Last modified: Sunday, December 30, 2001 4:28 PM


12/28/01-- Grunge it up: (This was already covered in my hardsuit project so I apologize for the redundancy. It's a necessary step in this project, so it's included here.)

There's something perverse about a sculptor taking days, maybe weeks to work on a finish only to have the modeler bung it up within a few hours. Even though the kit has a nice matte finish with some subtle textural detail, I felt it needed some really LOUD and blatant texture to simulate the funky look of cast metal, like a WWII Russian tank turret.

In the hardsuit project, I thinned epoxy putty with alcohol to make a paste and glopped it on the styrene surfaces. However, with this project I've avoided the use of epoxy putty. Vinyl is more flexible than styrene and I knew that inadvertently, sooner or later some part was going to accidently get flexed. Common sense tells you that a rigid material adhered to a flexible material is not a good situation-- especially since the materials do not fuse (as Tenax does with styrene). With flexing, the rigid edge of the epoxy doo-dad may lift, screwing up your paint job. With major flexing and a shear force, the rigid epoxy doo-dad pops off. Even though epoxy putty is slightly flexible in a thin layer, it's better to avoid this potential problem.

Thick acrylic paint would probably do the trick, but Elmer's Wood Filler does it better and easier. This stuff sticks pretty good to unprimed vinyl, thins easily with water, dries quickly, sands well and is reasonably flexible. It's kind of like super thick acrylic paint with a fine grained filler. The downside is that it's not very hard and can be gouged fairly easily. Of course, that's what makes it so sandable. That's not a big issue for this application-- a few dings on the grungy surface will fit right in.

Out of the container, this stuff has the consistency of paste so it needs to be thinned. A little mixing with water and you're good to go. Unlike epoxy putty, it's not a 2-part compound which cures with the passage of time so your mixing pot has a long life as long as you don't let it dry out. As it dries it thickens and stiffens, so you can use the changing texture to your advantage. (Insert sexual innuendo here...)

Technique-wise, there isn't much to say: If you can wield a Q-Tip, you can blot the stuff on. Yes, it looks like hell at first, but after going over it with steel wool, painting it with primer, and steel wooling it again, it looks pretty radical-- like a really funky piece of cast metal. (That's a texture you don't get to see very often these days, but I made a point of looking at some of my mom's old Japanese knickknacks while I visited.) Go ahead-- try it on your car. You can thank me later!

12/29/01-- The Paint Job That Almost Was: Say goodbye to it, 'cuz it's outta here! It's a cryin' shame too-- this was about a day's work, including screw-ups. It started out as an airbrushed random camo scheme: darker gray and brown on the light gray primer basecoat. Ho hum. I didn't like it-- it lacked something... like pizazz! So I tried to airbrush in a hint of a skeletal form, a la Giger's Alien. The idea was to make it look a little scary. Instead, it looked like a custom Goodtimes van! Sheesh! In disgust, I airbrushed a complete and solid coat of greyish green with a touch of black; a very military looking color. By now, it had quite a few airbrushed coats. At that point I decided I'd had enough of the frickin' airbrush. While the shading and blending quality is interesting, it looks too clean, uniform, synthetic, artificial...(?) I dunno. It just doesn't feel right. Out came the brushes.

Now we're cookin'! First, a complete wash in a light tan color, then a reddish brown, and then a light green. This stuff is subtle and gives it some real texture and depth. While the overall color is perceived as dark green from a distance, it's actually composed of a bunch of different colors with streaks and patches. Very realistic, a credible cast iron quality. Dullcote it. I then began to add a dark black wash and decided to mix it with a little rust... an alcohol-base rust. Not a good idea, depending on how you look at it. Yes, alcohol is a solvent for acrylics. After a short while spent refining a streak, the streak started to turn white. What the??? The mix had eaten up the acrylic, revealing the light gray primer coat. I patched it up, but that apprehensive feeling settled in. I opened the torso panel... it's a tight fit, and sure enough, some of the acrylic lifted, revealing that blasted light gray primer coat.

This was a tough decision. If this had been a model, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. But since this is a figure which will be handled and manipulated, the paint has to be durable. If not durable, the scrapes shouldn't reveal such a contrasting undercoat. All the gradual steps I'd taken had led me down the path to FUBAR, and I didn't even realize it.

If there's a moral to this story, it's that with painting, planning and testing can save you a lot of wasted time and effort. With figures, you have to pay special attention to the basecoat and the durability of the paint; A radical color change from the molded color requires a very tenacious basecoat paint or tinted putty. Assume that whatever paints you place on top of that may get chipped, scratched or wasted. Try to design the paint scheme so that the overall look doesn't suffer too much when such things happen. Damn. I should know these things since I design that into the figures I make!

Fortunately, stripping the paint doesn't take anywhere near as long. A couple hours and many paper towels later, it's back to the primer gray color-- a dirty primer gray color. The solvent of choice? Alcohol. I guess you could look at this experience as being the hard way to do a dark wash...

Grunging it up, take 2: Since the gray primer seems to stick well, I guess it's gonna be the base color. Even if it does get scraped, the darker green that the kit is molded in is similar to the luminosity of the dark shaded areas, so it doesn't jump out at you. However, it doesn't need to be the boring monotone gray of the virginal paint fresh from the can. Actually, the paint removal fiasco has already given it a little bit of character. The paint that couldn't be removed is not likely to get scuffed off, you reckon? Since painting a solid coating of paint doesn't seem to work, how about washes? Washes are transparent and impart a hint of coloring, like a stain -- they seek out the low spots where their more opaque concentration is protected from scraping. If a wash on a grunged-out kit gets scraped, can you even tell? That's what I'm a-talkin' about.

