Su-35 Battle Royale, Part 1: Antebellum

It’s been a little over a  year since my last build review – of Kitty Hawk’s maddening Su-17 Fitter. Why haven’t I returned to the well sooner? A few reasons.

  • One. These reviews take a lot of time and effort – especially shooting and editing and publishing the videos.
  • Two. I wanted to use my bench time for actually building kits. Or, let’s be honest about 2017, starting and then abandoning builds.
  • Three. There honestly just haven’t been many kits that I’ve been interested in reviewing.
  • Four. While these reviews have stirred up some excellent discussions, they also stir up petty bullshit from a small minority. And as Neal Stephenson so wonderfully wrote in Cryptonomicon, “arguing with anonymous strangers on the internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be – or to be indistinguisahble from – self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts free time.” It’s…a bit tiresome.

A Contender

Last year, Kitty Hawk released a 1/48 Su-35, and I was absolutely not interested in it, or in any other Kitty Hawk kit after the extremely sour taste the Fitter left in my mouth.

But then Great Wall Hobby announced that they, too, were going to be releasing an Su-35.

A plan began to form. A versus build, stacking two kits of the same subject against each other.

All I had to do was wait for the Great Wall kit to release. This week, the kit finally hit US shores. Orders were placed, and now here we are.  Continue reading

All About that Base

Bases have never really been my thing. In part, I think, because the focus of my modeling has typically leaned more toward aircraft, where bases are mostly an afterthought.

I’ve only ever put one aircraft on a base…and then only because the collapsed main gear would be too confusing without context.

But there are two other factors at play.

One, I’ve never felt like I have a head for picturing and executing bases. Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve rabbit-holed. I’ve gotten hung up on stupid shit. I’ve had trouble getting the drama I want out of them.

And two, I think probably 75-80% of bases look like shit. Instead of adding to a build, they detract from it.

I certainly haven’t been too happy with mine, historically. Too flat. Too single-element. Boring.

Meh.

 

When you do a base solely because the tires don’t sit level…

When you have a vision and can’t carry it off…

But then, I decided to add a base to my Takom AML-90. Three and a half years after my last attempts. Coming off a motivational collapse and housecleaning.

And even though I have only the slightest idea of what I’m doing, it came together rather well.

Perfect? Far from it. I should have played with the AML more before hitting it with mud. I should have made the shoulder stripe on the road narrower. I’m not entirely happy with the grass. I could have varied up the mud tones a bit more.

But it’s a start. And a hell of a lot more lively than my previous attempts.

It’s also awakened a desire to do even more bases.

The Patriot

The Patriot launcher and its M983 HEMTT, together, make for a rather long subject. Just about two feet. More than I trust a foam base to stand up to, so I’m stealing an old, unused 10×30 shelf.

If you look at deployed Patriots, sometimes they are set up on slopes – makes sense considering the advantages of the high ground and all that. And they often have some kind of blast barricade arrayed behind them. Here’s a handy example showing both.

My aim isn’t this exactly…but certainly inspired by this. Inclined slope, stabilizer legs up on risers, gravel, with blast walls behind. But perhaps a different climate, and perhaps some blast marks, like so…

I’ve got some ideas on how to pull this off, but it’s going to be awhile in the offing, given the scale of the build and how far I have to go.

The T-72B3

Another base I’m actively playing with is for Meng’s T-72B3. In this case, I’m taking inspiration from the Tank Biathlon, and this shot of a T-72 ramping over a small hill.

As with the Patriot, I’ve got many more miles to go, but I did some proof-of-concept testing a few nights ago to see if I could even pull this off. And with some fishing weights added where the engine would typically reside, well…

I can’t wait to play with pulling this one off, from the garish scheme and the varied terrain, the snow in places, to the icicles under the unditching log.

Way more planned…

I have to say, it feels great to be at a point where I’m feeling highly motivated again, and if anything held back by too many things I eagerly want to work on. In addition to the Patriot and T-72, I’ve got longer-term plans for doing fun things with a URAL-4320, M270 MLRS, AMX-13, and a few others that are mostly at the concept stage.

Stay tuned for more, and for I guess learning along with me as I slog through these attempts.

Priorities and Shit

The last year at the bench has been a real struggle for me. And if I’m being honest, it was a continuing, and worsening, of trends that have been creeping up on me for a while. But they really landed hard in 2017.

