DINOMANIA 2011 - PART 4

GARAGE KIT DINOS


 

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

I call 'em "garage kit dinos" to distinguish them from the mass-market toy dinos produced by big companies like Carnegie, Papo, Safari, etc., and the resin models produced by Favorite/Kinto, Dinostoreus, and Sideshow Collectibles. The garage kit concept is from the last century: An artist (usually an enthusiast of the subject matter) would sculpt something (often an unlicensed media property), make molds & castings and sell them as kits through alternative distribution channels. Two-part polyurethane casting resins and silicone moldmaking supplies are relatively affordable so the basic production tools are within the reach of individuals: Add talent, hard work, and perseverance and you've got the basis for a business.

Although the garage kit thing began as under-the-radar, one-man cottage industry operations, more business-oriented folks built on the concept, hiring staff and notable sculptors, buying rights to produce their artwork, buying licenses to reproduce popular media properties, devoting resources to promotion, moving production out of the garage and into professional production facilities and offering fully-finished and painted sculptures in limited production runs. This complicates the distinction since it reveals the continuum between the original concept of the garage kit and the finished models that Sideshow Collectibles and Dinostoreus produce. It's a difficult distinction to pin down: In a sense, it's really a distinction between the "serious" business approach versus the cottage industry approach (hence the "garage" moniker, like "garage band").

The dino garage kits featured in this article are basically artist-centered pieces from sculptors who produce and market their own work without the protective umbrella of a large business infrastructure. In Geene's case, it appears that most everything is done in-house, with a small staff to help with operations. Jorge Blanco's case is a bit different, since he appears to be mainly an artist who does commission work; he may outsource production and distribution, or may lease/sell production rights.


JORGE BLANCO'S 1:35 GIGANOTOSAURUS 09/23/11- Jorge Blanco is a reknowned dino sculptor, with mainstream sculpting credit for Sideshow Collectible's recent Apatosaurus maquette. This kit is a casting of his sculpture from 2002, ordered online at Dan's Dinosaurs. Dan's Dinosaurs mentions that kits are produced on demand, so shipment could take a while... but happily, mine only took a couple weeks. The kit shipped from the Alchemy Works in Texas; apparently Jorge Blanco contracted with them (or licensed/sold rights) to do mold-making, casting, sales and distribution.

The Resin Kit This is where it gets really muddy. If an artist licenses or sells rights to their sculpture, the product that ends up in the consumers' hands isn't really a product of the artist, and it's unlikely that the artist exercises any control over the product. The distinction is important. An artist who remains involved with the production process of their sculpture is motivated to make sure that what ends up in the consumers' hands makes a good impression because it reflects on their name and the name of their business.

Ideally, the licensee or license owner would care about the production quality, expecially if their name and reputation were on the line. In this case, the producer, Alchemy Works, is nearly invisible. Aside from their name on the shipping label and a successful search for their website, I'd never heard of them before, or seen their name mentioned anywhere in association with the Blanco Gigantosaurus. Sort of like a nameless and faceless Chinese production facility.

If only. Unfortunately, the production quality of this kit is below the quality of those infamous asian recasters. The "packaging" is on par-- parts dumped into a small shipping box with packing peanuts and sheets of foam taped around the teeth. That's an minor gripe, but it indicates the level of pride that they take in presentation-- zero, zip, nada --for a $100+ product. At least some recasters include a photo of the completed buildup.

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

The kit includes castings with basic cleanup and astoundingly poor fit. The castings show evidence of multiple parting lines in several areas, indicating that the molds were torn during demolding. The torso and tail have a huge width mismatch where they should join, most likely caused by distortion of the mold when casting. The remedy for this would be to match the widths through grinding or putty buildup and resculpting the fairly large transition area to match. Similarly, the lower jaw needs a significant amount of grinding and putty filling to fit to the head without gaps. The side of the lower jaw has a parting line that's pretty nasty. Also, it looks like the master sculpture's tail cracked before molding because the casting's texture captured a crack that really isn't a crack in the resin. To be honest, I've never seen such funky work from a production house or even recasters. (It reminds me of some of my amateur production efforts from over 10 years ago.) To their credit, there aren't many pinholes or voids, and the resin appears to be fresh (resin that's past its shelf life is nasty stuff). In fairness, Alchemy Works may be capable of very good work if they've got good molds; however, they don't seem to mind producing and selling stuff cast from sub-par molds.

