Scratch Building Starship Models, Part 1

I’ve been meaning to do a post about how I build the models that appear on my novel covers for some time now, so here we go. I can’t fit all these pictures and explanations into a single post, so this time we’ll talk about Designs and Mounting Systems.

I’ll be using the last model I built for the Corvette novella’s, the SS Kootenai for construction examples. You can find a Google Photo Album with tons more reference pictures from this build, here. If this kind of thing really interests you and you want to try your hand at it, there are a couple of places to get more information. First of all, this DVD is where I learned many new techniques and it’s from a former ILM modeler, Fon Davis. Recently, Adam Savage did a One Day Build using similar techniques to what I will show you here. The Fon Davis video is golden, and far more detailed than Adam’s quick video.

Design

It always starts with pencil sketches or doodle drawings where I play with shapes until I have something that interests me. The original Corvette model was an older design and it set the style for the industrial design of future starships in the series. It was basically a three section ship with a head, a body and an engine separated by gridwork beams. Below is the sketch I originally drew of the Weippe.

To show that starship design is evolving, I wanted the much newer Kootenai ship to be sleeker but also share many design cues from the Weippe.

Above is my pencil sketch for the Kootenai. The shapes are similar for the head and the body but the engine is now one long tube instead of a separate section. I have already built models of what these starships look like later in the series so this design is a morph of the old, Weippe style and the next generation of warships. Below is a picture of a later model design, the GCU Griffin. You can see they are now all just boxes in line with a spine that’s a cylinder.

One of the first decisions you have to make is what scale to build your models. This is usually determined by how close you’re going to be getting when photographing them, and by how much space you have to store it afterward. I’ll never build models the size of the Star Destroyers from Star Wars (8 Feet) because I don’t have a warehouse to store them in. So long ago I chose the ship model scale of 1/350 for my large starships. When I do smaller ships, I usually build them to 1/32 or 1/24 scale.

If the model is small enough, I will usually formalize the shape with a paper blueprint. Below you can see the blueprint I created for the Kootenai.

Once again, your model will have its own styling cues but for these models, I use simple block structures with tubes made from PVC pipes. So the main engine cylinder is going to be a one-inch diameter PVC pipe. The burnt orange colored block in the picture above is a material called RenShape. This is what ILM uses as the interior mount point for their models. It’s a polycarbonate block that you can easily drill a hole through and then tap for set screws. Hollywood types use a C-Stand to hold their models up when photographing them and C-stands have 1/2 inch metal rods that can be articulated in just about any direction. Lighting crews usually put heavy lights on them, so your plastic model will never be too heavy for a C-stand to hold up.

Here’s another, later model starship on a C-stand having its picture taken. The knobs are called Gobo Heads and let you position the model while keeping a firm grip on the mounting rod.

Mount Points

Since we seem to be discussing this already, let me explain how I do mounts for my models. This was a huge mystery to me for a number of years. I saw the ILM crews putting models on bluescreen covered mounts with metal rods in pictures. But I didn’t understand how they kept the models from spinning around the rods. It wasn’t until I found former ILM’er Fon Davis’s videos that I discovered the secret.

What they use is an industrial material called RenShape. Now the only place I’ve found this material is online direct from the manufacturer and it’s not cheap! But they do offer a grab box of samples that are perfectly sized for the models I make. I take a block of this RenShape and postion it in the middle of the model or where the center of gravity is. Then I determine how many directions I need to place a mountting rod. Usually it’s left and right side and front and back side. I drill out 1/2 inch holes where the rods from the C-stand will go and then I drill a smaller hole and tap it for a set screw. This set screw is how you keep the model from spinning on the rod and you have to make sure that you can get to it to tighten it and untighten it as needed.

Above is a block of RenShape with the mount holes drilled and the set screw protruding from the top. Below you see the set screw which is smaller than the tap, the tap and the screw that goes inside. The red handled Alan wrench is how you turn the set screw to tighten it. You have to have a long handle on it because usually, it’s deep inside your model.

These items can be purchased at your local home improvement store like Home Depot. The bottom picture is soft, but you can see the set screw meeting up with the rod inside the RenShape. This is a different model, by the way.

Below you can see another benefit of RenShape. You can epoxy plastic directly to it, because it’s part plastic itself!

I didn’t always know how to do this, and so I’ve used all kinds of things for mounts in the past. All of them inferior to the RenShape and rod. If your spaceship model will never be photographed in a studio, it probably doesn’t need this kind of mount. Static display model mounts are covered elsewhere on the internet and you can search them out pretty easily.

Prototyping

One other subject I wanted to touch on before moving on to the building up of the model using styrene is prototyping. Plastic sheets of (Styrene) are expensive, and if you’re not sure how your design will look, or if it has complicated angles or something, you will want to build a prototype in a cheaper medium. For these times, I resort to building a prototype model out of poster board. Yes, the dime store white cardstock that kids make posters from for school projects. It’s cheap and all you need to build with it is Elmer’s white glue, a hobby knife, scissors, and a ruler and pencil.

