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.
I actually took the time to include Vynn’s four winged starfighter as it would have looked after he rammed the bridge of the Black Star in chapter one of the novella. I build it from strip styrene stock and stuck it into the bridge windows. At least I know it’s there.
I also added a hand painted flaming skull that marks it as a pirate ship in this universe. At this point the model was done and I had nothing to do but photograph her for the book cover.
Here she is with the Weippe.
Took this one with my phone so you could see the set up in my garage. I used the sun as my single key light.
The Black Star made regular trips to my office for show and tell. Below is the final book cover after a decent Photoshoping by my brother, Byron.
Byron improved the flaming skull and composed the elements into a pretty cool scene from the book. Done.
The base color of the Black Star is flat black. The best way to cover these large models is with a rattle can. Ain’t nobody got the funds to pay for model paint via an airbrush. So I used flat black spray paint and went to town.
There’s a dumbbell holding the base down and covered with the drop cloth.
Looks like some kind of massive laser rifle.
Back on the C-stand and ready for weathering.
Not sure why I started here, but I did. I mixed black and white artist chalks with a dry brush and rubbed it in good. This gives the black a more slate gray or charcoal black color that I was after. It’s a slow process.
Soft focus but you can see the whole ship has been dusted with the chalk.
Next up was a pass with brown for rust coloring. Just to add interest and age the ship.
This side’s looking pretty sweet.
Because the model would be photographed in “space” I was a bid concerned you would loose detail. So I dry brushed silver over the details to help make them pop and add another layer of age to the model.
It looks a bit too rust colored here. But trust me, on the cover, it will look smashing. Like the decals and the scribbling graffiti?
Remember last time when I said there would be trouble with the frame? Yeah, well there was trouble. Primarily because there was no backbone for the length of the ship. It turns out yogurt cups can’t hold all those cargo pods together. So I improvised like a Jazz musician and stuck a bracket through the center and bolted it to the RenShape block.
Retro-fitting a frame is not recommended. Prior thought would have been easier.
The model has held together nicely after the aluminum frame was installed. Here it is on the C-stand above the bench.
Here’s the Star and the Weippe in formation.
One last shot showing it next to a yardstick. Yeah, now that’s a starship. Easily the biggest one I’ve built.
Back to the cargo pods and detailing. Mmmm, detailing.
Starting to look like a ship. Pass the model parts, there are some flat spaces in there that need details. Note the clean desktop. It happens.
Something missing on the last section. Oh yeah, details! Better get busy.
For some reason, I started on the bottom first. Check out that bad-ass looking piece on the engine. I think that’s a military tractor or something. Love it.
Then I impaled it with the mount pole and it finally died.
Fast forward to the drive section’s side. More delicious details. I only detailed one side due to reasons. Mainly because I knew I would be photographing it from only one side, so to save time and parts, I only built three sides.
Detailing these models is an art form in and of itself. You can’t just slap parts on there and paint ’em. Things have to look like they have a purpose. It’s my absolutely favorite part of scratch building starships.
It’s okay to recognize parts at this stage, but after it’s done, I don’t want you be able to do that. At least not quickly.
This area is starting to look pretty cool.
Back to the front and some nice neck details behind the bridge section. One of the parts in there is a AT-AT Walker foot from a Star Wars toy.
Bridge windows were created from styrene strips. I with I had a store display of Evergreen plastic. I’d use it all in just a year.
Damn. She’s looking pretty fierce for a transporter.
That’s it for the detailing phase. Next up is paint. Not my favorite part, but paint makes the model.
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.
Corvette 2 is in the hands of beta readers and hopefully, by the end of the week will be in final edits. At that time I’ll format the paperback and ebook. In the meantime, the models used for the cover are being photographed. Here are some shots from the first attempt by me to capture the Black Star and the Weippe.
The above shots were taken with my phone while I waited fro the sun to clear clouds. Meanwhile, the shots I took during the clouds are probably more interesting to look at. Glad I have a few of both. I played for a little over an hour with ship and camera positioning. Hopefully my brother can use something to create a dynamic cover.
