PASADENA Vol 3 ... BACK FOR MORE
(griffin's 2011 BotCon report)
This felt like coming back after a commercial break in the Original Transformers cartoon - 'We now return to the Transformers'... except this this time, it's returning to Pasadena. Some for the second time (in 2009), but for others including myself, this was a third BotCon in Pasadena (in 2004 and 2009). And for a rare few, this would have been their fourth BotCon in LA (way back in 1995 in Anaheim).
But first, to separate the fans from the non-fans....
If you are a Transformers fan and just want to see the news and
info from the Transformers convention, the first block of links are for
you to use.
If you are NOT a fan, or are interested in following the entire adventure, skip to the second lot of links that details my entire trip.
THE INDEX OF PAGES (an introduction to this adventure begins
after this index)
BotCon Convention section (the Transformers part of my trip)
Pre-registration Package pickup (Wednesday) and Club Store purchases (Thursday)
Dealer Room (including official guest exhibits)
Art Contest Display
Hasbro product display page 1 (DotM & exclusives)
Hasbro product display page 2 (TF:Prime, gimmick items, older lines)
Hasbro Product display page 3 (Kre-O & Rescue Bots)
Friday 3rd June:
Friday 10am - Film Fest - 2 hours (I missed most of it this year and lost the only photos I took)
Friday 1pm - Stunti-Con-Job script reading
(Dealer Room open 2-5pm)
Friday 7pm - Casino, Dinner, Awards & Auction night
Saturday 4th June:
Saturday 10am - IDW Comics
Saturday 11am - Hasbro Toys (only 1 hour this year)
Saturday noon - TF:Prime Script reading of Episode 15 & screening of Episode 16 - 2 hours
Saturday 2pm - Activision's DotM game
Saturday 3pm - Collector Club
Saturday 4pm - Voice Actors 25th Anniversary of 1986 TF Movie
Saturday 8pm - Hall of Fame Awards Event
Sunday 5th June:
Sunday 10am - Collector Club Magazine
Sunday 11am - TF:Prime Creative Process
Sunday Noon - Gen1 Cartoon Voice Actors
Sunday 1pm - Hasbro future projects and story planning
Sunday 2pm - Costuming & Cosplaying
Details of my entire trip (mostly non-Transformers stuff)
Thursday 26th May (Journey from Brisbane to LA & drive to San Diego with toy hunting)
Friday 27th May (Legoland)
Saturday 28th May (San Diego Zoo)
Sunday 29th May (Toy hunting & Balboa Park)
Monday 30th May (Drive back to LA/Pasadena & toy hunting)
Tuesday 31st May (Disneyland)
Wednesday 1st June (day of rest, Aussie dinner meet, pre-reg pickup)
Thursday 2nd June (Six Flags & Club store)
Friday 3rd June (BotCon & Casino/Auction)
Saturday 4th June (BotCon & HOF)
Sunday 5th June to Tuesday 7th June (BotCon & journey home)
As an advocate of alternating years between new and an established location,
coming back to a place you are familiar with makes planning a long distant
trip so much easier, if you kept details on your previous visit.
And if it is a decent location, chances are there were things you didn't
get to do first time, or there are places worth going to each visit.
I know that when the Transformers Ride at Universal Studios opens up next
year, any BotCon in Pasadena after that (or any that allows me a stopover
in LA) will result in a visit to to that theme park. (and for a more personal/selfish
reason - flying to LA is a lot cheaper for those of us in Australia)
If you hadn't realised it already, or are new to these BotCon reports
of mine, I'm from Brisbane Australia... that distant land from the hub
of Transformers & its fandom, America.
Each year the journey to BotCon involves at least one 12-hour flight each way, and sometimes additional legs to get to the host city (so it really bugs me to see Americans crying over the location not being 'near' them each year). This has become a pilgrimage, ever since my first one in 1999 had me addicted to the experience... the atmosphere, the features, and most importantly, the friends.
