Thoughts on a Show – ModelFiesta 39 Edition

I spend most of today down in San Antonio at the annual ModelFiesta show/contest, and drove home with a whole bunch of thoughts banging around in my head. It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post about a contest, but I feel like this year’s calls for it for one big reason.

This year I participated in the judging.

That’s right. I was a judge.

Despite being approached several times about judging, I’ve always tended to decline. Why? I like walking the tables, grabbing lunch with fellow modelers, talking shop, really spending time with all the builds. But after hearing the refrain of “you can’t complain if you don’t judge” enough times, I figured what the hell.

While I’m glad I did it (if only so I can now complain!), ultimately, judging just isn’t for me. It doesn’t jive with my personality or how I prefer to evaluate builds. Plus, I left the San Antonio Event Center with only a passing idea of what was even on the tables outside of the aircraft categories.

Anyway. As I’ve done in the past, I’m just going to throw out thoughts on the show and the judging experience. I’m certain there is a narrative framework I could put everything into, but that would take longer and I want to get to the P-47M for a bit tonight.

“Overweathered” is a grossly overapplied term

While I don’t have the same fanatical rejection of the term “overweathered” as my fellow SMCG admin Will Pattison, it gets thrown about far too often, and incorrectly. Today I heard it several times, but in almost every case, it was an example not of overweathering, but poor weathering.

Charitably, modelers aren’t that great at articulating about weathering. And also charitably, I think “overweathered” became a thing to try to be clinical and avoid having to be critical.

But it’s also reinforced a bias among judges (and builders trying to score awards) against weathering. Which you can see every year from the Nats photo albums compared to other big shows around the world.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game

Whatever my frustrations with contests, the format, the lack of feedback, the results, the awards ceremonies that are 45 minutes too long, it’s important to distinguish those from the people, who are all volunteers, who are spread thin, and doing the best they can. Judging is a thankless job.

I think I’m just philosophically opposed to the IPMS rules

Or at least…the rules as they are applied to judging.

There’s a famous saying in the business world – “you are what you measure”. The idea is similar to target fixation. If you measure four goals, and are judged on those four goals, it’s just human nature to fixate on maximizing the numbers of those four. This is how you get huge companies laying off 30,000 people to make their quarterly earnings look better.

With judging…the instructions are to cull the herd by focusing on “the basics”. In the aircraft categories I was judging, this amounted to stabilizer, wheel, and gear strut alignment. There were some that were just wildly off. Wheels sitting all womperjawed, planes listing at 15 degrees. But there were others that got eliminated because a wheel was like two degrees off from another, or toed out by a handful of degrees.

Here’s the thing – I felt the pull, too. You are what you measure.

But during the judging and especially afterward, I felt gross about it.

There were some beautiful builds that got eliminated right out of the gate. Builds that in every single other aspect were better than some of the ones that placed, simply because a wheel sat just a few degrees from perfect.

If we started from another measure – smooth paint, crisply painted canopy frames, no visible decal film or silvering, whatever – the outcome would have been different.

I prefer to look at the whole model. But now I have a better understanding of how really great builds can get chucked aside on what, to me, seem like technicalities, or at the very least a focus on just one small slice of a build.

The lack of feedback sucks

Yes, I know if you’re curious why your build didn’t placed, or placed the way it did, you can always go ask the judges and they’ll look up the notes. But that strikes me as narrow and inefficient. And honestly, the feedback isn’t substantial. Obscuring subjects to protect the innocent, let’s say there was a Yak-3 on the table that was very clean, very beautiful, but it got eliminated in the first pass because one wheel was sitting slightly aft of the other. And that person wants to know why they were eliminated when another model placed.

The only note that would likely be recorded would be about that wheel.

Honestly if I had my druthers, I would ditch the awards ceremony entirely – or for everything but the main category and best of show winners – and use that time for feedback clinics.

The only thing learning they got eliminated for a tiny wheel issue will drive a modeler to improve is their wheel alignment. It ignores the rest of the kit.

Award ceremonies are the worst

There. Has. To. Be. A. Better. Way.

