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.


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.


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.


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


F-104S-ASA Starfighter




X-Winging It

Saturday, October 7, 2017. My big 1/32 Trumpeter MiG-23 had been plodding along, and was nearly at the painting stage. But I decided to take a week off for a little sidecar project – a 1/144 Bandai T-65 X-Wing.

Why? A few reasons.

First, the MiG-23 has been a slow, steady project, but one that’s nowhere near its endpoint. In fact, I’m just about to get into the fun stuff. But it’d be nice to make some quick progress on something.

Second, the annual Austin contest is on Saturday the 14th, and it’d be nice to have one more thing to enter I guess. I’m not really expecting a tiny X-Wing to do all that great against what will probably be a table stuffed with larger Bandai kits, but whatever.

Third, my project load at work is rather intense at the moment,  and to be honest I wasn’t sure I’d have the mental bandwidth to really focus on the MiG-23. But modeling is my decompression mechanism, so…something had to be on the bench.

Fourth, a model this small and simple gave me a great reason to sit at the kitchen table with the kids while we all did something crafty. I did the X-Wing while 2 and 3 painted. It was good fun.

Fifth, I wanted to see if I could take a kit from cracking the box to finishing it up in under a week. My build rate has slowed considerably in recent years, and even on something as small as a 1/144 X-Wing, that span seems daunting.

Sixth, I’d like to have a small model that I could plop on the desk at work, and a tiny X-Wing seems like a good choice.

Priming and painting the tiny X-Wing was a quick affair. And while I primed in black as per usual, I didn’t really focus much on tonal variation since the thing is tiny anyway.



Instead of white, I opted to use MRP-256 Clear Doped Linen, which is a lovely off-white shade with a hint of warm grey to it.


For markings, I decided to use Nicholas Sagan’s excellent Blue Squadron decal sheet. It’s a bit of a pain to carefully trim out the decals since the whole sheet is carrier filmed, but the decals themselves are thin-yet-tough and conform very well. Certainly better than Bandai’s decals.

The decals are also slightly translucent, which is fine considering the monotone nature of the X-Wing’s base paint.

Oh, and the various color patches are already chipped up, which is a huge bonus.

Due to the annoying nature of Bandai’s X-Wings, I had to do the wings first, since I wouldn’t be able to easily access the inner wings once the s-foils were locked into the fuselage.

The canopy on this kit is, annoyingly, solid plastic. The canopy decal fits excellently, and the black mostly looks the part, but in an ideal world this would at least be some kind of glossy black film that could be applied.


After the wing decals were all sorted, I closed the s-foils inside the fuselage and glued the bastard tight, then went back and touched up the affected areas with paint.


Next up came the balance of the decals on the fuselage. I went a little bit free-form with these and added some additional color splashes ahead of the cockpit.


With all the decals applied, I moved straight into weathering. As it turns out, AK’s Engine Grime makes an absolutely ideal wash for the X-Wing.

While others have had issues with mineral spirits and Bandai plastic, it wasn’t an issue when I built the A-Wing, and it’s not proving to be an issue with the X-Wing either.


Some final weathering in the form of sponging some Ammo Medium Gray panel line wash on the surface. This is really something that would work better in larger scales, and here it does an okay job.

After the sponging, a coat of Gunze Mr. Color Flat Clear sealed everything up, and the diminutive Blue 3 officially moved into the Completed column.

And just to show how much of a lilliputian this T-65 is, here it is next to an SD card for scale:

Wrapping Up

I’m not about to call this X-Wing my best work – or even anywhere close – but it provided a nice change of pace from the protracted MiG-23 build. And maybe, just maybe, it’s opened the door to an antidote to my rather bad shelf-of-doomitis. Instead a of starting another project, getting lost in it, and repeating that vicious cycle, this is more of a quick breather before diving back in. I think I may well look at picking up a few other 1/144 Bandai kits, and perhaps some Eduard MiG-21s, which I’ve built before and very much enjoyed, and see if the “quick distraction” thing holds.

The Kit Itself

What did I make of the Bandai kit itself? Overall, it’s awesome. A miniature version of their already very good 1/72 X-Wing. In some ways, I think it’s better, since you don’t have the bullshit with the body being broken up with the different colored paneling (hey Bandai, cut that shit out). But the surface detail is exquisite and the fit leaves nothing to complain about.

There are, however, four things I’d put in the minus column. They’re small complaints, but complaints nonetheless:

  1. The solid canopy is kinda bullshit. If nothing else, give us a heavily smoked clear part, or a shiny black part, and then just decals for the framing. The decal works decently, but only decently.
  2. The fit is too tight. This is true of other Bandai kits as well. The press-fit idea is nice and all and good for novice modelers. BUT it doesn’t lend itself to test-fitting or modular building. When I built the A-Wing, this is something I ran afoul of, with a test-fit becoming a “well I’m never getting that back off” fit. The way around this is to cut, ream, and otherwise mess with the internal mounting lugs and holes so that they are looser and allow placement and removal.
  3. The s-foil/fuselage assembly is inconvenient. I don’t like having to trap the wings in the fuselage. I just don’t. It makes it tough to get at the inside of the s-foils, and it means you have this awkward break in construction to paint, and painting to construct. I’m told the Fine Molds kits have a different approach to this that works better, but I have zero experience with them so I can’t confirm or deny.
  4. The mold seams are annoying.  In 1/144, mold seams are rather noticeable, and for the most part they aren’t a big deal on the X-Wing. But when they are a big deal, it’s really noticeable, such as on the wingtip laser cannons. Frustratingly, the seams on the cannon housings are difficult because of the contours and details. And the seams on the laser barrels (?) are difficult because of how fragile those parts are. I’m not sure what all can be done here, but it’s an annoyance that should be taken into account. As I was moving fast and breaking things, I didn’t notice until I’d already started on a few of the barber pole decals, but I’d be more diligent there next time out.

