it again.

So, my apologies go out to James Bama. I’ve got nothing but respect for you and your body of work. I hope to never do it again.

I was about 90% done with reworking the artwork when it dawned on me. “You know what have really made this kit special? Getting James Bama to adjust his own artwork to make the illustration square.” Maybe next time…

12 Responses to “Polar Lights Model Kits: I Might Have Lost My Head…”

  1. Bats says:

    Very glad to see these old kits again…BUT, I got the latest newsletter today and something is sticking in my craw! I have kept quiet about this too long now.

    R.E: Daisy Duke’s Road Runner…WAS NOT A 1974! Daisy’s vehicle on the first season was a 1972 Road Runner. The stunt car used in distance shots and was the car destroyed, was a 1974 painted to look like her ’72. Please check these facts closer in the future. I mean heck, they got it right on the diecast.

  2. crowe-t says:

    In the earlier episodes of The Dukes Of Hazzard a 73-74 Roadrunner was used and then later a 71 Roadrunner was used as Daisy’s car. I’ll double check my Season 1 DVD’s but either the 71-72 or 74 can be Daisy’s Roadrunner so Round 2’s ‘Daisy Duke’s Roadrunner’ kit is ‘correct’!

  3. crowe-t says:

    I did some research on Daisy’s Roadrunner and found the ’74 Roadrunner was used in the earlier 1st Season Georgia filmed episodes and the ’71 was used in the later California filmed episodes.

  4. Jamie,

    James Bama’s work has always stood on its own. When Polar Lights (and Revell and Cinemodels) reissued the Fab Four monster kits in their original long box format back in 1999, I snapped them up as quickly as I did when I was a wee model builder in 1963. It was Bama’s box cover paintings that snagged me, man and boy.

    I understand that he himself didn’t think particularly highly of those paintings – to him, they were merely commercial assignments. We fans are the ones who value his work so highly (the artist is always the poorest judge of his own work), and we’re the ones who have been outraged over Aurora’s purely commercial decision to alter the paintings for the Glow in the Dark, square box reissues.

    You had to do something similar with the Guillotine reissue, but so what? Manipulating the image in Photoshop is a far cry from defacing Bama’s paintings directly. And if, like the original painting, your alteration helps to sell more Guillotine kits then everybody wins. Everybody except perhaps the frightened parents who will worry that the 1/15 scale Guillotines will turn their little darlings into serial killers.

    I’m less concerned about your alteration of James Bama’s work than I am about the typo in this sentence of your blog: “That rings pretty hollow just to right it.” The word “write” in that sentence would be right; “right” is wrong.


  5. JamieH says:

    Mark- Looks like I just can’t get anything R-I-G-H-T anymore.

    Yeah, Bama saw them as “a job” and grew old unaware of the impact his artwork had on modeling fans. As an artist, I’ve always took a stand against reworking someone else’s art but jumped right into this one for some reason. Principles shminciples I guess…

  6. jonathondadams says:

    Not to preach, but does anybody just build models and talk about all of the cool and new kits on the horizon? Between catching typo’s and trying to figure out what year Daisy’s car is… “check these facts closer in the future”???? Whatever happened to “wow, I’m excited about this kit” or “the Guillotine’s probably not going to end up on my shelf, but the quality is still there.” As consumers, we so often feel that “we” are always right, but sometimes it might help to take a step back and realize that we’re talking on a blog (-hosted by a company that actually listens to input from modelers-) and be thankful that companies like this one are still out there and still continuing to make quality kits, listen to the public & constantly strive to bring new & classic kits back to life. Ok, I know that was one heck-of-a run-on sentance, but just wanted to say a little something like “thanks” to a really stand-up company, that always goes the extra mile.

  7. JamieH says:

    Thanks, Jonathon. We know there are more people out there who love our product than hate it. We also know fans can be rabid sometimes. We’re fans ourselves with high expectations.

    btw, I know Mark was just ribbing me… It’s too bad sarcasm never reads well.

  8. Aurora1Craig says:

    I think that you used good insight when it came to the Guillotine Kit box. You did not insult or terrify the box ,It was well thought out! Don’t confuse the people in the past that destroyed the original Bama work on the Square Glow boxes! If they (Aurora) took as much time as you did I think they could of saved the original Bama Art work! Also when I purchased (many) Glow Witch, Munsters home, and now the Guillotine, Polar Lights Not only gave you the regular parts, Plus the Glow parts and the price was very reasonable!! Instead of charging $30-$40 they were under $22!! Fantastic!! Polar Lights round 2 I fell is one if not the BEST Company in the year 2000+!! enough kissing butt, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!! Please re-release as many older kits Plus GLOW!!! bye for now; Aurora1Craig, Plus you should start a PL Club!

  9. Bats says:

    Well Jonathanadams, you do sound a tad preachy but not without reason. However the key word in your sermon was BLOG. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in. As far as Kudos to polar and Jamie and alkl the fine folks at polar goes…I give my share. FEW folks are as big of a fan of Polar lights, it’s staff or what they do than me and I do not hesitate to give praise where it’s due. However, in modeling, ACCURACY is the name of the game no matter how big a fan you are of the folks providing the product. Therefore I have every right to question thier use of the “stunt” car, for Daisy’s vehivle rather than the “beauty” car. Because…as you so rightly pointed out, this is a blog, and subject to the opinions and statements of ALL those who participate.

    So, wether it be a screw up with Enterpise (done purposely) decals, incorrect representation of a car, or the wrong name on the box…I will point it out if someone else doesn’t first.

    You also pointed out that this is a company that listens and even has a blog for us to post on. Very true, and they wouldn’t be the company they are today if they didn’t listen to both kudos AND complaints. This is how they get better and if noone points out the mistakes, they may never know so I feel it’s a good thing that outspoken members like me poiunt these things out.

    Of course we could just heap them over with compliments and kisses and hope they magically improve that way.

    Bottom line…if Polar Lights didn’t want to hear the good AND the bad, this blog wouldn’t be here. Appreciate it by being honest with them.

  10. jon,

    If I didn’t love what Round 2 is doing, I wouldn’t be here. That they take the trouble to add a goodie of some sort to each reissue just warms my heart with each new release. So you and I are apparently on the same page, since you defended the company with that pasionate run-on sentence (I’d mention that you spelled it “sentance”, but as Jamie pointed out, sarcasm doesn’t read well…). At the same time I agree with Bats to the extent that, since R2 does listen to its customers, one assumes that they will accept constructive criticism as well as unbridled praise.

    For example, my excitement over the metal landing legs that will accompany the Klingon Bird of Prey reissue is tempered by the fact that I’ve already purchased an inferior resin set for my original issue BoP. What’s Klingonese for “Rats!”?

  11. CaesarAPE says:

    Thanks Round 2 for re releasing these kits in Glow in the Dark!!! I hope you will be doing the same for the ENTIRE Polar Lights/Aurora monster/Horror kit line (Dracula, Frank, Mummy, etc , including the 16″ Godzilla!!)

  12. Scott says:

    The above kits, in particular the Chamber of Horrors Le Guillotine kit are getting hard to find at a reasonable price. Any chance of seeing reissued? I’d especially like to find the one with extra “glow in dark” figure.

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