Above is an example of one of the shots we may use taken with the good camera. The models are the same scale, 1/350, so you can see the size disparity between them.
I’m still aiming for a Halloween-ish release date, fingers crossed.
Corvette – Seer of the Black Star is progressing this week. I’m currently in the middle of chapter 3 as the above image shows. That white paperback is the plain cover ARC of Corvette that I use for reference. The computer is new, a System76 Galago Pro for fans of Linux.
She may not look like much, but she’s going to eventually be the Black Star pirate starship. Right now it’s little more than a mount point and some HP computer scrap. Going to be pretty cool though, stay tuned. Eventually this will grace the cover of the book I’m currently writing. I keep a photo bucket on my model builds, so if you like to follow such craftiness, please check in as you can to follow my progress.
Yours truly after a lunchtime writing sprint this week. I listen to play lists on Spotify while I write. Currently the list I’m using is called Corvette 2. If you enjoy pirate music give it a spin. Some songs in the list are not safe for work, wear headphones.
I needed to address the uneven PVC tubes and decided to just use fillers to even things out. I then proceeded to build the main super structure with sheet styrene. This model didn’t require a sturdy frame underneath as the boxing in of the super structure would not be too large to support the model.
I had to cover the front edges of the bottom of the PVC pipes with styrene as you can see in the below image.
Before getting too far along with the boxing in I ran some wires down the engine tubes for lights. You can also see some framing for the top of the super structure. There will be a landing bay on one side of the ship and it will have a LED light.
Next came construction of the engine details that will house the LED lights. I kept things simple here. Using a plastic greeblie found at work and the housing for an electric toothbrush. The rest were scrap styrene and a tank wheel to hold the LED.
The top of the model was going to be built entirely out of sheet styrene just like the main super structure. But I found a really interesting printer ribbon cover at work and decided to go with that instead. You can also see the top deck over the super structure.
Next came the top deck creation, again using 0.60″ thick styrene sheets. I followed the original pencil sketch as closely as possible and built it up over the orange printer ink cartridge cover.
I next turned my attention to the head or bow of the starship. Again, I used sheet styrene to box in the basic shape. I built a shelf along the inside so that the top of the head could be removed to add fiber optics. I’m always trying new techniques with each model and this time I used a thinner piece of styrene over the top of a thicker piece to create the hidden attachment of the top piece.
I found some other plastic bits from work that would make perfect gun boxes for the sides of the bow. So I added some model kit parts and thin sheets of plastic and then attached them to the head.
The top of the head is where the bridge is located. All of the ships during this time period had similar bridges, each one being its own variation. Note the whole for fiber optics to run.
The front area of the bridge was often a target for enemy starfighters to attack so it gets extra armor. These are thicker pieces of styrene and some model kit parts.
Fiber optics were then added to the bridge and a top was built. The size of the FO is 1.0 mm.
I started detailing the outside of the head next, in order to decide where the FO would go for portholes. I use a combination of plastic model parts and scrap styrene. It’s important to note that I’ve already established a look and feel for these ships with two other models, so I had to stay true to that style. Even the blue and orange juice bottle caps were used for neck mounts on other starships.
Moving to the bottom of the head I always start by arranging pieces on the model to see if I can achieve the effect I want with what I have on hand. I always try and purchase kits that have details I think I’ll need for each model I build. In this case a 1/72 German tank body fit the bill. With some modifications. You don’t want to just slap parts on in random order. You want to place them as if they actually have some purpose. In the case of the engine halves below, I didn’t use them here but did use them in another location.
See how much the original placement changed over time? I’ve also started adding pieces to the nose. Scoring the panel lines was done BEFORE adding the model pieces. The top deck was scored too with some panels being smaller for interest.
