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.
This is the first part of a series of posts where I describe how I go about detailing a scratch built starship. Detailing usually doesn’t happen until after the model is boxed in or shaped by plastic. Roughing out the intended shape is my least favorite part of the whole process, but if you don’t have a sound platform to start with, your model will wilt and become unstable under the weight of all the stuff you will be adding when you detail it.
Detailing has three major types: Panel lines, greeblies and scratch building. Panel Lines are achieved by inscribing the plastic base shapes with lines and shapes, greeblies are all the tiny model kit pieces or interesting plastic bits and scratch building new and interesting shapes is done with extra styrene that you always have on hand.
Here is a smaller starship model after it’s boxed-in with plastic. It has a solid RenShape core with a set screw mount and a few pieces set on top of it to get ideas going on what to do with the greeblies. The main gun turret is from a German destroyer kit and those squarish pieces behind it are keys from a kid’s computer keyboard. Everything else is just .060 styrene sheet or PVC tube.
The model is basically a clean slate right now. I have to decide what parts will have more detail and what areas will just have panel scribes or raised panels on it. What guides this decision process are two primary things: the purpose of the starship and the age of the starship. If the ship is an old scrap heap, it will have more details exposed if it is old, it probably has undergone a lifetime of refits and structural changes to keep it space worthy.
In the case of this particular model, the SS Weippe is an old, corvette military ship. I happen to know that it’s over fifty years old and is used primarily for escorting shipping lanes to protect them from space pirates. Although it’s military they are not currently at war with anyone. So no battle damage is needed.
I usually have to purchase at least a couple of model kits for each build. This time I got a German destroyer model. Trumpeter kits are excellent overall and this destroyer was perfect for naval inspired greeblies. It’s also the same scale as my model – 1/350. Always a bonus although not required. The gun turret I’m using for the Weippe was actually from a different warship kit.
At this point I’ve refined the bridge area, the top deck including the cannon and the engine area. I’ve also used all three techniques! I’ll start with the bridge and work my way back, explaining how and why I did what I did.
All I had was a blocked out shape from sheet styrene. For the bridge I was after a nautical look. This ship is featured in a novella called Corvette and its basically a naval story set in space. The ship is small, just like the WWII British Navy Flower class corvettes.
I used mostly naval parts from destroyer models. Because this is pre-war starship, I couldn’t use some of the design features found on ships at war. So there are no reactive armor blocks or anti-starfighter guns. But we do have a suggestion of comm antennas and other similar types of gear on top and to the back side. I used an engine cylinder head from a car model on the very back and detailed around it with strips of styrene.
Moving on to the top of the main body and I start to integrate model parts with strips of styrene and some raised panels. I have another circular piece ahead of the gun turret but I’m not sure what that exactly is. I just like the way it balances out the detail on the top. I also added fire control towers and some deck plates from the destroyer kit.
For the stern or engine area I was constrained to follow the detailing I have done on a slightly larger destroyer model. So I tried to mirror what that model did for the entire engine area. Whereas the destroyer had two star drives, this one only has a single drive. Below you can see the larger destroyer model built to the same scale. Not exactly the same, but similar enough to be related.
Next came the sides of the starship. I used mostly sheet styrene of various thicknesses and strips for this area. That’s a ship’s main smoke stack in there too. Sometimes you add pieces for eye interest. That was the case for the grilled piece on the bridge area. I drilled out the port holes, but won’t be installing Fiber Optics in this build. I think they help give you a sense of scale though. I also added some square tube and a round tube to the side. I tried to make it look like modifications to the base design have been made. Because this is an old starship.
Along the side of the body I used a big old car muffler that was chromed. Rather than bleaching off the chrome I just scraped it off so I could add details to it. Glue doesn’t stick too good to chrome. Car model builders can attest to that. I also used the destroyer’s torpedo tubes here. Most of the rest of it is layers of styrene shapes and plates. The grooved styrene strips of various sizes comes in handy here to suggest beams or girders. The one pipe that sticks up by the gun turret is kinda cool. No real purpose.
The back of the Weippe was kept pretty clean. I mostly just used sheets of styrene for raised panels. Eventually I’ll paint a registration number on there or use a decal. So I wanted it to be flat.
A brief stop at the nose to show off some scanners and such. I went extra heavy on the sheet styrene for some reason. I think I was just trying to add bulk because the Flower Class corvettes were kinda chubby boats. Some of the “scanners” were actually life boats from the destroyer kit.