There was the constant rearguard action against flagging motivation. Against my own perfectionist streak getting in the way. Annoyances I would have usually looked past festered and poisoned my goodwill toward more than a few kits.

Throughout the entire year, I only managed to finish three builds. Two were dinky little Bandai Star Wars kits, and the third, Tamiya’s F-14, was largely done in 2016. Aside from that, many works in progress fell by the wayside…

And I was always chasing the cure for this malaise. If I could just find the right kit, or the right subject, or…

You know what? None of that shit worked. My old standby – just getting the fucker into the painting stages – didn’t work.  I was at wit’s end. Hours at the bench with jack all to show for it except for frustration and fatigue.

Anagnorisis

There’s a term in classical Greek literature – anagnorisis – that marks the point where a character recognizes something essential, usually about their nature, and passes from ignorance to knowledge. A “scales from the eyes” moment.

That’s what I had right around the new year.

Modeling, and all the struggles I’d been having, weren’t the problem. They were a symptom. 

So what was the problem then? In a word, me.

For the last year (at least), I’ve been coasting, for lack of a better word. Going along and getting along, but in a pretty disconnected way. From my family, from work, from life in general. It was, I guess, easier to just disengage than to face down various and sundry concerns, anxieties and challenges. And it’s been horrible for me. In terms of my physical, mental and emotional well-being. And, as a spinoff of all of that, in terms of my modeling, too.

#FixThatShit

For 2018, my goal is both simple and incredibly difficult. Work on myself. Re-engage with my family, with work, with life in general. Get back to the point where modeling is a hobby and a way of decompressing and processing the day, not the weird addiction that occupies a good deal of my waking thoughts.

It’s been that way before…and when I look back on it…my favorite builds all coincide with moments where I was most engaged in life. I want to get back to that.

But…that’s going to mean a few changes around here and on the Facebook page.

I’m intending to pull away, for the most part, from the stream of WIP updates and the social media dopamine hits involved with them. I’ll still be posting tips and kit news and the occasional rant, and of course performing admin duties over at the Scale Modelers’ Critique Group, but I’m planning on doing something different with how I share builds. Something that gets back to the original mission of this blog; giving back as I can and helping those who are maybe just coming back into the hobby, or looking to change things up.

I’m not sure yet what that will look like…so stay tuned.

 

 

Let’s Talk About The Last Jedi

Image result for last jedi

I know, I know. This is a modeling blog. But for this one post, it’s not going to be. Because I have to talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And I have to talk about it in more depth than a Facebook post allows.

Don’t like it? Don’t care? Don’t want to be spoiled if you haven’t seen it yet? Simple – don’t read.

Two quick notes before we dive in.

  • First, this post will contain spoilers. Fair warning.
  • Second, this post will probably be long. Because I have a lot of thoughts.

*****SPOILERS AND RAMBLING FROM THIS POINT ON*****

On the Divisiveness

The Last Jedi is more divisive than any Star Wars film – and perhaps any major franchise film – I can recall. And yes, I say that in the wake of the prequels. Continue reading

The MiG-23 Landing Gear Pickle

Last week, I finally got to the point of installing the gear struts on my 1/32 Trumpeter MiG-23MLA (the kit is technically the MLD, but being built as a Bulgarian MLA). And…fuck. The thing looks like it’s standing on its tip-toes.

Since I’m currently about 1700 miles away from my bench, I’ve been thinking about it from afar, and thought it’d be useful – at least to me – to do a little exploration into what the fuck is going on.

First, A Lesson in Floggers

“But Floggers sit really nose high!”

This is a piercing insight I’ve read multiple times since I put the -23 on its feet. But here’s the thing. It’s wrong.

The early Floggers, like the MiG-23MF, sat nose high. Like so.

Later Floggers, like the MiG-23ML, MLA, and MLD, had a rather different stance.

That last one seems to have the nose gear at full extension…but other late -23s look like they’re sitting on almost collapsed nose struts.

As you can see from all of these images, the late model MiG-23s sit a lot more level than the early ones. And that level has some variability to it depending on the height of the nosegear and I’d guess hydraulic pressure/weight of fuel impacting the rear struts.

TL;DR? Floggers have quite variable stances and it’s the early ones that were ass-draggers.

