Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 year-end review

As we enjoy these final days of 2014 I can't help but look back and think about what happened in our hobby, reflect on what we've talked about, and think about the kits and aftermarket that we most enjoyed.

If you're a long-time reader of Scale Model Soup you may recall that the last two years I published a series of posts as I selected the best online build, best WIP, biggest surprise, kit of the year, etc. I find myself unable to do that for 2014 because our hobby and community are as vibrant as they've ever been, and selecting just one of anything is nearly impossible. Instead, I thought I'd share some general thoughts about what resonated with me this year.

The year of the decal

My best friend declared 2014 the "Year of the Decal," and I think he's right. Speed Hunter Graphics, the decal arm of Reid Air Publications, stepped up in late 2013 to fill the void left by Afterburner Decals and released several great decals for fans of modern aircraft. It's easy to believe that Jake has a backlog of many exciting sheets that we'll see next year. Furball Aero-Design has also become a powerhouse in this small niche. In 2014 they released three sets of decals for the new Kitty Hawk Cougars, four for the Hobbyboss and Trumpeter Intruders, and four for Vietnam-era Phantoms.

Likewise Caracal Models has been more prolific than ever releasing 30 sheets in 2014 with more coming in 2015, including a set of B-1B markings and decals for the F-117 that include weapons bay art. Vagabond Decals gave us one of the coolest decal releases of the year for the new Wolfpack and Trumpeter T-38s; product 48-006 allows you to create literally any T-38 used by the USAF Thunderbirds. That's 73 options, my friends!

For armor modelers, Bison Decals released a ton of really interesting new decals under their new brand called Star Decals.

The power of conversation

2014 was also about the power of conversation. There were disappointing releases (hyperbolic rivet counters would describe them as crap), which as you might expected generated a great deal of conversation online, around contest tables, and at club meetings.

The conversation that dominated the year was the flap around Eduard's 1/48 Bf-109G. Despite the company's reputation for quality, they produced a kit that was slightly over-scale and featured a number of minor flaws that raised the ire of rivet counters around the world. Eduard, being a company of integrity, quickly announced they would re-tool the kit to address the errors. There was similar conversation about the Great Wall Hobby F-15, and they too stepped up to address most of the issues in subsequent releases.

Within the armor community this 14-page discussion on Armorama highlighted modelers' frustration with Dragon's M103. Dragon responded to the feedback and slightly re-tooled the molds for their follow-on release of the kit under the Black Label series.

Revell Germany had a great idea this year and set up a website where modelers could upload a photograph of a desired car and then opened the suggestions to customer vote. This gave Revell invaluable feedback on what modelers wanted and allowed modelers to (possibly) decide what the company’s next automotive models might be. Time will tell if this generates interesting models from Germany in 2015 or beyond.

Are these a sign of manufacturers' willingness to respond to feedback from customers? Perhaps, but I don't think it's likely to be pervasive. For every re-tooling of one poorly researched kit there are several that go ignored. It seems that some manufacturers are content producing models that are accurate enough for the majority of modelers. That's not a bad think per se, as we're getting subject matter many of us only dreamed about 20 years ago, but if that's true we should reset our expectations to avoid the anxiety and resentment that follows every new model that fails to live up to our desires.


I joked (half-joked, really) in this post about the harsh reality that most of us will die without having built all of the models in our respective stashes. The manufacturers are making it worse as they continue to give us dozens of new releases!

In 2014 we finally saw the long-awaited 1/32 A-6 from Hobby Boss and were surprised by the release of their YF-23. Revell released its 1/48 PT-17 Stearman, which some might argue is, dollar for dollar, the best kit of the year.

MPM, Special Hobby, and AZ Models released a number of interesting 1/72 kits, including very nice models of the AH-1 Cobra, a subject which until now has been served only by Monogram's crude tooling from the 70s. We also finally got Academy's long-overdue KC-135s in 1/144.


Armor modelers gobbled up a seemingly endless line of T-62, T-64, and T-80 variants from Trumpeter. Mirror Mirror Models and IBG Models have churned out extensive lines of softskin vehicles that have long been ignored.

With the subject matter from World War Two slowly drying up (is it?) Takom and others jumped on board the Wayback Machine gave us World War One armor, and Meng released the FT-17. Who would have thought we'd have an injected-molded kit of the French heavy tank St.Chamond as well as male and female versions of the Mk. IV!


