Saturday, May 31, 2014

Eduard and the Bf-109G-6 brouhaha

Unless you were in Paris for the last week celebrating the marriage of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, you've probably been overwhelmed with all of the discussion around Eduard's 1/48 Bf-109G. Recently released and now given a thorough assessment by rivet counters the world over, it seems it has a number of inaccuracies. The most concise review can be found over on Hyperscale, and there's also a good WIP on Aeroscale that offers some interesting insight as well.

I've already shared my thoughts about rivet counters some time ago, and I'll let each of you decide whether the inaccuracies make the kit "unbuildable," but I feel compelled to offer my thoughts on Eduard as a whole.

Eduard has taken quite a bit of heat with this release, as they did for one of their MiG-21 variants, with one modeler going so far as to say "they wont unfortunately be trusted again." That's a bit extreme in my opinion, and I hope that's not a sentiment shared by most modelers.

Eduard is arguably the best plastic model manufacturer in the hobby. There, I've said. No other manufacturer is producing as much product at they are with the same level of finesse. Only Tamiya and Revell-Germany come close in terms of tooling and production. Based on the information Eduard regularly shares with their customers (unrivaled compared by any other company), it appears they are committed to producing the most accurate kits they can. In response to the conversation around the Bf-109G, they even published an interview with its lead designer, Stanislav Archman on their web site. By all measures, Eduard is doing everything they can to give us models that are accurate and feature the best tooling in the industry.

Has Eduard made mistakes? Yes, but everyone does. I could argue that the other manufacturers often seem to fall short in their research or take shortcuts, but I see no evidence of that from the folks at Eduard. At the end of the day I'd be more confident buying an Eduard kit sight-unseen than one from any other manufacturer.

This week someone asked if I feel sorry for Eduard. I don't. They can be proud of an expansive product line and some of the best kits on the market. I am nothing but optimistic about their future in the hobby. I can't say the same for Kanye and Kim.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How Takom's KV-5 ruined a man

So you think you a bad week last week? It probably wasn't as bad as Mark Muller's week. Here's his story, and I promise that most of what you're about to read is true.

On January 12, 2011 Mark woke up on a snowy morning and said to himself, "Self, it's about time I scratchbuild another model." You see, Mark is an award-winning modeler. He's won Best of Show at three AMPS conventions and Best Armor at the 1999 IPMS National Convention with a scratchbuilt Soviet armored train. He's one of those rare modelers who takes the hobby to levels that most of us can only dream of thanks to a unique engineering and problem-solving mindset.

So Mark lay there listening to the sound of sleet hitting the tin roof of his shanty and the barking of his four beagles from the barn out back and wondered to himself, "Self, I wonder what I should build. It should be something where I can use parts from other kits, to make it just a little bit easier on me. And it should also be obscure enough so that those gosh darn rivet counters won't grill me on the details."

"Most importantly," he said out loud to his wife (who, by the way, knows about as much about plants as Mark does about armor), "It should be something that we will never, ever, ever -- not in a million years -- ever see in kit form."

His heart racing at the possibilities, Mark got out of bed and ate his usual breakfast of Wheaties, two bananas, and a kale and brussels sprout smoothie. It was while watching an old episode of Three's Company and thinking what it would be like to live with two twenty year-old women that the subject hit him. "I'll scratchbuild a KV-5! It's cool as heck, it never made it beyond the design phase, and most modelers won't even recognize it." Mark called his friend Graham and joked, "There's a better chance of our seeing three kits of the Object 279 than our ever seeing a KV-5," and the two laughed harder than they had the first time they watched The Flying Leathernecks starring John Wayne.

Over the following years Mark gathered what reference material he could find, which amounted to simple drawings and one-page summary of the tank's concept, which he somehow translated from its original Russian. That may be the real magic of this story!

Anyhoo, Mark was eventually able to begin building his next masterpiece. The only commercial parts it contains are roadwheels and suspension arms from Trumpeter's KV-2, drive wheels modified from an IS-2, Friulmodel track, and eventually two T-34 engines. Everything else is scratchbuilt and, get this, features armor that is scale in thickness! The model is no secret to modelers in the Columbus, Ohio area. Mark has been showing it to friends and fellow modelers, using it as a tool to teach simple and complex scratchbuilding techniques. (Mark is always eager to share what he's learned.)

Fast-forward a couple of years to last week, May 16 to be precise. Takom announces its upcoming KV-5 in 1/35 scale. And the following day Trumpeter announces its kit. What would you do?

