Novella Pre-Release Coverage

I’ve been doing some pre-release advertising for my new novella, Devon’s Blade. Mostly this consists of using images of my starfighter models and posting them to Twitter and Google+. I’m trying hard not to be annoying and using the imagery to ignite interest in the story. It must be working in some small way because I’m averaging a sale a day in pre-orders. All of those orders will register as sales on 31 October 2015 when it goes live.

I did a post on Google+ where I encouraged folks to Photoshop my models into interesting images, but so far nobody has taken me up on that. Perhaps I need to focus on PS forums. Go where the artists are.

In the mean time, I’ll keep doing my own “Gimping” of the models because it amuses me to no end. Below are some of my latest creations. A link for the pre-order page is in the column on your right.


Renoke Model Update

It’s been a while since I posted a picture of the Renoke model, so here a few new ones. I’m focusing on the bridge now, adding details and installing fiber optics. I have to wire up the head lights and the instrument panels next. At this point, I have all the parts and pieces I need to complete the model so it’s just a matter of finding the time to do the work. Oh and the engine needs some LEDs too. That should be easy.

I found some resin molded F-4 seats on line and darned if they don’t look totally awesome.


Beginning to add details to the bridge cover and the windows.



Let there be lights! At least a few fiber optic ones.



Phantom F-4 ejection seat is pretty freaking cool.



Some weathering, some after market bolts and a few extra pieces of detail.



After the white/deck tan mix of the base coat. I still need to hit the bottom with this color. But for now, I’ll wait until the bridge area is completed.

Votainion Terrox Starfighter

The primary Votainion starfighter in the Starstrikers Era is the Terrox. This twin engine, twin canon design is fast and deadly. A direct ancestor of the Twin Tube design from the early war years, the Terrox is a war tested tried and true design well loved by those who fly it.

This is the only decent drawing I have of it. I expect to build this in 1/32 scale at some point for the book covers in the middle trilogy of the Star Saga. The final design will no doubt look slightly different.

This old drawing shows the three main lines of Votainion starfighter designs. The KIV line eventually dies and the Terrox and Reemer lines carry on into the second trilogy. I’ll have to update this graphic when I finalize on the Terrox. The Reemer is final, though I have not built it in plastic 1/32 scale. There are always more ideas for models than time allows me to build. You can see the KIV line dies out after a great run in the first trilogy.

Blue Screen Model Tests

This weekend I spent time perfecting blue screen photography in my garage studio. Initial tests with my two new 150 watt frosted floods proved to be an insufficient amount of light. So I resorted to the poor man’s movie broads – Work Lights. Each light had a 500 watt tungsten bulb. Unfortunately, the only way I could get a tripod was with a dual light kit. So I now have four lights, two per tripod. The lights are attached so I can either have both on or one on.

This proved to be the right amount of light for the best depth of field. My largest model was about 2ft long and if it were moving towards the camera, it needed at least a foot on either side of the central focus area. I have found that f11-f8 at eight feet with a shutter speed of 60th of a second and a film speed rating of 200 ISO to be the best DOF.

To achieve this result I had to design a proper mount for my blue screen and then ensure that I had at least ten feet to play with in regards to getting the camera away from the model subject. There were other minor set adjustments that I made in order to mount each model that I was photographing. I’ll detail each rig that I used so you can see what some gaffer tape and imagination can achieve.

Blue Screen Setup

My assistant (youngest son, Spencer) and I made a trip to Home Depot the local hardware store to pick up the PVC pipe we needed for the screen and an extra work light and tripod. We had to construct the PVC pipe frame to a 4′ X 6′ piece of blue screen fabric. I ordered the fabric from It has blue felt on one side and a foam backing to give it some weight and keep the wrinkles down. This is the same blue screen they use in Hollywood. Not the fabric only version sold in photography stores. It still wrinkles but you can easily steam them out if you have a portable steamer. Which we have and it really works nicely.

We used two corner joints and four three way joints to build our frame. Four end plugs helped make the feet stable We went with two foot long feet but I’ll probably cut them down to one foot to save floor space. Sand bags are a good idea to help keep it rock stable. We didn’t glue anything down so that we could break it down and put it away when I needed my garage back. The main tube diameter is one inch.

The blue screen fabric is held in place with dollar spring clamps also found at the hardware store. I now have enough of these clips to do just about anything. They are part of the cameraman’s ditty bag that should be in any working studio. Also invaluable to have is a roll of black gaffer’s tape.

Work Lights

We made one minor modification to the work lights. I initially wanted to use daylight gels to match ILM model shots from the Star Wars movies. We took metal coat hangers and bent and cut them to fit snugly into the top of the work lights to form a bracket that we then hung the gels from using little metal clips or clothespins. This worked perfectly, but I later ditched the gels for aesthetics.


The best light placement seemed to be two of them at 45 degree angles shining on the blue screen and one of them as a key light on the model. You generally don’t want any fill on the models unless they are in a binary star system.

