Last modified: Sunday, December 16, 2001 1:18 PM



12/02/01-- It's time to break it down-- the "deconstruction" phase, I guess? This was an important consideration during the design-as-you-go and initial construction phase. How else could you paint, access enclosed parts to add detail, or repair the sucker? This is only a partial breakdown-- the arms are removeable, and the leg sections and torso can be further broken down. This was done mainly with screws and slide-in parts (cockpit interior), but some of it was done with "non-permanent" contact adhesives like Pliobond. Pliobond holds stuff in place well enough for permanent use, but debonding usually doesn't destroy the pieces the way that Zap-A-Gap or Tenax/Ambroid does. Having the model disassembled makes it easier to work on additional detailing ideas.

(pic 1) This is where the arm joins the body: The spring thing at the bottom of this pic was very satisfying to add. I knew I had to do something about the not-quite-long-enough plastic rods that were part of the Terminator arm and I'd seen a detail like this in the leg assembly of one of the SF3D HAFS models. Cigarette lighter parts come in handy-- the round gasket at the base of the spring is one of several sizes of rubber O-rings in a lighter, and behind the arms I added small rounded tanks with a spigot valve that's fitted on top of a lighter nozzle.

(pic 2) The hatch was my first attempt to scribe detail in the plastic. It's a pretty nerve-wracking process since it's so easy to screw up. Scribing straight lines isn't too difficult (as long as the tool doesn't stray from the straight edge), but cutting those curves is a little dicey. I learned that it's wise to go slow at first, with a light touch. Subsequent scribing motions follow the track and once the groove is deep enough, the tool stays in place so you can bear down harder (and risk an out-of-control gouge). At some point, you can take over with a set of needle files.

(pic 3) In this pic, I took it one step further and made a (barely) opening panel. This started out as a scribed hatch, but I continued and cut through with an Exacto knife. The inside was fitted with some retaining edges, an offset wire hinge, and a rubber friction pad to hold the panel closed. I didn't get the curvature of the wire at the hinge quite right, so the panel only opens 1/3rd of the way before the hatch binds. Good enough though-- I was mainly concerned that the hatch should be able to close flush with the body. I placed a compartment behind the hatch opening and fitted it with a jack/aperture for some kind of nozzle thing. The whole thing looks suspiciously like the hatch that I open to put gas in my car.

The backside could really use a large opening hatch since there's a huge empty space behind the operator's enclosure filled with nothing but air! (Dunno if I'll do anything about it though since filling up every square centimeter of the body just makes it heavier.)

Awwwwwwwww... ain't he cute??? This is I-Cybie, a robotic dog that's recently hit the toy stores. It's a more affordable version of Sony's Aibo, which was released a few years ago for a couple thousand bucks. But for a couple hundred bucks, this one isn't exactly affordable either. It's a sophisticated electronic & mechanical gizmo so it isn't an appropriate toy for a kid. Instead, this appeals to the gadget-o-phile who can't resist a neat piece of technology, even one which doesn't have solid utilitarian value.

I-Cybie is an amazing piece of work, with something like 16 motors and a slew of sensors for detecting obstacles, sound, light and balance. Besides the stuff you might expect like walking, sitting, and barking, he can also right himself if you put him on his side and do headstands, along with a bunch of other weird stuff that's fascinating to watch. His programming produces some interesting random "behavior" and "moods". He does dog-like things randomly and responds if you "pet" him. Apparently, his behavior "evolves" and is influenced by your treatment of him.

As neat as this sounds, appliances which act on their own accord are slightly unnerving. I got irritated with the way he fidgeted around, doing unnecessary things and grappling with the fact that there wasn't an obvious on/off switch (the buttons are multifunctional, and a "suspend" command doesn't have the finality of a power-killing switch). I thought about this a bit and realized that it seemed almost like the way Microsoft Word functions-- which pissed me off the first time it tried to anticipate what I want to do. (And it took too long to figure out how to turn off all the goddamned auto features.) I guess what I actually longed for was a way to control the dog independently, like make its head turn, lift its paw or program its actions. That's the traditional paradigm for our interaction with our appliances: We control our machines. For some people, anti-lock brakes are a terrifying experience.

