01/08/18- Ultra-Q (1966) is the great grandaddy of the Ultra-series TV shows, shot in black & white at a time when the sales of consumer color television sets had (finally) just begun taking off worldwide. Although most of its episodes featured a giant-sized monster, it didn't feature a giant-sized monster-fighting superhero like its successor, Ultraman (also 1966, color). The show focused on a trio of reporters investigating unusual phenomena, which usually were giant-sized versions of animals, monsters, and/or aliens.

I believe that you had to "be there" (baby-boomer generation) to appreciate it. Some kaiju-fans who weren't there might appreciate the show for its historical significance, but many more fans of the newer shows might wonder how anyone could like its old-style storytelling and primitive special effects... in b&w... with no computer graphics, snazzy shredder guitar soundtrack, or blatant toy merchandising!

For me, the show's an especially nostalgic indulgence-- it was my first dose of kaiju-mania, delivered weekly in-house. This dovetailed with Japanese books and model kits from the original kaiju boom; I remember first seeing the Ultra-Q logo with Gomess (at the bottom of this page) on the boxes of some of my plastic model kits. The samples of kaiju sounds on my articles at this website were inspired by a small floppy record included in one of the Japanese children's magazines of the time: I believe that I chose the same samples for Mephiras ("Huaaaaa!") and Zarabu Seijin ("Dai hachi jin no ke...") that I heard on that record. Mind you, these are memories from over 50 years ago, so this stuff obviously had a big impact. Hell, my memory of the "times tables" hasn't aged nearly as well. (Sadly, "Kaiju-fan" wasn't a career choice or major when I went to college.)

The fact that I've passed on buying Medicom's 30cm vinyl Gomess figure several times over the last 20 years shows that wasn't a must-have, first-string favorite of mine. The Ultra-Q episode is just ho-hum. Gomess is a re-decorated Showa-era Godzilla suit, something that's obvious from the monster's face. Otherwise, it's a mish-mash of scales, fur, and other strange things used to disguise its Godzilla origins. Jirass from Ultraman was an even less-diguised Godzilla, but gets a pass because the episode was more entertaining. Kids at the time weren't fooled by the frill cowl-- we knew that the Jirass episode was just to show us the Godzilla versus Ultraman brawl that we wanted.

Nevertheless, Gomess is an iconic Ultra-series monster: It's from Ultra-Q's first episode. 30cm representations are harder to come by now, so I finally jumped at the chance to get the kit. Also, it's made by Billiken, and they've always done an outstanding job. Once it arrived, I was glad I got it-- the monster's design has grown on me (Unfortunately, the episode is still a yawner).

I bought it used so the vinyl kit parts were already trimmed (the head's retaining flange was trimmed a little too vigorously). Assembly took only a minute or two. The main thing of garage kits is the painting, which will obviously take longer... once I figure out what color to paint it (reminder: the show's in black and white). Before that though, I thought about modifying it with an electronic feature/gimmick.

Electronic Frippery: Backlighting the eyes wouldn't have been a very interesting modification to make. It's a weird convention of kaiju shows (and old sci-fi): Actual living creatures don't have lights behind their eyes! Despite that, it looks cool and also comes in handy for showing when the kaiju's defeated and its lights go out, nyuk, nyuk. Anyway, I thought that it would be cool to add sound effects to my palette of stupid toy tricks.

I read about doing it with an Arduino board. While possible, it's a bigger production and overkill for what I had in mind. A search turned up a better solution: AdaFruit's compact Audio FX board. It can be interfaced with an Arduino board, but doesn't need to be; it operates as a relatively small (50mm x 22mm) standalone board, needing only a battery, speaker and trigger switch(es). It's like a mini flash drive: Sound samples (.wav or .ogg) are copied to it (up to 2MB or 16MB, depending on which model you buy) from a computer by a micro USB cable. The file names determine how the samples play (loop, random, sequential, one-off, etc.) and which button or input peripheral (up to 11) triggers them. For example, to play a .wav file by pressing button 1, the file would be named "T01.wav". You can also trigger samples with a magnetic field (Hall switch), touch sensor (piezo switch), light sensor (photoelectric cell), etc.

