Monday, July 30, 2012

Five generations of scale models

Sometimes when I don't feel like working on a model I sit in the shadow of my unbuilt stash and ponder what to build next. (The irony is not lost on me: I'm not going to build any of those models until I finish the one I'm not working on. But that's another story for another day.) In my 30 years in the hobby I've seen the quality of models improve dramatically, and I recently wondered if there's a way to classify the "generations" of plastic models similar to how GM has defined the six generations of the Corvette, the models of each generation representing a notable improvement over the last. So here goes.

Five generations

I think the first generation of scale models consists of those manufactured in the 1960s, such as the early kits from Airfix and Frog. They were reasonable representation of aircraft and armor, but there was little attention to detail; cockpits were very crude (think "bench" seats) and decals consisted of just the bare minimum.

The second generation came to the market in the 1970s. These were the early releases from Monogram, Hasegawa, and Tamiya. Detail was much improved, for example the seats in jets vaguely resembled ejection seats, but aircraft models featured raised panel lines and armor detail was simplistic (though even Tamiya's earliest armor was quite good even by today's standards).

Third generation kits began to appear on shelves in the 1980s. Detail leaped ahead with some fine examples from Monogram (think about their 1/48th scale F-4s, F-105s, and F-106), and armor featured more finesse in surface detail (such as DML/Dragon's first releases); it also became de rigueur to see armor with individual link track rather than the elastic bands common in the second generation kits. A reasonably skilled modeler could create a very good looking representation of an aircraft or tank with these kits, and they still provide the basis for some of the outstanding models we see in club meetings and contests today.

We were "stuck" with third generation kits through the 1990s and into the 2000s, until the manufacturers started to leverage new technologies. That's when we saw significant improvements in the quality of the kits we're building today. These fourth generation kits are leaps and bounds ahead of what we saw 20 or 30 years ago. They feature engraved panel lines, rivets, and very delicate parts. Look at the latest releases from Tamiya, Dragon, Trumpeter, etc. If you can overlook the occasional mistakes around accuracy, these are truly wonderful models that need little in the way of aftermarket to make them true show pieces.

That brings us to today. In the last year or two we've begun to see the first kits that, I believe, represent the fifth generation. These are the models that feature truly state-of-the-art molding and casting. Look at Cyber Hobby's kits and Eduard's MiG-21s and their amazing 1/72 Bf-110E. You won't find anything better on the shelves at your LHS today. These manufacturers are setting a new standard that the other manufacturers will be following in the next few years.

It's a good time to be a scale modeler, and things are only getting better!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Welcome to Scale Model Soup!

I’d been mulling around the idea of creating this blog for several years, and I kept finding reasons to put it off. What would I call it? Would anybody read it? Can I write more than a month's worth of posts? To be honest, I'm still hesitant but feel I need to commit to it or put the idea away forever. So here it is.

I see a niche in our hobby for this blog. There are dozens, maybe hundreds by now, of personal blogs where many outstanding modelers showcase their work, and there are a handful of blogs from folks in the aftermarket industry. But there isn't a blog that provides an independent perspective on the hobby from a modeler's point of view. That is what this blog is all about.

My overriding goal is to promote the the hobby. Scale modeling is my passion, just as music or writing or dancing is for other people. I want to do what I can to engage other modelers in the hobby, to get them thinking about what we do, about the products we buy, and about the way we share our interest.

My first goal is to highlight the best of scale modeling on the web. Tony Matteliano’s Scale Model Index lists more than 4,000 web sites and the number is growing every day. There’s no way anyone can read them all, so as I find examples of particularly good modeling or information, I’ll share it here.

My second goal is to highlight and discuss interesting products or trends in the hobby. I don't intend to announce or review new products. There are plenty of great sites that already do that; however, I will discuss old, existing, or new products that I find particularly interesting and worthy of discussion.

Finally, I want to share my views and opinions. I’m the last person my friends would say has an ego, but I believe I have something interesting to say from time to time about our hobby. I enjoy writing, and even if no one reads this I find that putting my thoughts to paper is an exercise of finding clarity.

I hope you enjoy my blog. I look forward to hearing from you!