Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Model of the year

It's time to announce Scale Model Soup's model of the year!

First, let me be clear. I'm calling my choice the "model of the year," not the "best model of the year."
This model is not the most detailed, best molded, nor the most popular model released in 2013. Instead, it's the model that, in my opinion, represents a significant mark in the hobby for one important reason: value.

Throughout 2013, and over the last few years, one of the most frequent topics of conversation on the interwebz has been the escalating price of scale models. Quality 1/72 scale aircraft now cost over $30. The newest 1/48 scale releases such as Eduard's gorgeous Spitfires, the Kitty Hawk MiG-25, and Great Wall's state-of-the-art MiG-29s will set you back $50-$80. Armor modelers have it no better, with Meng's releases at a similar $80 price point, and ship modelers are paying over $100 for some destroyers and most battleships. I could make an argument that these cutting edge kits are worth the money, but ultimately we're all looking for value. We're all looking for the best model for the least amount of money.

That's why my choice for Model of 2013 is the Airfix 1/72 Hawker Typhoon.

This is a gem of a kit. Squadron lists it for $8.99. Hannants shows it for £7.99. A halfway decent lunch costs more than that! Mark Davies provides an excellent review of the Typhoon on Hyperscale, where you can see the quality you get for a very small investment. An additional review and build is available on Aeroscale and an extensive discussion about the model and aircraft is available on Britmodeller. Clearly, this is not Hasegawa quality, particularly in the finesse of the surface detailing, but it's acceptable for the majority of Airfix's customers; more advanced modelers can spend an hour improving the surface detail if they choose, and many will use Eduard's photoetch sets (reviewed on Britmodeller) to bump up the detail.

If you've spent too much time in your man cave and haven't seen the kit, there have been quite a few builds online. Here are a few examples.

Britmodeller 1
Britmodeller 2
72nd Scale Aircraft 1
72nd Scale Aircraft 2

I would be remiss if I didn't mention at least one of the other kits that was in contention for Model of the Year, Airfix's 1/48 Javelin. I don't have it myself, but a good friend was very excited on getting the kit and telling me about its many virtues. The only reason I didn't choose it was its price, which is in line with other 1/48 scale releases. I know the Javelin is worth the money, but those conversations about kit prices was my driving factor this year in my selection of model of the year.

Looking forward I can't imagine we'll see kit prices come down anytime soon. We need to accept high prices as the "new normal" while weighing them against accuracy. The tipping point will always reside in what each of us finds acceptable, so clearly we'll continue to see contentious debate about price, accuracy, and value. In the meantime, let's celebrate the incredible selection of kits available to us today and look forward to what 2014 will bring.

A Happy and Prolific New Year to all of you!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best miscellany of 2013

I absolutely love the internet, and I love the enthusiasm with which we modelers engage in our hobby. Occasionally it can be annoying, but even when it is -- if you look at our community with the right spirit -- it can be amusing at the same time. We take ourselves quite seriously, and those moments give us some of the best of 2013.

Most anal retentive question of the year

Oh man, this was tough, but my favorite question came from Britmodeller (I think) where someone asked what color paint was used on the back of the rearview mirrors on the MiG-23. Listen, I seek accuracy myself, but is there a point where we obsess too much?

Other serious questions on the forums tackled the color of Soviet tow bars and whether helicopter crews wear Belleville boots.

Best article of the year

One of the most informative blogs on the 'net these days is Tommy Thompson's Tailhook Topics. It shows how one blog can provide incredibly useful information when the blogger is a historian and modeler. Earlier this year, in conjunction with the release of Trumpeter's 1/48 A-3 Skywarrior, Tommy wrote about variants of the A3D fuel vent. I think it's wonderful that we are interested in something this esoteric. You can bet that if I build an A-3, I'll be referring to this article!

Strangest kit of the year

I'm smitten by two weird kits that were released this year, so I have to highlight both. First we have tiny (2mm - 9mm) sea shells suitable for that 1/12 scale beach diorama you've been planning.

Next we have a Hasegawa 1/12 scale vaulting box, available from Hobby Search. If they release a pommel horse next year I'm going to petition the IPMS National Contest Committee for a new category for athletic equipment.

Biggest WTF of the year

Passion can be a good thing, but it can make sane people a little nutso if left unchecked. This year our passion led a few modelers down a dark road where Squadron mail order took more heat than Miley Cyrus. Well, almost. First there was an online conversation about Squadron’s postage costs for their customers outside the United States, with some modelers claiming that Squadron uses those costs as a profit center. Less than a month later there was a conspiracy theory that Squadron was intentionally “sitting” on their stock of Hobby Boss 1/32 P-61s, holding back distribution to other vendors while they reap the profit from the sale of the kits. The company president even had to issue a public explanation for the situation!

The first conspiracy theory is ridiculous, because keeping shipping costs high clearly deters international buyers, and why would any sane business do that? The second is ridiculous because sitting on stock is risky; if you can sell a product, you do so. Hold it back too long and you run the risk that the demand will dry up before you can sell it.

I wonder what we’ll see in 2014. Did Sprue Brothers secretly recover the molds for the Otaki 1/144 C-5 from the floor of the Pacific Ocean and not tell us? Are profits from HK’s 1/32 bombers being funneled to North Korean nuclear programs? C’mon guys, get a grip! Or don't; I can use a good laugh now and then.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Biggest surprise of the year

While my biggest disappointment of 2013 was the release of three kits of the Soviet Object 279, it's also my biggest surprise for the year.