2014 was an interesting year for the racing enthusiast and modeler. It certainly seems the bigger the scale the more interest a model earned, with the boutique small production manufacturers tending toward 1/12th scale releases.

Model Factory Hiro leads the way with quite a few new offerings. They released full detail kits of the Brabham BT46/46B Fan Car and the McLaren MP4/5B. Ebbro had a fantastic year with some wonderful classic cars from the 60s and 70s added to their range, such as the Team Lotus Type 72C 1970, Team Lotus Type 72C Rob Walker, Team Lotus Type 72E 1973, Team Lotus Type 49 1967, Team Lotus Type 49B 1968, Tyrrell Type 003 Monaco 1971, and Tyrrell Type 002 1971 German GP (Cevert). Aoshima have been promising the McLaren MP4/2 for some time now and has created plenty of interest as this model has been available only as a multimedia kit, so for those who do not want to spend a lot of money, this injected release is quite exciting.

The current trend from manufacturers has been “vintage” F1 kits, with F1 mainstays Tamiya and Fujimi producing no new models of contemporary cars. Maybe licensing fees on these older cars are lower, or maybe it’s simply easier to get details on them. Surely racing teams are reluctant to release details of their latest challengers; for example, the engine on the Tamiya Red Bull RB6 was basically a blob, so it was more of a kerbside build. Another possibility...we modelers are an aging group, so maybe our interests lie more towards the older generation cars.

One of the best trends for the automotive modeler, as well as other areas of the hobby, has been the use of 3D printing. This has opened the doors to some very interesting products. They’re not cheap, but if you really want it and this is your only option….why not?

Parting shots

The most important release of 2014 in my opinion -- though not the best kit, mind you -- was the Airfix 1/24 Typhoon. Having seen it at the IPMS Nats, it's an outstanding model. The level of detail is mindblowing, with the kit building up almost like the actual aircraft. While there are other kits on the market with more detail, none can be had in the $110-125 pricepoint. Airfix is on a roll, providing affordability and value. Airfix won't be giving us another 1/24 scale kit next year, but we are sure to see a number of other models that are sure to fit any modeler's budget.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the end-of-year surprise from Wingnut Wings, the 1/32 Felixstowe. I wrote earlier in the year about my fascination with seaplanes, so this model completely piqued my interest. I was willing to spend the $250 on the model knowing it will be arguably the best kit of 2014, but the reality of its size and complexity convinced me to forgo the purchase. It's a little too far outside my comfort zone, and frankly there are dozens of other models that I'm likely to find more compelling over the next 30 years. Nonetheless, I can't wait to see the Felixstowe on contest tables next year. If you've never attended an IPMS contest before, the possibility of seeing this kit in-the-flesh should draw you out of your basement!

Even after my article about painting what you see, someone went onto one of the popular forums and asked, "What color red is right for the F-4 speedbrakes?" Another asked, "Can someone tell me what is the difference between regular white, Insignia White, and RML21?" Seriously guys, red is red and white is white. Don't over-think it.

The year's best example of hyperbole comes from comments about the Hobby Boss F-80, which one rivet counter said failed to "remotely begin to represent the aircraft that it's advertised to represent." Really? Y'know, I've learned to love rivet counters, but comments like that turn my stomach.

The year's biggest WTF moment comes to us in this bizarre video from Eduard to promote their outstanding 1/72 MiG-15bis.

Well, that was 2014. Looking into next year, Trumpeter and Hobbyboss have previewed most of their 2015 catalog, and Airfix announced a number of their upcoming releases. As always, what most excites me the most is what we don't know about!

A Happy New Year to all of you.

My thanks to Shayne over at Motorsport Modeller for his input to the automotive commentary above. I don't participate in every part of the hobby, so his thoughts were crucial to providing a more comprehensive view of the hobby in 2014. If you have even a passing interest in motorsports, be sure to check out his blog.

You'll notice I don't have any commentary on naval releases. If you're an avid ship modeler and would like to contribute to Scale Model Soup, drop me a line at scalemodelsoup@gmail.com.