Model Stands

I had a few different mounting options but none of them were ideal. I’ve been retrofitting my models to accept the standard quarter twenty screw found on tripods and other photography equipment. This gives me plenty of options for ball and clamp mounting points. Some of my newer models have half inch PVC mount points. This required a specially build PVC stand that then had to be clamped to a regular tripod with a flat surface.


Eventually, I’ll be picking up a real C-stand or century stand to use as my fully adjustable model stand. But for now, I have to use a secondary tripod and get creative. Below are some images of the various mounting setups I used. They are for the most part, self explanatory.

Camera Setup

I don’t have a proper tripod yet, so I’m making due with an old pair of sticks. The camera is a Canon 60D with a 50mm Olympus f1.8 prime. I’m using an adapter ring to attach the lens. The camera was set on manual and I controlled the shutter speed, ISO and f-stops. Focusing was manual and set according to measurements taken by a plastic tape measure so as not to scratch any of the equipment. The film plane (sensor plate) is marked on the top of the camera and the zero end of the measuring tape attached to the camera with camera tape. This lets me keep the measuring tape readily available for precise focusing. I was not using any filters on the lens, save for a UV light protector.

One of the tripods I was using for the models did not have a mounting plate. So I created one out of wood and a quarter twenty screw. I would not mount a camera to it, but it was fine for my light weight models.

Work Bench Area

Behind our blue screen was my work bench area which became the model repair and holding area as well as the place to get a closer look at the images on my laptop. I use a Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu and a USB adapter for the camera’s SD card. I can take images, pop the card and walk it over to the bench to look at it in minutes. Sure beats the old wait a week for processing that I was used to.

Some of my tools for the model shoot were my Moto-X phone, a Nexus 7 tablet, various adapters. The phone and tablet both had a slew of film-making apps installed that make my life easier on set. The most used tool this weekend was Green Screener, DOF Calculator and Pocket AC.

My desk in the studio was where we parked the camera bag and sometimes the models. I’ll probably make this area my computer base so as to keep the laptop away from any work needed on the models or other equipment.



I think I have a decent setup in place to take images of my models that my brother can easily import into Photoshop and create fantastic book covers for me. This was my goal. Achievement unlocked. There are things that I can improve on and over time, I will. Better camera and model mounts are the top priority. But for now, I go back to editing my next book and building the next model.


Sokol Refit

Spent some time this weekend installing a mount on my first starship model, so I can photograph it for future book cover art. The process involved cutting away a hole and then sticking in a piece of wood with a 1/4 20 screw base. After that was dry, I then had to cover the wood with plastic and some tubular detail and paint. Below are the results of the retrofit.


I made no effort to cover the actual mount point hole, because this is on the bottom of the model and would rarely if ever be seen. For a model that had no mount at all, I can live with that.


After the paint job.



On the bench, belly up on blocks of wood to protect the antennas on the top side.


Finally a look at my recently cleaned off desk in the garage. I resurrected my old Macbook to act as a browser for social media. I also hooked up an old DVD player and my old Sony 13″ TV so I could watch movies in the garage. Or maybe just listen to them as I work.

KIV-1 Model

I’ve been playing around with a 1/72 scale KIV-1 starfighter model for a few weeks now. Thought I’d show it off here. It’s portraying a fighter from the Votainion Empire planet, Con One. The planet is of course a predominately desert one and so the tan and green splotches not unlike German North African fighter planes.

Top View

Bottom View

I’ve yet to weather it, so it still looks pretty clean. I put some Estes model rocket decals on it to spice it up a bit. I didn’t have anything too interesting to use for unit symbols or numerals. I also left out the wires in the wings. I might insert some clear plastic to simulate a clear skin of some sort, to make them more agile in atmospheric flight, considering these are land based fighters.

This will be a fun addition to my cube toys. Aside from that, not much use. It might find its way onto a book cover but not likely as it’s so small. I might use this scale to do a twin body design. But then I’m done with modeling the KIV variants.

Below are some angle views before the camo was added.



KIV-3 Photo Shoot

This past weekend my brother Byron was in town with is digital camera. We took many pics of the models I constructed for the next Star Saga book cover. Below are some of our untouched pics. We shot them during the late afternoon catching the golden light of the Magic Hour. A black bed sheet was held by myself behind the models so that later Byron could pull them out with Photoshop.

This is the original cover sketch we were trying for. I decided not to bend the wing over on the large model, so that we can use it again in a later cover shoot. We can probably do that damage in Photoshop if need be.

Above is the main KIV-3 model in all its green and yellow glory. Byron will put it on a space background and add lots of expody bits to ensure that it looks torn to shreds.

This is the Vickers fighter flown by the hero, Devon Ardel. It is 1/48 scale and the angle is designed to show it pulling away from the bigger KIV fighter in a victory roll. Byron will add glowing engine and motion blur in Photoshop.

This is another enemy starfighter, a KIV-1 that our heroine is going after next. It is also turning away from camera. Byron will again add a glowing engine and perhaps give it some motion blur.

These are just three images of many dozens we took of the models. He will flip through them all and select the best angles for use in the final cover art. When I get the first design thumbnails from Byron I’ll show you how they are coming together to make an exciting space battle scene.

