DINOMANIA 2011 - PART 2

TAMIYA 1:35 DINOSAUR DIORAMA KITS 1


 

Tamiya 1:35 Brachiosaurus diorama kit dinosaur 08/11/11- As I mentioned in my first DinoMania 2011 article, the selection of 1:35 scale dinosaur products is much more limited than 1:40, a popular scale for dinosaur toys. I considered this a good thing because I didn't want a huge collection. It's very easy to get hooked on that in the obsession to collect stuff... and before you know it, you've got a cluttered display that doesn't look very good and no more shelf space! I've done that before.

After buying a sampling of Dinostoreus' 1:35 "Finished Models", I wanted more, but I wanted stuff to break up the homogenous height of what I'd bought, most of which averages around 4" to 5" tall. One of the most awesome things about the prehistoric creatures was their size differentials; however, if they're all of similar size in your display, that awesomeness is diminished. Putting a to-scale human figure in the mix helps to give some scale perspective, but even better would be a wide range of different-sized, but to-scale prehistoric creature in the display. Fortunately, Tamiya produces some cool 1:35 diorama models kits that are perfect for this.

The Brachiosaurus diorama kit includes a huge Brachiosaurus, a much smaller juvenile Brachiosaurus, a tiny Archaeopteryx (primitive bird), and a human explorer figure, for modern-day scale reference. It also includes a plastic diorama base with a display plaque. I bought it because of the main character's size: It's 17" tall and of commensurate elephantine bulk, which would provide plenty of size contrast with the 4" to 5" dinosaurs. The 2.5" junior brachiosaurus and the .75" bird provide contrast at the other end of the scale. Cool!

It's been quite a while since I've done any model-making and painting, and the reluctance to "dive in" was a familiar remembrance: To be honest, modelmaking is work and it's harder than sitting around, drinking beer and buying finished models, so it requires motivation. I was over the expensive but all-too-brief thrill that buying prefab dinos brings, so a project was just the thing to sustain interest in the subject matter. I wanted to see the Tamiya Brachiosaurus towering over the Dinostoreus finished models so I could marvel at the spectacle of the size difference. That's what motivated me to buy some glue and tackle the sprue-cutting.

The diorama kit offers a few options for building the big Brachiosaurus: With a bent front leg or a straight one, and with mouth open or closed. I decided to build the "conservative" version; straight leg and mouth closed. It seemed to go with the spirit of the Dinostoreus figures, none of which are posed in exciting action poses (which is fine with me). I also decided not to build it as the diorama, which meant I wouldn't mess with the base. I'd use selected pieces in my own arrangement.

ASSEMBLING THE KIT I'm not a model-building guru (or notably good at it), but I do have some after-the-fact observations about the process that are are fresh in my mind. The following observations don't necessarily represent what I did, but rather what I wish I'd done (but am too lazy to go back and fix).

Glueing it Together Assembly is hardly challenging-- these are low parts count models that don't require instructions: You carefully snip the parts from the sprues and glue. When I was a kid, models were glued together using a tube of thick glue applied to the edges; the modern way (I guess) is to fit the pieces together and brush the outside with a thin solvent cement that spreads by capillary action and melts/fuses the parts together. You can be pretty sloppy about this, because the there's no way it will be finish-ready no matter how careful you are. The next step is probably one of the hardest parts of modelmaking, IMO.

Tamiya 1:35 Brachiosaurus diorama kit dinosaurDealing with the Seams In a perfect world, two halves of a plastic model would glue together perfectly without any gaps, and the detail patterns would match exactly across the two pieces: All you'd have to do is drag an Exacto blade across the seam and you'd be ready to paint. Of course, that never happens. Tamiya does a great job with the parts fit, but after gluing, you'll still need to scrape the seam with a razor blade, do some putty filling and resculpt detail.

Blade scraping the seams evens out small alignment mismatches between glued parts and the small bit of melted plastic that may be extruded when you cement the two halves together. It also removes parting lines from pieces cast in multi-piece molds. If you don't do this, you'll regret it when you prime the model for painting.