I got the 16MB board with a built-in 2.2 watt stereo amp. I planned to use a single model railroad "Sugarcube" speaker, so I didn't need stereo but having the potential to do stereo didn't hurt anything. I prefer having everything built into a single board instead of having to wire a separate mono amp board or plug it into an external amp. (That would have saved a few bucks on the cost of the board.) I didn't want a really loud amplified sound; N-scale audio level was fine.

My main concern was that the default output level might be too much for a Sugarcube speaker which has a max power rating of 1 watt. I didn't want to attach volume up/down switches; the settings aren't saved when the battery is pulled. It turns out that the default output level from a 3.7v battery works fine with a Sugarcube speaker.

My first impulse was to configure it for only Gomess' roar, since it's a model of Gomess. However, it's not a very interesting roar (as far as monster sounds go) and he made only one sound during the episode. That would have left a lot of the board's storage space unused. It would be more fun to have a variety of different monster roars play randomly each time a trigger button was pressed. Since Gomess is the granddaddy of all Ultra kaiju, it seemed fitting for him to play a catalog of monster sounds.

Ten sound samples played in random order (the limit for random) by trigger button 0 took up less than 4MB in WAV format; there was room for many more sound samples, and I had 10 more button triggers. I could have put 10 more random order sound samples on a second trigger button, and still had free storage space for more samples... but I would probably run out of interesting monster sounds to play. A real limit was the number of button triggers I could conceal on the body of the kit and not have it look like a remote controller. I decided that two was probably enough; I could put a trigger button in each palm; one for the random sounds, and the other for the Gomess sound.

It turns out that the original owner's over-zealous flange trimming job (and attempt to repair it) was actually a good thing. I would have never intentionally cut off the retaining flange because that's not how you build garage kits! Since the head didn't have its retaining flange, it forced me to come up with an alternate way of attaching the head that made it easier to remove. This gave me the idea of mounting the speaker in a round neck plug and using the body as the speaker's resonance chamber. The circuit board would be attached (but removeable) to the underside of the removeable neck plug with only the Lipo battery connector exiting to the topside, inside the head. The area at the back of the mouth was cut out to provide an opening for the sound to escape. The normally-open momentary-contact switches were installed in the palms of each hand with the wires going up inside the arms and soldered to the circuit board.

I was pleased with the way it turned out and how easy it was to work on. The circuit board is easy to access if I want to change the sound samples. (It currently has Gomess, Gomora, Red King, Teresudon, Dorako, Neronga, Jirass, Seaboz, Banila, Bemura, and Antora.) The palm switches are the only visible part of the installation, but the palms face downwards, so the switches aren't glaringly obvious.


Lighted Eyes? 01/27/18- After trash-talking them? Seeing the feature on X-Plus' Hidora convinced me to try it. Since I hadn't started painting, why not... It's easier to do before than after.

As I discovered, it's not as easy as I'd thought! With a garage kit like this, the eyes have to be cut out and replaced with transparent eyes. I made simple press molds of the eyes that I'd cut out (labeling the molds "right" and "left"), and cast them in E-Z Water, which is a plastic that melts and can be poured. It solidifies quickly, but can be re-melted. Its main downside as a clear casting material (besides that it melts) is that it's yellow-- at least mine is, but I've had it for a long, long time. For kaiju eyes, it doesn't matter (X-Plus gets away with it). It certainly makes life easier to believe that!

The LED was mounted on an L-shaped piece of plastic glued to the back of the neck; the L-shape blocks most of the light from showing through the mouth. (I wish that I'd thought about this when I cut the opening for the sound to escape.) The LED is wired with a resistor to a female plug (for the Lipo battery) which splits off a parallel male plug to power the sound board in the body. This lets a battery power either the LED, the sound board, both, or you could use separate batteries for each system. It also lets the head unplug from the body so they can be worked on separately.

As usual, I use the battery plug as an on/off switch because I don't want to leave the battery inside (knowing that things like this aren't fun for long). I think the easily-removeable head makes this a reasonable design. A permanent lighted display would use an AC adapter and plug in somewhere, like the foot. For that, an on/off switch on the model wouldn't be necessary since the power would be turned off at the adapter.

I should mention that the Ultra-Q Gomess suit doesn't have lighted eyes! The first lighted eyes appear in the third episode (Namegon), and thereafter in many of the large monster suits (Pegira, Gorgos, Mogera, Pagos, Goga, Kemurujin) but not all (i.e., Garamon, Largeus, Todora, Sudar). The human-sized female Ragon has lighted eyes in some scenes, but not others. There may be a mundane explanation for this; maybe some suits were better suited (!) for it, maybe they sometimes failed during filming, maybe they forgot to turn them on, or maybe the decision depended on the lighting of the scene? Pegira certainly looks ominous with them in the dark wintery scenes.


