Sunday Morning Daddy/Daughter Model Project

Once again, my daughter and I took to the workbench on Sunday and tackled a pair of Italeri 1/72 “fast assembly” Pz. Kpfw. V Panther Ausf. G tanks. Each tank has a total of twelve parts, so assembly was a breeze–which gave her more time to pick out her colors. We opted to go with color schemese that–to the best of my knowledge–the Germans never actually used on their tanks. And we didn’t get them finished yet, but we’re working on it.

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Egg-Cracker 2 Underway

I had too much fun on that first Egg-Cracker, so I’m going to try to repeat that (and, in all probability, make myself hate it) by building one at home on the workbench. This time, however, I’m using a 1/76 Maschinen Krieger “Nutrocker” as a constant reference. That’s right. I’m going to try to do this somewhat semi-accurately.

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Sunday Afternoon Daddy-Daughter Model Project & Review: “Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine”

Sunday afternoon, my four year-old daughter and I started and finished a big pre-painted, snap-together model. We had a good time, along with a few moments of assembly frustration, so I thought I’d go ahead and turn it into a kit review.

For our project, I picked up something my daughter’s been wanting to build for a while now: The Scooby-Doo “Mystery Machine” van from Polar Lights. So I drove over to our local HobbyTown USA, snagged it for about $22, and then we were off and running.

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The Softer Side (and Larger World) of Plastic Modeling

Oh sure, most folks have heard of Revell and Monogram. And, depending on where you are in the world, you’re probably familiar with makers like Airfix, Heller, Aoshima, and others. And if you’re a modeler? I’m sure you’ve heard of the big dogs, like Dragon, Tamiya, Hasegawa, and Italeri. Of course, there’s a bunch of other "household names" for modelers out there such as Trumpeter, Hobby Boss, Academy, Bronco Models, Minicraft, and literally dozens more. And that’s just for real-world subjects. When you start going into sci-fi, names like Polar Lights, Aurora, Bandai, Takara, Wave, Kotobukiya, and others are likely to show up high on the list.

They all produce models for mass consumption. Models that you can find on the shelves of virtually any hobby store in the world. Models that tread familiar–and popular–ground. I wouldn’t say that they’re the tip of the proverbial iceberg. They’re more like the floors of a building that you can observe above ground. Exposed to sunlight, and recognizable. There is a basement, however. It’s the place that most people don’t see where objects aren’t as familiar for some. But for those of us looking for the things you don’t "normally" see, it’s the place where we often end up.

This is where you find kit manufacturers like ICM, MPM, AeroPlast, and–to a lesser degree–Eduard. Sure, they make little dents in the mainstream. Eduard kits are easy enough to find, they licensed the kit for the movie "Flyboys", and their recent F6F Hellcat has certainly caught the eye of many modelers. And you can find ICM figures in some Tamiya boxings. On the whole, however, they’re not as well represented. And that’s a good thing. These are plastic kit makers that aren’t trying to run with the big dogs, so they can afford to focus on subjects that might otherwise be overlooked, and certainly never be given recognition in plastic.

I’ve previously built one ICM kit–a 1/72, Polikarpov I-16 Type 24; and I’m currently working on my second ICM project: A 1/72 Polikarpov I-15bis. The kits are just different from mainstream offerings. The sprues aren’t quite up to the same mass-production quality as you’ll find in a Tamiya kit, but the detail tends to be even better than what you’d find in similar, more readily available kits. Whereas a mainstream kit might have three pieces for fuselage halves and the front of the engine cowl, my I-15bis has seven. The cockpit for the I-15bis consists of eight separate pieces. When was the last time you saw that on a 1/72 propeller aircraft kit with a price tag under $10? But it’s not about the numbers. "The devil is in the details"–and that, in combination with the obscurity of the subject matter, is what sells these kits.

Speaking just of my experience with ICM kits–and observation of others–like MPM and AeroPlast, they do things wrong and they do things right (just like everybody else). The engraved detail tends to be a bit more shallow, and the plastic is a bit thicker on parts like the fuselage, but there’s just more detail there. For example, if you wanted to build the kit with a panel removed for engine maintenance, you’d have some engine making to do, but the kit itself would require a lot less surgery. Not only that, but they give you options right in the box. In this I-15bis, there are no less than three different landing gear options. On the other side of that coin are Hasegawa and Dragon–who absolutely love issuing new kits for some airplane or tank that rolled off a 1943 German production line on a Thursday versus the one that rolled out on the previous Monday.

The moral of the story is that there’s a lot more plastic scale models out there than you’re aware of, if you’re new to this. And if you’re not new to this, you may want to give some of these "little guys" a try some time. Some aspects of these kits will most likely impress you, while others–like the shallow engraved lines–may very well distress you. The challenge is greater, but so is the reward.