Twelve months ago you would've laughed at me had I suggested that we'd see an injection molded kit of this obscure tank. Even if Steve Zaloga had said it more than a few of you would've laughed at him. But here were are in December with multiple releases, and if they tell us anything about the state of the hobby it's that the manufacturers aren't afraid to take a chance on unusual subjects. That can be only a good thing for modelers as we look forward to 2014.

As Trumpeter has announced its upcoming Soviet subjects many armor modelers have been asking for a T-10 and other overlooked Soviet tanks. I think it's safe to say that if three companies are willing to produce the Object 279, we're very likely to see a T-10 in 2014, or 2015 at the latest. If I were a betting man, I'd put money on that prediction.

On a final note, I think it's beyond ironic that three companies would choose to produce a model of the same, obscure tank within months of each other. I'd love to know how that happened, but I suspect only the insiders at each of the manufacturers know, and they're not likely to tell us. Anyone care to speculate?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best WIP of the year

The best works-in-progress give you a detailed look at the process of building a model. It's like you're there, looking over a friend's shoulder as he works his magic. You ask questions. He answers. Maybe you give him a suggestion. Maybe there's an exchange of reference material.

This WIP of a Hobbycraft 1/32 Hawker Sea Fury on Large Scale Planes is on the best I've ever seen. Peter Castle shows you each and every step of the laborious process of building and detailing what is, out of the box, a very simple kit. His skills are epic. If you can't learn a thing or two from a read through this 49 page WIP, if you can't find at least five tips to take to your next model, well, you're hopeless.

Here are a few photos from Peter's build to whet your appetite.

Scratchbuilt cockpit.


Scratchbuilt vertical stabilizer with detail.

Best build of the year

There were a handful of truly exceptional models posted to the web this year. I say "handful" because these are the models that, to my eye, are memorable, models that will stick in my mind one, two, five years from now.

There are two things that are incredibly difficult to represent in scale -- water and flight -- but difficult doesn't mean impossible, and two modelers showed us this year what can be done if you have the imagination and talent. Their models appeared and re-appeared on the forums and social media, which showed me that they resonated with modelers around the world.

One of them, a Tamiya 1/350 King George by Chris Flodberg, is my pick as best build of the year. I have never seen the action of water captured as realistically as Chris has done on this model. You can practically hear the sound of the water rushing over the deck of the ship. You can see the ship being tossed from side to side over the waves. Just an amazing example of scale modeling. You can see more of it on Armorama.

Typically I would limit myself to the challenge of highlighting only one model, but another deserves to be called out as well. You've probably seen it, Rene Hieronymus's diorama showing an A-4 attack on a village, featured on ARC. I don't think we've ever seen an explosion represented so realistically. If you can hear the water on the King George, you can feel the heat of this fire ball!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Disappointment of the year

Last month I had to replace the toilet seat in my master bath. (Don't ask why.) I went to the local Home Depot and found no less than 20 different toilet seats to choose from. And this was just the oval design. There were another 20 round seats.

How many choices does a homeowner really need? They all look the same. The most innovative was one that slowly lowers the lid so it doesn't slam, which appeals to people who are too busy to spend the 0.34 second it takes to lower it by hand. Walk into a grocery store and you'll be faced with similar choices. A dozen varieties of macaroni & cheese, 10 chicken soups, a half-dozen variations on Cherrios.

This year armor modelers got three releases of the Soviet Objekt 279, that weird experimental tank from the late 1950s, so this is my choice for biggest disappointment of the year. Some of you may say that having three kits of a tank is a good problem to have, but in our hobby, compared to the larger consumer market, the consequences are more substantial. Why?

There's a phenomenon in the business world known as opportunity cost, which basically says that making choice A means not making choice B. When your resources are limited (and aren't they always?), choices A and B are exclusive. You can choose one, but not both -- at least not at the same time.

So here we are with three Objekt 279s on the shelf at the LHS. We really need only one kit, after all, only one example of the actual tank was manufactured! That we have two additional kits means that we don't have two different models to purchase and build. Who knows what they might have been had the resources invested in two of these kits been put to something else. Maybe a T-10 that the armor geeks are clamoring for? Maybe an IMR-2M, or a 2S7, or a PTS-2?

By the way, I could make the same argument about the T-90. We have releases from Zvezda, Meng, and Trumpeter. Do we really need three? At least with the T-90 I can understand the wide appeal.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Hi, my name is Steven and I like to build models. I know you're busy preparing for your 'round the world trip tonight, so rather than ask you to give me anything I'm asking that you plant a few ideas in the ears of the model industry. I hope that's okay.

1. Please ask the decal manufacturers to produce slime lights (formation lights) for jets that are dirty. The decals in the kits and from the aftermarket guys are always bright and shiny. In reality, they can be filthy.

 2. While they're at it, maybe the decal manufacturers can produce decals of dirty Remove Before Flight tags. If my airplane is dirty, I'd like my RBF tags to be the same.

3. Please tell the manufacturers to stop putting those deep, engraved "panel" lines on missiles and other ordnance. Santa, I don't know if you spend any time at airshows during your off season, but if you've ever seen a missile up close, all of the components fit quite tightly together. Trying to paint stripes in or around those engraved trenches is very difficult. I'd rather the manufacturers just leave them plain and let me do the painting and decaling required.

4. As you know, I build 1/72 aircraft. The biggest weakness with models in this scale is the canopy. Tell the manufacturers to produce thinner canopies. That would go a long way to making my models more realistic.