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

The Blanco Sculpture Buried beneath all these distractions is the Jorge Blanco sculpture. The photo of the sculpture is what sells the kit: As a build up, the pose has some great presentation views of the creature facing left, and head-on. That ferocious look is why I chose Blanco's sculpture over Shane Foulke's slightly cheaper 1:35 Giganotosaurus kit. Admittedly, such action poses are not as "view-versatile" as a more neutral pose.

The texturing is less pronounced than I thought it would be; this is probably more realistic for the small 1:35 size, so it's hard to fault it for that. I considered this to be "shallow" detail while building the Tamiya kits, especially compared to the absolutely gonzo level of texturing in the Dinostoreus finished models. Although deep texturing may be inaccurate, it's very wash and dry-brush friendly.

While pondering the tail/body width mismatch, I noticed that the body at the hips seemed quite thin (and almost Greyhound-like), and noticeably less massive than my Dinostoreus T-rex, which I considered to be fairly thin. I'm not an expert on that stuff, but I did expect the Giganotosaurus to be more massive than the T-rex, not simply longer. Nevertheless, it's not apparent from the primary view angle. Similarly-- I'm not sure if this is a sculpting or casting snafu-- but the eyeball placement isn't symmetrical from a topview down.

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

Building the Kit I was kinda bummed out, so I built this kit over a number of days without any real sense of urgency or excitement. I made a number of texture molds and tackled the tail first. I decided to build up the body section on the right side (the non-presentation view), with the transition to the fatter tail spread out across about 1.5". Naturally, the topdown view shows the unnatural bulge, but it seemed a better option than thinning a longer section of the tail to a gradual taper-- as I mentioned, the sculpture already seemed skinny to me, and I didn't want to take it further in that direction. I also didn't want to resculpt the right leg area to make it fatter to match the tail width.

I used coathanger wires to strengthen the joins at the tail and right leg; the left leg was cast with an embedded steel rod. When doing this sort of thing, it's important to drill the mating hole exactly, including matching the entry point and the angle of the hole-- otherwise, the parts won't fit and you'll have to do significant putty work on the outside to blend the parts. It's also important to get it right the first time, because redrilling holes in close proximity isn't a good idea. For a kit with a good, tight parts fit, it's sometimes better to glue the parts, drill the hole through both, insert the support rod, and putty the small exterior hole. However, in this case, the loose parts fit would require gap-filling putty work anyway, so the eyeballed hole drilling was good 'nuff.

The jaw fit required some grinding to position the parts and quite a bit of putty to fill the gaps. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to sculpt those filler bits since they were at transition junctures where texture matching isn't essential.

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

The spine detail reconstruction was tedious: The mold halves didn't align the horizontal detail lines, and there were multiple parting lines (from torn molds) running perpendicular to that. Basically, the entire detail across the top of the casting had to be recreated in putty from the head to the tip of the tail. I wanted to believe that I could reconstruct just the worst sections, but that resulted in an obvious mismatch between my own efforts and the soft, worn looking detail of the casting. Unfortunately, my fixes look like someone who tried to patch a little bit, then a bit more, then a bit more, until the whole thing was done. It would have looked better if I'd just resculpted the whole thing in one shot.

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

Some of the parting lines were easy to handle with simple blade scraping but others had an elevation mismatch that required more effort and putty filling. For the hands and toes, I was tired of resculpting so I willfully ignored them... I was eager to primer the thing to see how bad my texture matching was.

I was pleasantly surprised after the primer coat-- the tail patch seemed to blend well, which I attribute to the sparse and subtle texturing of the sculpture. This gave me hope and renewed my interest in completing this kit... to be done with it!

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

I searched for cool painting schemes, and none seemed any better than the scheme used to sell the kit (Google didn't find any other Blanco Giganotosaurus build-up pics). That paint scheme reminded me of a shark's color scheme, so I tried to duplicate the general look, using white and grays with slight red tinting (mauve?). It's a relatively conservative scheme that's different from any others in my collection-- I'm not ready to embrace Luis V. Rey's psychedelic dino paint schemes yet.

