New Starship Models

It’s fall and the temperature here in Boise has finally come down to tollerable levels. This means it’s model building season at House McConnell. My workbench is already dirtied up with bits of plastic and a new model frame on the stand. I have to create two new starship models for an upcoming trilogy of Destroyer novellas.

I’m starting with a Sultran Warship which is loosely based on drawing a buddy of mine did when we were kids. Of course I’m improvising the build and using a bunch of kit bashing parts from the junk bins of the company I work at. I’m hoping that foks won’t recognize anything and that I have used and it will look unique in the universe for which it was built.

There is another warship, slightly smaller that I still haven’t worked out yet. I’m considering something more along the lines of a rocket or perhaps a submarine-like shape. The Sultran ship will be a matte green color, so I might do the opposing forces in silver or something completely different than what we’ve seen before. The stories are set in a distant star system that is not part of the main Federation, and can therefore be very different in just about every way imaginable.

Stay tuned for more progress posts on these models.

Cover Art

We’ve put together a new cover, this time for the Corvette 3 novella. It will be the third book in the Corvette Trilogy and the first and only to feature the new Corvette model. Well, never say never. I mean it could return for a later series appearance. Once again, this cover is put together by my brother, Byron McConnell. Another awesome job by him!

I created the new Corvette a year ago, that’s how far ahead I think. It started with a sketch and finished with a model.

The Kootenai is named for a town in my home state of Idaho. So was Weippe, now that I think about it.

 

 

Cover Models, Corvette 3

The Corvette 3 manuscript is being scrutinized by Beta Readers at the moment, so I have some time to prep the starship models I built for the cover shoot. This began by using canned air to blow the dust off of both the pirate ship and the new corvette. More time was taken on the Kootenai to ensure dust and hairs were removed as it would probably be in the foreground. I had to glue a piece back on that the air can blew off, but other than that, they were good to go.

I still don’t have an exact idea how the ships will be positioned on the cover. I’ll try and replicate a scene from the novella and make it look visually interesting. But the end cover will come alive after a decent Photoshop session from Byron, my cover artist. The color scheme will include mostly blues and oranges. No more black and white covers like Corvette 2.

The title will be orange and the nebula and twin black holes in the background will be blue. I’m going to rely on Byron to make all that. I think the end product will be engaging and fit with the previous covers of the series. Since this is a trilogy and the next books will be called Destroyer, I’ll probably combine three novellas into a single book and charge $1.99 for it. That cover might be just a collage of the other covers.

The ebook should be out at the start of this summer with the paperback version probably coming out in the fall.

 

 

Star Saga Mug

In the things you need that you didn’t know you needed department, I give you my new mug design. It includes all the covers from the first trilogy of the Star Saga. All five books, including the two in-between novellas. The covers are set against a blue-gray field so they pop better and completely wrap around a standard mug. You can purchase this fine product from Redbubble.

Now you can admire the fabulous covers while sipping your favorite hot beverage and if a friend happens to ask you who that Ken McConnell bloke is, you can tell them how much you loved my novels. See what I did there, I created a marketing tool for all my fans to use. If you get this mug, send me a picture of you using it and I’ll tweet it out on Twitter!

Black Star Build, Part 1

This model was going to be a little different from my others. I wanted to build it fast and on the cheap. I didn’t want to spend money on specific model kits for details and I wanted to use just what I had on hand to build it. I work for a large tech company in the valley and I have access to lots of mechanical parts in the garbage bins. I decided to recycle those parts into a bad ass starship. This would save time and money and hopefully produce a model in record time because I was writing the book as fast as I could and that book needed a cover model.

I used these drawings as I wrote the novella and so started with them when it came time to build the Black Star. The ship was originally a long haul transporter with a single big Class C stardrive and lots of modular container pods to store things. Pirates took the transport over in a raid and then slowly converted it to a brutal pirate ship with lots of guns and shielding.

With this in mind, I surveyed my junk pile in the garage and found some parts that would work for the basic frame. A large plastic pipe and some hard drive mounts would be the first parts I selected. I went with a block of RenShape for the mount, as has been my standard for some time now. You can drill it out for a metal rod mount that can be secured with a set screw and that fits on my C-stand model mount

The SS Wieppe model is there for scale. The Black Star had to be bigger than the tiny corvette.

The plastic pipe fit into this piece from the junk bins at work. All I added was some PVC board to give it some heft and to build out the container pods.

