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.