Trumpeter’s MiG-23…What the Fuck?

Late MiG-23s have varying stances, but none of them look quite so high as where I ended up.

And judging by other builds of the 1/32 Flogger, I’m not the only one who’s ended up here.

Though I should add that the light table can be deceiving. When shot in profile, it doesn’t look that far off of some of the reference photos (pardon the shitty shot – the phone decided to focus on the background, but it’s what I’ve got to work with at the moment).

But still, something seems amiss.

Maybe I built the gear legs wrong? That might be a possibility, except that there’s quite simply no way to do that. Putting the lower legs on backwards or upside down or whatever would mean that other linkages simply would not fit. And they fit quite nicely.

There is Another

Here’s a thing. Trumpeter has made three different 1/32 MiG-23s. An early MF, and then the ML and MLD.

To account for the difference in stance, Trumpeter uses two different lower leg parts. The MF (top) has a compressed damper, and a very shallow angle. The parts intended for the ML and MLD (bottom) extend the damper, and in so doing create a steeper angle coming off the lateral arms.

My Theory

Here’s what I think happened. Trumpeter designed the MF variant first. MFs, again, typically have a very tall nose strut, and an ass-dragging stance.

To support the weight of the kit, Trumpeter uses metal cores for its nose strut and the main gear lateral arms. While the outer parts of the ML/MLD nose gear are different, the metal core is the same, necessitating a fully extended nose gear at an angle you don’t see on the late Floggers very often.

When they changed the stance for the late MiG-23s, then, they raised the main gears by adding angle to the lower gear arms and extending the dampers. But they did so against the very tall nose gear. Resulting in a too-tall Flogger.

Other Factors

Could other things be at work?

Sure. Perhaps Trumpeter has the angle right on the lower legs, but just made them too long.

Perhaps the resin gear bays sit in slightly different locations, with millimeter differences that snowball.

Perhaps the resin tires are too big.

Perhaps I’m missing something.

Am I Going to Fix It?

No. I’m already fighting to overlook the MiG-23’s numerous small accuracy foibles. One of the reasons I chose it as a subject is that I don’t (or didn’t) know all that much about it, and wasn’t particularly interested in doing so. The more I’ve had to research and learn, the more glaring the accuracy goofs have become. And if I let myself get sucked into them, it’ll never get done.

Maybe if I’d kept the MF lower legs I’d consider giving them a go – but I set those aside early in the build and ultimately tossed them.

Of course, I say all this now. When I get back to the bench it may be a different decision. Fuck.

 

Photography: Study in Light

Why is it important to learn how to use your camera’s manual controls to shoot photos of your models?

Because when it comes to model photography, digital cameras are dumb as shit.

Your Dumbass Camera

The automatic modes in digital cameras – be they point-and-shoots, DSLRs, or the camera in your smartphone – are programmed for lifestyle photography. Dogs and toddlers and selfies and your food at that restaurant that was overhyped. They’re prepared for that kind of shit, and increasingly, excel at it.

The daughter, courtesy of my Samsung Galaxy S8+

But when we shoot our models against uniform backdrops, these smart-at-the-everyday auto modes lose their shit. The see a great swath of white and they think “OVEREXPOSED!” and so they underexpose. Likewise, they see black and they overexpose.

This leaves you with photos that are either blown out or murky, depending on your backdrop of choice.

To demonstrate this, I took a few photos of the recently-completed X-Wing. Two with manual settings, and two with the camera flipped into aperture priority.

With aperture priority, my aperture and ISO remain constant, but the camera is free to select the shutter speed it thinks is best.

White and Underexposure

In aperture priority, here’s what my Nikon decided to do with a white background.

Aperture priority: ISO 100, f/32, 0.5 second exposure

Murky. Underexposed. Shit.

Now, with the camera flipped back into full manual control, I set the shutter speed to 1.6 seconds. Seems like forever, right? Well keep in mind that I’m shooting with a 60mm lens cranked all the way to f/32 (for greater depth of field for the MiG-23), and at such a small aperture, the camera needs a lot of light.

Full manual: ISO 100, f/32, 1.6 second exposure

That’s more like it. Though the white background isn’t particularly flattering to the X-Wing.

Now, let’s look at black backgrounds.