The back and bottom nears complete on the details. Some of the parts are model pieces and some are plastic bits cut and trimmed to simulate machinery. It’s a lost art these days with everything being computer designed. But it’s my favorite part of scratch building.
Next came the sides and that’s where most of the FO portholes were drilled and threaded.
You can also see some battle damage created by my hobby grinder. Once the portholes are places and the FO threaded, I can started detailing the sides. I leave the FO fibers hanging out to be trimmed after it is painted.
The tiny tan pieces are tread links from a 1/35 scale Russian BMP. In another model of this scale I used these as escape pods. So I had to recreate them on this model.
The top of the bridge area also houses some antennas and scanners as well as a big anti-starfighter gun. The gun was a modified destroyer model gun from a 1/350 ship model. I made my own large barrel out of metal tube.
She’s starting to look like a proper starship head now. I particularly love how the nose details turned out.
The completed head is now set aside as I begin to tackle the main body.
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.
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.
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.
This is the second in a series of posts about detailing your scratch built starship models. Part One is here.
Kit Photo Buckets
Every time I get a new model kit in I make a point of photographing the parts trees and then collecting them into a bucket for later use. This lets me refer back to where a part came from in case I need to get that kit again. I spend way too much time on Google Images searching for similar model tree pics for models that I’m interested in purchasing.
Here’s an example of a photo bucket for a model kit I’ve used.
When the model parts are molded in light colors, use a dark background. When they are dark, try and use a lighter background color. It’s no more complicated than that. I don’t spend a lot of time on it and I include a picture of the front box art so I can order it again.
For each model that I scratch build I have to asses whether my boxes and boxes of kit parts is going to cover it. Not only in volume but in type of parts. For instance, tank kits are great for mechanical parts but you always wind up with 200 road wheels that you never use. So, do I really need another tank kit? Maybe I could get a boat kit or a train or here’s a wild hare, how about a truck accessory kit? Believe it or not, I’ve used all of these examples.
Generally, if you are replicating the used car look of ILM models you need lots of mechanical pieces to include pipes, boxes, gears and grills and engine blocks. The trouble is, if you just slap them on your model without trying to integrate them correctly you wind up making a model that people look at and go, “Hey, that’s a tank cannon, right?” This is not good. You want your detailing to imply actual mechanical devices that do something. Form follows function. Is that a flapper thingy that pops up from the fuselage? Maybe it needs a hydraulic activator arm under it. Starfighter engine? Maybe it needs some pipes or tubes around it like a jet or rocket engine. I’m not suggesting that you know what every piece does, only that you make the viewer think that it does something.
This is where we cross over from amateur modeling skills to pro level skills. The best models make the viewer think, “Damn, that looks real as heck. Like it could take off and blast a TIE fighter into a million shiny pieces.” Detailing can go a long way towards suspending the disbelief that you’re looking at an actual machine rather than just a model.
That same bridge in the finished cockpit, complete with weathering and lights.My creations are usually built to be photographed for my book covers. So I build them with that purpose in mind. My models don’t have glass cockpits and sometimes they are unfinished when viewed from behind. Why detail and paint what is never seen? So far I’ve only done this once with a large scale KiV-3 model for the cover of The Rising. Usually I complete the model because I never know from what angle I’ll be taking the picture. Or I want to give myself options to photograph it from any angle.
My models always have more than one mounting point and each mounting point has to be hidden from the eye. Display models typically only have one mount on the bottom or through the engine exhaust. But I need the flexibility of multiple mount points. This is why models are more like movie models or Studio Scale models. Typically a model is built to the scale needed to photograph or film it. Most of them are much bigger than you’d first expect. Some of the Star Wars models were measured in feet not inches and they weighed hundreds of pounds.
I can’t build my models that big. I’d have no way to move them and no room to store them! So I usually stick to 1/350 to 1/32 for starships and starfighters respectfully. Sometimes I’ll build a smaller fighter in say, 1/72 or even 1/350 or a larger fighter in 1/24 scale to show off more detail.