The administration of the event may have changed since that time, and with it came a more commercial element to it with the focus being more on all the exclusive toys rather than the event itself, but it was necessary to keep the BotCon franchise alive for future generations. As long as the friends and features were still there to keep me coming back, I can ignore that necessary evil. And unlike Men In Black who did the same thing to line their own pockets, Fun Publications at least make that money to invest back into the Club and Convention. Credit where credit due.
So with this year's BotCon returning to the West Coast of America, it was closest Mainland state of America to where I live, and only required the one direct flight. And even better this year, the half-price sale fares to LA were direct from and to Brisbane. The last two years had the discount priced tickets requiring me to fly via Sydney or Melbourne, which adds up to 5 hours traveling time on an already lengthy journey.
The Journey there - From Brisbane (1) to Los Angeles, California (2)
by plane, and San Diego (3) by car... then back to LA/Pasadena (2) for
the convention. After it ended, it was straight back to Brisbane
(1) by plane.
The distance traveled between Brisbane to LA is 11,533 kilometers or 7,166 miles, making the total distance to and from the convention as 23,066km or 14,332m.
This means a total distance so far traveled on my 12 BotCons is 353,678km or 219,765m (which is just 2,800km short of the closest point of the Moon to Earth)
No new US states visited this year, so the total stays at 13 - California,
Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut,
Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida.
Aussie Attendance this year
Ian/Demonac with wife Caroline & daughter Emilie (VIC) - 3rd BotCon
Paul/Paulbot (VIC) - 2nd BotCon
Malcolm/Loophole with brother Scott (SA) - 1st BotCon
Rafael/Chileno (VIC) - 1st BotCon
Dallas/UltraMarginal with wife Steph (NSW) - 1st BotCon
My BotCon Rating:
I rate each BotCon in 10 categories, from 1 to 10 (1 is very bad, 5 is average, 10 is excellent) giving a total score out of 100.
1 - Guests and Panels - 10 (I've said that Frank Welker would be the only reason I would give full points for this category, but with so many guests this year, it deserves it)
2 - Activities and Events - 9 (A lot of stuff this year... possibly too much, as we didn't have Friday night free for fans to have their own meets or trading this year)
3 - Dealer Room - 8 (Pretty good this year with a variety of items... including KOs unfortunately, and FunPub didn't care to stop it)
4 - Host city & convention location - 8 (Not too busy, but not too remote. A bit out of the way from most stores with toys though)
5 - Hotel Value & Features - 8 (Internet access is still an extra expense at this hotel (Sheraton), as many now include it in their room rate)
6 - Cost/value of Convention - 7 (getting a full set of 13 toys to go with the 'full' experience of the convention cost almost US$700 - that's just too much for a 'complete' convention experience)
7 - Administration of event - 5 (EVERYTHING was late this year, after doing so well last year, and it was here just 2 years ago so shouldn't be 'new' territory for them)
8 - BotCon Merch & Toys - 8 (another year of too many toys, but the set works well for this year's theme)
9 - Interaction with others - 8 (caught up with pretty much everyone I wanted, but missed spending more time with a couple of them)
10 - Toys Acquired - 10 (with a record number of 128 purchased during my time away)
That gives me a total score of 81, which puts it at equal second out of my 12 BotCons (tied with BC04, and in first is BC09... surprisingly, it means Pasadena takes out the top 3 spots).
THE GOOD (13)
- - A record amount of Transformers toys purchased this year, totaling 128 over the 12 days I was away. I probably ended up spending about $3000, but from the 90-something retail toys I bought before BotCon started, I saved about AU$1500 compared to what they would have cost me in Australia (due to the inflated wholesale price by Hasbro that makes our toys twice the price they should be). Take into account the at-show toys and Dealer room purchases compared to ebay prices, this savings I made basically paid for the trip itself.
- - I managed to find so many older items (at Kmarts for some strange reason), that I would never have been able to find or bother buying online. Things like the RPMs and Roleplay Sword from TF2... All that gimmicky stuff that fans don't collect, and therefore doesn't usually show up on ebay or online stores, I collect it as part of the 'archive of Hasbro Transformers' in my Collection.
- - The Prime Script reading was awesomely funny, with some of the biggest 'non-TFs' celebrities to ever be at a BotCon - Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Jeffery Combs (Star Trek).