Studio Scale Model Observations

Kate Donaldson via Compfight

I’ve been scrutinizing pictures of the studio models of Star Destroyers that ILM built for the original Star Wars trilogy and some other famous Studio Scale starship models. Some observations follow. If you’re not into modeling, you can just ignore this little geek out moment.

1. The original 3 ft long model used in A New Hope, is not near as awesome as the six foot model built for Empire. Its details are less integrated into the whole and more easily identified as battleship and tank parts. Still, the opening to E4 remains epic and iconic. Imagine how long that shot would have been had they used the Avenger model?

2. The six foot Avenger model is a masterpiece. The greeblies are more disguised and purposeful. I also think the the model is better covered by such details.

3. Both models are not very weathered. I realize, space and all, but basically, they are just painted a light gray. No streaking, meteor hits or battle damage. Also, no repairs under progress, like the new Galactica implied so well.

4. The original Galactica model was and still is, awesome! I also like that it used colored panel lines in odd places and was “weathered” a bit.

5. People actually try to guess the model parts on these studio builds so they can reproduce them. Crazy. And kinda cool, I’ll admit. Although personally, I have too many original designs to keep me building until I die. No need to recreate what someone else did. But I would imagine that the original modelers are flattered.

6. Someone needs to do a forum with pictures that describes how all these studio models were mounted and the internal structure of them. How do they use metal tubes and keep the model from spinning around? I’m just not getting that from the older pics. This guy’s reproduction is the best documented mounting system I’ve seen so far.

7. I’d also like to know more about how fiber optics are used inside these models. It looks like a nightmare to thread a six foot model with fiber. Perhaps there is a how-to out there on the internet that I should look at.

8. Some kit bashed greeblies are cool as is, but when the modeler takes the time to make it look like it has a purpose, they look even better. Personally, if I can see that you just glued a Panzer top to your model, I consider that a bit of a fail. Make it look like it was shaped that way for a reason. Disguise it with other parts and make it blend into a whole.

9. This guy’s Tantive IV model is amazing. Also, the original was extremely well done in regards to number eight above. In many ways it reminds me of the Discovery from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

10. After looking at all these fantastic models, I can’t wait to get back to my GCU Sokol build.


Building the GCU Sokol, Part 9

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Part 11 | Part 12

New Greeblies

This weekend I went to some dollar stores and filled up my spare parts boxes with some fresh greeblies. Greeblies being the little bits of detail you see on space ship models. These are not from model kits, but rather from kids toy bags. Various cheap, plastic party favors that happen to be perfect for scratch building starship models.

This is the back of the head after I filled in the empty spaces with the new and some old, greeblies. The trick is to make the parts look like they have a purpose. Also, knowing when to quite when you are ahead. It’s an art.

This shot above shows the head attached to the main body via the neck. I have to fit things together regularly, so I know they fit.

I added some strips of plastic, windows and various small bits to the area behind the forward gun pods. This is more indicative of what will come in other areas of the model. Grooved plastic and i-beams are a modeler’s best friend there.

This is the nearly complete back of the head. I like the symmetry of the two sides, with just a touch of differences to imply various instrument packages and fittings. I’m quite pleased with how this is turning out. Next I will try and cover up the colors with a base of light gray paint.

This is viewing the neck from the bottom. I added some fittings to make the neck thicker, more like the drawings I made of it. Never throw away bottle caps from liquid detergent.

Finally, a look topside of the main deck. I used a piece of PVC for the back of the conning tower. I also used an old Lego piece. The back of the main super structure is also boxed in. I’m liking where this is going, but now its much more difficult to turn the beast upside down to work on the bottom. Doh!

Building the GCU Sokol Part 7

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Part 11 | Part 12

Coming Together

Spent pretty much all day in the garage building this beast Sunday. Thanks to super glue and sharp knifes, I made some decent progress. Built up the head of the starship and most of the main superstructure. The biggest parts are done, but there are more large parts that still remain.

This is the head going together. The hole for the neck was drilled out with my new variable speed hobby grinder. Can’t recommend one of those enough for scratch building models like this. That’s the grinder holding up the parts drying.

This is the damage you can do with the grinder, when you need to get those large holes bored out of the thick plastic. Nothing like burning, grinding plastic to get you going in the morning.

The main body needed some modeling putty and then a good sanding. That washer is surrounding a hole cut out for a main gun. Most of the guns are closed or covered, this one and one on the other side are open to reveal the canon barrel inside. Detail. Love it.

This is looking at the mains and the details therein. Three parts make up the nozzles; OJ bottle lid, Scotch tape center and the cap to Vitamin C tablets. There will probably be more details added later, but since I had these already built, I glued them in place.

Here’s the finished head attached to the body. The last thing I glued on was the cover on the front of the superstructure. I’m trying to get the body blocked out before the cold chases me out of the garage. I can detail the model inside.

The next thing I need to work on is figuring out how to mount it and building a jig for it to set in while I’m detailing it. Thinking of using a wooden jig that could end up being the base for the model. Always something.