Making of Ninja Division’s Lug for Gen Con 2015 – Part 3

This picture was probably the first real robot’s making of pic I posted on my social medias in 2015.  I had not really promoted the making of that project, I had just been focusing on staying calm, not panicking and trying to make it happen.  Nobody really knew that I had spent the past months working on such a monster. I think that even the people of Ninja Division had not realized that what we had built was THAT big. But with me sitting on the robot’s shoulder, giving a clear idea of the robot’s proportions, our statue suddenly looked… impressive.    I was finally revealing to the world a project at a very advanced step in the building process, without any preview or warning, asking at the last minute for volunteers to help us finish the robot on time for Gen Con.

I know many radio hosts in Quebec City and it was easy for me to talk about the robot and ask for help on the radio. Some friends came to do some sanding for a few hours a day or 2… but it was obviously not enough to truly help. The deadline was close. And we had to deliver Lug for Gen Con, no matter what.

Out of nowhere came an email from a gentleman called Carol. He worked during 16 years in a shop where they were making fiberglass kayaks.  He knew how to do finishing sanding. He was already working full time, building his new house all by himself on the side AND he offered his help for the robot. He came to the workshop many times to help us as much as he could. And when we asked him why he had decided to help us since he was already so busy, he said that when  he was finishing his house’s roof on December at -20C, a guy he didn’t know offered his help. ‘I felt like it was my turn to help someone now’ he said.  Carol was our savior! Each time he would come to the workshop, my friend and I would feel less alone. We still had so much work to do, but at least, we had some help.

Ninja Division really needed to have Lug for Gen Con, even if it would have to be partially completed or not as beautiful as we would have liked it to be. They needed it NO MATTER WHAT. They wanted to have it so much that they offered us the opportunity to present a  ‘temporary’ Lug at Gen Con and to bring it back home to finish it to our taste. ‘You realize it means you’ll have to pay for transportation twice.  A round trip Quebec – Indianapolis, then another final shipping from Quebec to the USA. And you’ll pay for paint twice’  I said.  They wanted to unveil Lug at Gen Con so much that they were willing to pay.  My friend is such a demanding artist, he could only accept this opportunity to finish Lug later, even if it was a real sacrifice for him to present the robot at Gen Con while it wouldn’t be ‘perfect.’

The first thing we had to abandon in order to finish Lug on time was the base.  Lug wouldn’t have a beautiful decorated base and we would  just sand everything that still needed to be sanded as much as we could before painting.  4 days before leaving for Indianapolis, I remember I was falling asleeep while casting 8 fiberglass toes.

My friend’s uncle works in a garage as a professional painter.  We had never painted such a big object before.  I had used automotive paint for my fiberglass Candy costume, also for Ninja Division, many years ago. But it definitely didn’t compare to the huge task of painting a giant robot. Having a professional doing the paint for us was a release.  I was just very sad to think that we would then bring back Lug in our workshop and scrap the beautiful paint that my friend’s uncle would do. But we had no other choice now.

We were sanding and sanding, day and night, but we knew that at some point we would have to stop sanding and just start painting.  It was Monday morning, we hadn’t slept in 4 days.  At 9am, my friend’s uncle arrived at the workshop. Lug wasn’t properly sanded.  There was still bumps of bodyfiller, especially on the robot’s legs. But Gen Con was the following weekend and we had to drive down the robot to Indianapolis. We had to stop. And paint. Now. We stayed at the workshop while my friend’s uncle was applying the base coat, experiencing a strange mix of feelings. I was exhausted and disapointed.  I was happy to see though that automotive high coverage primer would fill up some of the latest little holes, hiding some little flaws.  Notice the paint fumes everywhere in my poor little workshop that was never meant to become a paint room…  At least, it was summer time, so we could work with the garage door open, taking the chance, however, that there might be some dust in the paint.


We should have waited a little longer before applying the coat of yellow paint. But we had no time.  We started looking at my friend’s uncle painting the robot in yellow… and we went to get the pick up truck and trailer I had rented to transport Lug to Indianapolis. I wasn’t driving. I was way too tired. I just went to sign the papers. I remember falling asleep in the car while we would bring back the pick up and trailer… and I finally went to bed.

We had choosen urethane car paint that didn’t need a clear coat. This paint is already very shinny and it dries pretty fast. It’s harder to do any retouch though if there’s any paint excess somewhere.  I was happy that a professional would be doing the paint step for me… while I would be sleeping.

Painting the robot was like a huge event.  Our friends and family were there. Everybody wanted to see the robot leave the workshop for its trip to the USA! When I came back to the workshop after a few hours of sleep, they had already started the masking process to hide the parts of the robot that we would leave yellow and prepare the parts that would be painted in dark gray. Again, it would have been better to wait a little longer before applying the coat of gray paint. But we had no time. As soon as I arrived, I started helping masking the robot so my friend’s uncle could start painting as soon as posisble.

