Modelmaking – The Next Best Thing to Sculpting

I’ve been modeling since I was about 7 years old. Like many modelers at a young age, I started off with your basic car models, especially dragsters and funny cars, then started doing semis and tanker trucks.

Later, I got interested in super detailing those models by adding spark plug wires to the engines made from black thread dipped in wax, radiator hoses made from the flexible part of flexible straws, cutting doors out with a jewelers saw and hinging them to open and close, and constantly trying to find ways to make the models more realistic. But it wasn’t enough…

Tanks For the Memories

I went through a major airplane phase after that, primarily World War II P-51Ds and B-29s among others. After burning out on cars and planes, I fell in love with armor modeling, especially German armor, but nearly anything with treads (never appreciated Allied armor-I felt their design was weak from a visual standpoint and I hated the Sherman tank’s design).

Again, my attention turned to details, and I started weathering the models heavily, and adding jerry cans, tent rolls, tools, tank tracks, crates and boxes and anything else I could think of to make them more realistic. Then I started reading Shepherd Paine’s diorama tutorials (included in many tank model kits).

Dioramas are like small scenes where a story takes place in a moment in time-A burned out shelled tank runs off the road into a farmhouse, or a tank that’s wrecked on a bridge has to be moved so the other vehicles can get by. I’d spend days with plywood and a jigsaw and a can of spackle making blown-up buildings, roads, bridges, etc., to get that spark of realism and to exercise my creativity. I loved carving and pitting the spackle to give it that “wartime” look and feel.

I began to realize that the creative part was what did it for me…Then that little movie by George Lucas came out in 1977 and everything changed. My art, drawings, model building, everything…Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Science Fiction Invades My Brain!

I still love a good tank model from time to time, but my passion for the past decade or two has been science fiction ship/vehicle/figure modeling, thanks in a big way to Star Wars and the model work of Industrial Light and Magic.

At first, I only built purchased kits (otherwise known in the modeling universe as “off the shelf” kits) from my favorite TV shows like Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Battlestar Galactica and especially Star Trek. I was also a huge fan of anything with Gerry Anderson’s name on it, like Space 1999 and UFO, but couldn’t find a lot of models from those shows.

At that time, I also did a lot of Aurora models like Planet of the Apes, Forgotten Prisoner of Castle Mare, all the Universal monster model kits, dinosaur models, etc. Then when Star Wars came out, that was it. I purchased every Star Wars ship model known at the time, and was in modeling heaven. My favorites were the X-Wing, the Millenium Flacon, The TIE Fighters, Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter and a few others.

But the creativity wasn’t there that I had enjoyed in armor modeling. You couldn’t exactly build a diorama of a burned out building like you could with tank models, or put mud and grass on a starship like you could with tanks and cars. No architectural destruction, bomb craters in roads.

Yeah, something was missing…

Enter Scratchbuilding and Kitbashing

When Star Wars first came out, I was amazed with all the detail the ships had. It was as if someone turned the ships inside out and all the functional stuff was on the outside. I had never seen ship designs like that before-ships in the Star Trek universe were smooth with no visible signs of working parts. But Star Wars ships had incredible detail and lots of parts that looked like they could DO something (known as nurnies in the effects industry). That triggered my passion for the detail work and creativity that TV ships lacked.

I started watching anything and everything on the making of Star Wars, even stuff non-model related (I think I’m the only person alive who knew who Ben Burtt was in 1977, only because I saw this great PBS special on the “Making of Star Wars’ Sound Effects” about him).

Through this research, I discovered that they made their ships out of basic materials (wood, metal and plastic for the superstructure) and then used model kit parts to super detail the main structure of the ship. Wow! Who thought of that!? The technique of using model kit parts on your own model is called kitbashing. Making your own ships from scratch and not from a store bought kit is called scratchbuilding.

That did it. I was hooked, and ever since then, I’ve been making scratchbuilt/kitbashed models.

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