If you're familiar with what goes on here at MonsterScenes.net, then you're certainly familiar with ANDY YANCHUS. He's the original Aurora Hobby Kit Project Manager who, back in 1970, developed the Monster Scenes series. Besides his work as Project Manager, however, Andy has been a kit builder - it's his lifelong passion. In fact, it was kit building that drew him away from his original academic pursuits of Aeronautical Design and into Industrial Design as it applied to the manufacturing of model kits. 

While he always had fondness for Aurora's figure kits, Andy recognized their design limitations imposed by manufacturing method and cost containment pressures; as a Project Manager, it was his job to meet the product goals set by Aurora management. As a kit builder, however, Andy decided he would build Aurora's kits in his own way, customizing and "kit bashing" long before that term was ever coined.

In 1971, at the time of Monster Scenes' original release, Andy set about to build and enhance the kits. We're privileged now to present his unique builds of Dr. Deadly, The Victim, "Frankenstein," and Vampirella. That's right - the kits pictured here were built 40 years ago and still remain in Andy's personal collection. These have never been published in any sort of public forum - until now.  Enjoy! 

 




"The Monster Scenes kits had certain manufacturing limitations. My approach 
was to customize them to overcome those limitations."
  
--
Andrew P. Yanchus

 


 

 


Dr. Deadly

"I was never very thrilled with the final design of Dr. Deadly. I had proposed a mad scientist character that would more closely resemble Basil Rathbone from Son of Frankenstien, but we wound up with a mad butcher instead. Oh well - he's gone on to be recognized as the ringleader of Monster Scenes.

Because of the limitation of avoiding undercutting in the injection molding process and the fact that part count goals would limit the doctor's body to consist of just two halves, we lost any clothing detail in regards to the apron and lab coat. In my build, then, I worked with two kits in order to present the proper draping effect of the doctor's garb.

I cut away the legs on one of the kits and removed the solid underside of the apron/coat. Using sheet styrene, I cut a formed underside that I could recess into the body halves resulting in the look of the coat and apron draping down around Deadly's legs. Naturally, I needed to elongate the legs I would attach to the sheet styrene underside; I just used sections of another set of his legs to achieve this, keeping him at the proper height when completed.

Now, had this been a more elaborate kit, the bow tied on the back of Deadly's apron would have been presented as a separate piece.  As it is, molded as one with the back of the lab coat, it was unrealistically thick. Since I had taken the effort to create the clothing draping effect, it made sense I create a proper bow piece, too. To do this, I first sanded away the molded bow detail from my main model then, using a second kit, I cut away the molded bow in a rectangular piece that would fit into my Mattel Vac-U-Form machine.  I drilled small holes around the bow piece so air could be sucked out to draw a heated sheet of styrene down around the detail. I trimmed away the surrounding styrene from this vacuformed piece resulting in a separate apron bow. 

Unless there is a definite color break, I would normally glue the arms to the torso of a figure and blend them together with putty and sanding, if necessary, before painting; this wasn’t possible with Dr. Deadly.  If glued into place prior to airbrushing, the arms would be so close to the body that masking the apron and gloves underneath would be nearly impossible.  Instead, I attached the arms after everything was painted.  This left a little bit of a gap, but it was an acceptable compromise as the joint was also a natural seam for the lab coat.

So, when painting, I airbrushed a primer coat on the body and the unattached arms. I used masking - back in the 1970s, that was usually just Scotch brand tape - and airbrushed the intended colors for the lab coat, apron, and legs. I used a regular brush to do all of the detailing of the apron spills and splatters as well as the facial features, sweater collar, and shoes. You'll notice I puttied over that gash in Deadly's head - I never liked it much so I chose to eliminate it altogether. 

And, since he's a mad scientist, I felt he needed to have some piece of equipment in his hand. I painted and attached the flask from the Gruesome Goodies kit."


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Victoria Secrest: "The Victim"


"Just as an initial point of clarification, the kit name of 'The Victim' was nothing more than a descriptor of the type of kit for the series. Just as I proposed that the series would include a 'mad scientist' and a 'lab,' it would also include a 'female victim' as well as a 'male victim.' The Aurora Marketing team ran with the name of 'The Victim' for the kit and so it was to be.  Probably not the best choice on Marketing's part given the furor that quickly followed the kit's release. In my mind, however, her name was always Victoria since it worked as 'Vickie' or 'Victim' in a more subtle way. Later, I adopted a last name of 'Secrest' for her since it, too, was a subtle disguise of the word 'secret.' You can probably figure out the rest.