I spoke with Mark on Friday evening, and he's taking it all in stride. Because he's using his model as a teaching aid, he said he's in no hurry to finish it, predicting its completion later this year, probably well after both the Takom and Trumpeter kits hit the shelves. Most of us would be seriously bummed out to be in Mark's position, but he's interested to see how his kit compares to the two commercial offerings. He's particularly curious to see if the models are based on drawings made for the World of Tanks video game. He's already noticed a couple of subtle differences.

Here are a few photos of Mark's KV-5. I hope you enjoy it. I can't wait to see it finished!

So there you go. I think you will agree that Mark Muller officially had the worst week ever. 

My thanks to Mark for his allowing me to share his story. I've been fortunate to call him a friend for nearly 25 years, and he is truly one of the nicest and most generous modelers I've ever met. Thanks also to Graham Holmes for the photos.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Video book reviews are the future

Last summer I wrote about why most book reviews suck, but I found someone who knows how to do a good book review. Sort of.

It's not really a "review" per se. A review provides an objective assessment. What we really want to know is what does the book contain? For modelers, we want to know not just how many pictures it has, but how large are they? Are they clear? Are they in color? Will it help us build better or more accurate models?

The folks over at MMP Books have found a great way to showcase their products. They're using YouTube to show you literally every page of their releases. Here's one for their book on the MiG-15.

Real reviewers take note! There's no better way to assess the real quality of books, particularly those that are photo-intensive.

If the kit reviews I'm seeing on YouTube are any indication (like this one for the Kitty Hawk 1/48 Jaguar), the medium is quickly becoming a great way to show new products. Books should be no exception.

Friday, May 9, 2014

5 ways to pass the time

How do you stay in the hobby when you're away from the bench? That's this month's topic from The Sprue Cutter's Union.

 Several years ago I was crossing a street in New York City and was hit by a car. I broke my wrist as a result of the subsequent fall, which required surgery to fix and a couple of months to heal. Needless to say, I didn't get much modeling done during that time, and ironically my urge to work on a model was never greater!

There are times in our lives when we have to take time away from the workbench for one reason or another. Maybe you have to travel for work. Family obligations require your attention. The holidays call you to one gathering after another. But even during those times, I remain engaged in the hobby. Truth be told, I think about scale modeling a lot, more than I care to admit to anyone outside of my circle of modeling friends, even when I haven't had my hands on plastic for weeks.

I'll bet you're not much different, so here are five ways that I stay in the hobby when I'm away from the workbench.

1. Watch military-themed movies. Nothing gets me more excited about a project than watching a good war movie. When we're working on models it's easy to focus so much on the craftsmanship that we forget the real-world application of those aircraft, tanks, and ships, and the people who manned them. I won't recommend any movies because I know you have your favorites!

2. Deep dive into the forums. Here's something I bet you've never done. When you don't have the time to sit at the bench, go to your favorite forum and click far back into its conversations, maybe to 2010 or further, depending on how long the forum's been around. You'd be surprised at how much great information is there waiting for you to find it. This is particularly good for newcomers.

3. Catalog your stash. If you haven't cataloged your stash, you should, especially if you have more than 50 models. It's a great resource for your every day usage (ever catch yourself asking, "Do I already have a Tamigawa Fruitbat Mk. Vc?") and a better resource for insurance planning. God forbid your house should catch fire, you'll want to show the insurance adjuster proof of the substantial investment you had. Of course you'll want to store that information in the cloud somewhere. I recommend Dropbox or Box. Or simply email a copy to yourself every few months.

4. Browse your stash. If you're not building the models in your stash, the next best thing to do is look at them. Take some time to peruse what you have and consider the possibilities. Extend your browsing into your collection of aftermarket parts and decals and your excitement is sure to prepare you for your next project.

5. Call friends. Sadly, my closest friends live many states away from me, so when I'm not actively working on a model I always enjoy picking up the phone and talking to them. We always have something interesting to discuss, and I always come away from the conversations more excited than I was before.
One final suggestion, as heretical as it is to this month's Union topic. It's okay to disengage from the hobby from time to time. Life is bigger than our hobby, and it's good to spend time with family and to pursue other interests. I love to cook -- probably should've been a chef -- so I enjoy a day in the kitchen almost (almost!) as much as I do a day in the workshop. If you're passionate about scale modeling as I am, that interest will be there, even when you're away from it for a time.