I drilled a new mounting hole in the base since the figure was too wobbly when inserted into the original hole-- the toes didn't match the sculpted toe impressions in the base, and the figure showed a tendency to lean forward, pulling the support rod out of the hole. I didn't want to permanently affix the dino to the base since that makes an awkward and fragile shape to box and store (you never know...). To ensure a more secure fit, I drilled the hole at a slightly shallower angle, put a dollop of putty in front of the new hole and sunk the dino toes into it, forming a perfectly fitting impression that prevented the foot/model from twisting. It looked kinda like dino poop, so I went with the flow: I thought it went with the critter's expression and body language.

1:35 Jorge Blanco Giganotosaurus resin kit

Final Words I think it's a great looking kit, once it's done and after a few days of distance. However, you've got to deal with a lot to get there. Unless you're a modeling masochist and love the challenge of a primitive kit, you might want to pass on this one. The sculpture is quite good, but to get there you have to do significant resculpting of the kit, including stuff like sculpting missing teeth and damaged frills... and in that case, you don't really end up with a Jorge Blanco sculpture, but a customized kit that tries to look like the original Blanco sculpture. That probably wouldn't be so much the case if the castings were better- with new molds and a thorough check of parts-fit, prior to shipment... or, if this were offered as a pre-built kit (personally, I'd love for the guys who cast this to try their hands at assembling it!)


GEENE'S 1:35 TYRANNOSAURUS REX 09/28/11- It arrived! I first learned of Geene's 1:35 scale Tyrannosaurus rex from The Toy Dinosaur Forum via a posting of some very cool pics by the owner/artist, Galileo (Geene website). At the time, I couldn't find Dinostoreus' 1:35 Finished Model T-rex at a reasonable price, and for just a bit more scratch than a scarcity-priced Dinostoreus version, I could get the assembled and painted Geene version (It's also available as an unpainted and unassembled kit). Like I said, it looked cool, and I liked the idea of getting a small producer's "labor of love". Although the Dinostoreus resin models are very well done, they're produced by worker bees at a factory in China. Geene seemed to be a small producer; I especially liked the idea of it being prepainted since I'd avoid dealing with puttying and texture matching, and wouldn't have to risk ruining the sculpture with my painting skills. (And after building the Giganotosaurus, I was soooooo glad that I'd ordered it as an assembled prepaint.) If I had the space, I would have bought the whole diorama which includes 2 juveniles and an Edmontosaurus victim. Geene also makes a very cool diorama of 2 Gorgosaurus hunting a Chasmosaurus.

Ordering from a dino artist isn't like ordering from other online retailers with a standard "Buy" button and shopping cart system. There's a chance that you'll have to endure The Loooong Wait: The artist could be busy with other projects, lacking certain supplies, or experiencing a personal drama-- the kind that affects individuals, but not corporations. For what it's worth, I ordered on July 30 and received on September 28 (shipped on Sept. 17). I became a little nervous as the projected delivery time of 2 to 4 weeks passed, and the slow postal delivery from Mexico to Texas gave me something new to worry about. Once it arrived, all that anxiety instantly vanished. The sculpture was carefully wrapped like a mummy in strips of plastic foam, looking something like the Michelin man. As I peeled back the foam to reveal the mouth, things were looking very promising: Perfectly cast delicate teeth, with finely pebbled skin texture. Yes, the wait was definitely worth it.

1:35 Geene Tyrannosaurus rex resin kit

1:35 Geene Tyrannosaurus rex resin kit

1:35 Geene Tyrannosaurus rex resin kit

The sculpting is amazing: The scale texture is deep and yet fine, varying in size seamlessly, particularly on the face. Even more impressive is that every bit of the surface is covered with carefully applied texture, even the bottom of the feet, and deep into the "v" area between the legs and body. I think the only area that might not be is the far back interior of the mouth (which you can't see without a flashlight).

I like Geene's light color scheme, which was one of the things that originally caught my eye. It's a simple airbrushed scheme, but one that I couldn't do since I find it hard to consistently produce a lot of short, quick bursts of small dots with the airbrush. Given the modest price difference between the kit and the finished sculpture, I didn't expect a painstaking, 12-hour paint job; the immaculate assembly alone was well worth the price difference. The seams aren't hidden by the paint job because they don't need to be-- the texture match across them is perfect, which could be due to excellent molding and casting, and/or a superb job of assembly. The varnish coating is done just right-- it's not a full gloss like the mouth's treatment, but the glistening is visible in different areas depending on where the light strikes it.

