On Wednesday, May 27, 2009 Andrew and I traveled to Pasadena to attend Botcon 2009. For those who don’t know, Botcon is the annual Transformers convention. This year it was in California, within driving distance, so we decided to check it out. Pasadena is about 6 hours from Gilbert by car. We stayed there until Sunday, May 31. The following is an account of the trip and all the neat stuff we did.
Driving to Pasadena & Dinner at Pink’s
Wednesday morning we hopped in the car from Andrew’s parents’ house and headed on the road. We had been staying there (off and on with Amy) since the previous Thursday because their house had been broken into while they were away in Ireland. We installed a security door over their front door and hoped that was enough to keep them from coming back.
During our trip through southern California we stopped at several Target stores. Super Target had decided to sell the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen figures early. The street date for sale wasn’t until Friday, May 29 but Andrew already had several figures by this time. We collected as many new ones as we could on our way to Pasadena and had several new ones by the time we arrived at the hotel. I’ll let Andrew talk about specifics because I can’t keep the figures straight!
We checked into the hotel around 4pm and headed out for food. We decided to check out Pink’s famous hot dogs since we had heard so much about the place, and my sister had told us it was pretty good. I braced myself for a thousand people in line but alas, Wednesday at 5pm there were about 3 people there. Hooray! We grabbed two hotdogs, onion rings, fries and two drinks for about $20 and sat down to experience Pink’s. Their hotdogs are not like I’m used to, because they still have the casing on. They are crunchy. The onion rings were really good though – overall it was a decent meal. It would be a great place to eat if you love crazy stuff on your hotdog (but I like mine naked so it didn’t matter to me that it was from Pink’s).
We went back to the hotel and then to get in line for Botcon registration. This was the first of many, many hours spent in line at the convention. We were eventually able to register and Andrew got his Botcon exclusives. I’ll let him fill in all the details. After that we headed on back to the hotel and I crashed for the night while he began transforming his new toys.
On Thursday, Andrew attended a Transformers Customizing Class. He learned how to put the mold together piece by piece and then paint or airbrush the parts. I’ll let him describe that experience.
Universal Studios VIP Tour
Meanwhile on Thursday, I took a VIP Tour of Universal Studios in Hollywood. My tour started at 10:00am and lasted until 4:00pm or so. I arrived at the VIP Tour door and inside was a very nice lounge for VIP guests with drinks and fruit and snacks to enjoy. The tours are limited to only 16 people and mine had 14, so it was a nice small group. The tour guide, Mark, was fantastic! The whole day he really kept the group together and was entertaining. His job is not easy and I admired the way he combined his knowledge with his “acting” skills to keep us surprised.
The tour began with a trip to the Mancini Sound Building. We got to enter the dubbing studio where the Shrek movies were voiced (among many others). Then we actually got to go into the primary editing studio and see the Harrison console, which is a world famous sound editing console that takes up an entire room. Apparently it’s being replaced with a single laptop soon, so it’s nice to have seen it while it still exists. We then got to walk up with Sound Stage 12 where they film huge movie sets like Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean and some of the Transformers. We didn’t get to go in, but heard some funny stories about it.
Sound Stage 29 was our next stop, a small building in comparison to the others. We got to hop off the trolly and go inside the studio. Universal rents out sound stages to all of the major production studios in the world. It rents for about $30,000 per day, according to Mark, and all you get is literally the building.
The production wood mill, metal shop and sign shop were next on the list. We got to walk through each area and see props and sets being made by the staff. They showed some examples of how the sets are built for movies to be easily destructable, and described how that caused the Universal fire to be larger than it should have been. The sign shop was pretty cool, and Mark talked about product placement in the movies and how marketing bargains with corporations for logo use and intellectual property rights. On our way out of the sign shop we passed by Giada De Laurentiis’ office, which apparently used to be the office of Alfred Hitchcock.
We took the trolley for a tour of the back lot sets that the regular tour also sees. Our tour was on an old fashioned trolley while most people take the little white train around. The trolley actually got to go over the collapsing bridge that was used in several films, and have it “collapse” on us. You can read more about the bridge here. After that we saw the area used to film water rushing in movies such as Big Fat Liar. The whole skit is covered on countless websites such as this one so I won’t go into much detail.