Monday, December 15, 2014

6 downsides to being a scale modeler

Being a scale modeler isn't easy at times. Aside from the typical challenges of filling seams, using an airbrush, rigging a bi-plane, and dealing with "that guy" at contests, there are the more mundane issues we face on a regular basis. Here are six experiences that you may have muddled through.

1. Deciding when to tell your new girlfriend that you build models

You've been dating a beautiful, sexy, vivacious woman for several months, and you've carefully hid your hobby from her. "What's behind that door?" she asks, pointing to your workshop. "Oh, that's just a closet. Nothing to see there," you tell her. Your weekend at the IPMS National Convention was explained as a weekends with your college buddies (true story!). But now it's time to tell her. Dealbreaker? There's only one way to find out.

2. Sneaking new models into the house

If you're not on the dating scene you're happily married and your wife supports your hobby...more or less. She doesn't understand why, given your big stash, you need to buy more kits. You've tried to explain it -- the appeal of all of those cool schemes for the Phantom, the intricate differences between wet and dry stowage Sherman turrets -- but she just doesn't understand. Now you have to resort to sneaking new kits into the house. Late at night. When she's out with the girls. In an empty Revell 1/48 B-1B box. Despite the challenge and risks though, like Walter White, you enjoy getting away with it.

3. Trying to look rugged as you look for diorama supplies in the dry flower aisle in Michael’s

I'm looking at you armor and diorama modelers. You know that certain dried flowers provide the basis for convincing foliage in 1/35 scale, but how do you browse the dried flower section in stores and still look like the tough, rugged man you are? Early in the day is best, and a leather jacket doesn't hurt. Better yet, bring your wife or girlfriend.

4. Realizing you’ll never build all of those models in your stash

Holy crap, you're approaching 50! You sit in your workshop staring at your impressive collection of unbuilt kits. You know the exact paint scheme and markings you're going to use for each and every one of them, but then you realize that at your current rate of productivity there's a very strong likelihood that your Meng M2A3 or the Hobby Boss A-10 will be sitting on that very same shelf unbuilt when you die 20 or 25 years from now. Sad but true.

5. Watching your LHS close knowing that it’s partly your fault

You fondly remember your first hobby shop and always look forward to visiting the hobby shop in your town. But this week you learned it's closing and, being the intelligent person you are, you realize that its closing is due in part to your many purchases from the online retailers, eBay, the trading discussion groups. Sure, you've saved some money, but where are you going to buy that bottle of Olive Drab now when you need it at the last minute? We reap what we sow.

6. Being unable to watch a war movie without pointing out the inaccuracies

You're 10 minutes into a great war movie and then, boom! The producers made a mistake (the passengers in that Huey are holding a conversation as if they're sitting in a Camry!) and it ruins the movie for you. Has there ever been a perfect movie? Probably not, but we keep holding out for it and complaining as we go.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Creative ideas for bases

The right base can set your model apart from the others in a contest or simply when displayed in your home. A base highlights a model as a frame complements a drawing, print, or painting. Finding suitable bases can be a challenge, so here are a few ideas that you might not have considered.

Award plaques

Check with local award shop, the businesses that provide trophies and plaques to schools and sports leagues. Many will sell you the blank wood bases used for award plaques outright, and they sometimes have plaques that have gone unsold that you can buy on the cheap.

If you're lucky to have won at a few contests over the years, you can re-purpose the awards as display bases. I've never been one to have a "love me" wall where I display all my winnings (there really aren't that many), so I sometimes remove the aluminum applique from an award, apply rectangular sheet plastic painted to represent flightline, tarmac, or groundwork, and boom! I have a nice base.

Here's an Egyptian T-34/122 conversion on a wood award base, with groundwork created from Celluclay.

Here's a 1/72 F-16A on a base from which I've removed the applique. All it needs is a piece of suitably sized and painted plastic to make it complete. Or a mirror even.

Draw organizers

Visit any home furnishing store and you'll find a variety of wood boxes that are used for organizing the contents of kitchen or bathroom drawers. You can paint them (or not), flip them over, and apply a piece of plastic to represent a flightline or groundwork. The Container Store is a particularly good source for these.

Here's a 1/72 Gripen on a narrow organizer (which I have yet to paint and finish) but you can see the general effect that a higher base provides.

Wall cubes

When you’re at a home furnishing store with SHMBO, look for the deep, square cubes that are intended to be mounted on a wall for displaying bric-a-brac. I’ve seen them in black, white, and oak. Laid flat with a suitable surface applied they provide a pedestal for displaying models.