5. While we're on the subject of canopies, please ask the guys over at Eduard to manufacture canopy masks for the inside of canopies. I know, using masks is cheating, but that sure would make our canopies more realistic.

Thank you for your time, and have a safe voyage tonight.

Your friend,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Where the magic happens

Show us where the magic happens. That's the latest topic of the Sprue Cutter's Union.

Do you remember the old MTV series, "Cribs?" Every time a film crew would visit some celebrity's home, they open the door to their bedroom and proclaim, "This is where the magic happens."

Well, there's not magic happening in my bedroom these days. You have to go deeper into my house -- all the way down and to the back corner where the cave crickets go to die -- to find a space where something resembling magic happens, the dork magic that is scale modeling. That's where you'll find my workshop. I don't like the term workshop; it seems to imply the presence of large tools and lots of sawdust. (Well, there is a Dremel and resin dust, so maybe that counts for something.) I sometimes like to use the term studio, but since I'm not an artist I probably come off as some kind of pretentious arse, and that's certainly not going to bring any magic into the bedroom upstairs.

I usually just call it my model room. That's what it is. Simple.

I'm extremely fortunate to have the room I do. Until I moved into this house two years ago my workshop/studio existed on a shabby desk in my bedroom, which also served as my work-at-home desk for work and a plant stand. All of my tools were stored in two drawers, a toolbox, and a small footlocker. Always the optimist, I look back and realize that it forced me to be neat and clean, because after every modeling session I had to pack everything up and set it aside.

The 10 foot workbench (with two modeling "stations") in my model room today is a cabinet made specifically for the space. It has several drawers and under-counter cabinets for boxes and larger items. I used kitchen organizers in the drawers to store the many tools we use. I wanted to reserve the wall behind the workbench for displaying photographs and the various aviation collectibles I've gathered over the years. I love the space, though it tends to be chilly this time of year.

I've been planning to write more about my model room and offer some advice for those of you who might one day design your own space.

And yes, that is a Debbie Gibson card in the lower left corner of the photograph. That's another story for another day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

When the spirit moves me

What inspires me to build a particular model? That is the topic of this week's Sprue Cutter's Union.
When my grandmother would ask my grandfather when he planned to do something around the house, he would usually say, "When the spirit moves me."

And so it is with scale modeling.

Like most of you, that spark comes from any number of sources. It might be a movie, an article in a magazine, an inspiring build online, a new kit release, or even a video on YouTube. The process is magical in a sense, and I often feel like I'm waiting around for that spirit to move me, to walk me over to the stash and pick out something good. I usually find something interesting, but there are times when I find myself working on a model that doesn't really "call" me on a day-to-day basis, as is the case with the Trumpeter M1117 Guardian I'm working on at the moment.

But beyond this simple discussion of what inspires us is the more important issue of why those choices are important, and that's what I'd like to discuss here.

All too often I hear from modelers who talk about the many half-built models they have in their workshops. One guy on Armorama even posted a photo of his half-complete projects; there must have been 20-25 tanks! Seriously, that would depress me to no end if those were mine. I don't know how you get excited about a new model when there's such a strong pattern of defeat.

I'm amused when guys post to the forums to ask our opinions about what to build next. How should I know? My response is always the same: Build whatever it is that excites you the most!

I offer that advice because I firmly believe that you should build only those models that most excite you. Life is too short to pick something from the stash that offers little reward. Your goal, assuming you're looking for more than just the experience of *building* models, is to finish each and every model you start, because only by doing so will you a.) have something to show for your efforts, and b.) improve your skills.

As with my Guardian, I've been guilty of not following my own advice, but with the New Year 'round the corner, I plan to commit to not wasting my time on any model that doesn't excite me to my core. And that's the point of my response to this week's Sprue Cutter's Union topic...follow your passion, follow your gut, invest your time only on models that you care about.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So you think you're creative?

So you think you're creative? You had some decals custom made? Proudly mixed your own colors from scratch? Created a what-if by putting A-10 engines onto a Beaufighter?

Yea, that's nice. But check out this figure from Mark Stothard of New South Wales in Australia. This is creativity at its best. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

You can see additional photos and comments about the figure on planetFigure.

Thanks to Mark for permission to share his photograph here on Scale Model Soup.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reddit, another way to avoid the workbench

There are so many things that keep me away from the workbench. The daily minutia of life (cooking, cleaning, family, shopping), television (Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, pretty much everything on the Military Channel), and the interwebz. I spend way too much time trolling a half-dozen forums, several web sites, and blogs like this one. I justify much of this time as simply being human, being a part of several online communities. But ultimately, every 10 minutes, 30 minutes, hour not spent at the workbench is another model or two going unbuilt over the course of a year. I haven't done the math to determine just how much time I waste. I'm afraid to do so.

So let me tell you about my latest time killer. Have you heard of reddit? Wikipedia describes it as "a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of either a link or a text ("self") post." It's a bulletin board, kind of a global Facebook wall, but without the annoying status updates about your friends' work woes, complaints, and check-in's at Red Lobster.

I was aware of reddit but never spent time exploring it. That changed about two weeks ago when a Facebook link took me there and I browsed around. What I found -- among pictures of cute cats and disturbing images of human suffering -- was a collection of IAMA posts (as in, "I am a..."), and I think you'll be interested in some of them.