- - Went to Legoland and Disneyland, plus Six Flags Magic Mountain rollercoaster park. Also visited the San Diego Zoo, which was fun as well.
- - Road trip to San Diego. This was the first time I've driven in America, and it took some getting used to - the other side of the road, sitting in the other side of the car, and all the controls being on the 'wrong' sides. It was exciting, yet fearful, as there were a couple of occasions of driving on the wrong side of their roads by accident. Bought a Sat-Nav, which made it so much easier to get around and find (food and toy) stores.
- - Met up with the familiar faces I hope to see each year, that helps make the Convention feel more 'homely'... Tim, Ben, Eric, Simon, Karl... you know who you are. It's just a pity some I wasn't able to spend more time with, as they were also busy doing the annual catchup with their other friends. Two/three days can be too short for catching up with people, especially if you don't want to neglect your fellow country-men...
- - Speaking of which, there was a nice turn out of Australians this year, and all were really nice people to get along with (actually, I don't think there has been a BotCon yet that didn't have a fellow Australian I didn't get on well with).
- - After 4 looong years, I finally got my mouth around a Wendys burger... including the Baconator. Deliciously unhealthy.
- - Six boxes of my favourite breakfast cereal - Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Which we don't get in Australia. It's like crunchy cinnamon donuts... drooool.
- - Just a month after acquiring my number one most hunted Transformers toy (BC94 Breakdown), I was able to buy my second most hunted Transformers toy in the Dealer room this year (a legit Headmaster Head Shuffler), completing the set of six. Plus another hard to find loose end - BWNeo 'Torca' (no way I'm gonna try spelling it's JP name). And both were found by Demonac/Ian.
- - The proud owner of an autographed script by several Voice Actor guests from this year. I'm not one for autographs, or have the time queuing up for autographs, but this was won on the Auction night already signed, so bonus for me.
- - And I can't forget my $700* bottle of water from the 2007 Movie... That is one novelty item with a story to tell for years to come. (*casino dollars, not real dollars)
- - Attending both Annual Hall of Fame events so far, and getting a sneak peak of some of the DotM movie in 3D. I almost missed the event, because I had packed away in a shipping box, the wristband required to get in. I found it and ran down with just moments to spare, as they were just closing the doors to start proceedings. It was the one event that was actually on time (probably because Hasbro was hosting it), so it was lucky I didn't take longer finding the wristband.
THE BAD (9)
- - The worst thing this year was not specifically due to BotCon itself... it was the whole Hall of Fame/Erector issue. Sure it was all a bit of fun getting it nominated, but for three of the major fansites (TFW, Allspark, The Official Club site) trying to get it inducted into the one decent, 'adult' element of Transformers... it was really disrespectful to Hasbro and the point of the HoF concept. And to even have BotCon's own twitter account encouraging people to vote for just Erector instead of promoting the fan-vote in general, was not only a conflict of interest (for being the host of the HoF awards), but showed they didn't respect Hasbro or their (expensive) official licenses. For the weeks leading up to BotCon, it played on my mind that the one 'mature' thing with Transformers I looked forward to and thanked Hasbro for, was about to become a public laughing stock... I couldn't help but feel apprehensive about the awards night and how it would spoil the entire BotCon experience if the worst happened. Even though it didn't end up happening, that whole lead-up to BotCon and excitement I should have been feeling, just wasn't there. Sadly for me, BotCon is the one thing I look forward to each year (ATM), so having this weighing on my mind... I'd lost faith in those three fansites for making a mockery of the HoF concept and spoiling my fun this year, and decided they weren't the sites I should be interacting on if I can help it... which is ironic that they were the three global fan-sites of the five I tried registering with a few years ago, that I actually got in.
- - Everything was late this year, and I mean EVERYTHING. And after doing so well last year, which felt like they had finally worked out all the bugs in the system. Either they need to accept the help of more volunteers or they need to look at having someone in charge of 'final scheduling' to run around and make sure everything that has a start time or finish time, sticks to it, or chases up those responsible to make it happen. Most big businesses have a General Manager (for decisions and planning) and an Operations Manager (making those decisions happen), and I think FunPub is big enough to need that separation of duties to get things moving 'on the day'.