After four or five washes, the suit is still gray, but it's a bit darker and a heckuva lot dirtier. It's really a bunch of different colors up close, and the lighting can be deceiving. In pic #1 you can see an identifiable brown streak, but there's also two shades of tan, green and black. From a distance, it looks like dirty gray.

Next comes the really tedious part. We hate actual scuff marks, but the fake kind are okay. This falls into the category of detailing and goal is to make it look like something that someone threw away at the city dump back in WWII. That's what you're supposed to do with a $200 kit, right?

This is another case where we don't really have to worry too much about wear. The painted areas don't form a solid coating, plus they're irregular and sparse. If one happens to get taken out, there are plenty more and they're easy to recreate after the fact (unlike trying to repair a damaged airbrushed camo job). The idea is to use black for the rust area and randomly hash in the oxidized area on and around it, streaking whenever you feel the inspiration. Sometimes it looks convincing and sometimes it doesn't. Ideally, you try to fix the stuff that doesn't. For a fresh "wound" you can also throw in a little silver or gunmetal. I use a silver Prismacolor pencil because it's easier than laying out paint.

It goes without saying (I hope) that you should try to make the wear patterns logical. Heaviest wear should go where it most logically would occur, and fresh down-to-the metal scrapings should be placed along high-traffic edges where you'd expect it to be in real life. Of course, exaggeration is okay too-- it's hard to resist the temptation to overdo such a kewl effect.

So... what color is it really? Good question... I think I'm suffering from "color fatigue" at the moment. The picture on the right probably has more fluorescent light influence. Under the incandescent light that I work under, it doesn't look like either of them! But probably more like the picture on the left. It's kind of a pale greenish gray (I think). The pic at the top of the page was taken under the same light, so that should give you an idea of how the gray primer evolved after all the washes. Looking at the interior which wasn't subjected to the washes, I can verify that-- it's a pretty dramatic difference!


12/30/01-- Decals & Decorations: It's funny that I had complained that my first camo paintjob had "no pizazz", and here I was staring at a dull gray SAFS? Fortunately, there are other ways to add interest besides washes and rust. I used some of the decals that came with the kit, even though the text reads like flactured Engrish: "CAUTION: HAND TURNING GEAR FOR MAINTENANCE ONLY. IF USED FOR EMERGENCY STARTING S.A.F.S. MUST HAVE ROPE FROM HIS WAIST TO THE UNDERCARRIAGE TO PRIVENT HIM FAILLING INTOTHE AIRSCREW" Huh? I don't know where they get this stuff from but it sure paints an interesting image. This thing is supposed to have a propeller?

I really couldn't rely on the supplied decals to bring my artistic vision to life (kaff,kaff). I had my own ideas which had grown out of the way the figure was evolving: The operator seemed to have a personality, and the suit decorations should reflect some of that. So after some thought, I came up with the idea of a simple and crude painted-on black heart, which happens to match the operator's handle, "Blackheart". I had other directions I wanted to take this, indicated by the name & title "CMDR J. D'ARC", but I couldn't bring myself to paint a cross there (it would look too much like the German insignia). No reference to Joan Jett is intended, but she encapsulates the same tough spirit. You get the idea? A painting of the "Melusine" model was used to make the kill silhouettes, even though they look like blobs (None of these guys really have a very recognizable profile). Anyway, the process continues-- the decals were just applied and still need to be toned down.

I returned to the cockpit interior and did a few more things, like painting it. This is the non-regulation hatch detailing which you didn't get to see before. Not knowing what the stuff is supposed to be makes it a little bit harder to decide how it's to be painted: Like those little airplane wheel doo-dads. At least I got the green vid screen right...? I think it's supposed to be a vid screen. I actually don't know what the stuff I put in there is for either, except for the cushion. I thought I'd be really cute and put one of those tags on the cushion. (In the future, they say "Do not remove under penalty of death.") The hatch detailing isn't finished yet, but this is the sort of thing you can stretch out until you get bored. Even with the inner hatch molding gone, it's still a tight fit, especially with the flight helmet.

(Pic 2) With decal making, there's always the urge to go for the cheap laff. I decided not to use the "Spitting is prohibited in this area" decal, and used this one instead. When I was working on my Bodhisattva hardsuit project, I had an offbeat idea (back when I was wondering whether I could work a naked gal into the project) that the operators might feel so invulnerable in their hardsuits that they wouldn't wear clothes! Brilliant, huh? That is, until the future version of the movie "The Battle of the Bulge" happened and they had to abandon their hardsuits in the snow... Imagine... an army of nekkid babes running through the snow...Hey, it could happen! What else am I supposed to be thinking about when I'm working on this stuff?


FOR SF3D GEEKS ONLY: THE ORIGINAL SAFS? I'd thought that the MaK SAFS I've been working on was a reissue-- that is, a new production from the original molds of circa 1985. That seems not to be the case. It's difficult to sort out what's what due to the pink one being an obvious recast: It's shorter, but is that from vinyl shrinkage from using a full-sized original for the mold? The detailing is inferior to the MaK version, which you'd expect from a recast. But that could also be the way Nitto originally made the kit. However, there are obvious differences which the recaster probably didn't introduce: The hands are clearly different, for example. A closer examination reveals that the MaK kit was completely resculpted. Pic 2 shows some of the less obvious differences: The hull casting numbers are engraved instead of raised; the hip covers attach by a different means, and the kit is marked with the copyright, "Hobby Japan / K. Yokoyama".  

While these differences are interesting to note, overall I'm surprised at how funky the original was! It's particularly surprising since I've heard that their 1:20 reissue kits are virtually identical to the originals released in '84 - '85. Maybe vinyl casting technology has improved? Certainly, it makes you appreciate the quantum leap in quality that Nitto displayed with the new version of their 1:6 SAFS.