Some amount of putty filling (epoxy putty, Miliput, etc.) is usually necessary. Putty fills gaps, evens out more severe alignment mismatches and provides a medium to sculpt detail between pieces; blade scraping usually obliterates detail (like sanding), and often, the castings aren't sculpted to the edges with continuous detail.

Applying putty is an additive process, so attention must be paid to blending it to the parts: Unless it's very carefully feathered at the edges and blended into the pieces, the applied putty may look worse than the model's glued seam since it may produce two seams at the edge of the putty patch. That usually shows up after it's been primed. (This is a bigger concern and much harder for models with flat, untextured areas; critter models are a lot more forgiving.)

You should assess the situation before you begin. There are situations where putty is needed to resculpt detail, but where the application of putty would create an undesirable bulge. In that case, material should be removed before putty is applied. A Dremel or other rotary grinding tool is ideal for this.

Resculpting detail to blend pieces is almost a requirement for dinosaur models with wrinkly and pebbled skin. There are different techniques for different situations, but the goal is always to make the two parts appear to be one continuous piece with a smoothly transitioning pattern.

For scaley sections, putty and texture stamps are an easy way to fill the gap. Texture stamps are small molds of the texture near the area you want to fill; you can use polymer clay or silicone mold-making rubber for this; flexible material is better especially if the area has a contour. Even if the pattern doesn't line up exactly, it's often good enough just to recreate the matching texture density.

For folds and wrinkles, texture stamps alone don't work very well; the lines and troughs in the transition have to be sculpted between the parts. For that matter, sometimes the parts don't have matching texture-- either the sculptor didn't bother, or the seam is at a transition between textures. In all these cases, the putty will have to be sculpted to the best of your ability to provide a blend that doesn't draw attention to itself.

You can also sand, carve, and engrave cured putty. This is especially useful for fixing transitions that don't look quite right after you've sprayed a primer: Sometimes a trough might not be deep enough, or a patch might not have deep enough scaley texture to blend unobtrusively. A rotary tool with a fine engraving bit can create scales and wrinkle lines that may be good enough to blend the parts, even if the engraving isn't perfect.

Another technique is to use a temperature-adjustable soldering pencil directly on the plastic. I did this for most of the big Brachiosaurus' seams, after blade scraping. The results were okay, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it over the other traditional techniques: You can roughly match texture and folds, but it's not the most easy-to-control sculpting tool. Unless the heat is adjusted just right, you're likely to pull up plastic spider web threads. Also, after painting it, I noticed that there are some faint traces of the seam that didn't get fixed, that putty would have taken care of. I did it because it seemed the most direct (and fastest) way to sculpt the material, and it seemed like an interesting experiment.

Radical Resculpting I didn't do this, but I was tempted. While glueing leg halves together, I noticed that some halves seemed to come together at the seam in a fairly sharp peak. For example, the back of the legs weren't rounded where joined at the seam, which looked unnatural to me. I didn't know if this was a byproduct of the production process, or whether the creature did actually have this anatomical feature. I wanted to believe the latter because I knew that it would take radical sanding/scraping/puttying to reshape the part to a more gradual contour, and I didn't want to do the work.

Tamiya 1:35 Brachiosaurus diorama kit dinosaur


Painting It's astounding how the camera reads color under different lights! It would be great if the picture actually matched the color that I painted the Brachiosaurs! I tried to correct this in Photoshop, but to no avail. I think the blue backdrop confused my camera; they're actually a boring gray, with light yellow throats and underbellies. Weird. Still, I think the pic is kinda neat: It's a color theme that I thought about doing (and like), and the pic shows the size contrast more dramatically than it looks in person when they're displayed on a shelf. Must be the selective framing thing that cameras do so well.