The idea is this. Reddit users request people in various lines of work or areas of interest to answer a long series of questions from reddit users. The interviewee, often anonymous, is generally willing to answer most any question in an effort to reduce misunderstandings about his/her background or interests or to simply satisfy our curiosity. The result is a fascinating series of conversations that will suck even more time away from your modeling workbench.

The upside is, there have been a large number of interviewees in the defense, aerospace, and aviation communities that you will be interested in. For example, you can hear from a survivor of and IED attack, a drone pilot, and even a Thunderbird pilot.

Here's a link to the military-related threads, but you should browse all of them as well. I guarantee you'll find something intriguing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's all about the finish

This week's Sprue Cutters Union topic: What makes an outstanding model?

A timely topic for me, as just this past weekend I was talking with a friend on the phone, whining about how long it's taking me to build my Trumpeter M1117 Guardian. I'm enjoying the project, mostly, but there's so much damn photoetch thanks to the ET Models set I have that it's taking me a very...long...time. And if I haven't mentioned this yet on Scale Model Soup, I'm a very...slow...modeler by nature.

So I said to my friend, "You know, Zebulon," (that's not really his name, I just want to use it), "I wonder if I could get as much satisfaction out of my armor if I didn't use any photoetch on them. I could probably build two or three models for every one that I superdetail."

1/35 AMD Laffly 80AM from the 2013 IPMS National Convention.
Here's the thing. When it comes to building aircraft, I really enjoy the detailing process, so I don't think I could forgo photoetch or scratchbuilt detail. It starts with the detailing and ends with a realistic finish. I feel a connection to the aircraft I choose to model, and I want them to be "complete." Not so with armor. I like the look of certain tanks and APCs, but aside from seeing them in museums, I don't have any first-hand experience with them. So when it comes to armor as a modeling subject, the part of the process I enjoy most is painting and weathering.

I share this experience because it reflects my priority in building models, whether aircraft or armor, the finish. My friend and I agreed that a model that is perfectly constructed but poorly finished isn't as successful as one that might have some construction flaws but has a fantastic finish.

1/48 F-51D from the 2013 IPMS National Convention.
When I reflect back on the many contests I've attended and the thousands of models I've seen, the models that linger in my poor memory are those that looked good. When I ask myself which models I'd like to own and have in my display case, invariably they're the models that "pop," not those that are perfectly constructed.

As I look at the many armor kits in my stash (ignoring for a moment the many more aircraft kits), if I have any hope of building even half of them I may need to ignore the fiddly aftermarket and go out-of-the-box. If I don't ol' Zebulon may inherit what I can't complete when I pass on to the big workshop in the sky.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The five P's

When I was in the Air Force I frequently heard the mantra of the Five P's: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. But does it apply to scale modeling as well?

I'm in my mid-forties, and I have to admit that my brain may not be as sharp as it once was. If I don't think through the process of assembling a model there's a strong chance I'll forget something. Like installing the control column in an F-15 (done that) or adding weight to an F-117 to avoid tail sitting (almost done that). The best modelers I know have the keen ability to "see" the assembly of a model before they actually bring the pieces together, so for me to even begin to approach that level of competence I have to spend a good bit of time preparing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Fixin' to build a model (as my friends down South would say) begins with research. Once I select a model, I look through my library for books on the subject, and I surf the interwebz for reviews, online builds, and reference photos. To gather the latter, I create a folder on my laptop's desktop and drop photos or copy the URLs of helpful web sites. For larger, more complex projects, I've been known to create subfolders to better organize photos, such as Wings, Fuselage, Landing Gear, etc. Or for armor: Hull, Turret, Running Gear. Yes, I can be anal retentive.

Next I'll study those online builds and photographs and make notes on the instruction sheet, usually with a red pen. I'll highlight any kit parts that will be enhanced or replaced by photoetch pieces, and I'll note any areas that I think may require special attention.

Finally, as I build the model, I'll informally check off the parts and pieces as I assemble them. That's not really part of the preparation phase per se, but each step essentially prepares you for the next.

There you have it. I failed to mention the ongoing prayers to any god willing to listen, but I assume y'all do the same thing. Prior preparation doesn't necessarily ensure exceptional performance, but it gets me a step closer.

Did you enjoy this article? Just a little bit? Check out the thoughts from my blogging colleagues of The Sprue Cutter's Union.

Kermit's Bench
Martin's Bench Corner
Fill 'n Sand
Sven Harjacek Scale Models
Yet Another Plastic Modeller
Motorsport Modeller
Miniature and Model Painting
Doogs' Models
D. Knights' Weblog

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reinventing the wheel

I had my last car, a Honda Civic, for nearly 12 years. Needless to say, the "technology" in it was quite outdated when I decided to buy a new car. Well, to be fair, the Civic decided for me when the engine gave notice that it intended to retire to a nice scrap mill outside Phoenix in hopes of an afterlife as an iPhone 5 case. One of the cool things about my new car is the reading it provides informing me the air pressure of each tire. Not even Siri can tell me that! At the moment, my right rear tire is 1-2 pounds under pressure. Thank you, Chevrolet, for letting me know.

We modelers are similarly lucky. Our friends in the aftermarket industry are kind enough to let us know when the wheels provided in kits are incorrect. If you're like me, you've amassed a modest stash of resin replacements for all of the junk that the mainstream manufacturers give us.

But wait. Is the situation that dire? Are the wheels in kits really that bad? I know they're inaccurate at times, but it's interesting how far we'll go to create accurate representations of aircraft, armor, ships, and cars. Heck, I'm a sucker for a finely cast wheel, and as you can see above, I have more than a few in my aftermarket treasure chest.

