Thursday, 31 May 2018

Star Wars AT-ST [WIP - Phase Four: Mid-section Metallics, Weapons & Assembly sans legs]

Phase Four of the AT-ST weathering process is straightforward as it only involves applying 'soot' on the weapons and metallic paint on the mid-section's flexible steel pipes. Then it was a case of putting it all together and touching up the paint and weathering, where required (see photos below). 

Star Wars AT-ST work-in-progress: Main hull, gyro system, drive engine and weapons completed
Bandai Star Wars AT-ST: side view (left) of main hull, gyro system, drive engine and weapons

Thankfully there wasn't much touching up to do after the AT-ST (sans legs and base) was assembled. Enough attention and care had been given to the individual sections prior to assembly that almost no extra work was required. Sure there were places I had missed - e.g. sections where I had inexplicably forgot to even basecoat - but nothing overly major that it couldn't be finished in a day or so. 

Rust stains and oil dot filters provide chromatic variation to an otherwise monotone light grey hue
Panel lining is essential in defining depth on the Imperial AT-ST walker
Micro paint chips all over the AT-ST walker also ups the level of realism

A key issue of painting parts separately before assembly is to run the risk of breaking fragile parts. As paint will inevitably get into certain joints, the act of putting parts together becomes unnecessarily difficult. And having to use extra force on snap-fit parts with fragile parts in close proximity is akin to walking on egg shells. Unfortunately this is the price you have to pay if you go down this route.

Bandai Star Wars AT-ST: side view (right) of main hull, gyro system, drive engine and weapons
Command viewports and entry hatch are in the open position to allow visual access of the pilots/interior
Weapons on the AT-ST walker's left (your right) is angled wrongly and will need correcting

Apart from assembly of the AT-ST hull, gyro system and drive system, this phase involved the painting of metallic colors and 'soot' weathering to make details stand out further (see below).

Flexible steel pipes in the mid-section were painted in metallic silver and given a black wash
Bottom section of the AT-ST walker's main hull also contained some flexible steel pipes
Tips of the AT-ST walker's guns received pastel weathering to simulate soot or weapon discharge residue

Without interior LED lighting it's difficult to make out the details in the cockpit interior as well as the pilots, especially from the photos. Moreover, the naked eye is infinitely better at adjusting for low light than a camera can ever hope to do. In short, it's much easier to make out the cockpit interior and AT-ST pilots when viewing them with our own eyes rather than through a camera lens.

An opened entry hatch allows light into the cockpit interior hence better visibility of the pilots
Photography lighting resulted in the interior becoming relatively darker

What's left to be done on the Bandai Star Wars AT-ST kit are its infamous chicken legs and the base. The legs will undergo the same weathering process but with the addition of mud weathering on the footpads. As for the base, I'm thinking of replicating the ground conditions found on the Imperial bunker on Endor, you know the one where Han Solo and Leia gets caught in a trap during Return of the Jedi. So there's a fair bit still to do. Better get right to it. Cheers, and have a good weekend!

Monday, 28 May 2018

HQ12-02 Race Queen [WIP - Experimenting with lacquer-based flesh colored paints from Gaianotes]

Using an airbrush to paint skin tones admittedly, for the moment at least, imbues me with a feeling of being in a rudderless journey. Specifically I'm facing a lack of nuanced control in how paint reaches the miniature figurine. Previously, the use of a hand brush meant I could see exactly where the paint was going to end up. With the use of an airbrush, there's a literal disconnect between where the paint leaves and where it ends up. There are ways to mitigate this but details such as eyes, lips, hair and small, hard to reach places (e.g. in between fingers) would still require the good old hand brush. 

Gaianotes lacquer paints from its Gaia-color flesh series

Essentially, skin tones layered onto the figurine with the airbrush will form a general 'blanket' of flesh colored transitions of shadows, mid-tones and highlights. Where necessary, this 'blanket' will receive additional colors in the form of acrylic, pastel, enamel, oil or lacquer paints via hand brush to further define the depth of the skin tone. In short it's going to be a lot of work. So to start the ball rolling, I mixed a batch of Gaianotes lacquer paints to test out, using a dilution ratio of 1:1 with a thinner.    
A slower drying thinner namely the Gaiacolor T-06h was used in the paint dilution process.

