An Interview With Brian Soares — A Maker of Amazing One-of-a-Kind Pinball Machines
What gave you the idea of making custom pinball machines? Tell me about the first machine you made.
It all started as a way to get my young kids interested in pinball. At the time they loved the Disney movie Cars so I repainted a Gottlieb 4 Square machine with movie theme, added a few character decals to the playfield w/ custom plastics and installed a car stereo with speakers that played the movie soundtrack on CD. This paved the way for a bigger project, Boston Red Sox, which included a complete playfield design as well.
What was the first custom machine you built for someone else? How did that project come about?
After I finished the Red Sox machine, I was planning to make my second themed machine after another longtime passion of mine — Porsche cars. A guy from RGP (rec.games.pinball) contacted me and told me how much he liked my work and then commented on my nickname, which included the word Porsche in it. This led to a discussion about the Porsche cars we had and he asked if I had considered making a game to which I said yes, that is actually next on my list. He then said he would like to be involved and would buy it when I was done. Thinking it sounded like a fun project I was now off to get started on my next game.
What is your process from beginning to end? Can you tell us some of the tricks to creating a sweet looking custom pinball machine?
To start I look for available machines, preferably wedge heads as I really like the look of the design. Once I get the machine I try and better understand its game play. From there I let the creative juices flow and figure out how I can work one of my themes into it. Sometimes it is as simple as a name or numbers to match up with the playfield inserts.
To get a nice looking machine be sure to take your time and do things the right way. Early on I tried to save money and I cut out cabinet stencils by hand with an Exacto knife. It worked, but was not the most efficient thing to do. As a mechanical engineer I have all the skills I need to do things correctly, so I treat it like a project I would be designing and releasing at work. As an example, now I just design and transfer a CAD file to a local sign shop that can precisely cut out nice cabinet stencils for me.
Once I have the idea, I start sketching cabinet designs and eventually select one. Next I’ll work on the machine. First I’ll separate the head from the cabinet and remove the coin door and backglass. All the painted surfaces are sanded down to the bare wood and then prepped for painting. I apply a base coat and then begin to use stencils that I create for the graphics.
Next, the playfield is stripped of all components, dimensioned and then sanded to the bare wood as well. A CAD file is created of the playfield and then that is brought into a software graphics package. Such as Photoshop where I add images, etc. The wooden ball lane and rails are lightly sand and then shellacked to make them look new again.
The backglass and apron are also a similar process. The are designed in CAD, go to graphics software and then printed. I always use a new sheet of glass in front of the backglass image to make it really standout.
For the plastics, I usually scan them and then begin making graphics. Later on, new plastics are cut from a Lexan type material and sanded by me. Decals are applied to the finished plastics.
While I wait for the decals to be printed, I work my way through the underside of the playfield. Here I disassemble many of the moving parts and clean them for smooth operation. In some cases, parts such as the flipper linkages need to be replaced. All light bulbs are always replaced. Once this process is complete, I flip the playfield back over to work on the playable side.
A large decal is applied to the playfield and then it is populated with all new components.
New locks, buttons and leg bolts (sometimes the legs too) are always a must!
A new power cord is almost always installed and then the playfield is laid into the machine.
Once all connected, hopefully it just needs a little fine-tuning and its ready to go. Sometimes it’s just the opposite and it’s a matter of spending some time to make all the necessary adjustments.
So how much time are we talking about for one machine?
All in all I always guess about 100 hrs. Not totally sure on that and I probably don’t really want to know. Ultimately I just want it to look like a brand new “vintage style” machine.
Wow that is am amazing amount of work. No surprise there — as the pictures I have seen are just amazing. So the playfield art is done via a decal. Is the decal clearcoated over, or is it a Mylar type of decal that will not wear at all?
Presently it is a Mylar type of decal. In the future I plan to experiment with clearcoating.
Say I would like a custom San Diego Chargers pinball machine. What is the process of commissioning one to be made? How much would the price be?
First you can contact me via the email on my blog site www.gameroompinball.com, which is email@example.com. We can discuss the details of what you are looking for and go from there. Typically it takes about 3 months from start to finish, as this is not my full-time job. Pricing is tough to answer directly as it depends on the donor game and how easy it is to acquire a specific machine. Probably in line with an Addams Family or Twilight Zone.
Do you typically find the donor game? Or would the buyer need to take care of that? Is there anything else about the process that potential customers should know about?
Finding the right donor game can be a project in itself. Occasionally I come across some and grab them for future projects, but if a specific game is required I may ask for some help locating it. I have used some old ones they had taking up space and other times I’ve had them shipped to me. The process is pretty simple and I’ve never had any issues. Some of the designs have been 100% my ideas and others have included a back and forth exchange of emails containing designs to get it just right.
Are you taking further custom orders? How can people contact you and learn more? What is the typical turnaround time on a custom pinball project?
Sure. Depending on my availability I will consider other custom orders. The best way to reach me is through my blog site email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I make it a point to respond to everyone the same day. I can provide references if anyone has any questions.
The typical turnaround time is about 3 months.
Sounds great…thanks again for your time.