Here's the irony though. In all my years in the hobby -- in the dozens of contests I've attended, in the hundreds of conversations I've had with fellow modelers -- I don't think the subject of wheels has ever come up. I've judged contests with the biggest enthusiasts and nit-pickers you an imagine, and I've never heard one of them point out the inaccurate tread pattern on a PTO P-51. When my friends and I talk about new releases, we tend to obsess over shapes and panel lines, not the overly wide tires on Navy F-4s. And when I look at my own models in my display case, wheel well covers and shadows generally obscure my careful painting and weathering of the wheels, much less any inaccuracies.

So why do we buy aftermarket wheels? I think it's because they're affordable, they're a quick and easy way to improve what the manufacturers provide, and we're suckers for a perfectly cast wheel. A couple of years ago I won an online raffle for the Royale Resin F-4 wheels you see among the other roundy things, and they're tiny works of art! Simply gorgeous. I'm tempted to paint and display them on their own and enter them in the Miscellaneous category at the 2014 IPMS Nats.

Huh. I wonder.... Maybe it's time for a wheel category!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Me like airplanes

This is my first contribution to the Sprue Cutters Union. I've wanted to contribute but just haven't gotten my act together. I blame the distractions of life, but ultimately I just haven't made the time for it. This week Jon B asks us to write about why we like what we like.

I'm a product of the Cold War. I was born in the late 60s, was an impressionable child in the 70s, and spent my teen years through the 80s. Back then the threat of a global war with the Soviet Union was as prominent as the threat of a Miley Cyrus performance is today. Scary, eh? Movies such as The Day After, Red Dawn, and War Games reminded Americans of the real possibility that nuclear war, an invasion of Latin American communists, and World War III could break out at any moment. Of course American pop culture sentiment took the idea to amusing extremes with Stripes (even though I rarely watch the movie beyond the basic training scenes), and in White Nights Mikhail Baryshnikov literally dances his way to the other side of the Iron Curtain. Those were the good ol' days, when we knew who our enemies were.

One of the first models I built as a young pup.
Fast forward 25 years.

It should come as no surprise that my primary area of interest within our hobby is Cold War military aircraft. Those are the subjects that impressed me during my formative years. The F-4 was on its way to Guard and Reserve units, the F-16 was brand new and known as the Fighting Falcon, and "stealth" played a greater role in my sneaking WAFs into my dorm room than in aviation technology.

All that said, the more time I spent in the hobby, the more other subject areas appealed to me. I've built aircraft from World War Two, spent almost 10 years building armor exclusively, and painted my fair share of figures using artist oils. I believe that kind of variety keeps me engaged in the hobby, forces me to learn new techniques, and introduces unfamiliar media to my workbench.

At the end of the day, however, my passion will always be with Cold War USAF aircraft. If some kind of bizarro, geeky, imposing thug told me I could build models from only one genre, I'd be churning out F-4s, F-106s, F-5 aggressors, and Block 15 F-16s for the rest of my life...and be quite happy doing so.

Like this article? Check out these related posts from other members of the Union.

The Combat Workshop
Martin's Bench Corner
Yet Another Scale Modeller
Fill 'n Sand
Migrant's Wanderings
The Eternal Wargamer
Mattblackgod's World
A Scale Canadian
Kermit's Bench
Jay's Scale Model Adventures

Monday, September 30, 2013

Models and money

Last week the Sprue Cutters Union's topic had to do with our spending habits. I'm coming into the conversation a little late, but reading others' thoughts on the subject got me thinking about how I spend my money. Of course this kind of self-reflection, especially when it comes to money, can be painful, but looking over the responses by the Union's participants gives me hope that most of us are fairly careful.

I can haz a Su-24?
One of the recurring themes when it comes to money is our working with a limited budget. In that respect, I'm lucky. I'm not wealthy, mind you; I don't drive the Aston Martin Vanquish that I'd love to have, nor can I afford to pave my short, gravel driveway, but being single and having a decent job allows me the privilege of being able to afford most of the plastic thingees that catch my eye. My modeling budget is constrained only by the other necessities of any home budget, such as building and maintaining an emergency fund, paying for heating costs, the rising price of gas, etc.

I know, it's a good problem to have, right? But when I sit amid my stash of a few hundred unbuilt models (it could be 150,000, I've lost count) and realize that I'm in my mid-forties, I'm forced to acknowledge that when I die most of these models will still be unbuilt. That makes me very sad; not that I'll die (well, that kinda sucks, too), but that so many projects -- and I have a vision for each model that I own, as I'm sure you do as well -- will not come to fruition. There's a chance I may never build that Kinetic F-16D in MiG killer markings of the 56th FW! What will my friends say? "That Steve. He never fulfilled his destiny. How sad." And then they'll fight over the model and the related aftermarket.

These days I find myself being very selective in what I buy. It's tempting to buy every cool new release, but just how high is my enthusiasm for that new Wolfpack 1/48 T-38? Sure, I'd like to build it, but there are so many more models in the pipeline that I'm much more excited about. Maybe that's the trick in managing our money. Before you buy a model, ask yourself, does this model get me more excited than the "top 20" models already in my stash? If the answer is no, you can probably skip it.
Here's what I've learned about buying models these last few years.

1. If you don't buy a model when it's first released, odds are good that you'll be able to find it on eBay or from another modeler 5, 10, 15 years from now. True, the price may be higher, but that will determine just how much you want the model.

