Thoughts on a Show

The annual Austin IPMS contest was today. Despite falling on the same weekend as ACL and the TX/OU game, turnout was actually pretty good. There were a lot of entries, hopping vendor tables, and blah blah.

Contest-wise, I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped.

My Bf 109G-10 and Leopard C2 won their categories, which is great. Particularly the C2. Yet again, a last-minute completion ends up winning the category the following day! It’s also the first time I’ve taken any armor category.

More baffling is that the AH-1Z and Corsair were completely and totally shut out. Compared to the choppers that won, I’m baffled as to how the AH-1Z didn’t place at all. And the Corsair…it won the category in San Antonio earlier this year, over the 109G-10. That’s just a hands up WTF for me.

But whatever. Despite the IPMS rules, judging is capricious and subjective. Shit happens. Instead, I want to explore a few takeaways from the show, hopefully food for thought for all of us.

1 – Why even bother with the “Judge’s Comments” box on the entry form?

I’ve never seen or known anyone who has received feedback in this box. And you know what? It’d be really damn helpful to learn what put something over the top – or didn’t. I think I’ll volunteer to judge at the next show I attend – and will make it a point to write a few comments.

2 – The bias toward German armor is alive and well

Among builders and judges. Category breakouts in armor were almost entirely “German ______” and “Non-German ________”. Best armor was awarded to, shocker, a Panzer.

3 – Pay attention to the little things!


There were a ton of “three foot” models. Builds that look really impressive – until you get close.  Then you see gaps that should not be there, canopies 10 or more degrees out of alignment, and other signs of sloppiness. I’m all for cutting corners and the principle of FICE (fuck it, close eough), but come on.

For example – there was a 1/32 F-105 on the tables. Nicely done. The paintwork was a bit bland for my tastes, but well done. But then I looked into the intakes and they weren’t even painted. There were still ejector pin marks! And not buried way in the back, but right on the lip, in plain sight. Maybe if the judges utilized the comments box, they could make the builder aware that this is a contention-killing oversight.

4 – People should buy airbrushes.

When I walked in from the registration table and glanced at the helicopter section, the first thought that went through my head was “oh shit”. Because there was a 1/35 Mi-24 Hind sitting there.

Then I got close to it. And it was brush painted, and painfully, obviously so.

Look. If you can afford a kit like Trumpeter’s big ass Hind, and can have room enough to build it, you can afford a damn airbrush to finish it right.

5 – Overweathering is a problem. But underweathering is a bigger one.

The modern AFV category was baffling. Probably two thirds of the entries weren’t weathered at all. There were several Soviet T tanks in contention, and only one of them went any further than just painting it green. Even parade-prepped tanks have some kind of wear and tear and color irregularities here and there. These didn’t even look like die cast to me. They looked like plastic toys.

Even just a filter. Or some drybrushing. Anything would have massively elevated them.

I spend so much time on forums and Facebook pages seeing amazing work and getting into debates about how much weathering is too much…but seeing those T tanks with none of that really rammed home…something.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Brown says:

    Ha! My experience with contests has been spot-on identical to yours. A build of mine could win best of show in one contest and strike out in another. In fact two builds I took to the Region 10 contest in Denver this year that had never won anything took 1st in their categories. How ’bout that. Judging is and always will be Subjective (note the capital ‘S’). I do scratch my head at times with decisions that some judges make, and people tend to trash talk the concept of contests in general because of this and other things but who on earth cares? I go to shows for the close communion with other modelers, not to collect baubles to collect dust in a drawer somewhere. What is more fun than looking at a nice build, comparing it to other nice builds and discuss/debate/argue modeling points with other modeling geeks?

  2. Jim's Models says:

    1. Even judges are afraid to critique? I wish this shocked me in the least.

    2. Again, no surprise. I have to admit though, I didn’t look at armor closely at all at the last show I was at. Is it that the non-German stuff maybe is just poorer…you know because all the real hardcore armor guys are all up on the German stuff.

    3. Admittedly once of the biggest reasons I have failed to enter anything up until now. I strive for flawlessness, I never get it but I try, and I always end up with some little thing here or there that sticks out terribly to me that probably would be missed my all but the most scrupulous. However, I too have seen some glaring problems on a lot of contest entries.

    4. I can’t even comprehend someone putting that kind of investment in time and money on a 1/35 Hind and brush painting it. I’ve yet to see a brush painted model that didn’t look awful. Sorry. I said it.

    5. I suspect your Zulu and Corsair ate it here…just from what I’ve heard about judging. Frankly, I’m shocked at both. At our show in April I noticed most every airplane across categories was devoid of much more than a panel line wash if that. You’re right, they do look like toys, but they win. I came away thinking if I wanted to enter in 2016 I was going to have to keep things cleaner, and I let that weigh into my weathering decisions on a couple of builds. Frankly, I wouldn’t worry too much it’s likely just judging bias.

