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.

Friday, August 16, 2013

When modelers get creative

Sometimes I think there's not a great deal of creativity in our hobby. Most of the time, there's only one "right" way to paint a model, at least if you want to be taken seriously by your peers. Sure, there's always that crazy guy who's willing to paint his Merkava pink and bedazzle it like a Southern lady's denim vest, but for the most part we toe the line.

But one of the ways we can show our creativity, and in the process differentiate our models from all the others, is the way we display a model. Here are a few of the more creative display choices at the Nats this weekend.
Make a pseudo-diorama.

Use a frame.

Position it in flight.

Use...real hair?

Use color.

Use a rock. Yes, a rock.

Keep it simple.

Use a mirror.

Use a mirror with grass on it.

Use a prop (a prop, not a propeller).

Use a case of beer.

Use Hello Kitty.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My favorites, so far

Greetings from day 1 of the IPMS 2013 Nats! Well, it's day 1 for me as I spent the better part of yesterday sightseeing and meeting a new friend for dinner in Boulder. And speaking of Boulder, I found the house used for the exterior shots of the Eighties TV series Mork & Mindy.

I'm feeling a bit under the weather, like I'm on the verge of getting a sinus infection, so I'll keep this short and sweet with a handful of random thoughts about the Nats and some pics of a few of my favorite contest entries so far.

My thoughts:

There are roundabouts leading into the show location. I haven't seen those since I lived in Boston!

Good selection of vendors that should satisfy all but the most picky attendees. The biggest absence, HobbyLink Japan.

Lots of book vendors! I wish I could read French and Russian.

Speaking of books, we modelers spend a helluvalotta time complaining about the prices of models, but books have become quite expensive in their own right!

At the end of the day today, a good number of the tables were filled. Closed-top armor was particularly full.

I bought my first model today not at the Nats, but in an antique shop in nearby Fort Collins.

And now the pictures. Enjoy!

Wingnut Wings 1/32 Gotha G.IV. HFS, what a stunning airplane and model!

Stunning Revell 1/32 He-111.

AMD Laffly 80AM with subtle painting and weathering.

Incredible scratchbuilt USS Langley. I think it's 1/120?

Revell '85 Mustang NASCAR Modified. Perfectly detailed and painted.

CMR 1/72 Sikorsky S-38 with a stunning paint scheme.

Vulcan 1/35 Light Tank Mk VIB, beautifully weathered.

More to come tomorrow, with a Scale Model Soup twist!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lighten' up Francis

The day has finally arrived! It's the opening day of the 2013 IPMS National Convention in Loveland, Colorado! As you arrive to the show and find your place in the registration line, I want to offer one final piece of advice: Be patient!
The registration line at the first IPMS convention in 1929.
You may encounter long lines. The staff may fumble with the computers, forms, and registration process. They may encounter situations they haven't planned for. When you start to feel frustrated, please remember that the people who run the convention are volunteers. All of them. They're modelers just like you, not professional event planners.

I’m extremely passionate about quality customer service, so you will not find a more critical customer than me. I can find a way to improve practically any process (which is basically what I do for a living in the software industry). I worked the registration table at the Nats a few years ago and saw that the software was in dire need of a major redesign. Some of the forms were hard to visually scan for the information I needed. I experienced the frustration of the people waiting in line. Some were sympathetic and kind, but a few were obvious in their discontent, including one jerk (whom I knew from a club I once belonged to) who had the nerve to express his frustration out loud. That’s not helpful.

So when you arrive, take a deep breath. Be patient. The contest organizers will appreciate it. They're doing their best.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Advice for contest entrants

Maybe this year will be the first time you've entered the IPMS National contest. Maybe you're an old-timer. Either way, here's some advice.

Dust off your entries. Every contest I've ever been to has had several models that look like they've been stored in barn for 30 years next to an old '57 Chevy. This is an important contest. Take a few minutes to ensure your models are free of dust or debris.

Put your model on a base. It could be nothing more than a plain plaque, but it will help your model stand out. That said, make sure the base looks as good as your model. I've seen some shabby bases over the years, and even though they're not factored into the judging, they will detract from an otherwise good model.

Displaying and sharing your models within a community of modelers is, in my opinion, far more important than the competition itself. It's an opportunity to open a dialog with other hobbyists and to learn something new. If someone compliments you on your model, thank him and ask if he has anything in the contest as well. Offer to walk over to see it, and then find something to compliment in return. Remember, most of us will go home without an award. Compliments from our peers will be our only reward for the time we invest in our models.