This year’s award ceremony stretched over an hour. Every category, every three winners, their names, where they’re from, the tortured reading of weird subject names. At the end of the day when everyone’s a bit worn out from standing around all day.

And for most modelers there…there are entire classes that they’re not going to care about. I don’t care about the cars. I’m sure the car guys don’t like having to sit through armor and aircraft.

How could it be improved? Now that I’ve participated in judging and seen how it works, I have an idea.

As the categories are decided, the winners go up on a screen. Or hell, create a Facebook page for the contest and post them there. Place the award plaques next to the winning kits. That not only keeps momentum going throughout the usual mid-afternoon slump, it would let everyone see the winners instead of trying to remember what was what in the awards ceremony – and it would have the benefit of substantially shortening that ceremony.

It would also give those with questions – or seeking feedback – the chance to ask for it throughout the afternoon, rather than trying to corner the head judges after the ceremony, when everyone’s either leaving, or helping break down the contest and vendor tables.

Everything is silly and nothing matters

I’ve been entering builds into the Austin and San Antonio contests since 2011 and I’ve seen enough variability and WTF-ness to know that judging is capricious and that it’s really not worth getting worked up one way or another about the results. I’ve had builds win their category at one show and then not even place at the other, even against basically the same field.

It’s a common story in the modeling world.

I’ve had super-precise stuff knocked out, and I’ve had builds I’ve grabbed out of the display cabinet at the last minute, figuring they had no chance, win their categories. I’ve seen others’ builds place, and then not place.

I’ve seen enough to firmly believe that placing, or even winning category or class, is a bit hollow. And that not placing does not mean that your build is bad (or not as good or better than the winners).

Ultimately, you can let yourself be annoyed by the lack of consistency, or bemused by it. The kind of thing where you shake your head and chuckle. I choose the latter.

Okay…enough complaining. Back to the P-47M.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Scott Head, former IPMS 32831 says:

    I checked out of it all, including annual participation in the San Antonio shoe, almost 20 years ago because of the ‘zeitgeist’ of the whole judging world, which you capture here well. I miss the shows but mainly for the friends and vendor room. Thanks for this bittersweet memory.

  2. Clyde Lourensz says:

    Hey Mate,
    Judging, I get what your saying….at times, frustration plus.
    However, sometimes it has been 0100+hrs before the judging gets finished, at least for the IPMS Model Expo in Melbourne, Australia, that is the case.
    I find the early elimination can be a bit cruel, but with so many kits to evaluate, sometimes that’s the way it is and it is hard to pass on remarks with such a short timeline.
    I always, always try to remember that the particular kit I am judging is someone’s pride and joy and it shits me when I hear other judges ridicule someone else’s build. Do I act on it, sure do. I often ask them where is their build and you know what…often they don’t have one entered. Luv watching them squirm. So if you judge, then judge. Don’t take the piss.
    Judging is hard work, but hey a stick jockey would be pretty pissed if everything was meticulously prepared for flight but the a/c was sitting lopsided on the tarmac because one of the tires was at the wrong pressure.
    Sometimes all it takes is for entrants to read the IPMS rules prior to entering to make sure they cover off on the little things.
    Judging aside, I really enjoy your brutal honesty that you convey on your site.
    All the best.
    Clyde.

  3. Baz Barry says:

    Yeah I’ve not been to one In 30 years and I haven’t made a kit for years and years but I’ve got boxes of kits Piled high ready to do one day 😆👍 and I really enjoy Reading your posts. I totally agree with you on the judging thing ! even if you look at the various modelling Facebook pages there some glorious stuff being made. I wouldn’t know where to start judging it but if it looks really good For all the reasons you state ( clean Crisp highly skilled painting and decals )that’s got to be the start of it. And looking at the various Facebook groups the general standard of modelling thing is shockingly high these days.
    Great post Doog
    definite food for thought
    maybe people will start taking some of this on board.

  4. Scott Atchison says:

    Let me guess, LF was the head Aircraft judge. His big thing was alignment.