Do-It-Yourself 1/20 Ma.K. Scratch-Build

(a.k.a. "How To Make A Heinrich Without the Kit")

Just as a one-stop guide to scratch-building a Heinrich, I’ve compiled the following and posted it over at FineScale Modeler.com…

Left side: Scratch-build / Right side: Nitto PKA "Heinrich"

I recently suggested that, if someone were anxious for a Maschinen Krieger "ground suit" (other than those five different A.F.S. variations), they should try their hand at building their own. It’s probably easier than you think to build something resembling the PKA H0/H1 suit, with only one kit being a true "requirement" to get started.

I’ll walk you through the steps I took to make my own, but I’ll also remind you that there are far better modelers out there than I (as if that wasn’t readily apparent), and I hope this inspires you to (1) Try your hand at scatch-building a suit, and (2) Go with the flow and let your own creativity guide you. I’ll also note that this is not a 100% scratch-build, but I will point out where I used "stock" Ma.K. parts and what could be used for substitutions. I also need to note that this isn’t a "canon" Heinrich. It’s just my own little variant.

The Torso – The first thing you’ll need is a 1/48 Hughes OH-6/500D helicopter model, like this:

At last check, there were three different versions of this heli at Squadron.com–all made by Academy. I’d recommend the 500D, as it also has a number of other useful parts for Ma.K. scratch-builds, but that’s just me. As of this writing, I’ve actually started three separate Heinrich-style scratch-builds, but only one is finished. So I’ll mainly be referring to that one, but will point out others as appropriate.

The first step is to glue the main section of the heli together–skipping the interior/exterior details:

From there, you’ll need to cut it down to the size of the Ma.K. torso. The easiest way is to compare it to an actual Ma.K. kit, but you can certainly just "eyeball" it, too. If you’re going for canon-accuracy, you’ll also want to remove the rotor housing (like so), but it’s not necessary as it was more-or-left as is on the Ma.K. "Gustav" suit.

On my completed build, I made it closed canopy, but you can certainly do an open canopy as well. You’ll just need to come up with mechanical details for the cockpit area. For the closed cockpit, you just seal everything up, cut the torso, apply lots of putty, and then sand till you’ve pretty-well wiped out all the seams.

For the open cockpit… In this build, I used parts from a 1/12 motorcycle, a 1/72 B-25J, and plain old Evergreen styrene. I then added a seat, using a section of the "floor" from that same helicopter kit–with some bits of styrene added on.

For the rear of the torso (the "engine"), just make something up. 1/12 motorcycle kits are a great source of parts–as are 1/72 armor builds. Here’s a tacked-together engine I put together for an open cockpit. The exhaust pipe came from an AFS, but there’s a very similar piece that can be pulled from the heli kit. And here’s what I used for the closed cockpit version. Motorcycle parts, 1/72 T34 road wheel, styrene, and Milliput (for the welds).

The shoulders were just styrene pipe, cut to shape. 

Once all that was done, I took a handy-dandy jar of "Mr. Surfacer 500" (a favorite amongst armor modelers) and just dabbed it on using an old brush for that "cast iron" appearance. Here’s a giant picture of the results. Please note that not everything needs that cast texture. I just gave it to the torso itself while leaving the engine, shoulders, windows, and chest protrusion un-textured.

For the front of the torso, I just added on a few pieces that seemed to fit. I can’t even remember where they all came from. I know there were a couple from that 1/72 B-25J and one from the heli kit. I also stuck some brass and random bits to that box/viewfinder, but I can’t remember where I pulled them from. I just "made it up as I went".

A Call to Arms (or for arms… whatever)

The arms were simple. Just styrene pipe. I used a hobby-sized pipe cutter to cut the styrene to length (and also used it to get the upper arms a "seam"). I added some pieces of styrene pipe to the upper arms, just for some additional detail. From there, I used the standard hobby knife to give it some seams, filled the arms with Milliput (later learning that using resin to fill them would have been better/easier), and drilled 1/16" holes into the center of the arms so that they could be "posed" using pieces of copper wire bent to shape. Here’s the results.

The "gun" was actually a recast of the Raptor gun, with details sanded away and then fiddly bits added back on. In lieu of Ma.K. parts, you can just grab the TOW launcher from that 1/48 heli, seeing as it was the donor part for the Gustav’s gun-arm, anyways.

The right hand was another Ma.K. scavenged part. As a substitute, you can use a 1/144 Bandai Zeon-style hand (the B-Club parts work best). Of course, you can always just make your own, too. I made the hand pictured here from a Gundam "Master Grade" hand, styrene, and other odds & ends.

For the arm joints, I used Milliput sculpting putty, water, and a toothpick. Just wrap the putty around the wire, mold it roughly into shape with your finger, gouge out some creases with the point of the toothpick and roll others using the toothpick as a teeny-tiny rolling pin. After that, just use a paintbrush to brush water over the Milliput joints–this will smooth out any hard lines. And here’s my results for that.

Looking at the picture in the above link, a couple other miscellaneous notes… The shoulder "armor" was a pair of fake fingernails, cut down on one side. The skirt holders on the sides of the torso were L-shaped styrene (with some tiny styrene rod cut to the shape of bolt-heads). The front "skirt" was a ping pong ball. And, while I used Ma.K. pieces for the side skirts, these can also be attained via a hacked up ping pong ball. The rear skirt is straight, and was just made from a thicker piece of sheet styrene.

