Sunday, September 27, 2009

It figures: 3.75" Mego customised aliens from Star Trek!

Custom action figure triptych 1triptych 2Custom action figure triptych 3

In early 1980, Mego Corporation released 3.75" action figures of characters from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". They proved impossible to find in Australia, so I tried ordering them by mail order from a shop in the USA called Heroes World. Ironically, Heroes World was sold out of the regular crew (Kirk, Spock, Ilia, etc) but had most of the alien ambassadors in stock. At the time I wondered about why I needed figures of aliens, who had scarcely been seen in the movie, when I couldn't have the Enterprise crew. I passed on the offer.

I love customising "Star Trek" action figures. Here's what I finally got up to when I tracked down the elusive UFP aliens that were featured in Wave 2 of Mego Corps' "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" 3.75" action figure line!

Mego TMP action figures ad
Mego "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" action figures advertisement,
Marvel Star Trek comic, issue #2, 1980.

To accompany the regular Starfleet crew, Mego had produced a small range of Star Trek aliens: Klingon, Betelgeusian, Megarite, Arcturian and Saurian (incorrectly named by Mego as a Rigellian). Of course, a year later, Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Decker, Ilia and the Klingon turned up on bargain tables all over Sydney. And, of course, I couldn't resist colour-correcting the Enterprise crew's insignias!

Over the years, I've developed a fascination for Star Trek aliens, especially the members of the United Federation of Planets glimpsed in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". Just to tease me, photos of the "missing" Mego aliens were on all the 3.75" Mego cardbacks! The alien ambassadors were never seen at retail in Australia - and the prices for these "rare" figures began to soar through the roof, even in the US.

What made it worse for this Trek completist was that I knew that, even if I bought a set, I'd not be satisfied with the alien figures' slap-dash sculpting, painting and costuming errors. In 1999, I discovered eBay. Loose aliens were finally mine. Let the customising begin!

Adding detail to the 3.75" Mego aliens

Scroll down to learn how I "improved" these three figures:

Arcturian, Megarite, Zaranite

Arcturian, Megarite, Zaranite customs, ST:TMP

The Arcturian desperately required a grey/pink complexion (Mego left his face an unpainted caucasian tone, though their 12" figure was more accurate in that regard). A little gold and silver trim on his uniform brought him up to scratch.

The Megarite originally came with a tacky, black vinyl cape (although mine had lost his) - and the face was unpainted and too pale. The new cape came from a "Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace" Naboo accessory set. I simply cut off the sleeves and used brown cotton thread to fasten it around the neck.

The Zaranite's silver and gold trim was quite worn, by its previous owner(s) but I also decided to paint the breathing mask's eye slits. Hoses, essential for an alien which breathes fluorine gas, were made from pieces of faux leather cord and superglued from the mask to the backpack tank.

The makeover of a Betelgeusian Ambassador

Betelgeusian, ST:TMPwhiteBetelgeusian ambassador

After a twenty year search, I finally located a 3.75" Mego ST:TMP loose Betelgeusian - on eBay! I had always tried to tell myself, unsuccessfully, that I didn't need this alien action figure for my collection. The alien it represents is quite unique: this Betelgeusian, who was barely glimpsed in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is wearing the most expensive costume ever designed for a "no line" movie extra. Mego didn't do the figure justice.

The material for the Betelgeusian Chief Ambassador's robes in the movie was from a bolt of material discovered in the vaults of Paramount Studios: Cecil B DeMille had hand-selected it decades before and, even though it featured real gold thread, it lay forgotten till the late 70s. The hapless extra playing this background Betelgeusian was placed on a box (to make use of maximum material), and then he was hidden so well in the San Francisco airtram sequence that everyone wondered what the fuss was all about!

This Mego figure is the rarest of the Wave II ST:TMP 3.75" action figures, especially carded ones, but he is perhaps also the tackiest. His face and hands are the same (wrong) silver colour as his jumpsuit and he wears a frayed red nylon shape that is meant to pass for the infamous robe.