Interactions with living things are different-- we expect other humans to exhibit independent behavior (because we can't really do anything about it), and within bounds, treasure that quality in our pets. I think that's because our machines are extensions of ourselves, and we prefer to have control. Until machines get to the point where it's not apparent that they're machines, and are independent sentient entities, I think that acceptance of independence will continue to be an issue.

I-Cybie is a machine, and it takes significant suspension of disbelief to see it as anything more than a bunch of servos activated by clever programming. Much of that comes from the fact that he can't recharge himself, so you're very aware that his "independence" will only last a couple of hours at most. At best, it's an extremely crude simulation of a fraction of the behaviors displayed by my flesh & blood cat (naturally, they do pee differently). Granted, it's amazing what the techno-mages can do for $200, but the technology still has a loooong way to go before we'll have true robopets (when we have flying cars, prolly). Of course, we have to wonder why the world really needs a robotic dog or cat, when real ones are wandering around as strays...



12/09/01-- It seems like I worked on this stuff ages ago, but here we are again-- back at the cockpit. Actually, a lot of little stuff was done, but very little you can actually see. The side wall panels were covered with plastic and foam "wallpaper". That took a long time, mainly spent in figuring out what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. The back wall got a little more detailing (but it's well hidden). There's also a submachinegun strapped to the right side of the frame which is hard or impossible to see. It's not very accessible, which kinda makes sense because it's not meant to be used in the cockpit anyway. Actually, there isn't much room to stash stuff in this cramped capsule. I wanted to stash an oxygen mask, but it took up too much room.

Stuff you can see: The O2 tanks got a coat of glossy green paint, copied from the one in the BBI cockpit. It was my first attempt to get into "paint mode", and I did it in a roundabout way-- Instead of using green spray paint, I painted it with blue spray paint (as a test), then airbrushed the green with Golden brand paint, added decals and then hit it with a clear gloss spray. Actually, it wasn't even that simple, but I won't bore you with the trial & error stuff...

I added a little more detail to the control panels-- the ones in front have little turnable knobs (why?), and they all received bolt-down detail. The pilot's rubber helmet was laboriously sanded down to remove the parting line and kill the glossy sheen. It looks a little more like a suede now. (I still haven't fixed the other stuff yet.) Also, notice that the front panel on the suit now opens wider. I replaced the hinge and made the new one with the proper bend. It's trickier than you'd think: At first, it didn't open because the door was binding at the hinge edge. After a minute and subtle adjustment, it started working like it's supposed to.

The "bristling with guns" war theme was more interesting to make, so that's what I did. Conceptually, it's like a general purpose hardsuit which has been converted to wartime use with some funky add-ons. (And as add-ons, they're all easily reversible.)

(pic 1) The reversed Panzerfaust payload rocket shown here fits in a stubby launcher positioned as shown above, and gave me the opportunity to use my last two rocket nozzles. The launcher's location and fit is a kludgey solution; it's placed in the only place where I thought it would look good (and that's important), but that didn't offer any mounting solutions which looked good or reasonable. So it's just screwed onto the side of the laser/optic tower, with only elevation articulation. As you might guess, that's not important since this is no ordinary rocket-- it's got an onboard guidance computer named "Lucy" and a tactical nuclear warhead! Yeah, riiiiiiight...

(pic 2) Another piece of improbable weaponry: The stubby minigun. Again, aesthetics dictated that this couldn't project too far out front, so the barrels... well, obviously they've got some kind of super rifled bore, and the projectile velocity is so great that beercans are reduced to aluminum flakes at 300 yards on a split-second burst. It only looks like it uses standard MG-34 Dragon-brand amunition- in reality, it's filled with some kind of miniature caseless cannon round. Uh-huh. One might think that the frontal mount was an impractical and moronic idea since it appears to have only elevation articulation. Wrong, buckwheat! See, the targeting is coordinated with the hardsuit main computer (named "Fred") via the coiled control cable on the other side, so the waist rotation can track a moving target until the operator cries like a baby.

(pics 3 & 4) My first attempts to test The Texture. I spent many hours researching and testing how I might paint the thing. I tried a number of painting options on scrap styrene: Krylon's UF Camo paints, airbrush, brush painting-- Straight painting on smooth styrene looked too plain, with little textural interest (although the camo paints, when they sputtered, put out some really interesting texture). I really wanted to try to create a cast-turret texture.