Now, onto the pièce de résistance – the prop warehouse! This is the reason I took the tour and I am SO glad I did. We arrived on the first floor and were allowed to wander around a bit and take pictures. I thought this was all we were going to see so I took a lot of pictures at this point. There were aisles of nothing but chairs – big chairs, little chairs, green chairs, yellow chairs, old chairs, new chairs, chairs everywhere. Each section had a sheet that showed how many chairs were in the set, what the period and color was, and other identifying information. They had tons and tons of stuff, and the chairs are just one example.
We then went to the second floor, which is the coolest place I’ve ever been on a tour! Aisle after aisle of tens of thousands of items that can be rented for props in movies. Assorted cups and dishes, assorted fine china, pots and pans, coffee makers, cafeteria items, signage, bronze statues, family portraits, frames, porcelain busts, computers, cameras, writing supplies, electric fans, radios, vases, caskets… The quantity and variety of items on the shelves were staggering. I took tons of pictures and video to see. It was truly awesome. Upon leaving, one of the studio employees gave away a few actual props from some movies that were headed towards the trash. I know, trash fodder, but it was cool to me nonetheless. I got a 5×7 picture of Ben Affleck and his “bride,” Robin Wright Penn, that was used in a movie set for State of Play.
Unfortunately I used up all my memory card taking pictures and video in the prop house, and have no pictures from the rest of the tour. We got to see the Bates Motel and the Psycho house, followed by Whoville. What a combination eh? The it was off to the War of the Worlds set where our trolley stopped and we got off to walk around the set. We walked right up to the crashed 747 and got to take pictures (well, would have, if I’d had any memory left). Mark told us to “Wave to the regular people” on the white train as it zoomed by. That’s one difference between the VIP Tour and the regular back lot tour – the VIP tour actually stops and lets you get off to walk around the sets. It’s well worth the extra money, by far.
We finished up by taking a drive up and down Wysteria Lane from the show Desperate Housewives. The funny thing was that Mark described every house and who lives their now on the show, but then discussed the previous residents. For example, one of the homes was used for the Munsters, and it has a fresh coat of paint and new landscaping now to fit the scene. All of the homes had previous lives and I wish I could remember all that he said but alas, no more memory card. =( I guess I’ll just have to take the tour again… Darn!
After that it was off to the Waterworld stunt show, then to a private lunch which was included. The lunch was a buffet with a good variety of food and all the drinks you could drink. They even followed up with dessert. The remainder of the tour was spent literally going to every ride in the park and cutting in front of everyone else standing in line to get directly on the ride. I’m talking – straight to the front of the line in front of the people with “front of the line” passes. Mark kept stopping to show us “the line you won’t be standing in” and then taking us around the back way to get on the rides. Another very good reason that this tour is worth every penny – no lines, period. I went through the House of Horrors, Shrek 4D and the Simpsons before calling it a day. The tour continued but I wasn’t interested in the other rides, so I bid farewell and went back to the hotel.
I arrived back to the hotel and quickly grabbed my Botcon lanyard and headed down the street to the Pasadena Convention Center. Since we registered on Wednesday night, for Thursday we got in line for the Club Store opening. Andrew got there about 4:00pm and I joined him shortly thereafter. The Club Store opened at 6pm. We were approximately 10th in line for the Cash Only line. Andrew was able to get all of the things he wanted there, complete with the “first issue” stickers with the May 28th date on them. I spent a bit of time taking pictures around the convention hall, including some awesome 3D shots of the Bumblebee and Optimus Prime statues. After that, it was back to the hotel for a repeat of the night before.
Friday morning we were in line again to enter, this time to go straight to the auditorium where the panels were being held. Andrew hung out there while I went to sit in line for the Dealer Room. The Dealer Room is where they have about 200 dealers all selling their Transformer wares. I got in line at 11:30am for a 2:00pm opening. We were about 30th in line for the room at that time. I sat there and watched Twilight on my iPod and waited for him to finish all the panels. He went to grab lunch and then took his place in line so I could go walk around a bit and use the bathroom. At 2pm, we entered the dealer room and the buying frenzy began! Andrew got autographed art prints by Marcelo Matere and Alex Milne. I’ve never seen Andrew wheel and deal before but he was haggling with dealers and looking for the best prices… It was really quite humorous to me. I followed him around with all the bags and freebies and posters in tow. The rest of the day was kind of a blur to me, although I remember going back to the hotel to read and take a nap, and having Andrew go back to the conference without me to do more activities in the evening.
