Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Star Wars TIE Fighter [WIP - Pilot and Cockpit]

In what is a first for me, my painting skills (or lack thereof) was largely irrelevant when working on the Bandai 1/72 scale TIE fighter pilot. Minimal colours were applied on the pilot. It comprised just a few dabs of white, grey, blue and red in addition to painting matt black on the uniform while leaving his (or her) helmet, life support pack and gas transfer hose in gloss black. In the final scheme of things, the only thing that truly mattered was the two extremely tiny decals on the pilot's helmet.    

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To appreciate just how detailed the decals were, you had to view it under the magnification of a DSLR camera's dedicated macro lens. Only then could you make out the intricate Empire logo design that wasn't visible to the naked eye. Looking at the water decals as they are, without help from any form of magnification, is to see only a decal of a white blob with barely a hint of a design. But that's just me, an old guy whose 20/20 vision had long deserted him more than three decades ago.

[Before decals and paint] Both pilot options at 1/72 scale for the Bandai TIE Fighter 
Eventually only Mr.Mark Softer, a sharp hobby knife and a toothpick were needed for proper decal application

Plainly obvious from the immediate photo below, the helmet decal is small. So small in fact it's barely bigger than the tip of a hobby knife. Applying such tiny decals require patience. But that alone wasn't enough. I found out the hard way that two other items were needed: a decal softening solution (e.g. Mr.Mark Softer) and a toothpick. The former made the decal pliable enough to adhere to the plastic surface while the latter was the smallest tool I could find to manipulate the decal without getting it stuck to the said tool. Add a healthy dose of patience and ... wa-lah ... mission accomplished.  

No.33 decals are the Imperial symbols on the pilot's helmet; pictured next to a hobby knife blade
Bandai 1/72 scale TIE Fighter pilot, standing version
Bandai 1/72 scale TIE Fighter pilot, seated version

Decals also played a prominent role in the TIE Fighter's cockpit interior. While not as small as the helmet decals, the red-on-black-instrument-panel decals weren't that much bigger. Moreover, the uneven concave surface of the interior complicated what would've been a straightforward task. 

Initial steps in the assembly of the Bandai TIE fighter
This angle gives a clear view of the TIE fighter pilot's helmet decal
Eleven instrument panel decals were applied to the back, and another four in front (not shown here)
Once fully assembled, the cockpit interior will darken considerably thus reducing visibility
Red LED lights shining from the bottom would've been the perfect final touch ... if only

One thing I took out of this hobby session was the amount of practice I got in water decal application. I no longer hold any fear of using/applying water decals, at least Bandai ones. It's actually quite fun to be honest and a job well done gives almost as much satisfaction getting a paint job done right. Soon, I'll be starting work on the TIE Fighter's central hull. This one is going to be the Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi version which means a blue gray colour scheme. Updates soon ... I hope.

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Star Wars Tie Fighter - Bandai 1/72 Scale Model Kit [Unboxing and Pre-Assembly Review]

As a young kid in kindergarten trying to replicate the Star Wars universe as seen on the big screen onto the drawing pad, I quickly developed a deep appreciation for the Galactic Empire's Twin Ion Engine Starfighter i.e. the Tie Fighter. Not only was it relatively easy to draw, it also had the coolest engine roar imaginable to a five-year-old way back then. It was my favourite Star Wars vehicle up until Empire Strikes Back came out and with it the All Terrain Armoured Transport (AT-AT) walker. But the Tie Fighter remains my favourite space faring vehicle in the Star Wars franchise so far.    

Bandai Star Wars Tie Fighter 1/72 Scale Model Plastic Kit, front view of box art
Side views of the Bandai Tie Fighter box art

Instructions came in the usual Japanese language only booklet. However they look straightforward with easy to follow diagrammatic step-by-steps. The Japanese phrases/sentences are short enough that Google Translate should be able to work its magic without losing too much in translation. 

Front and back cover of the Bandai Tie Fighter instructions
Simple diagrammatic instructions with the occasional Japanese phrase/sentence

The Tie Fighter seems to be one of the simpler vehicle model kits in Bandai Star Wars line. One thing is for sure, it's going to take a lot less time to put one together and paint it up compared to the Millennium Falcon. My gut feeling tells me this build will be more about bringing out the small details (either through decals or paint) as the colour scheme of the piece is rather monotone and dull. Both the cockpit interior and main central hull of the Tie Fighter have great details (Sprue A2 and B).