Primary thinner used is the Gaiacolor T-06h which is supposed to dry slower
Opaque and densely pigmented, Gaia color's EX series promises good coverage
Gaia flesh colors from its standard line help complement the main basecoat color of Ex-05
All the Gaia flesh colors were airbrushed onto plastic spoons to see how they looked out of bottle

By themselves the flesh colors look nice enough but it's only in combination that they can begin to look more natural and life-like. So using the pre-shading (shadows followed by main color) technique followed by the highlighting (main color followed by highlights) technique, I proceeded to airbrush a series of flesh color schemes. Essentially, these schemes varied mainly in how dominant either the pink or orange hue was when present in the final mix. This little experiment started with a flesh mix that was dominated by pinkish hues especially in the shadowed areas (see below). 

First flesh mix is dominated by pink hues
First flesh mix was airbrushed onto a plastic spoon in the order of shadow, mid-tone and finally highlight

Then, to add tonal variation to this initial pinkish skin tone, I added a second mid-tone color comprising a pale pastel orange tint (see below). This dialed down the pinkishness of the first flesh mix and tilted the skin tone towards a more East Asian look, at least one that could reasonably be attributed to a fair Japanese girl, which is what I am after for atelier iT's HQ12-02 Race Queen.

Second flesh mix adds a pale pastel orange hue into the predominantly pink tones of the first mix
Technique used to paint the flesh mixes is essentially a combination of airbrush pre-shading and highlighting

Subsequently, the pink shadow was ditched completely so I ended up with a skin tone with a pale pastel orange shadow instead (see below). Use of this flesh mix resulted in a paler/fairer skin tone minus the allegedly healthier rosy/pinkish glow. This mix will have its uses but not for now.

Third flesh mix's dominant hue is the shadow hue of pale pastel orange
Contrast for the third flesh mix is effectively the lowest among all the mixes

Finally orange hues were laid on rather heavily in the shadow areas (see below) to complement the largely pale pastel skin tone (see above). This constitutes what some would call a tanned look and I suppose they would be right in certain cases. However, this flesh mix also isn't the look I intend the Race Queen to have. So the resulting 'tanned' skin tone is one I'll file under as 'for future projects'.    

Final flesh mix introduces a strong orangey flesh hue into the overall color scheme
Inclusion of a darker orangey flesh color increases contrast slightly

Based on early observations, it's the second mix that's currently most appealing to me for use in the Race Queen project. A few more practice runs with the 0.2 mm airbrush is in order as I try to find a way to get paint accurately onto small shadowed areas of the figurine, e.g. the nooks and crannies of her face. In fact, there is a large possibility I'll have to invest in a better mid-range airbrush for use in painting skin tones and figurines. The budget airbrush I'm using now is serviceable but it isn't giving me sufficient paint/air flow control. Looks like I've a pricey decision to make in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Star Wars AT-ST [WIP - Phase Three of the Hull, Drive Engine & Gyro System; Micro Paint Chips]

Painting micro paint chips has been one of the biggest tests of patience I've ever encountered in this hobby. While it's not as difficult as painting eyes on a miniature figurine, the task of micro paint chipping is extremely laborious in its own right due to the sheer amount of tiny chips of paint that needs to brushed onto a model kit of this scale. During this phase it was so easy to grow impatient, lose focus and start painting chips that were either too big in size or too few in quantity.        

Star Wars AT-ST work-in-progress: micro paint chipping

My reasoning for the existence of micro paint chips is based on what an AT-ST would face when trudging through the Forest Moon of Endor. Its hull would be constantly buffeted by tree branches which would eventually result in micro paint chips. To recreate this effect, I used a combination of Vallejo Model Color German Camouflage Black Brown acrylic paint and a 3/0 Kolinsky Sable brush. In my experience, the latter is an indispensable component of this technique. This is because only a brush that can hold a good point will be able to paint realistic looking micro paint chips. 

An essential tool in the micro paint chipping process i.e. a Kolinsky Sable brush

One should tread cautiously when attempting micro paint chipping on an operational vehicle, fictional or otherwise, so as to not overdo it. Location of the chips is also an important consideration. In the case of the AT-ST, chips were placed primarily on edges and on areas where rust stains were prominent. Another area where micro paint chips would exist is in between parts that rub against each other thus experiencing frictional force. That was the logic I used for micro paint chip placement.   

