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.


  1. Spot on! Thank you for posting. I manned the Judge's Critique table for some hours and it was clear that a lot of modelers don't understand the basics on how IPMS judging is done. Your article will help :)

    I'd only add that finish is a major third criteria. Irrespective of weathering technique, a lumpy or grainy paint finish can easily knock out an otherwise fantastic contender but the biggest issue we see is with decal application - specifically silvering of decal film, bubbles and lack of overcoat resulting in a "toy" look.

  2. Can you advise us as what to you mean about painting the static grass?