Odds and Ends from my brain and interests. Given that it is meant to be much like my old cartoon strip at the Lowell Connector, I suppose it is eponymous (I also like that it does make an oxymoron of sorts)

If there is to be anything here of any regularity it should be about sci-fi, computers, technology, and scale modeling with origami thrown in on the side (at least not infrequently). Oh, I would also expect some cartooning too

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Arisia 2015: Miniatures and Modeling for Gamers and Fans

Various recent releases (clockwise)
Monarch Models "Ghost",
Revell Star Wars 7 Tie, Pegasus Luna,
Moebius Colonial One, Airfix Angel
Interceptor, Revell Ger. Enterprise,
Bandai Gundam, Dragon Tranquility
Base, Moebius Ranger and Flying Sub
McFarlane Walking Dead, Pegasus
Nautilus, Fantastic Plastic Avatar
Shuttle, Moebius Johny Quest
In spite of being in one of the most hidden rooms in the hotel, and placed right up against Masquerade (which is single most attended item this weekend), we actually had a fair amount of people there. Most of the audience were familiar with one or another aspect of the topic, but there were a few self acknowledged newbies in the group which was nice. My fellow panelist were T. Christopher Davis who specialized in gaming miniatures and terrains, and John "Madman Lighting" Cook who is an award winning scale modeler as well as a manufacturer of lighting kits for models. I brought along several of my old models and a couple of new paper ones, and not surprisingly for me, got to talk about the paper end of the hobby.
     Arisia has a large gaming component among its attendees. The
gaming track at Arisia consists of various active game rooms, discussions about games, video games, and LARPS. It is definitely a con that doesn't forget that science fiction and fantasy is just fun. Part of this is also reflected by the amount of the con
Dwarf gaming miniature
from Basicks kit
devoted to costuming, both as a topic of discussion and visibly displayed by participants in costume reflecting their fen interests (be it creative anachronism, cosplay, subject fandom, or just whatever comes to mind).  It was nice that this year we got at least one panel devoted to those of us who like to craft our fandom in miniature instead of wearing it.
     The thing about this hobby is that it is currently in a kind of golden age. Never before have so many different subjects and areas in this genre been available for builds. The greater number of genre films and TV shows, comic books, and games is part of the reason. Another reason for the growth of this niche in the hobby is the increasing number of fans who really embrace their "geek"ness. So you prefer working with miniature starships and dwarves, so what, they are cool.

What was it exactly?

Basically, science fiction and fantasy in miniature for a variety of purposes. There is of course the replica of the science fiction vehicles we are all familiar from film and television. I personally believe this also covers the replication of props, sometimes to a higher fidelity than those that were actually used on film (admittedly this can crossover into costuming). There is also the creation of elaborate stages in miniature and game pieces for use in table top gaming. It is a creative aspect of fandom that also extends into other media such as Lego construction and 3D virtual models and 3D printing. Another expression of the hobby is in figure modeling, either full figures or busts (aside from game pieces). These figure models tend to have a wider span covering not just science fiction, but also horror, fantasy, and even popular culture and humor.
     Given the collective experience of the panelists, we initially spoke on the nature of our hobby from our individual point of view, how we work, what we found interesting, what it seems to be like (something which I think this internet cartoon captured quite well.

We focused on discussing the techniques and tools involved in how to put our stuff together. We mostly opted for opening the floor to questions to get a sense of what attendees wanted to know.
Lindberg models released in 1954 what is perhaps the first science fiction model, although given the saucer craze at the time, they may have thought it was an educated guess at a real artifact. It has been re-released several times since.

How does one get started?