Tamiya 1:35 Brachiosaurus diorama kit dinosaur


It's a more boring paint scheme, but this is much closer to the actual color, if you overlook the glare of the lights which wash out some of the subtleties (like the very faint stripes) and exaggerate some things that aren't as apparent in person (like the yellow & white patches on the body side). Although it's predominantly gray, there were quite a few airbrushed sessions of different colors, including white, tan, brown and different shades of gray: It's painted kinda like WWII German armor (since I used the same paints that I used for my RC tanks). Although I've had bad experiences with the airbrush, it was actually sort of fun, now that I've developed a quick airbrush cleaning regimen and know how to thin paints properly.

I did a thin neutral brown wash, but it's not really apparent since the model has such deeply sculpted folds. Although the model has such deep folds, the sculpted pebbled texture is actually pretty subtle, compared to the Dinostoreus Finished Models. I decided not to do any drybrushing except around the face because I thought that would create an overly exaggerated contrast, like stage makeup. Some of the Dinostoreus models suffer from this, in my opinion.

The concept of stage makeup is worth thinking about. In theater, stage makeup exaggerates features since the audience is viewing from a distance. In modeling, washes and drybrushing are used to exaggerate contrast and create artificial shadows and highlights; this enhances detail that might not be apparent under display conditions. I believe that it's more essential for small models that are harder to see and for things that will be viewed at a distance; if a model is large and viewing distance is close, the sculpting and lighting will take care of this naturally. In that case, heavy washes and drybrushing can look patently artificial when viewed up close. On the other hand, a model with fine subtle paint gradations may look great up close, but look nondescript from a distance.

Tamiya 1:35 Velociraptor diorama kit dinosaur


Other Tamiya Dioramas I saw Tamiya's Triceratops diorama kit in a hobby store before I knew that Tamiya made a Velociraptor 6-pack. While I was curious about the Triceratops, I was more interested in the two included Velociraptors, since they provided more of that size variety that I wanted.

The Triceratops is kinda funky; it's smaller and thinner than the Dinostoreus version, and lacks the cheek frill protrusions. I suspect that it's inaccurate, and that this is probably a fairly old kit since the Velociraptors are nearly Jurassic Parkish. By that, I mean that they're kinda big to be Velociraptors, which were about half the size depicted in the film. On the other hand, I've seen human size comparison graphics with dramatic variations in size.

Tamiya 1:35 Velociraptor diorama kit dinosaur
Tamiya 1:35 Velociraptor diorama kit dinosaur


The closest match for size would be Deinonychus, which lived in the Lower Cretaceous; current scientific thought seems to view them (and Velociraptors) as feathered. I've seen fully feathered reconstructions and I must admit that I don't much like the look of feral chickens on steroids. It's hard to reconcile the conflict of accuracy versus what we think looks neat... since I'm doing this for me, I did what I thought looked neat.

I was content to change certain accurizing features, like adding the arm and tail feathers, and correcting the hand pose (as best as I could tell they should be). I also changed the neck pose of the white one and gave him an open mouth. I experimented with adding head frill/fur, but thought that it looked silly.

Leaving their skin scaley gave me a wider range of coloration possibilities with which to experiment. That was fun, although it probably would look better on the shelf if I'd painted them the same.... but I wanted to experiment. The green one went through many different coloration schemes before ending up primarily mottled green/gray. The white one was based on representations of dinocritters nabbed from the web.

The issue of display/viewing distance is certainly relevant here, and my many repaints of the green/gray one were due to it. The first version had subtle line patterns that looked good while I was painting them under magnification. However, while on the shelf at a distance, the subtlety vanished and it looked like a bland, uniform, and ugly color. I experimented with changing the contrast between the patterns, until the point where it looked passable on the shelf, but too exaggerated up close. In disgust, I painted the underbelly a more solid color and dappled the top with dark patches, obliterating the patterns. This gave a basic upper and lower contrast that looked okay at a distance, and some subtle detail coloration that looked okay up close. Giving it a slight sheen coating helped.

I intentionally tried not to be distracted by that when I painted the white one. I knew what the coloration scheme was going to be and I didn't stray from it, despite what I saw at different viewing distances. In my opinion, it looks much better up close than it does at a distance.

--08/15/11

Tamiya 1:35 Velociraptor diorama kit dinosaur Deinonychus

 

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