Moving on to the bottom of the bridge area now. A few larger funnels were used to suggest mechanical complexity. Pretty boring though because I knew it wouldn’t be really seen much. Another great reason to use smaller boat model parts is that they are small and can easily suggest all kinds of industrial purposes.
The bottom of the main hull has the mount pole going through it. So I had to devise a sliding section to cover it if I ever photographed the model from another mount point. Hiding mounts is fun and can determine to some extent what your detail looks like. Sometimes I have sneaky sliding parts and other times I have parts that can be removed to get access to the mount point. Details here are flat and mostly strips of plastic either boat parts or stock.
The back of the engine area is dominated by aircraft fuel tanks or travel pods. I had to follow the design logic of the destroyer model for that. Some larger kit parts under the tubes in the middle. Under the body is a bay door for a shuttle. I chose to keep it closed on this one as there is a solid block of RenShape inside there. The big chrome truck wheel is pretty obnoxious, but again, won’t be seen much.
An import step in detailing is to throw some primer on the whole model so you can see how things are looking without the distractions from all the weird colors. I usually spend some time just looking at it and seeing if there are areas that need more attention before proceeding to painting and weathering. Here’s what the model looks like with primer.
I want to circle back here at the end and talk a bit about scoring panel lines. The only place I did that on this model was on the top of the head or bridge area. I sued a Tamiya scribe for that and stupidly did it late in the build. Ideally you should plan to scribe your model before laying any complicated greeblies down.
Sometimes you can get away with scoring panels before you even put a piece of styrene on the main model. Below you see the tools I used to do this on a Votainion warship model. The toothbrush is used to file off the raised areas and rub finger grease into the cracks so you can see the lines. I use a thin leaded mechanical pencil and a metal ruler to draw out the lines before scribing them. It’s important to use a metal ruler for this so you don’t cut the ruler and your lines stay straight.
Sticking with the warship model for a moment, I’d like to bring up the point that you don’t just have to use model kit parts for greeblies. Just about anything can be used. Below the bridge on this model is a cartridge of some kind, kid computer keys and a fan blade from a PC fan.
I did this crude parts call out to illustrate all the various things I used in this one part of the model.
Heck, I even used a light saber on the bottom!
The biggest takeaway from all this is to have fun and be creative. Don’t just slap parts on willy nilly or you’re going to have yourself a mess, like the models from Star Crash! Where they left model parts on the trees and just glued them to the side of the model. No form follows function or any of that nonsense.
Or you could look like the models I made as a kid!
If you’re a model builder who likes to scratch build Sci-Fi stuff like myself, you have no doubt heard of ILM’s Universal Greeblie. A greeblie is a piece of plastic, usually a model kit piece, that is used to decorate a starship model or similar creation. This term originated from the Visual Effects shop created by George Lucas, called Industrial Light and Magic. ILM modelers built most of the iconic models created for such films as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and many others of that time period.
ILM model makers adding model kit greeblies to the original, three foot diameter Millennium Falcon model. Below is a close up of the six foot Star Destroyer model replant with thousands of model part greeblies.
You can find many references to these early ILM days in which modelers talk about a certain greeblie that seemed to be used just about everywhere. They called it the Universal Greeblie. I’ve heard Fon Davis and Adam Savage, both former ILM model makers, talk about this greeblie but was never able to actually see which part they were talking about. It took some researching but I eventually found out which model kit had the part and exactly what part they were talking about.
There was a model kit of the WWII German Leopold rail gun in 1/72 scale produced in the 70’s by Hasegawa, and this kit contained several dozen of these “Universal Greeblies”. Recently I did a search for this kit and found that they were still making it. So I purchased it for use on my SF models. These kits are never cheap and I only buy kits that have a bunch of parts in them that I can use. So it was with good fortune that this Leopold gun had more than just the interesting ILM parts to use.
Have I kept you waiting long enough? Okay, here’s a picture of the actual part of the real train that the greeblie is modeled after. It’s a journal box, and part of the roller mechanism. Four massive bolts hold on this round metal cap that covers the end of the train’s axle. Now on a model that same scale as an HO train, that part is going to be pretty small and not very refined.
This is what it looks like on the model tree.
Here is the reverse side of Part 19, from the kit.
Here is where you install it as per the directions.
Now that we know what the Universal Greeblie looks like and what model kit it comes from, we can spot it in the wild, right? The studio scale model of the Cylon Raider from the original TV series had a few of these pieces on the wing attachment roots. Here is a shot of Moebius Model’s kit version that clearly shows them.