So…that’s it. A nice, quick build and a good six-day distraction. Now back to Floggertown!


Tamiya’s New 1/48 Bf 109G-6 – Quick Thoughts

Every time a Shizouka Hobby Show or All-Japan Model & Hobby Show roll around, the modeling community gets all pins and needles in anticipation of the latest Tamiya release. There are other manufacturers, too, but for the most part their new stuff blows cover well before it’s shown publicly. Tamiya seems to be one of the very few that holds its powder for industry event reveals.

At this year’s AJMHS, the betting money was on a variant of their excellent F-14. Well, until the last few weeks, when work of a new 1/48 tooling squeaked out.

It turned out to be a new 1/48 Bf 109G-6.


Unlike last year’s F-14, or even the Ki-61 (more on that in a minute), it seems like the 109 is receiving something of a muted reception. But I’m sure it’ll still sell like hotcakes.

With Tamiya’s 1/32 releases, I usually do a quick post on the kit and its implications.  Even though the 109 is 1/48, I figure that it’s a significant enough release to justify the same. So let’s get into it.

Great. Another 109.

This is the prevailing sentiment floating around the interwebs right now. And it’s valid. Usually, Tamiya does a pretty good job of wading into a subject area it can exploit. But with the 109G-6, the field is already littered with competitors. Many of them – like Academy and Arii – aren’t particularly great and can be more or less discounted. That still leaves the venerable Hasegawa and the newer Eduard and Zvezda kits, however.

What can Tamiya possibly bring to the table that’s not already there?

In a word – itself. Tamiya is one of the few brands that is an absolute guarantee of quality engineering and fit. I have no doubt this 109 will build beautifully.

And the Tamiya quality alone will ensure that they sell a ton – unless they do something crazy with the price and list it at $80.

The Price is an Open Question

Eduard’s Bf 109G-6 Profi-Packs have an MSRP of $50, and a street price of around $40. I’d expect Tamiya to show up at a slight premium above that, especially considering the included engine.

The similar-sized, DB 605-having Ki-61 has an MSRP/Street of $52/$42, for example. And the 109 will probably follow in its footsteps.

The Variants are Another Open Question

Tamiya sucks at covering off on variants. They’ll do a few and then move on, leaving us without, say, a P-47N or a Spitfire Mk.IX or an A6M2 Zero. Or the oft-wished for F-16D.

And if there’s one thing that the 109 is known for, it’s an absolute fuckton of variants. Even among the G-6, you’ve got the early short tail, the later with the taller tail and rudder, versions with the usual canopy cage, versions with the Erla Haube hood, and so on. Then you’ve got the various G-10s, the G-14, and the like.

It’s practically a given that Eduard will produce every single one of these. But Tamiya? Don’t hold your breath.

Granted, they have clearly designed the kit with provisions for additional variants. The cowl “cheeks” are separate, and the tail in particular is cut up to easily fit the tall tail and rudder if desired.

BUT the F-16 has provisions that set up a two-seater, so just because Tamiya’s laid the groundwork doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

It Has an Engine

Like last year’s Ki-61, the new 109G-6 boasts an engine, something of a rarity for a V-arrangement engine in a Tamiya 1/48 kit, and something that will set it apart from the Hasegawa and Eduard kits (but not the Zvezda). I’d imagine this kit’s development is perhaps part of the reason that we got the DB 605 in the Ki-61 kit, and can’t help but wonder if it has implications for future larger scale subjects.

There are also separate parts for building the cowl panels opened up, or closed. A practice that Tamiya has used to great effect in the past (for landing gear doors, or for wing sweep components on the F-14), and that manufacturers like Kitty Hawk could stand to learn from.

New Paints? Maybe?

New Tamiya kits are frequently accompanied by new Tamiya paints. Frustratingly, those paints are often rattlecans. But while a rattlecan might work for, say, a 1/32 Corsair, it’s not going to cut it for 1/48 mottling. So we might – might – be seeing some new XF paints for RLM 74/75/76.

It May Portend Future 1/32 Developments. Or Not.

At this point, outside of timing, I have no idea what the fuck is going to happen with Tamiya’s next 1/32 subject. Precedent would have had a whole new subject landing this past May, but instead we got the F4U-1D. Next year, odds are we will be seeing a whole new subject.

What will it be though? If they keep going along their 1/48 release order, a P-47 or Me 262 still seems likely. But their 1/48 moves are muddying the waters. A case could be made for a new-tool 1/32 F-14 to replace their nearly 40-year-old original tooling.

And now, a case could certainly be made for a Bf 109. It would require some backpedaling from Tamiya in terms of pricepoints. I’ll buy kits at the drop of a hat, and even I’d balk at spending $100+ on a 109 kit, no matter how good it was or who made it. I can only imagine the reaction of those who think that Hobby Lobby’s kit selection is overpriced.

I’m pissed at the prospect of a 109 potentially bumping a 1/32 P-47 out of the way, but at this point, if we’re being honest, I’d have to say that a 109G-6 just became the favorite for Tamiya’s next 1/32 release. And I’d buy one, and build it up in Finnish or Romanian or Italian service. All the while stewing at not having my dreamed of 1/32 Tamiya Jug.