A fairly basic question which we got early on. Well I guess the starting point should be your nearest hobby shop, or perhaps (given that these have become fewer and farther between than they used to be) a nearby crafting chain. The latter choice is problematic in that your choices, particularly in the SF/F area will be limited. Some stores specialize in gaming resources and carry miniatures. Comic book stores may also stock both gaming miniatures and SF/F models as well as limited supplies for working on them. Occasionally major franchises, like Star Wars, will license miniatures, but toy stores nowadays only rarely carry models (although some starship modelers are currently thinking about how to work with the new giant Hasbro Millennium Falcon and X-wing toys. Reworking actual toys into quality models is not unheard of, but it is a bit of work). Of course there is always the internet where you can either find many items on amazon.com or other more specialized sites (I'll put the link list at the end).
Revell SnapTite
     The range of models and miniatures can also vary. One can start with the finished collectible or nearly ready finished variety. Many models currently are designed as simpler "snap-fit" kits that don't require glue, and are frequently already painted. A whole series of small scale Star Wars figures are marketed this way with very few pre-painted parts in bubble packaging. This is ideal for children or people who have never built any of these types of models before. On the other hand, more experienced modelers prefer the traditional paint and glue type. This is because all kits often reflect a compromise of one kind or another between price, ease of construction, size and so forth. Pre-painted kits may not be the "right color" and since you can't "test fit" a part, or sand seams (it ruins the finish) it can create problems. This all depends on questions of accuracy* and detailed finish.
Madman's EarthForce Starfury from Babylon 5
Madman's EarthForce (B5) Starfury
with his lighting kit (on display
during this session)
    While in general, it is not a particularly expensive hobby, one can expect to spend a certain amount in setting up a basic workshop (see tools next section). Some kits can indeed get expensive, particularly if one starts adding aftermarket parts such as detail sets and limited run "garage" kits. If you have your heart set on something that is out of production or only available in Japan, well that is an order of magnitude more. Of late the ultimate kits are huge, limited run, 3D printed ones such as the 1/700 scale Cygnus from "The Black Hole" which was available from Shapeways (in sections, runs up in the thousands).
     Take for example the Moebius updated re-release of the old Orion III model from Aurora. The basic kit is actually not a bad starter kit. It is reasonably sized, has relatively few parts, and no particular assembly problems. It typically retails for $30. Unfortunately, the classic Pan Am markings are still under trade mark, so it doesn't come with any. Fortunately you can get aftermarket decals from a couple of decal manufacturers. Prices range from $7 to $17 (the latter include alternate versions, such as NASA or USAF). DIY inkjet decal sets to make your own run around the same price, although you should get enough material to do several models. If you want to get really fancy, you can add interior and exterior detail with a brass photo-etch set at $27. So you could make this model amazing for about $60-70 (paints, brushes, cement, and fillers are overhead).
     One aspect not to be overlooked is scratch building with whatever you can find. Many amazing subjects are created from found items and interesting packaging such as Easter candy eggs, empty pill canisters, and wood. It is also important to know that from a commercial point of view, some things are unlikely to receive a wide release, and garage kit version releases that may happen can also be very expensive. A little creativity can go a long way (see this "pickled alien" display for instance)

*Accuracy - a side note:

     The thing about accuracy is that these are fantasy objects (real space excepted). Accuracy is thus a relative thing. Often the subject may only have existed as a variety of shooting models which don't entirely agree with each other. The true color is an endless question, particularly since that depends on a variety of unknown aspects of the model's photography: lighting, exposure, color balance, monitor and can be very subjective. Even scale can be open to question. It is well known that most SF ships on film are generally smaller on the outside than what is portrayed as the insides.