The head was a concern until I found this wonderful clear plastic fan cover from a high end PC. The above photo shows the mount block drilled out and the PVC boards cut for the pods. Always laying out the design in a test fit before reaching for the glue. Also in the above shot you can see some plastic bits that I thought would make great container details.

I used PVC pipe for the neck and now the final size of the ship comes together. Can you spot the yogurt cups? Used as spacers between the cargo pods.

Once again, you can see the true scale next to the 1/350 Weippe model. The Black Star was wired for light in the stardrive, but I elected not to use it in the end.

Close up of one of the cargo pods showing the details placed on the sides. I had enough to cover both sides of each pod.

Here is the engine section showing the mount. It’s not a solid as I had thought or hoped for. Bad things were coming…

Building up the cargo pods and boxing inn the bridge section. Boring work that needs to be done.

Some more computer parts are selected for the bridge section. These black pieces will go on each side of the bridge.

Had to have some fun, so I started detailing the bridge with model parts. I love this part of scratch building.The PVC board lets you glue plastic parts on with plastic cement.

More juicy model bits on the bridge section. That’s it for this installment.

Cover Art Evolution – K’nat Trap

Every book I release has a cover that is produced by myself and my graphic designer brother, Byron. Since we are working in the Sci-Fi, Space Opera genre and in one particular universe, we try and have starships on the cover to get that fact across to future readers. We also have a certain style that we carry over from book to book so that readers get a visual clue that this new novel fits into the same universe as the last one they may have read. Being consistent with the branding helps readers find you and stick with you throughout your series.

All the covers start out with a concept doodle, by either myself or Byron. For K’nat Trap the original idea was mine and I imagined a K’nat starfighter being targeted by another fighter’s computer system or heads up display.

I didn’t have in mind any particular color but knew that the star field had to be blurred to suggest speed and that there had to be some kind of target reticule. The book’s title would be in the same font as the other series books and so would the author name.

The first thing I had to do was build the model of the K’nat Trap. That was already underway and after it was finished, I photographed it against a black felt background and sent the high definition image to Byron. He sucked it into his series book template in Photoshop and then added the text. He used a stock image for the target graphic while he worked on doing his own original version.

The green color was striking and it would stick with us for the whole process. I had a few suggestions for this version; punch up the brightness of the stars and the target. Also, we needed to start adding subtitles that declared the book to be a Star Saga story.

Now we’re getting somewhere! The image popped and the color was still working for us. Now to take out the stock image target and add Byron’s original version.

At this point I decided to try another color. The resulting experiment turned out to be too red and green or Christmas-like.

We tried again, this time going all red. The font changed to what we refer to as the bad guy font or Votainion font and it appears on the Devon’s Blade and The Blood Empress covers. Unfortunately, we felt it didn’t have the right impact so we went back to the regular series font. Byron also added some engine flare in blue.

I showed this one and a green one to some folks at work and they all seemed to prefer the old font an the green color. More comments indicated that the white lines in the target were distracting. So we changed things again, going back to green.

After studying this version I decided to call it done. It was eye-catching and it looked sharp. We could have kept tweaking but at some point you just have to pull back and let it be. This whole process took about a month for us to finish but of course building the model took many months and so did writing the book.

 

 

 

What’s a K’nat?

My next novella will drop in July. So I’m introducing it early to generate some interest. The idea is to get folks to go buy it on pre-order so that it has a big first day when it finally comes out.

First things first. How do you pronounce K’nat? I pronounce it with a short a like in “bat” but a silent “K”. It’s spelled like gnat, with a Votainion “K” instead of a “G”. Make sense? Okay then.

So what is it?

K’nat fighters are the NexGen or Next Generation of starfighters built using the same technology that the Eclipse had in Book Four – Starstrikers. So if you have not read Starstrikers yet, you might want to read that one first. K’nat Trap takes place chronologically a few years after Starstrikers and features two Starstriker agents, Kiloe and Tamia on a secret mission to recover a downed K’nat fighter on a bog planet. If that premise seems vaguely familiar to you, you might be an aviation buff.

The source material for this novella is the Japanese Zero that crashed on an island in the Aleutians at the start of WWII. American forces recovered it and took it to California where they got it flying again and then learned the airplane’s secrets. The F6F Hellcat from the Navy was designed to specifically defeat the Zero fighter based on what we learned from the captured Aleutian plane. I used the name of that island as the name of the planet where my K’nat fighter crashed – Akutan.

Below is the model I built of the K’nat fighter. It was constructed of plastic and scaled to 1/32. There are lights in the headlights and engines.