- - Just like in 2009, the convention was annoyingly close to the movie's release, but not close enough for us to have a chance at seeing an advance screening at the convention. They booked the venue over a year early this time, was it that difficult to get it a couple weeks later so that we can actually see the movie we were celebrating this year? Instead we got a small sample again, that was too out of context to be too exciting or worth boasting about.
- - It's supposed to be a fan convention, not a toydealer convention - FunPub should start treating it like one. Promotion of the convention this year once again focussed on the toys instead of the convention itself. They hype up the box set to encourages toydealers and investors to snap up *Registrations*, limiting the number of dedicated fans getting them and wanting to attend without one. The need to hype up the convention itself and its events and guests. FunPub have to give people a reason to actually attend the show, before registration is open. Because currently, they prioritise the interests of those wanting toys (to resell for profit), leading to the selling out of the Primus Packages before any of the guests are even known... which means more of the actual (non-scalper) fans either have to sign up to a Primus Package before they know what they are attending, or, wait until details are released and miss out on a Primus Package, then decide it isn't worth going if they can't get the full "experience". If the toys are good, the Primus Packages will still sell out if they reveal the (proposed) guests and events. Hype up the convention for the fans, not the toys that only make the toydealers and scalpers happy.
- - I was REALLY disappointed that FunPub or Hasbro continue to allow fakes/KOs/Counterfeit Transformers toys at the 'Official' Transformers convention. This year the biggest seller of fakes was a few meters opposite the Club Store. It should be a condition of selling in the Dealer Room, and unless the BotCon staff walk around blind-folded, how difficult is it to see these things and ask for their removal?
- - Three different 'BotCon' hotels were necessary this year because the main one is not big enough now to allocate enough discounted rooms for a majority of fans to be located close to each other. That made for logistical difficulties for fans to meet up or drop in to see their friends, especially if your friend's hotel requires room-key access to the lift. Pasadena may be a great location and Convention Center, but maybe BotCon has outgrown its accommodation options. Last year was good because the one hotel was able to offer a large enough block of discounted rooms, even if some ended up in the adjoining block, patrons could access both hotels easily. On a related note, the main BotCon hotel (Sheraton) doesn't have a waiting list for their discounted rooms (according to one of the staff at reservations), so when someone cancels, that room from the pool is lost. I may have been lucky to get a room by making a reservation 11 months ago, but there were so many regular/veteran fans missing out on the main BotCon hotel, despite a number of people who had reservations not going. After all, people jumped on reserving a room a whole year ago, and since there is no financial penalty to canceling a room up to a day before checking in, just how many more dedicated attendees could have benefited from being on a waiting list? Either FunPub needs to ask for a waiting list option at their BotCon hotels, or perhaps even sets up an advance mailing list for 'guaranteed' attendees (like dealers/exhibitors, volunteers, and even regular/veterans of 5 or 10 BotCons), who are notified of the hotel and discount code a few days before it is made public, on the condition that they don't tell others (which could be checked, based on the names on the reservation listing).
- - I had to miss some things I wanted to do, just to photographically document certain exhibits and events. Plus, being late to the panel room after doing some other important things meant some poor photographs were taken. With the proliferation of Fan-Forums in recent years, this is now the most extensive coverage of BotCon, in a completely collated format. I've recommended it a few times on the feedback surveys, that FunPub should consider giving verified fan-site reporters (like TFW2005, Seibertron, Tformers) 'press access' to things that they need access to, because those are the sites that give more publicity and promotion of BotCon to the target demographic than any of the official 'Press' or even BotCon's own site. Reward the sites that are making BotCon popular and profitable.
- - I didn't end up going to Vegas or south of the border as I was originally hoping. Being part of a Road Trip meant compromise, and I'll have plenty more opportunities to do those things another year - my traveling companions are less likely to be back this way, so it was more important to let them suggest stuff and if I liked it, I went too. I'm also very annoyed with myself for leaving the visit to In&Out Burger until the last minute, and then running out of time to do it. That was something I had been planning for months... I even had a list of Secret Menu Items I wanted to try, and photograph.
