Recently, some well meaning commenters have intimated that I am some kind of aspiring modeling dictator, telling everyone else what and how to model.
While nothing could be further from the truth (I will tell you what and how I think you should model), it got me thinking. If I was some kind of scale modeling il duce, what would I do with that bizarrely niche power?
I sure wouldn’t tell people how to pursue their particular flavor of the hobby. Instead, I’d level my proclamations at those make the kits and paints and yes, the aftermarket sets. Because there’s a whole lot of bullshit that you, me, and a whole lot of other modelers put up with that we simply shouldn’t have to. Not in this day and age.
Let’s start with cockpit sets.
Aftermarket Cockpit Sets are the Worst
With a few weird exceptions, aftermarket cockpit sets come in two flavors – resin and photo etch. The former is generally a total replacement for the kit plastic, while the latter is often employed more as an applique over the kit parts.
Resin’s big advantage is DETAIL, particularly detail in terms of texture, depth and complexity. Now that CAD and 3D printing are finding their way into the hobby, the amount of detail that resin sets can pull off is truly staggering.
Resin’s big disadvantage? That’s easy – FIT. Seats are one thing. But when we’re talking about full-on cockpit sets, the odds of them being drop-fit replacements for kit parts is almost zero. This leads to lots of sanding and test-fitting and swearing and – at least for me – is probably the most likely way to get me to shove a kit back into its box and move on to something different.
I can hear it now.
“But…some modeling skill required!”
Screw modeling skill. If I’m going to be paying top dollar for an aftermarket pit, the damn thing should fit. Without having to hack the kit to pieces to do so.
Photo etch’s biggest advantage is in recreating scale thickness. A great example is this lovely gunsight frame for Trumpeter’s 1/32 P-47:
It’s also got its uses for representing fine details – cockpit sills, instrument panel bezels and so on. But a lot of the PE on offer these days is the colored, console-detail variety.
Over the years, I’ve come to loathe color PE. It has this weird ability to look really great on the fret, and then go completely flat, limp, and fake-looking when you put it into your cockpit.
Part of the problem is that PE sucks at representing depth. The other part is that the color PE is often either off-color, grainy, or both.
A lot of times, Eduard (and others…but let’s face it…they’re the 800-lb gorilla here) will even oblige you to file off kit detail to install the PE, leaving you up a creek when you look on with horror at your shitty PE side consoles.
In my quest to avoid the fit issues of resin, and the color-matching and flatness issues of PE, I’ve increasingly been doing my damnedest to bring kit parts up to snuff, and use resin seats and other bits to goose the detail level.
But I would so much prefer to have the delicious detail of resin and/or photo etch, since for the most part kit cockpits aren’t the best.
Building a Better Aftermarket Cockpit
So, as modeling dictator, here’s what I would order on pain of death:
1 – Drop-Fit Resin
This should not be difficult in the slightest. After all, resin cockpits are made to fit kits that actually exist. So buy one of the damn things and make sure the dimensions are the same, and test-fit before you finalize the master. Don’t give me crap about accuracy – I can think of too many incidents of nice resin seats and cockpits getting all kinds of details wrong.
“But what about sidewalls and cockpit sills and…”
If you want to include them, go ahead. But make them optional. Or take a page from Eduard’s playbook and make them an extra set that you can charge extra money for.
2 – Retrofit Resin
Make resin enhancements designed to straight-up replace kit parts. Keep the cockpit tub intact, and just provide replacement side consoles, a replacement aft bulkhead, and a replacement instrument panel. This would be especially attractive for kits that already use separate parts for the side consoles, like Academy’s 1/48 Phantoms, and for kits that just need a little extra help.
A vanishingly small number of manufacturers already do something like this – Barracuda comes to mind with their cockpit enhancements for the Tamiya P-51, Spitfire and so on.
3 – Layered PE Instrument Panels
Eduard already does layered instrument panels…but when the background color is so far off from the kit, it’s just super-frustrating to deal with.
Here’s what I suggest – provide just the “frame” of the instrument panel, literally the shape with the holes in the right places – as an unpainted part so it can easily be painted to match the rest of the cockpit. Then provide individual bezels, clusters etc as color PE that goes on top. This way you get the nice detail of a PE panel without the swaths of grainy, incorrect color, and adding bezels and such as additional parts can yield the right degree of depth.
4 – Acetate Gauges
The printed gauges in color PE sets suck, and suck hard. The printed color texture makes it difficult to give them a good, smooth gloss that has the proper glassy appearance, and they just never, ever pop.
Individual gauge decals are preferrable, but for my money it doesn’t get better than gauges printed on clear acetate. They POP, and the nature of the material basically ensures that glassy appearance.
Ditch the PE color-printed gauge faces, and bring back acetate.
5 – Provide Decals
Cockpits are full of stencils and placards – particularly modern cockpits. If there’s one thing I do appreciate about color PE, it’s that it at least tries to represent this. With resin cockpits, you’re often SOL. Maybe not a big deal in 1/72 or even 1/48, but once you get into 1/32 scale, it really starts to show. So provide decals!
This is something Eduard does with their seats that a lot of other players (Aires, True Details etc) don’t – and it’s a huge difference-maker. Just look at the added detail and sense of realness Barracuda’s cockpit stencils set brings to Tamiya’s big Corsair.
6 – Provide Instrument Panel Blanks
Instead of forcing modelers to put their entire build at risk by grinding all the detail off their kit instrument panels, either make yours its own part or provide a blank as a replacement.
A Challenge to Aftermarket Companies
These six things. Do them. I dare you. Tons of modelers avoid PE because of the flatness and color-matching problems. Just as many avoid resin because of the fit headaches. Modelers that would buy far more of your offerings if they could trust that what they were buying would work with them, rather than fight them every step of the way.