In regards to my approach in building The Victim, I really didn't see anything that needed customizing on the kit. With that, I could simply build her out of the box. I puttied the part seams then glued it all together. In my builds of these kits, none of the parts are movable, as intended by their original snap-together design. 

Regarding the painting scheme, I chose to paint her top green for her for one simple reason: I couldn't stand to paint even one more kit with the red top! I had built and assembled more than twenty of these kits at the time, providing them for presentations, Marketing photo shoots, trade shows, and so on. I had painted them faithfully with the red top but, when it came time for my own personal build, I just had to go with something different.  

I also gave her shorts a noticeably faded denim look, using drybrush technique, because I liked the texture it suggested. I suppose I was designing what would become the 'acid wash' look that took hold in the 1980s. I guess I should have pitched that idea to Levi's back in the day."

 







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The Monster of Frankenstein

"I should begin by saying I never refer to this kit as 'Frankenstein' because, you know, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster. Our Marketing team, of course, didn't make that distinction and named the kit as they did. 'Nuff said there.

As for the build of this kit, I wanted to see the monster representative of Boris Karloff's interpretation in Son of Frankenstein. More to the point, I wanted to capture that moment in the film when the monster implored for understanding opposite his resurrector. 

For starters, I added the monster's fur-like tunic using AMT body putty - it hasn’t been manufactured in decades and any tubes of it that might still be around will surely be as solid as a rock! Anyway, after establishing the tunic's thickness and draping over the monster's shoulders and below his waistline, I carved in the texture using a Dremel Moto-Tool.

Look closely and you'll notice the monster's head is slightly tilted to his left. I removed the head from the body halves then reattached it at the tilted angle. This was important to properly convey the monster's emotion in the original scene I was recreating.

As for the arms, this was another molding limitation that I had to overcome – hands emerging from solid sleeves with no openings. For a more realistic effect, I used parts from both sets of arms to get the look I wanted.  I started by cutting the hands off the bent arms, the ones intended to carry the Victim.  Next, I hollowed out the ends of the sleeves to get a realistic thickness to the edge of the fabric.  Then I cut off the hands off the straight arms, being careful to leave as much material from the sleeves as possible to extend the wrists so they would fit up into the final hollowed out arms. When finished, I was able to depict the wrists going into the sleeves rather than merely being butted up against the cuffs, as was presented in the production kit. 

For the legs, I used one of each of the kit's leg sets. I used the left side standing leg and the right side walking leg. I didn't like the length of the stride of the production walking legs since, again, it didn't convey the film scene I was working to recreate.

As with the other kits, I airbrushed a primer coat then followed that with an airbrushing of the black cloth and skin color. I hand-painted the brown tunic then used a dark color wash followed with dry brushing to draw out the carved texture. I used a regular brush to add detail to the face, hands, and shoes." 











Vampirella

"Vampirella presented numerous customization challenges. Naturally, her outfit required a significant amount of modification to better represent the character as she appeared in the Warren magazine. And, for reasons you probably guess, Aurora instructed HMS Associates sculptor, Bill Lemon, to not make her attire too revealing.

To capture the strap-like nature of the original character's costume, I needed to remove the thickness around her shoulders, her mid-section, and her posterior. This required a long and precise process of scraping away the styrene with a #11 X-Acto blade. I needed to establish new edges of the costume where I modified it, again, removing the styrene then sanding all smooth. And while I've seen many builds of this Vampirella kit - both then and now - I don't believe I've yet seen one that restores the character's original costuming.

Next, I removed the sculpted fangs. I never quite liked the way they made her look. Without them, I think she became prettier. She also lacked lower eyelids in the original sculpt so I added those in. And, I lengthened her hair that flowed down her backside. Bill Lemon had intentionally sculpted it shortened for a reason I won't reveal here just now - maybe later. Anyway, I used Interlux Surfacing Putty to extend her hair.

For her boots, I removed the sculpted center area to render a proper heel. Now, unlike my Dr. Deadly build, Vampirella’s arms had to be attached, puttied and sanded prior to painting to get the proper look for her shoulders.  However, the position of the limbs would, again, make painting difficult. I made cuts to get the hands away from the legs. I cut the right arm off above the arm band and the left hand above the bracelet.  Having these as separate pieces also made painting the jewelry easier.  After painting, I reattached the arm pieces using pins for extra strength with the cuff and bracelet working as a natural breakline to better hide the reattachment. 

As for that pet bat of hers, I chose not to include it. I suppose it's cute and all but, in relation to the 1/13 scale of Vampirella, it just appeared too big and bulky."