One of the materials I tried was Sophisticated Finish's Iron Metal Surfacer-- this is real iron flakes in an acrylic medium (and damned heavy paint too). It gave an interesting sandy texture (barely visible in the minigun housing in pic 2), but was too granular. It seems like it might make a decent helmet texture though, if not slightly exaggerated. I tried toning it down with overcoats of brushed acrylic, but that seemed like an awful lot of extra work and still didn't look quite right.

Internet research produced two possibilities for testing, from techniques used by model tank builders. The first approach suggested using liquid cement to attack the plastic and using one's fingertips to create the random deformations. I tried this and discovered that my fingerprints didn't look very random and the amount of post finishing work to remove them made this a hassle.

The second approach suggested mixing epoxy putty with a solvent to a paint-like consistency and dabbing it on. That seemed to work-- I used denatured alcohol as the solvent and applied it with Q-tips, making many passes over the areas to achieve the stippled rippling texture shown in the pics. As the alcohol evaporates, the consistency changes from smooth flowing to a state where stippling motions bring up the finer texture. Keep at it for too long and it starts bringing up little spikes.

It seems kind of antithetical to modeler's doctrine to go through all these gyrations to make the texture funky: Modelers usually spend an inordinate amount of time sanding to smooth things out, not make them rougher!


12/14/01-- I can see that this is going to be an exciting phase of the the project for y'all... not!

This represents my first bold step in committing to a base coat and color scheme. Looks just like it did before, huh? You wouldn't believe all the indecisive flip-flopping I've gone through to arrive at this "where I started from" spot! I've considered painting this in olive drab, desert sand, gray, and black. I've made painted texture samples out the wazoo of all sorts of earth tones and grays. I've conceptualized it as a submersible/frogman or ground unit and checked out submarine camouflage websites. And space/sci-fi websites. And WWII references. Why would a space unit be painted white anyway, except for high visibility? I went through days of this. Awwww, hell... Y'know what? It doesn't matter. Shit or get off the pot. White just looks cool; I'll have an opportunity to try the other colors on other projects, and it gives me an opportunity to try my hand at weathering like the sample shown earlier.

Of course, nothing is easy when you're blindly bumbling along. Even though real world weathering would take care of this, the flat pure white primer looked too sterile, so it was airbrushed with Duck Egg Blue; and then light Gull Gray. I really wanted to use the airbrush for this, but decided that the effect looked too shaded-- all it really needed was a simple, no-nonsense durable spray painted uniform coating. So this is what I ended up with. It's Krylon Gloss Ivory spray paint with Dullcote. In other words, an off-white spray paint; the gloss is because I couldn't find it in flat. All the "character" would have to come from weathering. Easier said than done. Before you start weathering, the uniform and clean basecoat looks so nice. It's a little hard to get over that aversion to screwing it up. But agonizing over it just delays putting that first ugly bit of weathering wash down. It's like a new car; when you get your first ding, you're pissed, but at the same time, relieved. Fortunately for me, opening the "gas panel" chipped the paint (no wonder, since it was so thick), and gave me an incentive to dive right in.

For that first wash, I used a grayish acrylic mix thinned with water. This was brushed into the corners and edges, working it so that it didn't leave any obvious lines as it dried. Next, I used a black/rust palette mix to create rust spots and streaks from rust and grime. Actually, everything's mixed on the palette-- this lets you vary the density and the color mix as needed. The thinning medium really isn't water-- it's dirty water! Cleaning brushes in it creates a kind of neutral sludge in the bottom and you can pull some interesting natural grime shades and textures from it. Anyway, the rust is created in certain areas using the black and reddish rust color at high density, and thinned streaks are trailed from it according to the rules of gravity. For the streaks, you have to watch the edges-- they're okay to an extent, but the trick is to make them subtle and natural-looking.

This is just the first phase of the weathering. After going through all the parts and applying their initial weathering patterns, I'll return to this piece and maybe add a little more rust, then pastel dirt, and maybe a light airbrush coat to blend things. It's a gradual thing that you develop as you go along.


SF3D/Ma.K.    PART 1 | 2 | 4