Giving Him A Leg To Stand On (or two!)
The legs are the part of this guy that I’m the least happy with, but they work–and they’re probably also the least noticed part of the finished build.

For the upper part of the legs, I cut two pieces of square styrene tube at an angle, as this best reflects the kit pieces. From there, I used a hobby knife to cut vertical seams into the sides, and added some thin styrene pieces to represent latches.

For the lower legs, I used styrene tube, again with the seam & latches. As with the arms, I filled both leg sections with resin, drilled out 1/16" holes, and connected them with wire. Here’s what it looked like. On the back of the lower legs, I cut out a piece of styrene pipe and attached it, to represent the rear ankle armor.

For the knees, I used styrene tube and some rounded piece I found in the shelving section of a local building supply store. The gray parts in the picture (where the cables attach) were just cut up pieces of some drop tank from a 1/72 aircraft model.

The feet on the PKA H0/H1 are simple affairs, so I just sculpted them from Milliput. I used the inside curve of a smaller fake fingernail to give the front a more uniform appearance. I also used a fair amount of putty & sanding to try to achieve a uniform appearance. The outer ankle armor was styrene attached to styrene rod. The "inner armor" on the insides of the feet was just thin styrene with two holes poked in it with a push pin. Simple, but effective.

As a nearly-last step in the construction phase, I simply added some hoses from Mechaskunk. In retrospect, I’m not happy with their gravity-defying appearance, but oh well… They’re eye-catching, at any rate.

After I got done slinging some paint and pulling decals out of the spares bin, he looked more like this:

Walkaround: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Other shots: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Everything was hand-painted in Tamiya acrylics. Washes with the same. Dry-brushing provided the weathering. Decals were from the spares bin, with a German WWI aircraft decal giving him his (Ma.K. canon) unit marking.

This build was done over nine months ago, and I learned a lot in the process. There’s just as many "what-not-to-do" examples in here as anything else. In other words, I know he has mistakes which I have no intention of repeating. He’s basically a proof-of-concept.

In Closing… I’d just like to thank everyone at maschinenkrueger.com for their continuous input towards my build. The guys there are much better at this than I am. I’d also like to thank FichtenFoo for his input and insprational builds. I’m open to any questions, comments, or constructive criticisms you care to make. And I hope this helps give some folks a direction to look if they feel the insane compulsion to try this on their own. Finally, here’s where he ended up–next to a 95% scratch-built S.A.F.S.
 

I tested the limits of my own sanity by doing that S.A.F.S. scratch-build in seven days… Never again.

And Now A Word About Our Vendor: Starship Modeler

I don’t have an in-progress report to give you–mainly because I don’t have any decent pictures to post. Regardless, I do have something I want to touch upon briefly: Where to buy stuff. Now, you may find yourself in a position where something you’ve seen on my blog–or elsewhere on the net has sparked an interest. You want to see what else is out there. You want to see what’s available and what other (more talented) people are doing. Such a catch-all exists in the shape of StarshipModeler.com.
 
SSM.com has been around a good, long while now, but if you’re just getting interested in this sort of thing, you may not know that. In addition to their news section, they also have review articles on sci-fi kits, online contests, references, and a whole plethora of other things. Two of the more frequently visiting things on their site are their message boards and their online store.
 
On the message boards, you can find build-ups of various models. They have a pretty big focus on North American science fiction, so expect to see a lot of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica builds. You will, however, find considerable variety. In addition, they have message board sections for hobby news, what’s new in their store, and a trading post for those looking to buy or sell sci-fi kits.
 
Their online storefront is a blessing. They carry many resin kits and kit conversions, as well as mainstream plastic kits. In addition, they sell decals, tools, display stands, books… You name it. And–thankfully–they also import kits directly from HobbyLink Japan to sell in North America (and beyond?) for only a modest mark-up. Not only that, but they’re fast. I placed my most recent order on a Thursday afternoon, they mailed it on Friday, and the parcel arrived on my doorstep (via USPS, no less) the following Monday. In short, they’re fast–really fast.
 
So… To sum it all up, if you’ve stumbled across this blog and found something about science fiction that has at least piqued your interest, I highly encourage you to check out StarshipModeler.com. They’ve got something for every sci-fi enthusiast.

Fixing Your Photos: The Simple Way

I haven’t put in any time on the Gustav, but I’ve uploaded some new aircraft model photos. I’ll detail those some other time. Right now, take a look at this:
 
 
On the left, you have an original "raw" photo. On the right, I’ve simply applied some Adobe Photoshop "auto" filters in the following order:
  1. Auto Color
  2. Auto Levels
  3. Auto Contrast
That’s it. You go from a photo with poor color saturation to a photo that is a much better representation of its "real world" colors and providing much better detail. Of course, you can manually adjust all these filters, but these automated filters do a decent job for "quick-and-dirty" picture fixes.