 

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Regarding the paints and tools


"In case you're curious, the paints I used when I built these kits in 1970 were what you might suspect: Pactra and Testors enamels. I tended to prefer Pactra because they offered a better selection of flat colors as compared to Testors, plus Pactra paints came in larger bottles, making them a better value. I had not proclaimed loyalty to either brand, really; I just bought from whichever company had the color and finish I needed at the time.

Pactra and Testors moved down a notch on my preferred paint list, though, when the 410M Styrene line of paint appeared.  The original 410M paints were intended for wood and metal model trains and, being lacquer based, they would craze plastic.  But, as more and more model trains were manufactured as plastic kits, 410M Styrene paint was developed.  The stuff was fantastic; it mixed easily, airbrushed beautifully and dried to a nice satin finish. For several years, this brand was my first choice.  

Unfortunately, some good things never last...  

The original manufacturer sold the line and the new owner modified the formula; it was still good, but not as great.  I remember going around to all the hobby shops buying all the original bottles I could find. Unfortunately, the unique formula of the paint made it incompatible with other brands and only its specific thinner could reduce it properly for airbrushing.  Once I used up the 410M thinner, I relegated the remaining paint to hand brushing, finding it especially useful for ground work.  Believe it or not, I still have a couple of bottles that can be mixed and ready to use with just a quick flick of the wrist! Again, it was fantastic stuff.

 

And, before leaving this topic of paints, I should remind folks that, back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Aurora had their own line of enamels.  Unlike other model kit companies that simply applied their own names to bottles of paint bought from Pactra or Testors, Aurora actually manufactured their own paint - and it was really good stuff!  In fact, Aurora ’s silver was my favorite among the three major brands.  Pactra’s silver was, without a doubt, the brightest and shiniest but it was very thin and hard to control - it was like trying to paint with water.  Testors’ silver had a more controllable consistency but was rather dull (even today, Testors’ metallics leave a lot to be desired).  Aurora ’s silver was the happy medium – brighter than Testors and more controllable than Pactra.  

The Aurora paint line was out of production by the time I started working at Aurora in 1965, but the Service Department (that was the company store) still had a supply when I arrived. Naturally I stocked up on the paint, especially the silver!"



As for my airbrush, I'm still using my Binks Wren single-action model. No, it's not as sophisticated as some of today's newer airbrushes but, as you can see from the images of my build-ups here, I've been able to get the sorts of results that I like.




Custom-built bases

"So, back to the builds and especially the customizing, it seemed that every kit company producing figure kits took a different approach when it came to the bases. They could be square, rectangular, or free form, blank, ornately decorated, or covered in scenic terrain and accessories; Aurora, in and of itself, covered all the possibilities. I wanted to present my models in some sort of consistent style. I’m not just referring to Monster Scenes here; I’m talking about everything – historic figures, knights in armor, cowboys and Indians, robots and space aliens, and so on. I loved the idea of taking all these various types of figures from different companies and giving them a unified look using standardized bases.

Naturally, no one size or style of base could work for everything, especially considering the vast differences in kit scales and sizes.  I needed to come up with something for each specific scale/size group and Monster Scenes was a good place to start. Plus, looking ahead, Prehistoric Scenes and Airfix and other 1/12 scale figures would also fit nicely into this group.
  

There was a plastic box that Aurora made that worked well for 1/13 to 1/12 scale figures, except that it was too high, so I cut them down to a lower profile. I fashioned each of these bases to feature colors, textures, and elements that fit or otherwise better complimented the characters. I also went to the pains to add naming to each of the base fronts using simple rub-on letters - well, simple in styling but not so simple to apply in precise fashion. I built these bases 1971 when I built the figures.

I had used a number of different, squarish bases for other smaller figures but finally reached a point were I needed to unify the look of the entire collection even more, hence the switch from square/rectangular base to one that's round.  Round bases provided many advantages: they gave more room for figures with wide stances and more space for scenic elements.  I also liked the fact that there was no definite 'front' or specific viewing angle for the model.  On a round base, a figure could be rotated, adjusted to fit in better with the other models displayed next to it.

It has always been my approach to cobble together acquired and repurposed elements to create settings and accessories for my kits. Some had referred to this as 'scratch building' but, since I was using bits of whatever I could find from toys, other kits, and so on, I coined the term 'scrap building.' 