Black and Overexposure

When a camera in an automatic or semi-auto mode sees the expanse of black backdrop, it thinks everything is too dark, and so it adjusts accordingly.

Aperture priority: ISO 100, f/32, 3.0 second exposure

To overcome what it thought was severe underexposure, the Nikon went with a whopping 3-second exposure, and in so doing, blew out all the drama of the X-Wing.

Now, with manual control and back to the 1.6 second sweet spot:

Full manual: ISO 100, f/32, 1.6 second exposure

That’s more like it. The black backdrop fades out, the highlights on the X-Wing are tamed, and the nuances of the grungy surface emerge.

Shoot in Manual!

When you’re shooting on a backdrop, do yourself a favor and shoot in manual. If you’re stuck with a smartphone, snag the Adobe Lightroom Mobile app and use its camera. You can’t do much with aperture, but you can control ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. You can also shoot in RAW (well, in DNG, which is Adobe’s RAW format), and if you have Lightroom on your computer, you can set up automatic syncing and all that jazz.

And if you do have a real camera that has real manual controls, once you get them dialed in, you can come back to them over and over again with clean, predictable results.

 

 

Photography: Focal Length

When we’re shooting photos of our models, there are a lot of factors to consider. Lighting. Proper white balance. Aperture.

But there’s one factor that is often overlooked, and that can play a significant role in the look and feel of your images.

Focal length.

Dorky Photography Stuff

Now, technically, focal length refers to the distance between the lens and the image sensor of your camera. Functionally, though, it’s basically an expression of “zoom” or picture angle. A shorter focal length will have a wider picture angle or field of view than a longer focal length.

Now, there are some out there who claim that shorter and longer focal lengths introduce distortion into an image. But outside of the really short end, where you get barrel distortion around the edges of the image, that’s really not the case. If you stay in the same place and shoot the same subject, and only vary the focal length, as you can see with the barn up there, distortion isn’t a factor.

Distortion does come into play, however, when you change your perspective relative to your subject.

What the fuck does that mean? Well, let’s say that you were shooting that same barn, but each time you changed focal lengths, you moved to keep the barn the same relative size in the frame. At longer focal lengths, the barn would appear flatter, and the background closer. At shorter focal lengths, the barn would appear larger and more dimensional, with the background falling away behind it.

These cans show the idea rather well. It’s not the focal length that is causing the feel of these different images to change so much, but the distance from the subject.

How does this apply to modeling?

Recently, I’ve been working on Trumpeter’s 1/32 MiG-23. It’s a big, long aircraft, and ungainly as hell to shoot. What’s more, with my usual 60mm lens, I had to pull back so far to shoot the damn thing that it was starting to feel…compressed.

I mean, this is a big model. But in the photos, it almost looks like a 1/48 kit. And the wings and tail look unnaturally compacted.

So I decided to do a little visual demonstration.

Here is the MiG-23 shot with my 60mm lens.

Now, here it is shot with my 35mm lens, from the same position.

If you look closely, there’s no distortion here, but there’s a much wider field of view. And that field of view lets me get my camera closer.

When that happens, the proportions distort to give the Flogger more a feeling of dimension, with the nearer elements growing larger, and the further elements smaller.

It can be tough to really appreciate the difference that the combination of focal length + distance can make in the feel of an image, so I’ve combined the two for easier comparison.

If you compare these two images, the 35mm lens and closer shooting distance invoke a much more epic sense of scale. The tail is larger. The wings longer. The nose stretches further into the distance.

What is “right”?

It’s generally said that 50mm is a “neutral” focal length, in that it basically captures the same field of view as the in-focus portion of our natural eyesight. But we also have peripheral vision and depth perception. And when you get up close to an aircraft or a tank or whatnot,  it can seem rather imposing.

By playing around with your focal length and your distance from the subject, you can recreate some of that same sense of scale with your model photography. Is it correct? Well, I’d say it’s a matter of perspective.

To see the perspective in action, I’ve shot three subjects – my 1/32 Ki-84 Hayate, 1/35 T-80BV, and 1/32 F-104S-ASA Starfighter – with three different lenses. My 35mm, 60mm, and 100mm. As you can see, the focal length + perspective shift creates vastly different senses of proportion, allowing you to play with different ways of capturing your builds.

Which do you prefer?

Ki-84 Hayate

T-80BV

F-104S-ASA Starfighter