When I first started building models of my own design, all of them were built from cardboard. Below is a model my friend and I made for a film we made in Junior High School. It’s older than many people reading this blog, and it’s made entirely of cardboard. So is the one under it from the same vintage.

But for prototyping, you just need to rough out the shape, so it doesn’t have to look good. When I built the cover model for K’Nat Trap, I had to do the whole model in cardboard to get the strange angles right. The upside to doing that was that now I had a template in the same scale to build it in styrene.

Next post we’ll get into boxing and framing with sheet styrene.

 

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Short Stories Now On Kobo

Are you a fan of short fiction? Did you read the Star Saga books and wish there were more stories set in that universe? Really? Wow, I thought only I wanted that. Cool. Well, if you want more Devon Ardel, Red Allen and Thirty-seven, you’re in luck. Just head on over to your phone’s app store and get the Kobo ebook app. Then you can start downloading ebooks of all my short stories set in the Star Saga universe. Kobo is the exclusive publisher for my short fiction. You can’t get these stories on Amazon or anywhere else in ebook format.

Each short story ebook will set you back a whole US dollar! So choose wisely. Collect them all for hours of reading adventure.

There are eleven individual shorts and one anthology – Tales From Ocherva, that contains many of them. I’ll be adding more stories soon, and from now on when I write a new short story, they will appear on Kobo, and nowhere else!

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Corvette 3 Paperback Edition

Corvette 3, Pirate’s Lair is now available in 5×8 paperback, exclusively on Amazon. As of this writing, it has not been linked to the ebook offering page, but I expect that to change next week. When you buy the paperback, you will get the ebook for FREE. So if you like to have two versions of a book for convenience sake, like me, this is the better value.

I’m mulling the possibility of creating a Trilogy Paperback in a larger format, probably Trade Paperback. Let me know if this interests you. It would cost less than if you were to buy all three in paperback. I’m less likely to offer a similar ebook because Amazon already bundles it for me.

I’m done with this series for now. My immediate writing efforts are going towards completing Kill Dash Nine, the next Joshua Jones Mystery novel. Once that’s finished I can come back to Destroyer.

 

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What’s Next for Corvette?

The Corvette Trilogy is now complete with the publication of Pirate’s Lair. The next trilogy in this Starship Series, that’s what I’m calling it for lack of a better descriptor, is called the Destroyer Trilogy. Our hero, Captain Armon Vance is now on a Tin Can and on a new set of missions. I hope to start writing the first book, Declo Demons this fall. Look for it in the first half of 2019.

The series will take a dark and different turn with this middle trilogy as Vance searches for his former First Officer – Trin Lestor. Declo Demons will be a loose retelling of the literary classic, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Sort of like how Appocolapse Now retold the story in Vietnam, Declo Demons will retell the story on a distant planet.

  

Middle books of a trilogy are usually darker and this middle trilogy will be edgier and darker, right from the get-go. It takes place five years after the first trilogy and its set mostly on the jungle world of Declo where the dominant technology is diesel and the hunt for oil drives humans and aliens deeper into the darkest jungle. I’m super excited to write this book as I’ve already outlined it and the story is really going to be a fun read.

Above is a dirigible/boat that has inspired a craft in the story. Below are some aliens and humans that have also inspired the story.

    

It’s going to be a wild ride and I can’t wait to share it with you next year!

 

 

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Welcome to the Center of the Universe

This summer my family and I visited the tiny scenic town of Wallace, Idaho. Wallace is primarily known for two things; it’s the town you see in Dante’s Peak that gets destroyed by a volcano and it’s the Center of the Universe. To be sure, you can stand in the middle of the town’s main street, right in the center of the universe and feel like you’re on a bonafide movie set.

Here’s the family selfie we shot with the famous manhole cover. I’ve wanted to come to Wallace and take this picture for years after my wife had done so on a business trip. How cool is it to say you’ve been to the center of the universe? Especially a Sci-Fi nerd like me!

Below is a close up that I think everyone takes in addition to the above selfie.

If you look down the street, this is the view you have, straight out of Dante’s Peak.

Now I’m a huge fan of Douglas Adams and it’s kind of hard to actually go to the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, but you can definitely go to Wallace and claim that you’ve been to the Center Of The Universe.

Needless to say, we had a great time in Wallace. We toured a silver mine with a retired miner, walked the Polaski Trail and had lots of Huckleberry desserts. If you ever get to Idaho, you simply have to visit Wallace. Find the Prime Minister of Wallace, Rick Shaffer, you can’t miss him, he’s the tallest human in town, and tell him Ken McConnell sent you. Oh, and get a selfie with Rick, because he’s a Hoopy Frood!

 

 

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Corvette: Pirate’s Lair

It’s a few months later than I anticipated, but it’s finally here. The exciting final book of the Corvette Trilogy. But don’t worry, Vance and crew will be back again in a new trilogy, early next year. Look for Destroyer: Declo Demons which will be the first book of the middle trilogy for this Starship Series.