Frames can provide the, um, framework, for a variety of eye-catching bases. Michael’s, HomeGoods,  and similar shops have a huge variety of bases, so think creatively as you browse the store. Each of the models below rests on a base created from a frame.

Cabinet doors

If you have a cabinet shop near you, they may have surplus cabinet doors for sale. You can find them in many shapes and sizes, so look for those that will fit certain types or sizes of models. For example, a long and narrow aircraft or vehicle (such as my Su-15 below or an SdKfz 231 8-rad) will look good on a long narrow base, while a shorter aircraft or vehicle (MiG-3 or Pzkpfw Ib) will look good on a square base.

 If you need a large base for your next epic, Letterman-esque diorama, I found these at Ikea a couple of years ago. I don't remember exactly how much they cost, but I they were affordable given their size.

Tissue boxes

Yes, tissue boxes. There are homeowners who wish to hide their tissues (these are the same people who buy knit cozies for their spare toilet paper), so you can find these unfinished boxes at Michael's and other craft stores very inexpensively. Here's one I'm working on, which will ultimately be painted black and a surface applied to better show of this 1/48 A-4 Skyhawk.

Craft store bases

One final option are the unfinished bases you find at most craft stores. Please pardon me if I get on a soapbox, but when I've seen them used to display models at contests, they usually look cheap and shabby and almost always detract from what are otherwise excellent models. Unless you're a master woodworker, I suggest using one of the options I've described here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Me and Squadron's Black Friday sale

Another Squadron Black Friday sale has come and gone, but the echo of complaints will echo well into the week. I thought it might be useful to take a step back, take a deep cleansing breath, and consider the place that Squadron's annual sale has acquired within the hobby and to share my thoughts about their sale, which I did not take advantage of this year.

After reading several discussions on the forums this weekend, I came to a big realization: we're spoiled. Simple as that. We expect epic sales. We expect to buy a lot of models with very little money.

It began several years ago with Squadron's first Black Friday sale. If I recall correctly, they offered 50 percent off if you spent $300...with free shipping. Friends, a sale doesn't get much better than that. That said, if the wholesale value is generally 40 percent of retail, I honestly don't know how Squadron made money that year, particularly when you factor in the cost of mailing what, for most of us, were large parcels.

Over the following years Squadron has progressively increased the minimum order to enjoy the maximum discount while decreasing the discount. It's easy to see why so many modelers have had strong reactions. They've come to feel entitled to deep discounts, but the truth is, Squadron is running a business and seeking to make money, so they have the right to offer promotions that they believe will drive sales and maximize profits. It's a bummer that we don't enjoy half-off pricing, but that's life. Accept it or continue to work yourself into a collective frenzy.

As I said up-front, I didn't order from Squadron this weekend. I could have. I had a list of models that exceeded the $500 threshold, due in part to three 1/32 scale jets (which coincidentally were out of stock during last year's sale), but I decided not to pull the trigger. As enticing as the sale was (even one that's less than 50 percent), I had to a personal sanity check and realized:

  • I have more models than I can build in my lifetime. Never mind how many, but I pretty much have everything that I "need," more than enough to make me happy. Most of what I could have bought this weekend would've been impulse purchases made for no other reason than to take advantage of a good sale.
  • I really don't need to start building 1/32 models. I'm a 1/72 scale guy who's intrigued by large-scale models, but after reading a post from Jon of The Combat Workshop -- about how much time his current 1/32 F-16 building is consuming compared to his usual 1/48 scale kits -- I realized that the Trumpeter 1/32 F-105 in my stash will satisfy my need to explore a large scale project when the time comes.
  • I have lots of stuff in my eBay watch list awaiting purchase. Sixty items to be precise, and most of it is aftermarket for models that I already own. I should probably buy those before bringing new projects into the stash.

This is the first time that I didn't take advantage of Squadron's sale, and guess what? I'm alive and well. I don't regret not purchasing anything. I'm not angry at Squadron because a few models that I wanted were out of stock. I remembered that I don't have to buy. I can choose to spend my money in productive ways, in ways that advance my enjoyment of the hobby, and not in response to an enticing offer. I think that makes me a smart consumer.