- - Missing the 1986 Movie on the Sunday night was a bit disappointing, mostly because if it had been any other year, I would have been able to go. However, this was the first year out of my 12 BotCons, I was flying out on the Sunday night. Because the flights from LA to Brisbane are around midnight, so I didn't see the point in staying/paying a whole extra day if I had enough time to get to the airport after BotCon wraps up at around 4pm. So it's typical that this would be the one year that something Transformers related would be on the Sunday that would be worth doing. It was an even that wasn't related to BotCon or even organised by them, and was about 30-40 minutes drive away. But since I had a hire car, and if this had been known before I had booked flights 4 months ago (it was only revealed a week before BotCon), I would have gone to it. Not just for the nostalgia of it being the 25th anniversary of the 1986 movie, but because there was supposed to be a Q&A with several of the Movie Voice Actors (Gregg Berger, Paul Eiding, Neil Ross, Dan Gilvezan (Bumblebee), David Mendenhall (Daniel), and Wally Burr the Voice Director). And since I had a discount Economy airfare, I would have had to pay for a new ticket (about $900-1200), an extra day car rental AND accommodation, just to stay the extra day.
(if my grandmother is reading this, it's probably best to not to go any further on this page...)
AND THE UGLY
It seems to be a BotCon tradition for me now - to find and sample unusual/unhealthy American junk food. I was annoyed that I wasn't able to get to an In&Out Burger to order some of their 'secret' creative items... and equally annoyed about losing several of my food photos from the 72 photos I lost on the 3rd of June.
But this year's 'Ugly' photo is still deserving of the title - none other than the legendary BACONATOR!
A vege-free burger that "terminates" your life-span... from one of my
favourite American fast food places - Wendys (which we don't have in Australia).
It has been 4 years since I've been able to get to a Wendys while in America for BotCon (none have been convenient since 2007), and ever since I heard of the Baconator earlier this year, I just had to try it.
And I might say, it wasn't too bad...
OZFORMERS - Australasian Transformers
News and Interaction (our 15th year - longer than any other moderated
BotCon website - The official Collector Club and Convention website (check it out for when and where the next one will be)
Me --> griffin @ otca.com.au
Easter Egg 4 of 4
The last Easter Egg this year is probably the first one you find...
But while on the topic of ugly stuff, here's a 'recap' of some of the
junk I ate this year (which are featured throughout the various pages of
this report). I just wish I hadn't lost 3 of my food photos, to make this
look a little more impressive... and more disgusting.
Because the annual BotCon adventure for me is not just for Transformers. As a fan of toys, travel and food, these trips are also a chance for me to sample foods that I can't get here.
Admittedly, a lot of American-styled foods (fast food and grocery food) wouldn't be considered too nutritional, but for me it's about the taste. And even if the more health-conscious are put off by the visual aspect or lack of nutritional value, I do stress that I focus on sampling... I don't gorge myself on these things. I am mindful of that, and actually ate a fair bit of healthy food this year - more than I normally did in previous years. So much so, that I only put on a couple kilos this year instead of the usual 8-10, and even found myself uninspired by the confectionery and snackfoods like chips (which surprised even myself, as they used to take up a significant component of my diet while in America).
Ah well... maybe I'm just getting older and wiser....
Burgers first, because I'm such a fan of burgers, making 11kg burgers, cheeseburger pies, cheeseburger pizzas, cheeseburger lasagna, and even deep-fried battered cheeseburgers.
First Thursday - Burger King
Monday - Wendys
Last Sunday - Burger King
First Sunday - Pretzels and Pizza.
And on the opposite end of the scale... an Australian-made airline dinner
to start of the trip. (it may be healthier, but not as tasty as the other
This bonus section was planned to be more expansive (it was something
I had planned to do as an Easter Egg this year, before even going on the
trip... for the benefit of those who know of my eating exploits), but forgetting
to take photos early on, and then losing 3 of my 7 photos (which were burgers
and Onion Rings) kinda ruined the intended effect of this section.
Ah well... next year I'll do a better job at documenting (and saving) my American eating adventure.