Saturday morning we got up at 6am and headed over to get in lines again. As a “Primus Package” holder, Andrew was allowed to get in line for Weird Al Yankovic’s autograph at a smaller side building. I got in line for Peter Cullen’s autograph at the main building. Weird Al does the voice of Wreck Gar in the animated series for Transformers, while Petter Cullen is famous for doing Optimus Prime in the movies as well as other famous characters such as Eeyore. Weird Al started signing at 9am and was limited to 240 people, while Peter Cullen didn’t start until 10:30am and was limited to only 120 people. I was insanely jealous that Andrew got to meet Weird Al and that I couldn’t go, but more on that later. By about 9:15, Andrew had Weird Al’s autograph and came to take my 10th place in line for Peter Cullen’s autograph. I quickly switched over to the autograph line for David Kaye (the voice of Optimus Prime and Megatron in the animated series). I tried to get Andrew to get David’s signature while I held the spot in Peter Cullen’s line, but for some reason he wanted me to meet David Kaye so I did. I was wearing a t-shirt that said “I love Bumblebee” and he told me how he was texting “Bumblebee” earlier (aka Mark Ryan) and he would be sure to tell him that I loved him. LOL!
After getting David Kaye’s autograph, I left Andrew in line for Peter Cullen and I saved a seat for the upcoming panels. At 10:40am I snuck out of the panel and took pictures of Andrew meeting Peter Cullen. Then he came into the panel auditorium with me and saved our seats there while I went to grab lunch at Island’s. I don’t know how on earth you could possibly do all the activities at a convention like this with fewer than two people working in tandem. Four would be better, I’m sure. After lunch, I brought some food back for Andrew to eat while sitting in the panel and I went to browse the dealer room again. I bought a few things for Andrew and snuck them back to the room while he was in the Hasbro panel. I got “The Fallen” which is a new character in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I also picked up an autographed Sunstreaker print from Dan Khanna. Sunstreaker is Andrew’s favorite Transformer. It was his first ever. After the panels were over, Andrew browsed the dealer’s room for a while picking up odds and ends of things. He commissioned a custom sketch of Sunstreaker by Matt Moylan.
Party at Paramount Studios
It was Saturday at 3pm, and time to go to the hotel for a nap and shower before we went to get in line for the busses to take us to the Party and Paramount Studios. We arrived in line at about 5:45pm and were very glad to did. As it turns out, they took 600 people (which translates to 15 busses). We were lucky to be on the third bus, and were able to arrive at Paramount and eat hot food and grab a table to sit at. The people later in line were much less fortunate. I heard stories of bus drivers getting lost and some people didn’t even get there until 8:30pm. The party started at 7pm.
I noticed that Weird Al Yankovic had arrived at the party and was walking around mingling with folks. He made is way over to the side and was hanging out. I looked at Andrew and thought, I wonder if he’d mind if I went to say hi? So, I walked up to him and waited a moment while he had his picture with a few girls, and then just walked up and shook his hand. He was so nice! He asked me if I was having a good time and was very cordial. He even let me take a picture with him. I thanked him for being there and went back to my dinner. How cool is that? I was jealous that Andrew got his autograph, but I ended up getting a picture with him!
The buffet dinner wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. They had burgers and veggie burgers, barbeque chicken, corn on the cob and some other random stuff. Sodas were free but cocktails were $7. Since Andrew refused to bring a jacket and he was freezing, I gave him the jacket I had and he got me a few Sprite w/ Sour Apple Pucker’s to warm me up. I guess that’s one benefit of alcohol, it makes you think you are warm (even when your toes are freezing off).