The other day I told you not to be "that guy." There’s one more guy I saved for this article, and he may be the worst offender of them all. He's the sore loser. He didn't win and now he's bitter. He blames the judges. He blames the process. Usually he didn't win because his model was flawed. And guess what, sometimes he didn't win because the judges made a mistake. To the last point, although we expect a degree of integrity in any competition, judging scale models is inherently subjective and prone to bias and error. Don’t take competition too seriously. As a friend told me long ago, "Chasing trophies will turn you into a weenie." Be content in simply showing your models to other modelers, because we enjoy seeing them.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

So you're not attending the Nats...again?

You're not at the IPMS Nats? We'll miss you, but there are ways you can cope with the natural depression you will feel.

Last year I offered some suggestions for those of you who aren't able to attend the National convention. In case you missed them, here they are again.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Advice for the vendors room

When you arrive at the Nats, where do you go first? Probably the vendors room. (You'll tell yourself that the contest room won't really fill up and be worth a visit until at least noon on Friday.) Here are five bits of advice that may help you navigate the experience.

You’re going to see a lot of great stuff the minute you walk in the door. Before you make any major purchases, walk through the entire room to get a sense of what’s available. You’re likely to see  a model or two that you'll want to buy. Don’t do it just yet. There’s a good chance another vendor will have it cheaper.

But...if you run across that hard-to-find item you’ve been searching for for the last 10 years, buy it immediately. If you miss a deal on a model that’s widely available, it’s not a big deal, but you’ll regret passing on a rare kit when you come back later to find it’s gone.

I generally have a short list of items I’m looking for at any given point in time, and the Nats is a great opportunity to find some of them, but every year I fall victim to a number of impulse purchases. These are the models that are sold at price that I find too low to pass on. They’re models I’m not necessarily seeking out but interest me nonetheless. Sometimes they're duplicates of favorite subjects. The same thing may happen to you. It’s okay. Allow yourself a budget for impulse purchases, but don't let them blow your budget. Remember, there will be things you want to buy in the months after the Nats.

If you arrive on opening day, it's very easy to blow your budget within a short time. One day even! I suggest you save a portion of your budget for Saturday. Many vendors will offer end-of-day sales, and you’ll want to capitalize on them. (For what it’s worth, only one or two vendors last year had noteworthy sales. Most simply packed up and went home without any sales.)

The vendors room at the Nats can be truly overwhelming. You’ll see things you’ve never seen before. Models in the contest will inspire you to find the same kit for yourself. Your purchases will be a “fly by the seat of your pants” experience. You’ll be tempted to take your wish. You can do that, but you should also take a list of the stuff you own. There’s nothing more frustration than being in Eduard’s stall, for example, and not remembering if you own their photoetch set for that Merkava III you bought last year. If you have a mobile device, I recommend a cloud service like DropBox, which allows you to create and manage files of any type on your personal computer and view them on your mobile device.

No matter what you do, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy the vendors room and go home with your fair share of booty. See you there!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Advice for the vendors

Having attended a number of national shows over the years and having spent a lot of money in the vendors room, I feel at least a bit qualified to offer the vendors some advice. Mind you, I come at this as a consumer, so take it for what it's worth.

 Say hello to me. Most of us are introverts, but it’s nice to see a friendly face and engage in a bit of banter.

Put a price on everything. Please. There’s nothing more annoying than finding something interesting in a stack of models and not knowing if I can afford it. Sure, I can ask you, but if you haven’t priced anything I'm paranoid that you’re just throwing out a price based on the expensive Ralph Lauren polo shirt I’m wearing (collar up, of course) or the Rolex on my wrist. More likely, you’re busy talking to other customers or friends, which means I have to be pest and interrupt you or wait around like a troll. Either way, I’m not happy. I’ll probably move on.

Don’t be a salesman. I don’t need you to tell me what I’m looking at or give me it’s history. One vendor who frequented shows throughout the Midwest was very adept at this. No matter what you’d pick out from his (unpriced) stash he say, “That’s a very rare model.” If I’m at the IPMS National Convention, you can assume I know what I’m looking at.

If a kit has been opened, price it accordingly. I’ve bought opened kits in the past only to discover later that pieces were missing. I’ll take that risk, but not at near-retail prices. My suggested rule of thumb: If a kit has been opened (and the parts not in factory sealed bags), price at 50 percent of its retail value.

Don’t insult us with insignificant sales. You're offering 5 percent off everything. Seriously? That’s 50 cents on a $10 model or one dollar on a $20 model. We’re looking for bargains, and a sale like that really isn’t going to incite me to buy. Better not to have a sale.

My best wishes for a profitable weekend!