Sunday, June 13, 2010

Editorial Comment

I'm known to occasionally moan and cry about how much kits cost these days, but I don't really do it with much verve. I sometimes wince and grumble when I have to fork over $60 for some Tamiya or Academy armor kit, mostly because I remember when I was a kid that armor kits rarely cost more than $20. But then again, I have a lot more money today than back then, and a $50 kit is much easier to afford now than a $20 one back then.

The truth is that price alone rarely deters me from buying a kit. If I'm really interested in a kit, I'll buy it whether it costs ten dollars, twenty, or fifty. The Academy Ontos is a case in point: I knew I would have one no matter how much it cost, so I didn't even look at the price tag. Cost only really becomes a factor when the price tag approaches one hundred dollars, which is my cutoff. Below a hundred, it's a casual purchase. Above a hundred, it's getting to the point that it must be planned and may be so expensive it just isn't worth it. I've always wanted to have a nice 1/32nd scale F-15C Eagle, which to my mind is what an air superiority fighter should look like. But the last time I looked, the Tamiya kit was going for $135. Ouch. That's getting hard to justify.

I'm more prone to grouse about the number of parts in modern kits, especially armor kits. I was reading a review of some Chinese MBT in Model Military International that claimed that included 22 sprues of parts. Wow! I've built entire kits in the past that didn't have 22 parts, let alone 22 sprues of parts! Does an M4A1 Sherman really need 400+ parts? An M1117 Guardian with 300+ parts? A Flakpanzer-IV with over 900 parts??? Holy cow. I don't really want to sound like I'm complaining, because when it comes to models, more detail is better than less. But a 400-part Sherman, that's starting to sound like serious work! And the Flakpanzer? Never going to appear on MY workbench, I can tell you that.

Yes Eye Can't


I haven't done much modeling for the last couple of weeks. Almost none at all. And this is why. I developed shingles on my face which, unluckily enough, involved my right eye. I can force my eye to open if I really have to, but it hurts to do so and I suffer from such appalling double vision when I do that I prefer to keep it closed. It's anyone's guess when this will clear up - it's been two weeks and though it hurts less, it remains uncomfortable.

Worse, I have no binocular vision and basically can't use a knife or a paint brush.

I've had an old Revell Calypso model in my stockpile for years, and after watching some 1970s-era Cousteau specials on TV, I decided to dig it out and have a go. It's a nice kit, full of all sorts of interesting features - various kinds of boats and exploration submarines, some divers, a shark, a shark cage, a Hughes 300 helicopter. But my particular version of the kit proved to be in an extremely bad way. It was missing a major piece for the upper superstructure, and the plastic had become extremely brittle and unforgiving. After trying to piece the broken railings back together (no easy feat when you've only got one eye on-line) I finally had to conclude that the kit was beyond repair. I'd repair one broken part, only to have four others break in the meantime.

Fortunately I kept all the Calypso-specific parts, so I can buy the generic "ocean exploration ship" release and still have a Calypso without having to resort to eBay.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Zvezda Trireme

An overall view of the Zvezda 1/72nd scale trireme. It had been hanging around for the longest time in an almost-done state, and after a couple of years I decided to wash off the dust and finish it. Note that I finished it rigged for war, with the mast and bowsprit removed and no rigging at all except for the ropes that hold up the hinged end of the corvus.

The kit itself is very nice, and has excellent engraved plank and joint detail. Even the decals were nice, though they only amounted to two eyes for the bow, with a small printed paper banner for the standard at the rear.
I wanted to give it a full crew, but I didn't have enough Roman figures to pull that off. So I plopped on two light ballistae from Haet Industries and their respective three-man crews, a couple of infantrymen and a gesticulating centurion forward, and a command group including an Imposing Centurion, a standardbearer and a cornicen aft. I can't remember what sets most of the figures came from; I have a bad habit of consolidating multiple figure sets in a single Tupperware bin and can't remember who made what any more. I painted the figures on their stands, but then sliced them off the stands and superglued them to the deck.
A notable goof: you may note that the trireme is missing its ramming beak. Years ago the thing slid off a shelf and the beak broke off, never to be seen again. Someday I may carve a replacement and glue it on, but for now, I'm done with it.

Lindberg Snark

My stab at the 1/48th scale Lindberg Snark. I built this for the most part while I was waiting to start radiation therapy on the tumors in my groin - my had had swollen up to near-uselessness and it was pleasant to sit on the bed with a towel on my lap working on this model.

It's big. Surprisingly big. It'll eat up a lot of storage space, so be prepared.

While I was by and large pleased with the kit, it had a few flaws that required work. The flat top of the fuselage, especially between the wings, featured a large step, as one of the fuselage halves had developed a strong inward warp. I cut about fifty lengths of sprue anywhere from a quarter to a half an inch in length and glued them inside the fuselage so they would force the warp out when the fuselage was glued together. It worked for the most part - it eliminated about 90% of the step. The rear fuselage is supposed to be removable so show off the jet engine, but this left sizeable gaps, so I glued the rear fuselage on.

Then came putty. Lots and lots of putty. Most of the seams required filler and sanding; all required sanding. The rudder didn't fit well at all, so I covered it with putty and sanded it flat, preferring no hinge line at all than the Grand Canyon of hinge lines the kit came equipped with. It took me about six prime-sand-fill-prime cycles to get the seams acceptably flat and smooth, and in the process I destroyed a good deal of raised surface detail, but I was prepared to live with it and made no effort to restore any of it. I just don't enjoy scribing panel lines. At all.

After all this fitting, filling and sanding I sprayed the whole thing with Tamiya Italian Red spray lacquer, which I thought worked well - it's much brighter than the red I normally use, and I liked the subtle fluorescent nature of the paint.

Decaling the beast was a trip, in that the instructions don't show you where any of the decals go. All you can do is guess from the box photos where things go. Once you understand the scheme it makes sense and isn't impossible to figure out, but it might throw some people. On the plus side, the decals themselves were pretty good. I broke a few, but mostly through mishandling; the decals themselves were thin and sturdy and settled well with a few treatments of Micro-Sol. You may note that I applied the fuselage-side star-and-bar insignia parallel to the white stripe and not canted so they're sitting level while the Snark is on the launcher. It's incorrect and ahistorical, but I think it looks better this way, and it's my model, dang it.

The launcher, work stand and tractor were pretty easy to assemble. The workstand looked like it was going to be trouble, but it went surprisingly well, and the launcher was quite straightforward. The tires and tracks, however, were tough. I couldn't seem to find any way to sand the prominent seam out of the vinyl tires, and ended up carving it off with a single-edged razor blade. Most of the tires are hidden by blast shields, but enough of them are out in the open that I decided not to weather them and thus call attention to their hand-carved nature. The tracks were impossible to join together, but it turned out to be irrelevant. The gap between the return rollers and the fenders was so tight it was possible to jam the two ends together and trap them atop a return roller without glue.

A final note. Somehow I lost the nose boom, so I replaced it with a piece of round toothpick, sanded smooth and painted silver.

So, it was a lot of work, heavy on the sanding, filling and tire-carving, but it's such an unusual model I really didn't mind the work. I may build another one in a more restrained grey SAC color scheme, but then again, I may not.

I haven't painted any of the crew figures yet (though I'm going to) so I can't comment on the quality of the figures.