The party had a few other cool guests, including Ironhide and Ratchet. We got pictures with both of them and got to check them out up close and personal. Tyrese Gibson arrived in Ratchet and took the stage to answer questions from the fans. He then got a shock when they brought Peter Cullen out on stage who proceeded to impress everyone with his range of voice capabilities. (In the panel earlier, Andrew said that Peter performed “Transform, and roll out” as the voice of Eeyore. I wish I had heard that – I nearly pee from laughter just thinking about it!)
Stan Bush then took the stage to perform some of his famous songs, such as “The Touch” from the original Transformers movie in the 1980’s. He had about 10 loyal fans, and the rest of us who just wanted to get on to whatever the next part would be. We had no idea what was coming, but when I got off the bus I heard one of the staffers coordinating some VIPs and she said, “Take them right to the theater? Ok, let’s go.” So I knew we would be going to a “theater” of some sort. We were all hoping we’d get a chance to actually see ROTF but we knew the movie was rumored not to be finished yet, so our hopes weren’t that high.
After Stan’s set, some officials got up to announce the winners of the contests that had been going on during the convention. Near the middle of it, he got cut short and told everyone with a blue wristband (that was us) to head out the way we came in for a “short presentation.” We darted towards the door and across the campus of Paramount Studios with 300 of our closest friends to get in another line. Once outside the Paramount Theater, we were ordered to put anything and everything electronic inside a manilla envelope with a claim sticker attached before we could go inside. We complied immediately like everyone else and went inside the theater. This place was like no theater I had ever been in – state of the art, incredibly comfortable seats, massive screen, amazing sound… Paramount definitely does it right. We grabbed seats near the door and sat down to discover what would await us.
About ten minutes later, one of the convention guys got up on stage to give us “good news and bad news.” Bad news of course, the film was not finished yet so we would be watching the latest trailer. As the audience boo’d and hollared, a man snuck in the side door nearby our seats. Andrew whispered to me, “That’s Michael Bay!” Sure enough, as people caught wind of who just walked in, the theater exploded with applause and screams. He took the stage and began talking about where they were with the film and what they were doing to try and complete it on time. He then introduced two different sections of the film for us to see, each about 5 minutes in length. The first section was when Devastator transforms, and the second was part of Bumblebee’s fight scene. They were both incredible, even “without finished sound effects, finished color, or finished special effects” as Michael Bay explained. What a treat for everyone in the crowd! We didn’t get to see the whole second movie, but at least they showed us stuff nobody had yet to see.
We left the theater and got in line to pick up our electronics. It was then when we realized that we were the first ones to see it, and the other 300 people with red/yellow wristbands were waiting outside the theater for us to finish. I’m quite surprised they couldn’t hold all of us in a single theater, because it sure felt huge to me. Maybe because the seats were so comfortable and the aisles were so large, the capacity is inherintly smaller. We made our way past the line of people heading into the theater, and back to watch good ole’ Stan Bush perform a bunch of cover songs. (“I’ll bet he breaks out into ‘Summer of 69′ – wait for it – HAHAHAHA!”) Sorry, little inside joke there.
We took another look at Ironhide and Ratchet, and wandered around the Paramount lot a bit. There wasn’t too much left to see. Eventually we realized they had already started bussing people back to the hotel, so we went to grab a ride back around 11:45pm. It had been a very long, very exciting day!
Sunday’s Drive Home
On Sunday morning I slept in while Andrew went over to see the last panels. He spent the night before packing up all of his new Transformers and paraphanelia (totaling 53 new ones plus posters, comic books, and lots more stuff). When I finally got up around 9am I started loading the car. By 11:30 after 7 trips to the parking garage, I had everything ready to go. I checked out of the hotel and drove over to the convention center just in time to pick up Andrew after the last panel. We then began our trip back to Phoenix, stopping at all the Target, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart stores along the freeway to pick up additional exclusive toys on our way home. We finally made it back into Phoenix at about 7:30pm and stopped at Andrew’s folks’ house to see them. We hadn’t seen them since they left for Ireland on May 14th so it was nice to say hello even briefly.
So, there you have it. That was our trip to California for Botcon, 2009. It was an adventure – a good one – and I’m glad we went. I just hope next year’s Botcon isn’t within driving distance because it was absolutely exhausting, and I think I need a few years to recover… =)
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