Real life example: When Hasegawa released their 1/72 series of F-111s I was spending my time building armor. Fast-forward ten years and I'm back to aircraft, but alas, I ain't got an F-111 in my stash! It took a few years, but I've since acquired one each from the series, which makes me one step closer to what Maslow referred to as "self-actualization." Or something like that.

2. To point #1, even if you never buy that one rare model you've been looking for, aren't there at least ten others that you own that will provide just as much satisfaction?

Real life example: I'd like to have the old Otaki C-5 Galaxy. I'm not sure it's rare, but it generally sells for around $120. I will probably never get one, but I'm pretty sure a few dozen of the other kits in my stash will keep me very happy over the next 40 years of my life.

3. If there's an expensive kit you want, wait for it. There's a good chance you'll find it at a good price in the future. It may not be this year or even next year, but eventually you'll find it on sale via Squadron, Sprue Brothers, or at a contest.

Real life example: I've wanted the Trumpeter 1/48 Su-24 since I saw it at a contest several years ago, but the $130 price tag put me off. I just couldn't justify that much money for a model. But then Squadron had it on sale for about half that, and I took the bait. Add in a couple of other models for friends and I got their free shipping deal as well.

I've ranted long enough. Time to log off of SMS and go check the classified on ARC and Hyperscale.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A visit to Penncon 2013

I had the pleasure today of attending a local IPMS contest that I've never been to before, Penncon in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, sponsored by Central Pennsylvania IPMS. By "local" I mean, a local contest, as opposed to a regional contest. It wasn't local in terms of my three-hour drive. I'm not complaining; I love me a good road trip every now and then. Making it more enticing was its being held at The United States Army Heritage & Education Center. (More on that later.) And even more enticing when a friend agreed to meet me there.

Penncon was a nice contest. It wasn't large -- the contest and vendors were in one room -- but the quality of the contest entries was high, and the people extremely friendly. You can't beat the location, so I can hope the contest grows over the next several years.

Here's a selection of some of my favorite entries in the contest.

Sharp little resin Selbstfahrlette fur 7.5cm Pak40 Auf Somua.

Tasca M4A3E2 Jumbo Sherman. Nice to see armor that's not over-weathered.

Perfectly weathered 1958 Plymouth Belvedere.

My favorite in the contest, a 1/32 Special Hobby X-15-A2.

Check out the crisply executed plumbing on the X-15's external tanks!

A Pit Road 1/144 Vulcan. Cripes, that's a nice kit for the scale!

Stunning Trumpeter 1/32 Me262 B-1/U1.

Perfectly executed conversion of a Czech Model F-80C to a B,
with camouflage typically seen on 56th Fighter Group P-47s.

Beautiful Revell 1/144 Airbus A321 by my friend Joe Volz.

Nicely painted and weathered RSO Radschlepper Ost.

A final thought on the Army Center. If you're ever in the area you should stop by. The focus of the museum is on the American soldier, and you'll find a variety of nice displays explaining the role and life of the soldier from the Civil War through Afghanistan. Each display has a good deal of explanatory placards, so you'll be sure to leave smarter than when you came. There are a few pieces of armor on the grounds if heavy metal is your thing, but the real value will be found inside.

Monday, September 2, 2013

National Geographic Channel's combat shows

With the IPMS Nats two weeks behind us, it's time to look for new ideas and inspiration. I've been wanting to write about the various "reality" shows about soldiers that have been airing this year. Three of the best are on the National Geographic Channel  -- Inside Combat Rescue, Battleground Afghanistan, and Eyewitness War.

Each show embeds you with a combat unit thanks to the portability of digital video recorders such as the GoPro. There's no narrator. There are no scripts. It's just the camera mounted on a soldier's helmet as he goes into battle. You've probably seen these shows; the live action captured by the cameras is explained through a series of integrated interviews with the participants who survived the action.
This is television at its best. Most of us have never experienced combat, so our impressions are based on what we see in movies, and even well researched movies like Saving Private Ryan may fail to capture what it's like. With that in mind, several aspects of the combat shown on these TV shows struck me, and I share them with you.

More often than not, you can't see the enemy you're shooting at. When the bullets start flying, the best you can do is aim in the general direction that you think they're coming from until someone can get a fix on the enemy's specific position. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be.
Most firefights are fought at a great distance from the enemy, often 200-300 meters or more. This makes locating the enemy extremely difficult, much less hitting him. That our soldiers can do so, is incredible to me.

Some of the engagements shown on these shows can be very lengthy, and the possibility of running out of ammunition is a frightening reality. So much ammo is spent just to pin the enemy down that in time you have very little left with the hope of actually taking him out.

The capabilities that UAVs bring to the battlefield has revolutionized the way war our soldiers conduct war. Although the screens are blurred in the show for security reasons, it's clear that battlefield commanders have an incredibly clear image of the enemy's activities thanks to the Predator and similar aircraft. This real-time data allows soldiers to engage the enemy in ways their predecessors could only dream of 60 years ago. Or even 15 years ago!

Air assets end pretty much every firefight. When the troops on the ground can't get a foothold, it's impressive to see how quickly a single machine gun burst from an Apache or LGB from an F-16 can give our troops the upper hand.

As quickly as allied forces can act on a situation, it seems to me that most battles are relatively indecisive. Unlike earlier wars, we're not advancing in a single direction and taking control of land and towns as we go. The entire exercise looks very hit or miss, and our soldiers are making the best of the small victories along the way. I can't help but feel bad for them when "winning" this war is such an unclear goal.