 

This model was used for the book’s cover which hasn’t been revealed yet. Stay tuned next week for that! If you want to see some detailed pictures and commentary on the making of this model, you can check it out here.

It was even rendered as a 3D mesh by my son using Blender. His is sleeker, I suspect. 

The design was crazy complicated to work out, so I built a cardboard model of it first. Here’s that model along side stablemate Votainion starfighters from the same era.

Here’s a size comparison with a P-51 fighter from WWII. Just about the same wingspan as the legendary American fighter.

Making of a Cover – Corvette

One of the best parts about being a self-published author is getting to do your own covers. Most writers don’t want anything to do with the process. But for me, I see it as a great way to showcase my model building hobby. I’ve always built plastic models since the time I was a kid. When I was a teenager my buddies and I would scratch build our own models from cardboard and bits of broken kits we had on hand. They were pretty cool for the time but limited to what we could scrape together with our allowances. We drew hundreds of drawings of starships we never got around to building for a Sci-Fi epic I was slowly writing. Skip forward about thirty years and now I’m writing novels about those starships and those novels need cover art.

About the time I started writing these novels I picked up my scratch modeling hobby again only this time I could afford to make them the same way they used to be made in Hollywood when I was a kid. The only tough part now was figuring out how to arrange them on a cover in such a way that would make someone want to buy the book. For this I enlisted the talents of my graphic artist brother, Byron. Byron takes the elements of each model, combines them with cool backgrounds and effects and then overlays the titles on them. He makes the models come alive as if they were real.

For my latest novel, Corvette, it all started with a thumbnail I did in Gimp using a model of a Votainion warship that I already had and a stand in model for the yet to be built corvette.

I knew we were going with orange and blue for the main colors of this series so I used those colors for the titles. It’s crude but it lets Byron know what I want without actually drawing it. Sometimes I do start with sketched but this time I just hacked together stock images of similar models to get the idea across.

Meanwhile, I had to build the actual corvette model and you know, write the book. The model was scratch built using a drawing I did based on the SS Sokol model featured on other Star Saga novels. It was built to the same scale as the Votainion warship model – 1/350. Below you can see it coming together on my workbench some time last year. For a complete account of this build please check out this post.

The Votainion warship was sketched out years ago and built a few years back for the first few books of the series. Here’s what the original sketch looked like below.

Here is a shot of the larger model under construction. For a more detailed look at how I built this model please check out this post.

Here are both models being photographed against blue screen for the cover of Corvette. I use a Canon digital SLR to photograph the models in high resolution then hand off the images to Byron for Photoshoping.

This is the first attempt at the cover using the new corvette model and the older warship model. I chose a green background because in the novel, the sh

First version with new Corvette model. This was another Gimp thumbnail that I did and the colors are all washed out so we could focus on placement of the ships.

    

I decided to try a different direction, using the Gimp paint filter. I was hoping this would produce an image that looked painted. But after examining it we decided it made the Votainion warship look like it was sculpted out of clay. I also tried making the larger ship bigger and that didn’t quite look right either.

Below is Byron’s first green nebula and laser guns. Author name has the wrong font. I had to explain that the corvette used a rail gun instead of an energy gun so we would have to change the red lasers. Also, we wondered if the background needed to be green or not, so I had him try a blue background.

    

We tested the blue background with random folks and everyone seemed to prefer the green so we dropped blue.

The cover was nearly complete at this point when I realized three major issues. First of all, the corvette looked better at an angle in front of the warship for giving the cover depth. Secondly, the author name was in the wrong font. And thirdly, the rail gun rounds just didn’t pop.

After those changes were made, the cover seemed to pop right out and demand your attention. So we left it alone and went to press with it.

This process took the better part of a year to complete and was started about the same time the book. I had to build a model at the same time as I wrote the novel, which is not unusual and affords me a great visual aide while writing. I think the finished cover is one of our best yet and should help sell the novel and bring in readers to the series. If you purchase the paperback of the novel the cover really shines with a glossy cover.

Corvette is available to purchase Tuesday, March 21st from Amazon as a Kindle ebook and a paperback.

Modeling How-To: Detailing Part 3

This is part three of a multi part series on detailing scratch built starship models. Part 1 | Part 2

Cleaning Up Kit Parts

You can’t just clip off model parts from their trees and glue them directly to your model and expect it to look good. Model builders all know that removing the part from tree is only the first step. Parts don’t come out of the mold without mold lines. These lines have to be removed or else the part will look like it was molded. Sometimes the real part is case from a mold and the line is supposed to be there but that rarely is the case. So you have to remove this mold line without changing the shape or texture of the part. This can be done most efficiently by using a small, jeweler’s file.