Don’t limit yourself to just model kit parts. You can use any plastic or even some non-plastic parts. I prefer solid plastic pieces and not flexible pieces that are more rubbery, because they don’t stay glued on. I have boxes of greeblies that are collected from all aspects of my life. If it looks interesting, I’ll save it and maybe I’ll use it or maybe not.
Up until about a year ago my go-to blue was Tester’s Model Cement in the iconic red tube with a white cap. I used it to glue ALL THE THINGS. However, it was not the best tool for gluing tiny, detail pieces.
In the past few years I’ve come to really appreciate Gorilla Glue. I use it for binding metal, and wood to plastic or PVC. This stuff is magical. It doesn’t stink, in fact it’s odorless. It takes about thirty minutes to dry a night to cure. And it’s easily available at hardware stores. LOVE this stuff. But it does have a tendency to expand and explode out from under where you put it. But I can deal with that now and it doesn’t bother me.
Whenever I come across a troublesome piece of plastic I go back to that magical red tube of glue from my childhood. Tester cement. Below is a starship frame with gray plastic and white strips of styrene. The gray stuff, will not take a decent bond with cement. You have to sand it dull to give the glue something to hold onto and you need to use some kind of Cyanoacrylate based glue.
My latest favorite glue for model pieces is Revell’s liquid glue with a metal tube applicator. It’s not found on the shelves in US based hobby stores. I order it from Amazon and it comes from Germany. I now reach for that glue more than any other glue for attaching greeblies. It dries clear but can leave clumps if over applied. However, it does put the glue where you want it pretty accurately. And that is pretty awesome. I’d love to get a syringe with a metal tube instead of a needle. I know they are out there, just need to find one.
Finally, I’ve been using Mr. Cement’s liquid glue which comes in a clear square bottle with a blue brush cap. This is comparable to Tamiya’s Extra Thin liquid cement. Apparently everyone building kits switched to these and didn’t tell me. Using capillary action, it goes on sloppy and then evaporates from around your part. I’m not a big fan of this stuff yet. But it’s growing on me. Check back in a year to see if I’m using this more than the Revell liquid.
Size and Details
The golden rule for detailing is: the bigger the ship you are modeling, the more detail you show. So if you are building a starfighter, don’t get too detailed outside of the cockpit. You can show panel lines, but not tiny ones. Keep them consistent with airplane panel lines at the same scale. If you are building a starship, you can have some larger panels but then also show much smaller ones that are perhaps smaller than a man in size. Ships are made from smaller parts and larger parts. So go hog wild.
Starfighter panel lines are usually larger at 1/32 scale.
On this warship model 1/350 scale, you can see medium sized panels and small panels. This works to help create the scale of the model.
In the warship model above, you can also see smaller plastic pieces as well as larger pieces to the left, on the ship’s neck. Use larger pieces to cover larger areas that have lots of machinery. Use smaller pieces near windows and such to once again, create the impression of scale.
Another thing to keep in mind about panel lines is that you should make some of them angled and some could follow the lines of the vehicle. Look at airplanes and ships and other Sci-Fi models for ideas and patterns that look natural.
One last note on smaller size panels. There is another method of detailing related to scribe panels and that is added panels of different thickness. It’s important to not use raised panels that are too thick for the scale of your model. I’ve built many fighters and sometimes I used strips of styrene that were far too thick for the scale of the model. This breaks scale and looks poorly to the trained eye, much less the untrained eye.
Look at the strip above the wing root. It’s way, way, way too thick for the scale.The strips of plastic below the model are much thinner and would have been preferred to the thick one I actually went with. In fact I’d even go so far as to say that just about every raised panel on this model is too thick for the scale. How do I know this? I’ve built a lot of scale models in my life and I know what looks right. It’s a feeling based on years of experience. If you have no experience building scale models then you won’t have that eye for what looks right.
So why did I use that thick strip on the above model? I was covering the sloppy wing root area gaps. Sometimes even people with lots of experience can screw it up.