Some Paint, a little glue, and some Fiber Optics
When I was very young, I found what I thought was a toy Millennium Falcon on sale at a toy store for $20, so I bought it and to my shock (dismay? Surprise?) it was actually a model kit. I was disappointed at first… $20 wasn’t exactly recouped via my allowance back then, so it was a major purchase for me, and I had to live with it.
That was the model that really kicked off an on again/off again hobby of mine that I’ve recently devoted more time to. The model itself was actually pretty awesome. It was a remarkably detailed model of the famous Star Wars ship, and had a section of the lid that could be removed and revealed the interior. Everything from the hyperdrive chamber to the holo-chess table was visible and it was also quite detailed. After some time had passed, I spent a few hours each day in our garage cutting, sanding, painting, and gluing the thing together.
It looked pretty good for my first real model (although compared to my current projects, it looks absolutely awful), and since then I have been slowly continuing my love for model building, each time improving my skill and tackling greater challenges.
What’s the point of all this? Well, I have been slow on updates lately, and this is part of what I’ve been spending some of my free time doing lately. I thought it’d be fun to show you a few of my most recent endeavors, and give you an idea of things yet to come. Also: there are very few other excuses for my lack of blogging lately. As always, click to make the pictures bigger.
Star Wars Republic Star Destroyer
Cost: Around $25
Additional Needs: Appropriate Paints, model cement – around $10-20 if you need to stock up from scratch
Total time needed: About 40 hours, depending on skill level.
Click here to get one for yourself.
I’ve gotten most of my models on Amazon.com because they are usually cheaper compared to hobby shop prices and its a bit safer than going on eBay. Eventually, my browsing habits on Amazon sparked an automated “we think you will like this” email, and this particular model was the highlight of the ad. The price was around $25 at the time, so I had it shipped and spent a little over a week painting it and putting it together.
I like to take liberties when it comes to paint colors, schemes, and extras with my model kits, usually because I’ll print out a large picture of the item I’m building and base my process on what it looks like. For the Republic Star Destroyer, however, I decided to stick to the instructions as strictly as I could, which meant tracking down the correct color paints, glosses, and some fine-tip brushes for the details. Some of the nooks and crannies on this model even prompted me to paint with a toothpick, which worked out well for the windows and some engine areas that are hard to detail.
Decals were applied after glossing and were fairly simple to apply, although I’ve noticed that the quality of the decals was lacking at times. Decals are supposed to naturally blend with the paint job, which is accomplished by manufacturers making them semi-transparent. Even though these were partially transparent, its fairly easy to tell they are just sitting on top of the plastic. Nothing too bad, but the OCD patient inside of me is still going nuts over it.
The model itself had many large plastic pieces and few small ones, which can either lead to extreme detail on the larger pieces or lack thereof. There was a lot of detail on this one, thankfully, and I was pleased with the results afterword.
Once I finished, I discovered several custom-attempts at this model that were just amazing. One man in particular completely ignored the directions, adding additional detail and including a custom lighting system that featured fiber optic strands. It was just stunning. Using small polystyrene strands to make it hyper-detailed, he also took the time to stick a fiber optic strand in each window (requiring him to punch them all out one by one) and rigged up a stand to house a battery for them. The result is amazing:
I decided after seeing this video, as well as other guys who did the same thing, that I would attempt similar modifications as a result. I’m already planning to buy this kit again, just to get some lights and additional detail on there. I have some experience with using polystyrene to create custom parts for models, so I think I can get the job done.
BANDAI USS-Enterprise 1701-E (First Contact Version)
Cost: Out of production, but sold for around $150, although I snagged two on eBay for $30
Additional Needs: Glue, and although it comes semi-painted I used my own to improve detail
Total time needed: Not long at all if you decide not to paint. 8-10 hours.
I lucked out and got this model twice on eBay for a drastically reduced price compared to its MSRP. The first one, which I’ll picture in this section, was completely stock built and lit with an included light kit. It came pre-painted, but I did add a decent amount of paint to improve detail. Painting took up a third of the total build time, with the wiring and assembly taking the other two thirds. Wiring was not hard, but my large hands coupled with tiny wires and cramped spaces probably made it harder than it will for smaller handed folk. An included stand houses the three AA batteries and also needs wired and assembled.
I did not like this model at first. The normal, unlit design is fantastic, no doubts there, but when lit up, it was unimpressive and frankly, hard to see. What I didn’t know at the time was that the problem was not the lights, but the batteries. 3 AA batteries simply do not put out enough volts to light the 5 included bulbs with enough lumens. A typical AA battery contains 1.5 volts, so the power requirement was clearly pretty high.
The lack of decent lighting coupled with some new knowledge regarding LEDs and fiber optics led me to buy another on eBay with the intent on modifying the kit to use better bulbs. Once again I added some additional details to the unit before assembly, and during the wiring phase I added a total of 7 super-bright semi-blue LEDs to the kit. The 5 included bulbs, which give off white light, are actually integrated into the base model quite well, so I chose to keep those and add the LEDs in other areas of the interior to produce more light, as well as a slightly blue-er hue.
Power was still a problem though. While LEDs use less power than the included lights, their power needs coupled with the lackluster traditional lights led me to test using a 9 volt battery. To my surprise, both the LEDs and stock lights both lit up incredibly bright, and as I continued to wire the model I began to contemplate modifying the stand to use a 9 volt instead of 3 AAs. A 9 volt provided twice the power of the 3 AAs originally required, so there was more than enough power output from 1 battery to service the model.
I finished assembling the base model and neck of the stand before modifying the battery housing on the bottom of the stand’s base. Some crude plastic breaking was necessary, but when the batter door is screwed in place, you cannot tell. I had to buy a 9 volt battery cap on eBay to allow the connection, which worked just fine after some soldering and tracking. Once complete, the unit looked fantastic. The lights are varied between the two hues, and was bright enough to be seen even in a lit room. In total darkness, its legendary.
I enjoyed re-designing the inside of this model so much, I’m looking into getting others of similar design. BANDAI makes several other Star Trek models that include pre-built light kits, and provided I can get them cheap (some cost over $500! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.) I will make similar modifications on the first try.
I’ve also decided that I’m going to try to build all ships ever named Enterprise (both fictional and nonfictional). I’ve already started on the Carrier, CVN-65, which is celebrating its 50th year of service in 2012 and slated for decommissioning in the next few years. Here are some shots of the work in progress:
So that’s what I’ve been up to on my downtime for the past months. I’m also working my way through Mass Effect 3, which is pretty damn incredible so far. Look for a review soon.
-Jimmy “I sold the first 1701-E to some guy on eBay who paid over $200 for it. ” the G.
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“That’s what I call “boldly going…”!”