I told Galileo not to bother with the base-- it's designed for a diorama that includes 3 more dinos (the full prepaint is a great deal), so it's huge. Instead, I bought a wooden base that took up less space and fit the style of the rest of my collection. (Someday, I may dabble in diorama style bases, but for now I prefer easy-to-dust surfaces... except I didn't dust before shooting these photos!)

I've taken some pics for comparison with Dinostoreus' T-rex; you can see the difference in the proportions and textures, but the biggest and most important difference (for me) is the shape of the lower jaw. I've wanted to make the Dinostoreus jaw narrower and more 'V' shaped, but that would be a major undertaking.

1:35 Geene Tyrannosaurus rex resin kit

1:35 Geene Tyrannosaurus rex resin kit

This was a much better value than the Blanco Giganotosaurus (although in a perverse way, I enjoyed the challenge and griping about it). To me, it confirms my belief that an artist-producer is more likely to care about the quality of what leaves his shop. In my opinion, Galileo Hernandez Nuñez is a world-class sculptor who could easily be doing commissions for Sideshow Collectibles, or any other major producer. While I wish great success for him, I'm glad that his relatively new business is still small and personal enough to care about putting out top-notch dinos, and offering the prebuilt prepaints!


AFTERWORDS

The target audience for these Dino Garage Kits is probably a small minority of dino figure collectors. The kits are considerably more expensive than toy dinosaurs, which may put them out of reach of budget-conscious collectors. Even if budget isn't a concern, toy dinos are an attractive choice since the quality has improved so much in recent years, and the level of detail may be on par with, or better than some resin kits (I bought a Papo Spinosaurus to satisfy my curiosity). If there is a finished quality difference, it's safe to say that the difference in quality isn't commensurate with the difference in price, and a lot of that quality comes from the talent of the modeler, at a cost of time and effort. For some folks, another potential put-off of dino garage kits is that they're available mainly as kits (prepaints are rare), so they appeal to the modeler or someone who's willing to pay extra to have the kit built and painted. As I learned, not all kits are created equal.

Obviously, the kits do have some features that make them unique and worthwhile to their target audience. Resin dinos have a subtle tactile quality --perhaps it's the heft and weight-- that the toy dinos don't. Also, resin dinos don't have problems with legs and tails bending when the plastic gets warm and gravity asserts itself. Resin is very rigid, stable, and doesn't bend. That quality makes it appealing to the modeler/customizer because putty and paint stay put and don't crack. Basically, resin kits are a better starting point if you intend to make your dino look more realistic. On the other hand, you shouldn't play with resin dinos since they're easier to break.

In theory at least, garage kit producers can offer oddball & obscure subject matter that the mainstream producer wouldn't touch. In practice though, the manufacturers have been in the business a long time so they've produced a lot of non-mainstream dinos. The dino garage kit guys' product offerings are fewer so they're more limited in range, and they seem to split between some less mainstream stuff and the old, popular standbys. Presumably, they exploit the collectors' desire for better renditions of the old, popular standbys.

The main advantage that the small producers have is that they're freer to produce insanely huge scale stuff that would be inappropriate for the mass market, considering the cost, the demand, and the difficulty of storing/shipping such items. Most of the small producers' dino kits tend to be 1:20 scale or larger; I'm not the target audience for that so I'm grateful that they do produce some sculptures in the smaller scales.

As my two "reviews" show, the practices of the producers are a factor too... and they're all different. The buyer assumes some amount of risk when buying from small producers, much more than buying a mainstream product through an online retailer. At worst, the producer may get overwhelmed, stop answering email, and disappear from the face of the earth when the going gets tough... it's rare, but it does happen in the world of garage businesses. Unfortunately, good word-of-mouth doesn't guarantee that this won't happen, especially if it results in more business than the operation can handle. Like the general population, some artists just aren't very good businessmen. (I feel it necessary to mention this because I've heaped praise on some small businesses before and felt terribly guilty when things didn't work out.)

There's another interesting twist on the subject of garage kit dinos, courtesy of the proliferation of CAD/CAM technology: Shapeways lets an artist upload a CAD file; customers can order 3D "prints" of those files, which are produced and shipped from Shapeways. Although these are limited to small, super-detailed objects, it's a neat concept that lets the artist (one fluent in CAD, at least) outsource the production and distribution aspects of the business. At this time, noted paleoartist David Krentz has a bunch of 1:72 scale offerings at Shapeways. razh00 also has some interesting amphibians and sea creatures that haven't been produced before. Check 'em out!

-10/01/11

 

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