Betelgeusian w/ robe removed, ST:TMPwhiteBack detail of Betelgeusian, ST:TMP

So, now that I had a Betelgeusian of my own, I went about customising/perfecting him. Removing his flimsy robe (which I gave to Galoob's Q figure, by the way), I was surprised to see his hidden dagger (above right) on the back of his belt, a cute detail missed by anyone who keeps their toys MOMC (mint on mint card). I guess a dagger is essential for anyone wearing such expensive threads, even in the 23rd Century!

Of course, the new robe I made had to look like the one from the movie! The glittery red Christmas ribbon I found (below left) even had wired seams of metallic gold thread! I thickened and widened the ribbon in layers with "iron on" hemming web.


The small, fuzzy images of eagles, cheetahs and tigers I found on cards of assorted animal-shaped, velour stickers by "Sandy Lion Sticker Designs". Two sets of the stickers gave me sufficient eagles and cheetahs for the job. To have been strictly accurate to the original costume, the eagles should have been perched rather than flying. The cheetahs are facing the wrong way, too, hence the addition of some tigers into the pattern. But at least I used more creative artistic licence than Mego did twenty years ago!

Finally, I painted the Betelgeusian's face and hands an accurate shade of deep blue. After so many years of planning, it actually took me only a few minutes (and some luck) to buy all the materials I needed - and just one hour to complete the figure! My fastest custom ever! I know which version I prefer!
Betelgeusian custom, ST:TMPwhiteBetelgeusian ambassador
Costume still from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" © 1979 Paramount Pictures Corp.

Betelgeusian-like alien
Betelgeusian-like alien in
"ST VI: The Undiscovered Country"

Had the Mego ST:TMP line (and the first movie) been more popular with children and collectors, Mego would probably have released more of TMP's barely-glimpsed alien ambassadors as figures, to cash in on the success of the similarly-scaled "Star Wars" action figures by Kenner in the 70s. Coincidentally, it was the 90s versions of 3.75" "Star Wars Episode One" characters that have inspired my latest customising activities.

Will the real Rigellian please stand up?

In 1980, a purple alien passed himself off as a Rigellian from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". But he was an imposter!

Saurian closeupwhiteSaurian, wrongly packaged as Rigelian, ST:TMPwhiteRigellian attendant closeup

It may have been no more than a typographical error, but it was one that slipped by me for many years. Every cardback identified the Saurian as a Rigellian. However, numerous interviews with the movie's makeup artist, Fred Phillips, and costume designer, Robert Fletcher (such as in "The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture" by Gene Roddenberry and Susan Sackett) had named and described all the new alien races. Mego's purple reptiloid "Rigellian" is clearly a Saurian.

Citadel SaurianswhiteCitadel Rigellians

Citadel Miniatures' Saurians are pictured above (above left). The chelonoid Rigellians (pictured above right) were a race of green turtle-like humanoids, one of many races that inhabited the planets orbiting Rigel. (Others included the Vulcanoid Rigellians, Federation members mentioned in the original series.) The Rigellian Lord wore a metallic breastplate "shell", shoulder armour and a full-head helmet. His attendant wore a breastplate and cap and carried a long metal staff. (This staff was seen again as a prop on Vulcan in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", so the Vulcan connection with Rigel continues!)

But someone at Mego got it wrong. Actually, Mego's figure seems to be wearing a hurried amalgam of both white costumes! Roddenberry and Sackett's book specifically mentions that Saurians were only in the Rec Deck crowd scene of ST:TMP, so all Saurians in the movie wore Starfleet uniforms. The clothing sculpting on the chest of Mego's figure is reminiscent of the curved white drapery (see below) designed for the Rigellian ambassadors in the San Francisco footage. The Mego figure's shoulders and ankles have definite Starfleet uniform lines. Perhaps, at one time, it was planned to release more aliens?

My Rigellian custom

Rigellian lordwhiteRigellian custom, ST:TMPwhiteRigellian attendant

Well, here he is (above)! As you can see, I went for a bit of an amalgam myself. When I noticed that the donor figure even came with its own staff, I just had to create the accessory for my Rigellian. Indeed, for several weeks of planning, I was just going to do the Rigellian Attendant, but then I realised that if I'd already customised the Betelgeusian Chief Ambassador, why just do the Rigellian Lord's lowly attendant?