You can find these shows on Amazon Instant Video.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Missed opportunities

We modelers are a selfish bunch. Linger on any discussion forum longer than a fortnight and you'll be sure to find a hijacked thread where someone starts listing their personal wish list of kits they'd like to see produced. It's safe to say that everyone wants everything.

But that's just one side of the coin. If you haven't thought about it (and you really should), the manufacturers need to make the best decisions possible when it comes to selecting a new model to tool and produce. They're in the business of making money; two or three bad choices and they could go the way of the Caribbean Ground Sloth, taking the prominent rivets, misshapen noses, and missing access panels with them. We'll build what we have until all that's left is a pile of bagged Frog kit, and nobody wants that.

That got me thinking about the aircraft that are sorely under-represented in the hobby on this day in 2013, the aircraft that could have earned the manufacturers a lot of money over the last 10 or 15 years had they made better decisions. I call these "missed opportunities," because while I could easily name three aircraft I'd like to see in model form (a 1/48 L-17 Navion being at the top of the list), they wouldn't necessarily be a wise business investment. Clearly, there are aircraft that we all would have purchased years ago had Special Trupegawa Boss produced them.

So here are five aircraft where I think the market has missed out. Note, these are not necessarily my favorite aircraft, just those that meet the following criteria in my cursory analysis:

The airplane must be historically significant.
The airplane must not be available beyond a first- or second-generation kit.
The model must have wide market appeal.

Here we go.

A U-2 in 1/48 scale. If one aircraft epitomizes the Cold War, it's the U-2 (and probably the B-52). That we don't have a new-tool kit is an embarrassment to the hobby and an insult to everyone who designed, built, and flew the airplane, not to mention all of the civilians who unknowingly benefited from its capabilities.

A 1/48 UH-1B/C/H in 1/48 scale. The Huey is the most popular helicopter ever and the best we have is the old Monogram kit. Yea, Hobby Boss just release a new tool kit, but I'm not sure it really represents the best that the industry can offer.

An A-1E in 1/72 scale. Sure, there's the Monogram kit, but have you seen what it takes to make it accurate? I bet you'd go through at least a hundred No. 11 blades to get it right! Hasegawa's A-1s are beautiful kits, and they missed the mark when they failed to leverage the molds to produce an E. I could say the same for their 1/48 kits as well.

A Boeing C-135 series in 1/144 scale. The airplane entered service in 1957 and has served the U.S. Air Force in many capacities since then. It's easy to envision an expansive line of the more prominent variants beyond the KC-135, such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint, EC-135 Aria, and VC-137.

I'm not sure about this last one, so I'll look to my expat friends and readers across the Atlantic to set me straight. Why haven't we seen a new-tool Blackburn Buccaneer? For crying out loud, we have a Gloster Meteor Prone (whatever that is) and the fugly de Havilland Sea Vixen, but not a good kit of an aircraft that saw service in the Gulf War and with the South African Air Force? What has this bloody world come to?

Is there any hope for humanity?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My 2013 Nats favorites

I've spent some time looking through the pictures I took at the Nats. As is the case every year, there were some stunning models to be sure, but a few will be memorable to me in the coming years. Everyone has been talking about the Farmall tractor that won the Judges Grand Award, but here are a few of my favorites selected, by the way, before the awards were announced at the banquet.

My favorite aircraft was this 1/48 Hs-129 by Bob Windus. It took first place in its category. If I'd had the opportunity to compliment him in person I probably would've embarrassed him by bowing down before his skill and achievement. It was my favorite because of the paint scheme and weathering. Everything about it was perfect. Subtlety was the key to this model's success.

I know I talk a lot about aircraft on this blog, but I build armor as well. So I took as much interest in the armor entries as I did the aircraft. My favorite tank was this Stug IIIB from Bryan Kreuger. That it took first place in its category was no surprise. It was absolutely stunning. The detailing was excellent, the painting not overdone, and the weathering perfectly balanced. I had the privilege of complimenting Bryan personally, as he happened to sit in front of me during the awards ceremony.

 I'm a car guy -- in real life, not modeling. I love automotive aesthetics and the performance incorporated into a sweet design. Sometimes form follows function, sometimes the opposite. My favorite automotive entry was a model of a car that's all about function over form, a 1/25 NASCAR Modified. My friends, this was spectacular. It was converted from (IIRC), a 1975 Ford Mustang, just as the real car was. The detail was excellent, and although I think I may have preferred seeing a worn and beaten race car, the factory-fresh finish was just as well executed. Like the other models I've mentioned so far, this took first place in its category.

 The rumors are true, I have built ships in the past, so I appreciate the skill that goes into their construction and painting as well. My favorite ship entry was this 1/700 Japanese aircraft carrier, though I don't recall which one it was. Working in this small scale is incredibly challenging, and the modeler executed everything perfectly, from the photoetch to the painting to the weathering. It had to be the best 1/700 scale ship I've ever seen in person.

Last but by no means least, the winner of the the category we here at Scale Model Soup, a bust of a Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep. I've seen a few busts of animals, primarily at figure contests, so it was great to see this one (appropriate) in Denver, and to see it win. My congratulations to the modeler, Craig Pierce, whom I looked for after the awards banquet but didn't catch.

You can see photos of all the winners here, on the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers web site.