  5. Vance says:

    Great analysis here. I’ve made a habit of attending one smaller local show for several years now. TBH it’s a very well run “friendly” show. Doesn’t seem to be much drama. But last year I was likely the beneficiary of some strikes being called against builds I would’ve ranked ahead of what I brought. It was solid, well done, but left me wondering about the points being awarded. Judges were accessible (benefits of a small show) and explained pretty well what they were looking for. Good to know, but I can see how easily how somebody with eyes on a medal-winner could suddenly get hung up on “the wheel alignment” etc.

  6. Mr. K says:

    I agree with a lot of what you said, for the first time, I worked both the Nats and a regional TN show last year, and after Judging, I learned a lot about why models place or don’t. I shook my head as i helped place awards on the table after judging at the Nats, some were great, others were not.

    In my regional show i fought to have some models reconsidered, or moved to more appropriate categories so they could do better. I also got to judge classes I don’t normally build. I vowed to fight for changing some rules in our regional contest, as they don’t follow the IPMS judging book to the letter, but use the elimination system. If a category had 10 aircraft, we first eliminate the kits with the most glaring errors in construction and paint. Then we look at the technical aspects of the rest, we look for alignment, seams, gaps, glue marks, missing seatbelts, decal errors, etc. when we get to the final four, we start judging by which ones have the best construction and paint, then we take a look at “extras” and scratch building. It then usually comes down to deciding 1 & 2, which usually involves some debate among judges, but we eventually hash out a winner. Then we figure out which one deserves 3rd the most. One thing I am proud of, is we don’t take technical issues, like cloth or metal ailerons, what exact shade of RLM79 is, or wrong wheel design into account. We let the modeler decide and debate this research.

    I stayed late and answered questions on why some entrants didn’t do well. I was worried about people being angry, but instead found them really wanting to know how they can improve. I had questions myself how a model that got gold in one show, got nothing in another. I saw models that i thought should have won, didn’t, and the junk i pulled off my shelf just to enter, won over that kit. So, i had similar experiences to you, i left tired and bewildered, and saw very little of the categories i didn’t judge. I think that shows should concentrate on reinforcing basics and quality, and try to figure out a way to make it fun for everyone.

  7. Rob Booth says:

    As the Chief Contest Judge for last Saturday’s IPMS Alamo Squadron ModelFiesta 39, I read Matt’s blog piece and the ensuing tide of comments on Facebook with considerable interest. Before lending mine, let me set the stage a bit …

    I have been following Matt’s “Doog’s Models” blog for a number of years. I’ve come to appreciate his honest, if occasionally colorful commentary on all things model related. Matt is an outstanding scale modeler, which is obvious to anyone who has checked out his website. I have admired his subjects on line, and have had the pleasure of closely examining a couple of his models while judging aircraft at some of our R6 shows. I’ve asked Matt to judge aircraft at our ModelFiesta show, and at other club’s shows when I have been in a position to do the asking. He has politely declined until this year, when I believe our mutual acquaintance Justin Lentz (another excellent aircraft modeler) twisted his arm a bit for me. I have been anxious to get his feedback on contest judging from a personal perspective for some time.

    During a pause in the judging last Saturday, we had a chance to talk a bit, and I encouraged Matt to provide some feedback on his experience. We discussed some of the plusses and minuses of judging, and I hoped there might be a mention of the day’s experience on his blog for the modeling community to chime in on. Thanks for the hard work on Saturday, and the blog mention Matt. We’re proud of our ModelFiesta show, and appreciate any frank comments that help us (hopefully) put on a better show every year.

    About the judging comments here that I’ve seen thus far …

    I believe that the important thing to consider here is that all model shows are a volunteer effort … from those who put together and run the show, to those who travel to the show to participate as a contestant or a spectator. We all do this because of our interest in, or love of the hobby. I emphasize this because, in the now several years I have been responsible for herding the cats at our show, judging participation is on the decline. It seems that many of us have strong opinions on the various aspects and plusses and minuses of contest judging. To be blunt, judging is seen by many to be a pain in the ass, precisely because of the many points raised in this thread. It also seems from my experience in fielding them that the loudest complaints come from those who choose not to participate. I am curious, though … what motivates those of us who do participate in judging to do so?