Sprue A2: Cockpit, top access hatch, viewport, laser cannons, fuel tank cap and miscellaneous stuff
Sprue B: Central hull, laser power system, and wing parts

On sprues E1 and E2, the solar array panels have been separated from the wing braces.This is great mainly because it does away with the need to mask off the panels before priming/spray painting the braces. Similar to the rest of the Tie Fighter, the details on the wing braces is equally excellent.

Sprue E1: Outer wing braces for the Tie Fighter
Sprue E2: Inner wing braces for the Tie Fighter
Sprue F: Solar array panels and pilot options i.e. one standing and the other seated

There is an alternative option in which the top access hatch and front viewport comes in clear plastic (Sprue G). With proper masking/painting, the final completed pieces will have a more authentic look than say the same pieces that come with just empty holes (see Sprue A2). That being said, I will likely use the latter for a better view into the cockpit interior (as was the case for the Millennium Falcon).

Sprue G: Clear plastic options for the Tie Fighter's top access hatch and front viewport
Sprue SWE1: Energy discharge from laser cannons (left); Sprue SWB4: Death Star base (right)

Meanwhile, the base is meant to be part of the Death Star's surface. It looks the part too which is cool. And in a nice touch that's replicated in many of Bandai's other Star Wars model kits - there is a pair of green plastic pieces simulating the laser canon shots/energy discharge. Also included are extremely detailed markings for the Tie Fighter and its pilot, in sticker as well as water decal form. Use of these should enhance the overall look of the model kit, especially in combination with paints.  

Bandai Tie Fighter markings in sticker (left) and water decal (right) form

This is one Star Wars vehicle that warrants more than one version. Actually, I do have plans for two i.e. light grey and blue grey colour schemes from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back respectively. On top of that, I would love to eventually do a Trench Run Diorama. But first things first. For now, I plan to work on the blue grey version before adding a light grey one to my collection. Personally I like both colour schemes so I'm looking forward to how they'll turn out. Can't wait to get started.


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Friday, 22 April 2016

Bandai Millennium Falcon [WIP - Cockpit interior, external hull and canopy; assembled sans weathering]

It has been an extremely slow week for hobby-related activities as I've an ongoing writing deadline to meet. It took every little bit of precious free time I had just to glue together the Millennium Falcon's cockpit interior and external hull, except for the final 'windowed' canopy piece which was dry fitted just in case I needed to make changes to the interior. Two canopy options were available i.e. one with clear plastic 'windows' while the other had empty holes for 'windows'. I went with the latter choice. 

Bandai Millennium Falcon, cockpit sans weathering

Interesting bit of trivia - Industrial Light and Magic had used the same 'empty-holes-for-windows'  canopy during filming of the Millennium Falcon scale model in the original trilogy. From what I gathered, they did so to prevent light reflections from ruining any shots of the cockpit interior (and the actors seated inside) when it was in space. However, during the first Falcon scene on planet Jakku in The Force Awakens, the canopy with 'glass' windows was used. This made sense though as it was a desert scene and not having light reflecting of the canopy would have looked wrong.  

Without the final cockpit piece obstructing light, the interior is still highly visible at this stage
BB8 is not visible from a head-on angle, even in an 'opened-up' cockpit
Decals on the hull plating blended quite well into the paint job, thanks to a layer of matt clear coat

Prior to the final 'windowed' piece being attached, I took some shots of the assembled cockpit interior to show how things should look like if there were some LEDs lighting up the interior. You can check out those shots of the assembled interior in the three photos above and two below this paragraph. 

A last view of the cockpit ceiling before the final piece is attached
Millennium Falcon cockpit area (top view) prior to the final piece being attached

Only after the final canopy piece was dry-fitted onto the rest of the cockpit/exterior hull did I finally have an idea of how the whole thing really looked like without any interior LED lighting in place. And enough of the cockpit remained visible to the naked eye to dampen any misgivings I may have had of not lighting up the interior with LEDs. Hooray for the empty-holes-for-windows canopy!     

Millennium Falcon cockpit area (top view) with the final piece assembled
Use of the 'empty-holes-for-windows' front cockpit piece allows more light into the interior
At the moment, the final piece of the cockpit has only been dry-fitted not glued on
Rey's face is surprisingly still visible from this side-on view

Even at this early stage in the Millennium Falcon project, I'm already pretty happy with the results achieved using a combination of Tamiya/Mr.Hobby spray paints and Bandai water decals. It goes to show that a decent vehicle paint job can still be had, even without an airbrush and compressor kit .