    Now, how many airplanes were badly pre-shaded…and did any win?

    1. Francisco Santoro says:

      Hi, I want to know what do you think of how I painted this model:

      It is brush painted, and the first model in which I tried to sand the paint ridges left by the accumulation paint.

      I wrote it for MM early this year.

      Please tell me what do you think.

  3. Doogs,

    I’m surprised you’ve not done judging already. Your overall experience and eye for well executed detail, particularly on airplanes, would make you an ideal judge. Contest organizers are generally terribly short of experienced builders and must often employ individuals who wish to dominate a conversation which should rightfully be about build quality.

    Unfortunately, as you’ve mentioned above, too few judges have too little time to offer feedback on the entry form. It’s regrettable, but unavoidable when so many good models must be sorted in just an hour or two.

    The best way to avoid capricious or biased judging is to become part of the group, pulling it towards the center. And even then, as I’ve seen on a few occasions, a good model will still lose out. Shit happens.

    I hope you had fun, at least. In the end, I enjoy the time with model nerds (well, certain nerds) more than I enjoy actually looking at the things those people have finished.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it, frankly. Your builds are good. You were just dealt a mediocre hand.

    All the best,

  4. Shayne says:

    Well the wonderful world of contests….I hate the fact that there is an eyeball done and they choose the best say 5 or so model sthat will get judged, people pay to enter the contest then i feel they have the right to have their model judged properly.
    I am also surprised Doogs you have not judged yourself…….i am sure you will love the experience.
    It’s a hard thing this when you maybe put comments on a judging slip you know you will open a can of worms with someone, some will appreciate the feedback others will just see red.
    I enjoyed the read……and i agree 100%

  5. Heinz Bar says:

    Ah, that explains the Corsair. The exact same judges (we talked about him) at SAT were the ones at AUS. I bet he recognized the Corsair and decided to spread the wealth around a bit. We even mentioned some of the same kits we keep seeing on the local circuit. The Cobra? I got nothing on that one.
    As far as judging goes, you’d do a terrific job. But avoid the the same category and the aforementioned person. He’d drive you nuts….

  6. Ralph Renzetti says:

    You’ve hit it right on the mark on so many levels. I remember the first IPMS nationals I attended, I got an honourable mention and an added note which read, if you would like, for $2 you can have your model evaluated by a judge to find out how to improve it. This goes back a few years, but there was no other way to find out.

  7. Dave says:

    Hey Matt- your ‘problem with panel line shading’ post made me want to reply, but this one is more appropriate. I’ve been judging for five years, and am currently Head Judge in my model club- Southern Maine Scale Modelers (we put on a local show every April). I’ve judged at many of the shows in NH and MA, have judged at a Region 1 show, am certified to judge at the regional level at AMPS, and just completed my second year judging at the Nationals in July. I wholeheartedly agree that those who would question or find fault with judging should volunteer to judge and bring their observations to a judging team.

    You are absolutely correct in that there is a healthy level of subjectivism in certain judges’ minds, and that less experienced builders (and some of those who don’t judge) misunderstand what’s going on in the judging process. Let’s use the P-47 that took Judges’ Best of Show at this years’ Nats as an example. Yes, your point about the weathering is well taken, but when you take all aspects of the model into consideration, to achieve that sort of flawlessness and consistency, there was really nothing else that was better. To wit: the framework around the engine as well as the engine itself. Construction and finish here was flawless, made even more difficult because of the delicacy and intricacy of the components- and the rest of the model was equally consistent. And to be clear: only the category head judges and the Chief Judge decide the Judges’ Best award at the Nats, and further are the only people allowed in the contest room when this discussion takes place. All the regular judges are excused and the door is closed.

    IPMS National judges are instructed to keep these criteria in mind when making decisions: construction, finish, realism (which I take to mean egregiously out-of-scale components or effects- possibly a reflection of your panel line shading argument- or features characteristic of the molding process not found on the real article), and scope of effort. Accuracy should come into play only during the final ranking. I submitted a build of Mirror Models’ Diamond T 969A open top wrecker this year, and it came in 3rd. One of the entries that came in ahead of it was a WWII US Army staff car. Now, I didn’t investigate the staff car, but I can almost bet that the scope of effort that I put into that wrecker (570 parts in the box, and another 30 or so scratchbuilt) was greater than on that staff car. I asked for critique from one of the people who judged that category, and I was told that I didn’t do better because my finish didn’t ‘pop,’ and that a little dry-brushing of yellow might help that. However, what I did do was apply a black preshade to most of the vehicle, various filters, and a micro chipping technique I learned from no less than Adam Wilder. I didn’t see any finishing techniques that stood out on the staff car, but I digress.

