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