When we left, the robot’s head wasn’t finished either. The yellow and gray were there, but the head had no eyes and no teeth.

But it was time to go… As soon as we could, we removed all the masking tape and plastic sheets and I called my neighboor.  That next step was actually the only simple part of the whole project. My neighboor at the workshop is a garage specialized in forklifts.  So I had a forklift next door. :D

So the pick up and trailer were waiting in front of the workshop. Over the trailer was a big box built by my father to protect the robot during transportation. I called my neighboor, he came with his forklift and we installed Lug on the trailer, in its transportation box. The paint on the robot was made in about one day. That night, my friend and I left the workshop with our robot, heading to Indianapolis. We had our passports, our luggages, I had my Betty costume and a lot of tools we would need to finish and install the robot’s head before Gen Con.  I started driving hoping that we wouldn’t have any trouble at the border.

Notice how simply the robot could be moved with a forklift. We welded large steel rectangular tubings in the robot’s base to allow a forklift to easily transport it.

We arrived at the border and I had huge doubts. I had asked to Ninja Division to provide me all the paperwork I would need to bring Lug to the USA and bring it back to Canada legally. After all, they’re a big company, they import products from China on a regular basis, they would know what to do and how it works better than I do. I was surprised when I saw what Ninja Division provided me. It was basically a printed mail saying that I was attending a convention in the USA. ‘It can’t be enough’ I said to my friend. ‘I can’t believe that we don’t need anything more. This isn’t even an official paper…’ But I was so tired while I was building the robot that I didn’t care and didn’t make any searches to see what I would really need, which was what they call a broker.

So here we are, at the American border. We drove through a big scanner. ‘You have kind of a huge robot inside, right?’ they asked. ‘Yes. It’s an exhibition piece. We bring it to a convention in the USA, then we’ll bring it back to Canada.’ And just as I thought, I didn’t have any of the official papers I needed to export that thing to the USA. But we were lucky. We met what I wouldn’t have expected to exist: a nice American customs officer. Maybe it’s because we looked very miserable, even if I have doubts that it would influence any customs officer, but he was very friendly. He explained us that if it would have been a sale, if we had planned to leave the robot in the USA, someone would have needed to pay duty taxes on it. But we were actually bringning it to an event with the intention to bring it back to Canada. In both cases, we needed papers that we didn’t have. We were not allowed to enter the USA. It was Tuesday morning, maybe between 5am and 6am.

The customs officer told us he would write a letter stating that we stayed in the US secured zone, that we didn’t cross the border and that we were allowed to go back to Canada with our inspected cargo. He sent us back to the Canadian border with our letter… and we were back to Canada. Gen Con was next Thursday.

In Canada, we were told that we needed a broker to export something to the USA. We contacted the people from Ninja Division to inform them that we got stuck at the border because the papers they had provided us were not what was required. They really looked surprised. I realized at that moment that our friends at Ninja Division, and with all due respect, American Citizens in general, have no idea of how complicated it is for non US Citizens to cross the US border, with or without a cargo, even as a simple tourist. My friend and I were told that there were brokers offices at the border. They would open at 8am or 9am, in a few hours. We would wait, go see one of  these brokers, put them in contact with Ninja Division and see what would happen.

We waited there for a few hours and we had to fill up many papers to list and describe everything we were transporting with us to the USA that we would bring back to Canada at our return. The goal is to prove that we didn’t buy any of these things while we were visiting the USA, because we’d have to pay duty taxes on those things while entering Canada. We had to prove that these objects were purchased (or built, in the case of our robot) in Canada, that we had these things with us when we left Canada and that we would bring them back with us to Canada.

In the meanwhile, I guess that someone at Ninja Division did something somewhere, maybe they contacted a broker, because at some point, we were apparently allowed to cross the border and we didn’t have to meet a broker. So we left with a letter stating that we were brigning our cargo from Canada to the USA and that we would bring it back to Canada.  We would have to show that letter at the Canadian border at our return. We finally crossed the US border. Welcome to USA, robot.