In the meantime, enjoy this one and tell all your friends it’s out! The paperback will follow in a month or so.

Corvette: Pirate’s Lair

Commander Vance and his crew are about to launch their new Corvette, the SS Kootenai, with orders to find and kill the ruthless pirate Captain Vynn. There’s just one problem; the only person who knows where his secret lair is located is currently serving a life sentence in Federal prison – Trin Lestor.

Will she help find her former lover so that Vance can kill him? Or will she lead him into a trap in the pirate’s lair known as Kamaia? Join Vance, Boxer, and Rizzo on their most dangerous mission yet as they battle Vynn to the death.

The exciting conclusion to the Corvette Trilogy is a fast-moving, and action-packed ride from start to finish.

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Seiko Prospex PADI

As regular followers of my Twitter account have no-doubt noticed, I tend to take pictures of my watches when I write or edit during my lunchtime sprints. Somehow the #WatchAndWords hashtag has never really caught on. Usually, I’m sporting my Hamilton Khaki Mechanical. But lately, I’ve been wearing a new Seiko diver.

I probably would not have gotten this watch had it not been offered to me for free through an employee gift program, but now that it’s in my rotation, I’m enjoying it. It sits on my wrist very comfortably and it looks good on either the included bracelet or any number of colorful NATO bands. Would I actually purchase one then? Yes, but not the PADI Pepsi. I’d probably go for the black dial version.

The one thing I have learned from wearing a diver for a month now is that I do appreciate the look more now. In the future, I could see getting a more upscale diver such at Tudor’s Black Bay 65 or heaven forbid, a Rolex Submariner.

I’m still not crazy about the arrow minute hand. The blue radiant dial is pretty in direct sunlight.

The watch wears colorful NATO’s really well, especially this patriotic tri-color one.

I also have a nicer bracelet but I found it to be too heavy and chunky for my tastes. Perhaps I can use it on another watch down the line. Getting a bracelet on this watch is not easy. I know watch geeks all faun over the SKX 007 Seiko diver, but if you don’t mind spending a bit more, I can heartily recommend this one instead. It has more features and still sports the classic Seiko diver features.

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A Five Book Trilogy

There are five books in the first trilogy of my Star Saga series. It’s called the Starforgers Era or Trilogy but it really consists of five books and one anthology of related short stories. Each numbered book is a novel and each in between book is a novella focusing on the lead good and bad characters respectively.

Starforgers is Book 1 of the entire series and the first book of the Starforgers Trilogy. But before you go off and read book 2, take a gander at Devon’s Blade, a novella set between books one and two. Then you can carry on with The Rising, Book 2. Before rushing off to finish the trilogy, read The Blood Empress novella. Now finally, you have Counterattack, Book 3 of the trilogy. But wait, there’s more…

Did you enjoy the introduction of the heroin, Devon Ardel, when she was a Stellar Ranger in Starforgers? Then feast your eyes on this anthology set before book one. Silicants, Rangers, and Space Western goodness await you in Tales From Ocherva, Vol 1. Is there a Volume 2? Not at this time.

Okay, you got all of that? Good.

Now, here’s where the Corvette books come in.

Corvette is book one of a planned nine-book series of novella’s that follow the career of Armon Vance. This series consists of three trilogies, each set a number of years apart. The final book in the series takes place at the time of Starforgers, Book 1 of the Star Saga. The first book, Corvette takes place 20 + years before Corvette, for perspective. There is about a year between each book inside the trilogies.

Corvette Trilogy ~ 5 years ~ Destroyer Trilogy ~ 10 years ~  Explorer Trilogy  –>  Starforgers Trilogy

Clear as mud? Okay now go read, I’ve got a ton of books to write!

 

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Ye Old Stellar Map

Twenty years ago I drew a map in MS Paint. It was based on the shape of a barred galaxy and it showed the Alliance planets and the Votainion Empire planets of what would become known as my Star Saga series of novels. Although at that time, I had yet to write even one novel, much less a series of them. But as the years progressed and my writing output increased, I always came back to this map to keep everything clear, at least in my mind.

If you’ve read any of the Star Saga novels or the novellas some of these places will be familiar to you. In looking at the map I have noticed the glaring absence of a very significant planet in the series – Ocherva. It should be located in the Outer Rim worlds near Negram and Alifax. I guess I need to update the old map. If I knew any talented artists who could render this map over a galaxy using cool fonts and other map making tools, I would commision a better version. But until then, I keep using this bit-mapped image from my youth as a guide to my future writings.

Above is a patched version of the map that now includes Ocherva.

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Automated Paper Shredder

My son Spencer was given the task of shredding a big box of old financial papers for us. His response was to automate the task using his Arduino microcontroller. He built an auto feeder with a stepper motor and a wheel and some cardboard. Then he put a light sensor over the jam light panel to detect a jam, which then turns off the feeder and sounds an audible alarm.

I think this kid might be an Engineer. Also, I may be raising my replacement at HP.

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