Tools of the hobby

The topic most asked about in one way or another regarded tools and their usage. The question is often one of finish and how much you want to spend in blood and treasure. Typical tools depend on your media: plastic, resin, paper, clay, Legos or old pill and film canisters. Paints are also necessary and can vary with different surfaces. Paint can be applied with brushes, air brushes or even specialized markers. Additional after-market parts or decals, or even kits for adding lights or extra details such as photo-etched brass (PE sets) for commercial releases are also available.
      Chris Davis and myself admit that on a very basic level, we don't want to spend too much money on this, so we may rely on substitutes. An interesting comment Chris made is that often the railroad hobbyist have developed specialized tools and materials that you can find at the hobby shop at a premium price, but cheaper equivalent may be available at your local hardware store.
     A classic example of going for the cheap solution is the usage of pink insulation foam to build up terrain for a game field or a diorama. The material is relatively cheap in bulk (one sheet should last a long time), and can be carved with typical carving tools such as small files and hobby knives and easy to paint (just not spray enamels which will melt it, although I've seen that done for effect). The only specialized tool it needs is a hot wire cutter to make smooth cuts (it melts through the foam without tearing it).
      John Cook recommends a good airbrush to really improve the finish, both in overall coating as well as detail paint finishes on a model. To demonstrate he brought in his Klingon BOP as well as a Babylon 5 Starfury. Both kits were meticulously painted and carefully shaded as well as equipped with lighting kits which he sells as aftermarket add-ons. Many find lighting a key component to many a starship miniature (You can see a detailed article on his Starfury at the Starship modeler site in the "Wrecks" gallery).
      I myself added that in the case of paper models, you don't need much more than glue, scissors and a good printer to get started (or printed kit as some are now available in your local bookstore). That being said, sticky glues are better than white glues, sharp blades with a steel edged ruler can sometimes be handier than scissors, and a variety of paper weights will help, not just cardstock. I have more details in a previous posting.
      You can find better detailed listings on hobby web sits, but this is a brief overview of things we said:
  • An X-acto knife or its equivalent (yes! the knife of Exact-Zero!)
    • It is handy for all 3 types of modeling: plastic, gaming, and paper. Note, blades can come in several types, not just the classic no. 11 (with regards to kids, these are also very sharp)
  • Jewelers files
    • These often come in sets to provide a variety of sanding possibilities and even limited drilling into surfaces and punching into soft surfaces. 
  • A pin vise (a favorite of Chris for gaming miniatures)
    • Basically a small hand drill. Allows you to drive small holes into an item accurately with good control. Handy for adding steel pins to help hold parts together.
  • Cyanoacrylate glue (aka Super Glue or Krazy Glue Brand - The KraGle)
    • While plastic models can be made with just plastic cement (check to see that it works with polystyrene), Cyanoacrylate can make particularly strong bonds and works with a wider range of materials and mixed materials (e.g. brass to plastic). Accelerators make the bond instantaneous, but can burn due to the chemical reaction (and since it is glue, if it's burning you, it's also stuck on you). Some people also use it in paper modeling as it will soak into paper and make it hard and plastic like (I personally use nail polish for that effect).
  • A vent hood
    • If nasty chemicals and fumes are involved you may consider this. Spray paints and some of the nastier solvents (such as acetone) can be problematic indoors. The internet can provide many DIY designs. There is some science to this, so check out user results. If on the other hand you stick to brushes and fewer volatiles, you should be ok without one (just watch for spills).
  • Some miscellany: sanding paper, sanding blocks, and filler
    • We did mention the use specialized sanding tools that can bend around parts, but generally a means to sand from medium to extra fine is useful in trimming mold seams and joint seams. The use of a block is important, but you can make these yourself by using a bit of wood or foam when it has to conform to a shape. You can even use nail files and for finer grit, glue finer paper onto it. In plastic modeling you may also need this to sand down filled in spots. All this sanding is often in conjunction with plastic filler putty used to fill in gaps in seams or smooth out joins. Putty is available in most hobby shops, but curiously my local hobby shop guy pointed out you can get this cheaper from the auto supply shop as the small ding filler putty (not to be confused with the 2 part can of patch resin).
Oh, something we did forget which is both trivial and very important: If you buy a kit that was molded (plastic, resin, etc), wash it in dish washing detergent to get the mold release agent (grease) off of the parts before you start working on it. This will greatly improve the hold of glues and cements as well as paint and paint coverage.

Where to go and look

To end this posting I just want to set out some links to find more information about participating in this hobby.
The truth of the matter is that it is hard to give a complete picture of making miniatures and models from one panel session and one blog post (this one is already a tad large). Again it is a question of satisfaction with the finished product; you can pretty much make do with the appropriate glue/cement, a hobby knife, bottle paints and brushes (and even dispense with the latter if the subject is pre-painted). You can visit general modeling sites or books (almost every library has books on model railroading and a lot of the techniques discussed there apply here) for more advanced techniques such as weathering, oil washing, decal placement, painting, finishing clear coats, airbrushing techniques, dioramas, etc.
      Well, I hope this gets people interested in the hobby, or if they are modeling interested in this niche, I also hope that this is looked up by those that were interested, but didn't make it to the session because of Masquerade (hec, my daughter was in it and I missed it).

My cardstock Narcissus which was on display at the session(will be downloadable soon...promise)

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