For my new round bases, my first scrap find was the gold-colored styrene screw-on lids from jars of Folgers Coffee Crystals. These became my main source of bases for figures in the 5˝” to 6” range.  Although I didn’t drink coffee myself, everyone else in my family did, and Forger’s was the brand.  What I especially liked was that the lids for different size jars of the coffee varied in diameter, but still had the same height and edge design.  So, I could keep the size to a minimum or go larger for more terrain or accessories, yet still maintain the same height profile and ribbed edge look.

To use the lids as bases, I first filled the underside of the lids with Durham's Rock Hard Putty to provide weight and stabilization to the base. On the top side of the lid, I often needed to grind away the Folgers logo for a properly smooth and uniformly level surface. I then would attach scenic elements - again, scraps of other kits or toys - and also attach a small piece of sheet styrene for the kits themselves; this would raise the characters' feet to a proper level before I added the final groundwork.


I painted the lids with a 50/50 mix of Pactra flat and gloss black. Next, using Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty, I poured in the groundwork to achieve a level that would be uniform to the top edge of the lid. I then drilled holes from the underside to position the kit's feet, drilling into those - carefully - and anchoring them to the base with small screws. The figures were now stable atop their bases.  

Unfortunately, some time later, Folger’s changed the plastic used for their lids.  The originals were hard styrene – easily cut, glued and painted – while the current ones are made of softer polyethylene which is unglueable and a less stable base for paint. Thankfully, I still have a large stash of the styrene lids that I use in my current builds.



So, beginning with Dr. Deadly, I figured he should have the traditional mad scientist setting in some sort of dungeon. I sculpted a stone pattern into the putty, similar to the flooring illustrated in the kit's box art. 

I grabbed a couple of bones from another Aurora kit.

For the chain you see, that was simply small scale chain, painted and piled on the floor.

The small wooden box is actually an 'OO' scale train crate from Merit brand railroading accessories.

Inside the crate, the amber-colored clear piece is a half of a hollow plastic bead. In the center of the bead half is a sort of electrode that is actually part of a 1/25 scale model car's antenna. The two silver rods in the box are also from a 1/25 scale car - exhaust extensions!




On to the Victim, I had a good time developing her base because it tells a fun story. Essentially, she's fleeing someone - or something - and appears to be evading her pursuer. Lookout! Unaware to her, she's about to trip and fall as her foot goes under that large tree branch at her feet.

On this base, the tree branch that's about to trip her up came from the Aurora Batman kit.

The rocks on the base are cut away from another Aurora kit, most likely the Cougar & Fawn kit but possibly from the Hulk or Tonto kits.

The tree stump is from the Aurora Cougar & Fawn kit.

And, again, that's Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty that makes the surround groundwork.










Looking at the base for the Monster of Frankenstein, you might think I copped out on providing setting or telling a story. I didn't.

Recall that I approached the build to represent the monster as he appeared in Son of Frankenstein. In the scene where he implores the doctor (Basil Rathbone), he's standing in the lab just in front of the giant sulfur pit. Well, the lab floor in the film was a simple dirt surface. Therefore, in keeping true to my intent of the build, I replicated that soil groundwork.






So, that brings us to Vampirella. For her, I wanted a base with some fun and interesting elements. This was truly an excursion in scrap-building.

I began with the small-scale stone flooring. That's actually a piece of molded styrene plastic that came from a doll house or something, retreived from a trash bin. 

The small floor grate is actually a window from the Block City toys; I added the pull ring to it. And, although you can't see it here, there's a small Aurora rat lurking below that grate.

For the crumbling stone step, I made a form and poured in the Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty. When I removed the forms, part of the putty stuck to it and pulled away. I liked the crumbled look so I simply attached the broken pieces to the base as you see here. As we builders say, it was a happy accident."



 

 


ABOUT ANDY YANCHUS:

To those who know him, Andy Yanchus embodies the passion of a true kit builder. Not one of those who merely "worked" at a model company, Andy literally changed the course of his chosen profession to fully pursue his love for kits and kit building.

You can read a more biography about him and his work at Aurora (and elsewhere) by visiting the "From the Vault" section of MonsterScenes.net. 

And even though Andy left Aurora in 1975, his stockpile of original kits, toys, and action figures confirms he hasn't lost an ounce of his passion to build, customize, and display whatever he can get his hands onto. 

His collection features hundreds (maybe thousands) of built and customized kits and more. The best part is that Andy continues his kit-building and customizing charge. You can bet there will be something new that he's soon completing and is readying to share.




© Dencomm and Andrew P. Yanchus.  No content may be reprinted or re-purposed, in whole or in part, without express written permission.