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.