The trip from Lévis to Indianapolis is a 16 hours drive. It was an extremely hot summer and it would become warmer and warmer as we would go South. My friend and I drove while the other was sleeping and we had to stop regulary because soon enough, none of us would be able to drive anymore. We had had so little sleep in the previous days… It’s honestly a miracle that we could make it safe to Indianapolis. It took us 36 hours to do a 16 hours drive because we had to stop to sleep so often. With our pick up and huge trailer, the vehicle was too long to use regular parkings, so we would park between the big trucks in truck stops.  We lived a trucker’s life for a few days. We finally arrived in Indianapolis on Wednesday early in the morning. I remember we waited until 6am or 7am before calling someone at Ninja Division to inform them that we had made it. Now, what should we do? I used to attend convention as a guest or simple attendee. My luggages, my banner and my little person. Easy to handle. But as an exhibitor with a huge display piece to deliver, what should I do? Where should I go? How does it work? May I remember that my friend and I had been on the road for 36 hours, after some very intense days of physical work and very little sleep? We were happy to finally be in Indianapolis, but it was the beginning of another challenge.

We asked questions to the little people we met around the convention center so early in the morning. We were told to go to a certain place where all the exhibitors could park their trucks. Once there, we could ask to other exhibitors what to do. We had to go to a little trailer that was like a ‘front desk’. I mentioned I was with Ninja Division, they gave me the booth number and which loading dock was the closest to our booth. This is where we would have to go when it would be our turn and they would send over a forklift. We would have 30 minutes to unload the robot and bring it to our booth in the convention center. I gave my cellphone number and we went back to the pick up, waiting to be called.

2 hours later, I got a phone call and we went to the loading dock. We unloaded the robot and brought all the tools and our luggages with us. We brought back the pick up to the exhibitors’ parking and walked back to the convention center. It was so warm outside, the sun was so strong, I felt like sun had never been that strong in Quebec even during summer time. Or maybe it’s just because I was so tired. We walked into the convention center, installed the rubber rugs that would cover the unfinished base and installed the robot’s toes. The head was still unfinished, though. ‘If you don’t need me anymore, I’d go to my hotel room now’ I said to Ninja Division’s crew. I took the robot’s head and went to the hotel, finally. I had never been so happy to take a shower. It was Wednesday afternoon.

I wanted to ask my friend some help to finish the robot’s head, but he was apparently already sleeping and impossible to wake up. We had stolen a cardboard box in the convention center to use it as a paint booth in the hotel room. I had masking tape (the real fancy one for automotive paint) spray paint, a small silicone mold that my friend had made before leaving to cast small eyes for the robot, body filler… I really felt like if I had brought all my workshop with me. I taped a pattern on the robot’s teeth and chin and sprayed silver paint in front of my improvised paint booth, hoping that the maid wouldn’t see some silver fume on the walls and carpet the following day. I catalysed a small quantity of bodyfiller that I put in the silicone mold, casting 2 small button shaped eyes for the robot, that I painted in black and put on the head using simple double sided tape. That’s the best I could do with the energy I had left. I called my friends from Ninja Division to tell them I wouldn’t go have dinner with them. I was too tired. I just went to bed. It was Wednesday night.

Thursday morning. I woke up early because we still had to go install the robot’s head before Gen Con’s beginning. My friend was panicking because he wasn’t sure if what he had planned as an attachement would work. We simply screwed a piece of 2X4 on the robot’s torso, where the head would be. The 2X4 would be completely hidden by the robot’s neck. The top of the neck would actually hold on top of the 2X4. I climbed on the robot and put 2 long screws through the robot’s neck and through the 2X4. It should be strong enough. And here’s the selfie I proudly made in front of my robot, with its head! :D

Here’s the version of Lug we were able to deliver for Gen Con 2015, with the unfinished base. But I was still very proud. :) I took this picture before going back to my hotel room Thursday morning.

My friend went back to sleep. But my day had just started. I had to put makeup on and put my Betty costume on. Because Gen Con was about to begin!

I don’t know how I did to survive to 4 convention days after all this… Months of hard work, an adventure at the US border, a first experience as an exhibitor in a major convention… Finally, when I think of it, standing in front of my robot in costume, even for many hours and days in a row, even with tons of makeup and fake lashes on, explaining to everybody how I built my robot, was the easiest and more pleasant part. :)

I wish I could say ‘THE END.’ But we actually had to bring back the robot to Canada, finish to sand it properly, build a base and do the paint again… Remember? Coming up next, Part 4: a paint story!

3 Responses

  1. Ian

    I remember I was wandering around the floor early Thursday morning before the hall opened to the public, and I saw you perched on top of Lug trying to install the head. I was so impressed at what you’d accomplished. Even in pictures it’s hard to describe just how big Lug is until you see it in person!

  2. mario alejandro

    For a moment I will feel the overwhelm you felt, a great job both the construction of the robot and telling the story. My most sincere admiration. Continue with that energy.

  3. Jon

    Man, what a story! It’s crazy how close you got to the last second before publicly revealing Lug. I can’t imagine how worried you and your friend must have been at the border. But the help you got from friends, family and strangers was very heartwarming. :) The reaction from the attendees must have been great!

    Looking forward to reading part 4!

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