Rey is thankfully still highly visible through the cockpit
BB8 peers out from the depths of an unlit Millennium Falcon cockpit

With the Millennium Falcon shaping up to be a long-term project, it looks like I'll be working on (and likely completing) some of Bandai's other less complicated Star Wars model kits in-between. One of their simpler kits is the 1/72 scale Tie Fighter from the original trilogy and that's the one I'll start on while still working on the Falcon. More on that in my next post. Until then, stay well and happy.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Bandai Millennium Falcon [WIP - Hull plating within the vicinity of the cockpit, before assembly and weathering]

Five years into the hobby and this is my first attempt at painting the surface/hull of a large vehicle model kit. Sigh, how lame is that. And being the obsessive compulsive perfectionist that I seemingly am, I took a fairly insane amount of time researching the various methods before I even started. That and the time consuming hunts for paint supplies meant this first attempt took forever to begin. Just a quick note: the following techniques were based on the knowledge of how different types of paint interacted with each other; sourced from an online article titled Enamel, Acrylic, Lacquer paint?

Hull plating of the Bandai Millennium Falcon cockpit area sans weathering

Phase 1: Primer, Basecoat and a Gloss Clear Coat
After priming of the plastic parts with a light grey Tamiya Fine Surface Primer, I then followed up with a layer of Tamiya AS-20 Insignia White lacquer spray paint. Within minutes of applying this basecoat, a light clear gloss coat (Tamiya TS-13 Clear) was then sprayed on. Use of a lacquer clear coat serves a trio of purposes. First, it creates a protective layer that prevents damage to the basecoat that may arise from subsequent work on the hull. Second, it creates a smooth surface that makes it easier for decals to adhere to. Third, capillary action of the wash works better on a smooth surface. 

A basecoat of Tamiya AS-20 Insignia White was sprayed over a light grey primer coat, followed by a clear gloss coat
Phase 1 ends with a base colour for the Millennium Falcon and the surface prepped for panel lining and decals 

Phase 2: Panel Lining with an Enamel Wash
Using either Tamiya's black or grey wash by itself wasn't quite going to cut it because the former was too dark while the latter too light. So I mixed a batch in a ratio of two parts black to one part grey wash. As mentioned earlier, the capillary action of a wash works better on a smooth surface. Hence the layer of clear gloss coat allowed the Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color to achieve the same results as when used on a smooth bare piece of unprimed and unpainted plastic model kit part. Moreover, the layer of clear coat allowed the basecoat to withstand repeated wipes of the Tamiya X-20 thinner, which I used to clean excess wash stains that strayed from the grooves onto the hull surface.  

A 2:1 ratio of black to grey wash was mixed in a glass jar (third from left)
Cockpit hull plating after panel lining and the excess wash stains wiped off using enamel paint thinner

Phase 3: Decals and Matt Clear Coat
Based on my experience, I have found Bandai's water decals to be of extremely good quality. But the key to making the Bandai decals work really well is through the use with a Mr.Hobby product called Mr.Mark Softer (not pictured here). Basically, it's a solution which softens the decals so that they conform easily to shape of the model part they are placed on. This is especially important when dealing with tiny decals (some as small as a few millimeters in width/length). To cap off this phase, another Mr.Hobby product - an acrylic matt clear coat called TopCoat - was used to provide a rougher surface more suited for weathering purposes, and to make the decals blend into the painted hull.

Bandai water decals for the Millennium Falcon pictured together with the Mr.Hobby Topcoat
Cockpit hull plating, before assembly sans weathering

At this stage, no weathering has been done yet. Weathering will most likely be applied only after the cockpit area is attached to the main hull. At least that's the plan for now. Also before any of the above steps were attempted, I tested them out on unwanted parts. I highly recommend you do this especially to see how your area's weather conditions affect the spray paints (opaque or clear). In the hot and humid conditions I work in, I usually spraying from a distance of less than one feet (roughly 30 cm) for the best results. Actual distance varies from between six to 10 inches (~ 15 to 25 cm) depending on the pressure I put on the nozzle. Up next will be the assembly of the hull plating over the cockpit interior. Only then will I know if the figures and interior will still be visible to the naked eye.


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