First Paint: 01/29/18- I browsed a bunch of pics from the Internet and decided to go with the consensus: Green body with tan panels and spikes. There are pics of what look like colorized shots from the black & white show that follow the same pattern, although with more a muted color difference than most of the models. I think with modeling, there's a tendency to exaggerate coloration and contrast because it looks more dramatic at small scale. As with most things, moderation is good. Too much and it begins to look... like a painted model!

The raised tail pose is only possible because the mother-of-all-bolts is jammed into the right leg. This is a heavy vinyl kit! Nowadays, I usually prefer to leave the articulated parts articulated, without putty... but that tail seam sure looks like it could use some! If you do, it's something you should do before painting.

I started with a Rustoleum primer that I thought would be a dark gray, but went on as a charcoal black. It remained slightly tacky after what I thought was a reasonable drying time. Not being a really patient person, I sprayed it with some Dullcote to kill the tackiness so I could handle it.

I airbrushed it with a collection of Vallejo paints, WWII tank colors from my RC tank projects. Although the pics don't show it (due to the halogen lighting), the main body color appears to my naked eye as dark, dark green-- almost black, like Godzilla. It's actually several spray throughs with various lighter shades of green with a tan color blended in. The panels and spikes were focused on when the paint was at its most tan/lightest shade. Then I went the other direction with the dark green and german gray to blend color difference and fix overspray from the tan blend. When I got tired, I sprayed a coat of Dullcote.

This was a rare airbrushing session for me: The color cup didn't fall off even once!  

The Mouth: 01/30/18- Gomess' removeable jaw makes it easy to paint the interior and teeth. I spent a lot of time vacillating over the color of the interior and gums, pulled in three directions by the white, red, and black on my palette: Pinker, redder, or darker? I ended up with a blended mix in all three directions.

Teeth and tusks (and claws) are never pure white, except from a factory's mass production line. It's a standard modeler's practice to depict kaiju with bad dental hygiene, with dark discoloration at the base, blended into the predominant ivory/off-white base color. The technique is commonly applied to horns, claws, and toenails as well.

You can do it by brush or by airbrush; airbrush gives a much more blended look but may look too "perfect". High-end manufacturers often do this because it's faster than brush painting a color blend in a production environment. Small things like teeth are usually done by brush.

Blending acrylics by brush is hard because acrylic paint dries so quickly: Paint extender/retarder helps with blending, but it's still something that takes practice and time. The result is usually less perfect and more random than airbrushing, but that's not a bad thing if you're trying to achieve realism. Photos of elephant tusks and sloth claws can give you some ideas about what real weathered tusks and claws looks like.

However you do it, the effect looks cool and gives the modeler something fun to do: You can easily spend hours on this! Add some gloss and you've got a textbook model kaiju maw.

Shiny Eyeballs: The problem with the lighted eyes is that they're yellow (which looks cool when they're lit), but for 99.9% of the time they'd be unlit, so the sclera should be white... which means painting them. I used a brush, which was a mistake. Brushwork puts the paint layer down in an uneven thickness, which isn't a problem unless the piece is backlit. Backlighting shows the difference in thickness. I'm considering stripping them and trying again with an airbrush, which would make the paint coat's thickness more uniform. (Of course, "considering" means "maybe, but maybe not".)

To get the shiny eyeballs, I thermoformed the kit's original eyes in clear plastic and glued them to cover the painted eye.

Final Dusting: 02/01/18-I considered using cotton or something like it to simulate the fur; I think it would look more like the suit than the sculpted fur. Again, "considered" is the operative word... I really was more interested in finishing this sucker so I could get on with life.

The finishing step was to airbrush a light dusting coat of Tamiya's buff. This is sprayed at a distance at high pressure. It doesn't look like it's imparting a color when spraying it, but I believe that it helps reduce gloss and the difference between colors ("unifying" them). Yep, I painted him just like a WWII tank, minus the finish chips, rust, and grease stains.

Billiken Gomess

Billiken Gomess

Billiken Gomess

Billiken Gomess

Billiken Gomess