What were your favorites?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The weird and bizarre - 2013

Last year I shared the weird and bizarre from the 2012 Nats, so as will be my annual tradition, here's a look at the weird and bizarre from this year's Nats.

I'm guessing that most of you are conservative, so you'll appreciate the humor of this entry.

I've never seen the show, but I hear Robot Chicken is popular. Seeing him in model form has to bring a smile to your face.

Steampunk has been all the rage these last few years in Europe and the United States, so it's just been a matter of time until it found its way into the modeling community. Three entries caught my attention.

The steampunk car was built using the fuselage of a fighter. The 1/220 scale Martian Tripod was built by Derek Brown, one of the most talented guys in the hobby. Everything was scratchbuilt, using even watch parts. Its delicacy was sublime!

Last but not least, given my advice to vendors last week, I greatly appreciated this sign.

P.S. My apologies. I tried to get a picture of the guy who wore slippers while judging, but it didn't come out clearly. You'll have to use your imagination. Or look for him with me next year.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Two reasons your model didn't win

I had the privilege of judging at the Nats last weekend, and I thought I'd share my experience. It's actually the second time I've judged at a national convention, but the last time was back in the mid 90s, so I found myself with the "OJT" label again, which means I had to fetch coffee, pick up the head judge's dry cleaning, and serve as the all-around piss boy for the team. Was it worth it? Yes.

In all seriousness, judging is learning experience not to be passed up, and my team of Art, Marty, and Kendall made it enjoyable as well. If you haven't judged, you really should. It forces you to scrutinize every model in a number of categories to a degree that you wouldn't have otherwise. And in addition to the obvious benefit of helping the sponsoring club, your investment of time will show you ways to improve your own models.

In a post leading up to the Nats I spoke about the sore loser. I didn't run across any while everyone was packing up their models after the banquet, but I'm sure a few guys are wondering why their respective masterpieces didn't win. Here are the two most likely reasons that I saw.

1. There is a seam. I'll be the first to admit that making a seam perfect is damn hard, so a quick glance at the prominent seams on the 15-20 models in a category allows the judges to set aside a good number of the models. It may not seem fair that a barely perceptible error means your model won't place, but IPMS considers the process of filling a seam to be a fundamental skill that we should all master. The most overlooked area that I found on a large number of models was the leading edge of the wings. Several stunning models suffered from this simple oversight, so you can be sure I'll spend a little extra time making sure I address my wings going forward.

2. Something is misaligned. Many otherwise great models had wings, stabilizers, landing gear, or weapons that were not properly aligned. This is the area I struggle with myself. I don't know what the solution is short of building a custom jig for every model I build, but maybe that's what it takes to win at the national (or even, local) level. I mean, if winning is your thing!

Of course there were other errors among the models I judged. Some had painting flaws. Canopies were applied without the necessary level of care. Formation lights protruded beyond the wingtips. Truth be told, there are so many things that can go wrong during a build that it's incredibly challenging to build a nearly flawless model. The guys who can truly deserve the accolades they receive.

In most cases the model that would win first place was evident from the get-go. Determining second and third place were often the real challenge in the judging process. I want you and the modeling world to know that the judges I worked with agonized over every decision. We truly wanted the results to be fair. We studied five models in one category for nearly 45 minutes to determine the second and third place finishes. I think we got it right, but another team of judges might have decided differently. All of the "finalists" in that category were outstanding. It pains me that guys who came so close to winning will go home without that knowledge. (This is why we need Honorable Mentions, but I'll address that some other time.)

On a personal note, I have a few personal pet peeves, which I assure you had no effect on my judging.
  • Photoetch seat belts don't look convincing. At all. They look stiff and tinny. A lot of the entries had them. I've used them myself -- even in my current B-26 build -- but I've decided to use tape or paper going forward.
  • If you use static grass on your base, for the sake of all that is holy in this world, please paint it! Left unpainted it looks fake and detracts from even the best model.
  • Don't use printed flightline surfaces. They're glossy. They look artificial. Creating a reasonable representation of a flightline is incredibly easy. If you can apply a reasonably nice finish to your model, you can airbrush a grey color to a rectangular piece of plastic and draw some expansion joints.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Aim high

One of my pet peeves in the hobby is the lack of change in contests. If you've been in the hobby for any length of time, and especially if you're an old-timer like me, you know that the contests we attend today are largely the same as they were 20 years ago. Contest organizers are extremely reluctant to try anything new, preferring to rely on what's proven. Toss out a new idea, and people will throw up a dozen reasons why it won't work.

I don't know, maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are many contests that attract strong participation year after year. I look forward to a number of them, and I'd hate to see even one of them go away.

In fairness, I may be the only person who feels this way, and if so, I'll humbly step aside and let this inertia carry us through the next 20 years. In the meantime, however, I must compliment the national IPMS organization for introducing a new category this year, for in-flight aircraft.

I understand it came about when it was pointed out in prior years that in-flight aircraft had a major advantage over those that were posed on the ground, namely that the modelers needn't concern themselves with getting the landing gear correctly aligned, which can be a major boo-boo when judging aircraft. That makes sense, and it's good to see the organization respond. And frankly, it's great to see aircraft in their "natural habitat." It's amazing how much the character of an airplane changes when you see it in flight. An A-10 in a 90 degree bank is simply awesome!

The in-flight category attracted nearly 20 entries this weekend, and I hope interest grows in the coming years. Here are a few of the entries. Note the many approaches the modelers used to mount the aircraft.