Well, I’ve made the trek out to Omaha for the 2022 Nats, and I wanted to share some thoughts and impressions while they’re fresh in my mind.
If you follow almost any podcast (and let’s face it…some more than others) or are in any way active in the online community, you’ve been subjected to Nats hype. You never forget your first one, the vendor’s room is the world’s largest hobby shop etc etc.
The hype sets it up like moving from some scruffy minor league game out in the sticks to the Super Bowl, World Series, or Stanley Cup.
To me, it feels more like the step change from a Target to a Super Target. There’s more of it. And maybe a few different things. But it’s generally familiar.
That’s not a bad thing. Local and regional shows are fun, too! But I do feel like the hype oversold it somewhat.
As long as I’ve been going to contests, lighting is always a point of frustration. And while the La Vista Conference Center isn’t the well of darkness one finds at the Travis County Expo Center, it’s not great either. I had to crank my Fuji X-S10 to 12800 ISO in order to shoot handheld, which is bullshit.
The indifferent lighting does no favors to the entries. It mutes colors, it obscures tonal variation, and it darkens colors. Fine for a gray or a lighter green, but not great for darker blues or olive drabs or what have you.
The people are hands down the best part of the Nats experience. Getting to finally meet several friends and fellow modelers in person, like Ian Bonner, Jonathan Anderson, Sam Dwyer, Aaron Kuck the rest of the PPP, OTB, and Modelgeeks (and waaaaaay more). Getting to reconnect with Will and Justin and Gabe and yeah…spending several days nerding out with some fellow travelers was 100% the high point.
And that’s one point where Nats is markedly different from a local or regional contest. You don’t have people traveling in from Europe or Australia to go to Modelfiesta.
It took until this show for the gears to all click together, but here it is. I don’t like mirror bases.
Yeah, they let you see the underside of an aircraft. Okay. They also let you see the ceiling, which you have no control over. And the result is a base that’s super distracting and that can swallow the subject with a bunch of visual clutter.
I’m of the school that thinks a base should help present the model. Show it in the best light, use colors intelligently to help the colors of the build leap out, and visually separate it from its surroundings.
A mirror base doesn’t do that. At all. It drags in colors that may clash with or mute out your aircraft. It adds visual clutter that can crush tones as the eye tries to sort through everything.
There are plenty of base tropes that I’m just not a fan of (light colored wood, little league trophy-inspired font choices…), but the mirror base is a hill I’ll die on. It makes models look worse than they are. At least in these venues.
Lots of good figures and busts but I barely looked at them and barely took any pictures. Why? Because figures and busts are best studied at about eye level. And the tables were several feet below eye level. Between the light and the elevation, I just couldn’t muster it.
At Modelfiesta, they’ve been using table risers to get all subjects a bit higher. I don’t know if you really need that for everything, but for figures, you absolutely do.
There were ultimately something like 70 Shermans in the PPP Group Entry. And it was awesome to see so much variety among a subject that people often bemoan for its lack of variety.
I can’t think of a better modeling tribute to the M3 and M4 platforms.
Vendor tables have been a decreasing priority for me at contests for the past several years, due to me mostly not being interested in crumpled boxes of 40 year old kits, and many vendors not being interested in bringing newer or more esoteric stuff.
But I expected Nats would have a bit more going on. The vendor area was surprisingly spartan and I probably would have been better served just getting frisky on Sprue Brothers or Kitlinx. I was looking for one or two kits in particular, and didn’t find them at all. Yet somehow I’m bringing six kits home.
The real kick in the nuts though was the number of sellers only taking cash.
It’s 2022. Even if you don’t want to deal with a Square card reader, there’s Venmo. Or Paypal.
If you sell on eBay you’re literally already set up for digital payments.
To not accept them is lame for some random seller, but it’s inexcusable for a large manufacturer like Eduard.
While I didn’t buy anything from them because they’re in my backyard, I did like the selection LionHeart brought. Great mix of tools, books, and interesting and smaller-sized kits (like Arma Hobby 1/72 kits).
And I would’ve liked more time to dig through the various resin bits and decal sheets…but even with three days it all blurred by.
Oh, look, I found a can of worms!
No. I’m not going there. Overall, my take on Nats in person isn’t too far off from what I’ve thought from afar in previous years. There are some truly standout builds. Like…really good. But in general, I don’t think the IPMS rules or judging paradigm reward risk-taking (with the exception of scratchbuilding).
All the mild IPMS annoyances at local and regional shows (interminable awards ceremony…) can be found at Nats as well. But when you’re at Nats and you hit an afternoon lull, you can go back to your hotel room and take a nap. When the awards ceremony is droning on and on, you can talk with more people, or go eat somewhere. The luxury of a multi-day affair.
This is not my idea…but I’m going to champion the shit out of it. For each major category (aircraft, armor, auto, figure, ship, sci-fi), there should be a single kit, single subject challenge category.
This would be a category where everybody builds the same kit. And where the judges have to have built it as well. Part of my philosophical annoyance at the IPMS rules is that they try don’t do a great job accounting for differences in kits. So if you strip out that variable and you’re judging the SAME EXACT KIT, well, that’d be interesting.
And it’d be the sort of thing where the year before, you announce what the kit will be. Maybe something like a 1/48 Kinetic F-104, a 1/35 Tamiya KV-1, and so on. Switch up scales and manufacturers each year.