Once you know what certain parts look like, you start to ID them all over ILM models. The Cylon Raider was notorious for having highly recognizable greeblies. In this shot of the bottom of the model we can also clearly see other parts from the Leopold rail gun as well as tank treads, and many more. Can you spot the two UG’s on this model below?
Modelers of these SF vehicles often spend hours looking at detailed pictures of these models trying to ID all the parts so they can recreate them to the last detail. That’s crazy, but I do enjoy looking at them for ideas. The best studio scale movie models used off the shelf kits for parts but the modelers did their best to disguise them. There is definitely an art to detailing models. It’s not always done to perfection. Just watch Star Crash, where the modelers laid entire kit trees with their parts still attached to the model. In all fairness to the modelers on that film, they were rushed for time and could not afford to do it any better. Still, this is exactly how it’s not done.
Below you clearly see the model trees with parts and you can even recognize the Eagle from Space 1999 as well as some TIE fighter windows.
Detailing models in a manner that tricks the eye into thinking it was all designed that way from the beginning is much harder than the average person would think. Trust me. I’ve done it poorly and I’ve done it well and I still struggle with it on every model I build. I’ll leave you with some shots of my models, built in the ILM tradition.
These are some of the tiniest fighters I have ever modeled. Just thought I’d share them with you in their incomplete, unpainted form. No, they were not formed from soap. Just plastic stock.
The green Interceptor model was built by me when I was a teenager. It was only the second scratch built plastic model I’d ever built. Plastic was expensive back then when you were just a kid, so most of my models were built from cardboard. My to best friends and I formed a production company and made 8 mm films. Our model shop was called Microcosim or Little Universe. Our first plastic model was a larger version of the Interceptor. I think it was about 1/144 scale. I wish I had that model. It even had a tiny red LED inside it. I’ll likely build it again someday in 1/72 scale.
Just got the manuscript for K’nat Trap back from my editor. Not much to clean up this time, the story pretty much cruises to the finish. I guess I better start thinking harder about the cover. I’ll probably start up the ebook this week and should be ready for Beta Readers. If you’d like to be a Beta Reader for this novella, join my mailing list and ask to be a Beta Reader. Ya gotta be on the Dispatches team to get on the Beta Team.
In the meantime, here’s a sneak look at the GCU Sherman model coming together on my workbench.
This model poses some interesting problems when it comes to painting and weathering. The base color of the fighter is flat black, which means the only option for seeing anything against black is to go light. But it all starts with an even coat of Tamiya Flat Black. I taped over the canopy so it retained the primer gray.
I experimented with some dry brushed silver on the right side of the above picture. But that really didn’t make any panel details pop at all. Clearly something more was needed.
Above is a close up of the wing showing the silver dry brushing.
The bottom got some touch up with different shades of black paint brushed on.
In the end, the best way to show details turned out to be brushing on gray pastels. I mixed white and black to get an ash gray color and then used a wide, soft brush to dust the model. More gray around the engines than on the rest of the model to simulate the burnt metal look.
Votainion fighter use a blue-gray color for inside panels and details that are normally covered up with panels. I hand brushed this color on and then dirtied it down with black pastels.
Here is what the stern looks like after a proper dusting with the pastels. Even the top panels have some accent areas using the pastels.
Above we see the model getting it’s canopy painted in the sunlight. As you can see, it looks a deeper black in sunlight. For the canopy I used a mixture of black and silver to create a different shade of dark material.
Above you can see the canopy paint and the weathered top panels.
Here’s the completed fighter on the bench with a shiny canopy window.
Here it is on my desk at work with the headlights and engines on.
Engines lit and full afterburner.
And that’s a wrap! Next up comes a screen test against black felt in preparation for the K’nat Trap book cover.
Detailing the model continues with a mixture of sheet styrene and model parts. I used a stack of tank wheels for the cylinder beside the space time engines. I also put plating down on the inside bottom of the stern.
Close up of the right side to show off the scratch build details. Not a ton of detail, but enough for this model.
On the bottom of the fighter you can see most of the panels are on and some plastic greeblies. The gray parts are paper towel roll inserts from the bathroom at work and the tan domes are of course contact cleaning holders. You can also see some details on the top inside of the engine area. Just enough relief to make it interesting to the eye.
One final look at the top, front of the fighter before the primer goes on.