Spurring me on was the appearance of Rigel IV denizen Alonis Cobaryn in "Starfleet: Year One", the serialised novel by Michael Jan Friedman (Pocket Books, 1999-2000). The physical description of Cobaryn kind of tallied with ST:TMP's Rigellian, with a mention of silver scales. Good enough for me, at the time! He was distinguished from other Rigellian races - and even the correct planet number was mentioned! Yay! (Since then, a Rigellian chelon has made regular appearances in Pocket's "Vanguard" novels.)

So out came my craft knife, the Fimo clay and a hairdryer, the Knead-it five-minute putty and some new paints...

Yes, it's Boss Nass, from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace! He even came with his own staff, which was just begging to be made over as a Rigellian artifact.

Customising - body partswhiteRigellian custom, ST:TMP

Costume stills from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" © 1979 Paramount Pictures Corp.

The recipe:

1. Divest a Boss Nass action figure of his rubbery outer-garment and carve away the detailing from the chest until the surface is smooth.

2. Chop off the top of his head and trim down the brow ridges and cheek jowls. Reshape the mouth slightly to sharpen the top lip into a beak. This is later emphasised with black paint.

3. Make him a helmet. After several unsuccessful attempts to carve a cubic helmet from five-minute putty, I decided to try Fimo clay and a hairdryer (rather than risk baking the whole figure in the oven). It worked! About 20 minutes on full blast set the Fimo hard.

4. Five-minute setting Knead-it putty is used to extend the veil and create some shoulder armour. My thumbnail was all that was needed to shape the bottom edges where the draped robes would be affixed.

5. The pants, sleeves and veil are painted white. I almost used off-white, but I worried that the effect would be too similar to the Andorian female's dress I'd painted the week before. As it turned out, a small scrap of white felt was the only effective medium to create the drapery, and felt doesn't come in off-white. Serendipity strikes again!

6. Paint the armoured pieces gloss black, then add a topcoat of metallic gunmetal. Perfect! (I'm so glad I decided not to use the silver.)

7. Cut two shapes from some felt for the draping robes. Add a suggestion of folds by gluing offcuts to the pieces. Glue to the shoulders along the edge of the armour. I previously tried Fimo and the putty for these drapes but arm movement would have been prevented. The felt works beyond my wildest dreams, but a lot of planning went into this very simple looking solution.

8. Chop the sides from the circular shape of Boss Nass's staff. Knowing how most silver paint just hates PVC accessories, I went for an aluminium cooking foil look on the staff. This is the fastest customised accessory I've ever done. (And it was the original staff that made me consider the astounding similarities between Boss and the Rigellian in the first place. Even if the staff is meant to held by the Rigellian Lord's attendant, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make one.) I've since found a great liquid silver finish that has replaced the cooking foil on the staff.

Don't forget to check out the recipes for my Mego 3.75" TMP Andorians.

TMP Bridge


fascinoma said...

Great stuff. Giving me ideas for my own action figures (both for my Trek and RP characters, and my original fiction universe characters). Up to now, I've just been using Photoshop.

Your stuff looks great btw.

Therin of Andor said...

Thanks fascinoma!

Nothing like a real live custom you can hold in your hand!

I only have a few more days/weeks to get everything across from Geocities. I'm trying to revamp the entries as I go, but there's about twelve years of uploads over there on the old site!

Azazel said...

Hum ! Some great one !!! Thanks

I'm a maniac of Star Wars action figures. I invite you all to my site:


Seal87 said...

Hey, I am glad I found you guys. I have been looking into finding out how to reproduce those rare mego vacuuform playsets. I haven't gotten far on it yet. Do any of you have ideas?
is a good way to get back to me or

Therin of Andor said...

Hi Ben,

Great to be back in touch. Thanks for adding the comment, too. I've very proud of my Mego TMP customs. They really blow people away! I've never done any vacuuforming, but I've read about it. Sounds like it'd be fun to experiment with.

Therin of Andor said...

I've been trying to get a new, clear shot of these small Mego (and Galoob) customs and commercial aliens from "Star Trek" - without moving the whole lot into better lighting conditions - but I just inadvertently caught myself in the shot, looming over "my babies" like a ghostly, fatherly apparition:

Therin of Andor said...

A great interview with Robert Fletcher's about his costume designs for the aliens of TMP is available HERE!