    I participate because the judging process helps me become a better modeler. I always pick up on something that makes me want to find out how someone achieved a great paint job, or scratch built a better component, or whatever. That, and the fact that if a group of folks have volunteered to put on a show for me and others to participate in, the least I can do is volunteer some of my time to help in the judging. It seems selfish for me not to do so.

    I’d welcome feedback on all aspects of the subject of judging to help us improve our event, and also to generate some relevant content for our Sophomore edition of “Hints and Tips for Hosting a Successful Local Modeling Event” seminar at the Nats in San Marcos this summer. I’m particularly interested in your feedback on what motivates you to participate in the judging process, in whatever format you prefer. PM me, or email me if you prefer (PM me for email address).

    I look forward to seeing and meeting all of you at the IPMS 2020 Nats in San Marcos, Texas this summer … July 29 – August 1st. http://www.Nats2020.com.

  8. David W Aungst says:

    I learned a long time back that it is not a “contest” as much as a “lottery”. The judging is based on the imperatives of the judges and as you noted, the overall nicest model with a slightly crooked wheel gets the shaft. I can live with that and still enjoy the show. What has kept me away from competing is the awards fiasco, no feedback to the modelers, and simple time. I last competed in 2004 at IPMS Nats. I sat, and sat, and sat, and waited, and waited, and waited until the awards were all read out, then there was the frenzied collection of the models before the hotel nearly threw us all out at 11:30pm. I had slaved over building the Testors U-2R/S for over a year and got zip in the contest, not even a hint of which item the judges thought was out of alignment.

    There has to be a better way.

    Seeing no change in the convention process since then, my “better way” is to model at home and display on the Internet. I can interact and discuss the models, all be it through writing. Face-to-face talks would be nice, but I am not climbing back on the horse until I know it is a better horse. And, I really don’t need any awards, anyway.

  9. Bob says:

    Wheel Alignment? Huh…
    I’ve been judging at IPMS shows for over 20 years ( Not every year.. but most.. Like Doog said.. want to enjoy the show.. not judge every time)
    Now, with that qualifier.. Judging has taking a dip lately.. as in.. its becoming more of a popularity contest as apposed to actual build quality.. If it has lights and is big.. Oh has to be gold! No.. not usually.
    Case in point, I judged this 1 entry at a contest, it was big, had lights but build quality was crap.. seam lines, paint was so so.. so it was at best a bronze. Fast forward a few months, another contest.. same model, no improvements gets a gold and best of category.. I was like.. What??

    For those of you judging.. don’t make it a popularity contest! I judge basics.. did you fill the seams correctly, did you paint it well, did your details make sense and are good? NO SILVERED Decals! If its between 2 good lets say aircraft.. Then, and only then should Wheel Alignment ( Unless completely screwed up) should come in to play.. I mean I’m good but I haven’t got a clue on the Wheel angle of a Fw-190.. I don’t care enough!

  10. Chad Bowser says:

    When it comes to wheel alignment as a judging criteria, I don’t think the rules refer to alignment as, “are the wheels at the proper angle”. I always interpreted it as, if both wheels are canted outward, are they canted equal amounts. In other words are they symmetrical. Being at the proper angle would, in my mind, be an accuracy issue and accuracy should be one of the last things that come into play.
    I’m on the east coast and I can’t say I’ve noticed guys winning just because what they brought was big or had lights, unless there is a people’s choice award, then your almost guaranteed to win that. Name recognition seems to come into play often though, especially when it comes to the winners of best of categories.
    I agree with judging the basics remark, you can probably find crooked landing gear or wheels, wonky horizontal stabilizers, or a sloppily done canopy on over half the aircraft in any given category. It doesn’t usually take too long to whittle the field down.
    One thing I hate to see is judges trying to measure wingtip or horizontal stabilizer heights of a model on a cheap plastic table, that’s probably not all that flat, and is also usually covered with a cloth tablecloth. I’ve always felt that if it looks straight by eye, it’s straight.
    Just my opinion.

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