    Point is, it’s all a work in process- the builds, the judging criteria, the judging process itself, and the knowledge base of the individual judges. Nothing about this is perfect, nor will it be, but with continuing conversation and participation it can get better. After all, every time I step to a table to judge or give instructions to a group of judges, my absolute first priority is to give the builders my very best. It’s why I’m there and they’ve certainly earned it.

    1. Doogs says:

      Yeah – I’ve never bagged on the quality of the craftsmanship that went into that P-47. It’s a jewel. The way it was finished out is not to my tastes, but IPMS rules take that out of consideration (or should).

      But – at least at the Austin and San Antonio contests, which are the only ones I can attend due to life’s multitude of responsibilities, I’ve seen several instances of builds passed over (some mine, many more not) for completely subjective reasons, or out of ignorance of the subject.

  8. Brent Sauer says:

    1 – Why even bother with the “Judge’s Comments” box on the entry form:
    From the local shows that I have been to, there are never enough judges. The judges struggle to
    get through all of the entered kits, much less have time for individual notes. Like you though, I would
    really like to get some feedback…regardless if I agree with it or not.

    2 – The bias toward German armor is alive and well:
    I agree with this. I believe this will always be the case. However, with the influx of modern kits from
    Meng, Trumpeter, Takom and AFV Club the number of modern entries is increasing.

    3 – Pay attention to the little things!:
    I see this too…especially with the large projects like Tank Transporters and large scale aircraft.

    4 – People should buy airbrushes.:
    It seems that most model builders are able to afford airbrushes but many are intimidated by them
    and don’t want to invest the time to get proficient with them.

    5 – Overweathering is a problem. But underweathering is a bigger one.:
    I have mixed emotions with this statement. I’m tired of seeing every model extremely worn and
    weathered. It would be refreshing to see a tank that just has a light wash and some highlighting.

    1. Doogs says:

      I really, really wish that my pictures of the armor builds had come out better. I’m talking about no weathering of any kind. No filters, no highlighting, no drybrushing, no tonal variation. Literally – several T tanks just painted green, with decals applied, and plopped on the tables.

      Completely unweathered armor entries outumbered the potentially overweathered by 5, maybe 6-to-1, easy.

  9. Joseph Metchnikoff says:

    I agree with most of what you say. In light of that that is why I like “The Chicago Rules”. They are similar to the same rules they use in the Civilian Marksmanship Programs” CMP shooting events.
    That is each person is judged individually on their own merit. It takes so many points to get a Bronze , so many for a Silver and then so many for Gold Medal. As with the hobby, each model can get a certificate of merit, 3rd 2nd and first. Then there is a 1st 2nd and 3rd overall for the category and so on.

    I used to judge and found The Chicago Rules very helpful as there are so many great examples.
    The area I judged was WW1 Through WW2 aircraft. It was amazing how many times I ran into judges that didn’t know much about that historical period. That is why I found it VERY important modelers put down on paper near the model why the colors were the way they were, have copies of photographs showing the real thing they were modeling, what theater of operations, time of year and oh yes, The weather!!!

    I was fortunate in that I was an exchange student in Europe in the late 70’s and 80’s met many WW2 pilots, groung crew etc., from Germany, Britain, Italy and Russia. I was amazed at how they all “Borrowed” paint and equipment from each other. The Germans and Russians had told me how they used mops, rags even bare hands to apply camo to aircraft. When stocks ran out they used housepaints or whatever they could get their hands on!! I love stories like that. Thus their should be some flexibility in judging and a “common sense” approach. As more than one pilot had told me they never paid much attention to how their planes were painted some even said they didn’t even know what the opposite side of their aircraft looked like as long as it was in flyable condition and fully armed!!

  10. justindlentz says:

    Man! I sure would have liked to have gotten a chance to chat with you this weekend. I don’t get down to the area often, and shows even less often… Maybe next time.

    I enjoyed the show, and had the same thought: “What’s up with this blank Judge’s Comments” box? I would always love some constructive feedback, even if it’s from a new judge that just says “Your gear are uneven…” just something there would be nice.

    Anyway, man, hope to catch you next time. Those were beautiful builds you brought!!

    1. justindlentz says:

      Ha. You can delete this duplicate…

      I’m blog-challenged.

  11. justindlentz says:

    Dang! I wish I would have had a chance to chat with you this weekend, as I don’t often get down to Central Texas, and have historically made it to shows even less often. Maybe next time, man.

    I, too, was wishing there were some comments in the “Judge’s Comments” boxes– even something as simple as “Watch your alignment,” from a novice judge would be fine by me!

    Anyway, you brought some beautiful builds. Loved the AH-1, and the 109!

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