Customed To Transform

Customed To Transform

29/05/2011 2 By Administratus Prime

It’s only the kids that take the Transformers seriously, right? Wrong. Azwan Abdul Karim, a fine arts lecturer, is far from a kid, and yet he is so fixated with the shape-shifting cartoon robots that he spends hours making one-off D-I-Y models of them.


How real is this if it's not Wan_de_real??

THE first time Azwan Abdul Karim, 33, a fine art and technology lecturer at the Baitulmal Skills Institute, showed off his first hand-made Transformer robot to his wife, her reaction was to gush over him.

“When she saw my Bumblebee, the first words she purred to me was, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful, my dear’.”


Four years, two children and over 20 custom figures later, the reaction from the wife is no longer as enthusiastic or warm. Now, it’s just a terse “Oh”. Full stop.

The hazards faced by kit bashers and figure customisers like Azwan are as varied as the things they can come up with. For some, it’s a bad back, no thanks to long hours of sitting. In Azwan’s case, it’s the cold shoulder he gets from the wife, no thanks to the 16-hour stretches he’s liable to spend behind closed doors on weekends.

On such days, thawing the frost means realising when you’ve pushed your luck enough and taking a break. Taking things apart and putting them together again in a new configuration has always been Azwan’s forte. In the foundation classes he conducts for the first year art students of Baitulmal, he teaches them to create animal forms with cardboard boxes. Last month, he taught fine art students how to turn odds and ends into insects, using tripods for legs and circuit board as wings.

Back home, Azwan’s focus is firmly on his handmade Transformers robots, which he assembles out of recycled toys.

“Somehow I always knew which piece would go where. I can look at the grille of a toy locomotive and fit it in as a helmet visor. I think it has something to do with my being able to solve problems by singling out the details,” he says.

Long before Autobot fever came to town, Azwan already had a fixation with toys. He reckons it might have had something to do with growing up in Sungai Mai Estate in Jerantut, Pahang, during the 80s when money was tight. His mother, a kindergarten teacher, was a single parent and only earned RM350 a month. Playthings were not a priority, and Azwan didn’t get his first toy, a big red plastic truck, until he was 11.

And there was a big flap over how he got it, too. To fund his purchase, Azwan stole money from the cash register at his grandmother’s grocery shop. He then talked his mum into taking him to a supermarket in Mentakab to buy the truck, saying that he had been saving up his pocket money for it. However, when he returned home with the loot, the cat was let out of the bag.

His grandmother, a vigilant accountant, saw Azwan with his booty and put two and two together.

“I got a three-hour lecture for that but in the end, they let me keep my truck”.

Today, that plastic truck is still sitting in his glass cabinet at home. In explaining his fascination with toys, Azwan says that it was the cartoons that did it for him. As a child, he would try to make what he had seen on TV in an attempt to turn fantasy to reality.

“I remember making a Starmax jet fighter (a cartoon in the 80s) with a liftable cabin door from a box back. It was the envy of the estate children”.

Fast-forward to Bumblebee, his first attempt at custom work in 2007. By then, Azwan had advanced beyond child’s play – he had found his footing in sculpture while pursuing his degree in fine arts at UiTM. Thanks to the financial empowerment that came with his teaching career, he became a serious toy collector.

What got him into the hobby was the absence of Bumblebee in Volkswagon mode. Azwan was sure that Hasbro, the creators of the merchandise, would never produce a Volkswagon Bumblebee because of licensing rights. So, he decided that he would make his own to complete his private collection and impress his young wife.

It would take him one-and-a-half years to complete the model, and, to his surprise, it was voted Best Custom of The Month on Sector70, an online kit-bashing forum and resource site. This was in May 2009. Adding another feather to his cap, his last project – a locomotive which can transform into a space shuttle and a warrior robot – won first place in the Sector70 Triplethreat Challenge. It beat out competition from the US and Canada the following year. To celebrate, Azwan took his family out to a KFC meal. Now, that he has come this far, what else does he hope to achieve with his hobby?

“My mission is to complete my collection of all the Transformers characters. At the end of the day, I just want to be different from the thousands of collectors out there,” he says.

Azwan says if he is offered the right price, he might consider parting with some of his creations.

“Well, this is commercial art and it’s not likely to bring in as much as fine art, where an artist’s work can run up to hundreds of thousands. Still, I’ve had offers from toy collectors who are willing to pay me US$1,000 for my work,” says Azwan.

> For more information, call Azwan at 012-233 1291.

Credits: The Star