You can also use sanding sticks of various grits. You generally want to use the file in one direction, not back and forth. Plastic is soft, so only a few passes will remove most mold lines. This same procedure is used to remove the post of plastic that remains on the part after you cut it off the tree. Most modelers use either a hobby knife or special clipper to remove model parts from their trees. Forever and a day I always used a sharp knife for this task. Recently I’ve taken to using specially designed hobby clippers to do this task. The idea is to leave as little of the post as possible on the part you are removing. So that you don’t have to file as much to remove it.

After you file, as seen in the image above, you may have some plastic built up on the edges. You can remove that with your finger nail or some light sand paper. As you may have guessed, this is a huge time sink in just removing parts and cleaning them up. Models are not built quickly and the best looking models take time to complete. Take the time to clean up your parts and you will immediately see better results in more realistic models.

Using Stock Styrene

I’ve found the best brand of stock styrene to be Evergreen. You can find it in most well stocked hobby stores in a display like the one pictured above. It’s also available on line from hobby web sites. The display’s like the one above are ideal because you can see all the variations in thickness and shape. Each package will run you about three to four dollars US so chose wisely and only get what you need. I’ve always joked that I should just buy this display outright and that would be cheaper.

Evergreen strips of plastic are the scratch builder’s best friends. I use them extensively on every model I build. Most of the time I build the models from sheet plastic and use the thicker strips for bracing. Then I wind up covering the models with cut bits of plastic to form shapes and combining them with model parts to include raised panels.

I always use sheet plastic for building or boxing in the shape of a model. The model pictured above has a wooden frame but that is covered with plastic. Then I used sheet plastic to shape or box in the engines and cockpit area. Depending on how large your model is, sometimes you can just use the plastic for the structure.

When creating the panels that cover the model you can use various sizes of Evergreen and even cut them to the sizes you need. Below is the top of an engine from the same model showing various sizes of Evergreen used. You can vary the thicknesses to achieve a layered look.

Sometimes you can change the shape of your panels by sanding off the edges and using a file to create notches as in this panel from the same Renoke model.

Evergreen also comes in tubes both hollow and filled in various sizes. Below are some examples of using Evergreen tubes for pipes. I bend the plastic by using a fireplace lighter to soften the plastic.

Pipes made from stock styrene and from model parts.

Sometimes you can combine square and round tubes as on this starship’s main body.

Scratch built landing gear from Evergreen tubes.I’ve also developed a style for using strips of Evergreen for deck stubs on my Alliance starships. Some examples are shown below.

As you can see from these examples, I’ve used Evergreen extensively and in many different ways to detail my models from starfighters to starships.

Reference Pictures

It’s always a good idea to have are folder filled with pictures from other models to get ideas from. I have collected images from movie models and other hobby modelers to see how they are detailing. The thing to remember is that you should always consider what your details are replicating. The parts should look like they actually do something. Don’t just randomly slap them onto the model without any thought. The best models look real and don’t look like they are simply covered in tank parts that anyone can identify.

The Best Model Kits to Use

I have found that the best model kits tend to be tanks, ships and trucks or other mechanical vehicles. I’ve used just about every kind of kit made for parts. Motorcycles are also good, although I have yet to try them. One unlikely kit that I found had perfect parts for my Votainion warship model. It was a big wheeler truck accessory crane kit.

Part of the fun of building a larger starship model is searching the internet for images of kit parts to see if there is something that would fit with the model I’m building. I literally spend hours of my free time searching for the right kits. I usually have to purchase two to three kits per larger model in order to have enough interesting parts. Many kits have lots of parts that I wind up never using, like tank wheels. The trick is to never buy a kit for just one part. Try and make use of as much as you can to justify the huge price of the model kits. The best kits often cost between $35-$70 and it’s hard to spend that much when you don’t even build the models you’re buying.

I usually don’t use every piece in a kit and as a result I often wind up with a bunch of model trees with missing parts on them. I’ve found no good way to store these extra parts. I usually strip them off and toss them into plastic bins but that process takes time and if you want to use two similar parts later, you have to cull through the boxes to find it and that takes time. Depending on what stage of modeling I’m in, my garage could look like a complete mess.

Speaking of messes, your workbench will become completely overrun with bits of plastic, model trees and cutting tools while you are detailing. I’m a pretty neat person but I just give up trying to be tidy during this stage as evidenced below.