Micro paint chips on the most iconic and recognizable part of the AT-ST
Micro paint chips on the flat hull panels make for a more aesthetically realistic look
Weirdly enough, it was much easier to overdo the micro paint chipping on smaller parts
Back of the AT-ST received its fair share of micro paint chips to up the level of realism

Weathering for the AT-ST, at least from the mid-section upwards, is essentially complete. The rest of the Imperial scout walker namely its legs will be weathered in the mostly same way as the hull, drive engine and gyro system. But in addition to that, the walker's footpads will also receive mud weathering to complement the panel lining, washes, oil filters and micro paint chips.     

Drive engine of the AT-ST completed with the addition of micro paint chips
Bottom view of the AT-ST's drive engine aka mid-section
Rear view of the AT-ST's drive engine aka mid-section

Curved surfaces on the AT-ST namely the two round side panels on the upper hull and the gyro system received micro paint chips only on the outermost surface areas. This self-imposed condition is perhaps more relevant for the gyro system than the two round side panels as the latter is much flatter in shape. This exposes more of its surface area to stray branches in the Forest Moon of Endor.  

No edges on the gyro system but I figured there would still be micro paint chips on the outermost areas

Whereas micro paint chipping was kept minimal throughout the AT-ST, this restriction was eased somewhat for the hatch and the rim/hatch ring surrounding it. I theorized that an Imperial scout walker operating in a forest environment would constantly have its hatch open and closed thus causing paint to chip. Let me explain. Visibility through the small command viewports would be relatively poor in a thick forest environment. Moreover as far as I know there are no exterior cameras feeding visuals into the cockpit. Both factors combined would mean the AT-ST commander would've to repeatedly open the hatch and peek over the rim/hatch ring in order to gain better visibility.   

On the top section, paint chips were most prominent on the edges of the hatch ...
... as well as around the rim/hatch ring due to frictional forces caused by frequent opening and closing
On the bottom section of the AT-ST's upper hull, micro paint chipping was confined to sharp edges only

By the next post, the upper half of the AT-ST (right up to its mid-section) should already be fully assembled. For that to happen I also plan to finish assembling and painting the scout walker's weapons. Once that's done I'll put up the photos and a more recognizable AT-ST will start to take shape. No more boring work-in-progress bit part photos of separate pieces! Anyway, the week is just beginning so hang in there as the weekend is only three days away. Cheers!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

HQ12-02 Race Queen [WIP - Prep, Pinning & Priming]

HQ12-02 Race Queen aka the 1/12 scale resin figurine from atelier iT will have the dubious honor of being my first miniature figurine project to involve considerable use of an airbrush. As is always the case, before the Race Queen receives any paint she first has to undergo preparatory steps. What's different this time is the effort that went into the prep work. Usually all it took was just a quick wash of the resin miniature followed by removal of mould lines and ending with a coat of primer. Now however, I believe changes to the work flow are needed if I'm going to improve on final results.  

1/12 scale atelier iT Race Queen work-in-progress: final primer coat
First primer coat highlighted areas that still needed prep work

Changes to my work flow actually translated into the addition of two major steps to the preparatory process. Firstly to strengthen the bond between joints of separate parts, a 'resin pinning' step was put in. As can be seen in the immediate photos below, resin pinning essentially involves drilling holes into the parts to be attached and inserting a brass rod to strengthen the connection. This step becomes more essential the bigger the scale of the miniature figurine you're working with.

Pinning Step 01: drill holes into the center of the joints
Pinning Step 02: Insert brass tubes into the holes and cut them down to size
Pinning Step 03: Matching holes are drilled into leg parts that will be attached to the torso
Pinning allows the legs to be attached more securely to the torso
A misalignment caused the drill to pierce through the resin; seen here patched with green putty
Resin parts after the pinning process; seen here before the brass rods were cut down to size

In the other deviation from my usual practice, I undertook the mould line removal process twice. The first time the mould line was removed was before the initial primer coat while the second time occurred right after the initial primer coat. For this to work, the initial primer coat was applied lightly to highlight mould lines and other imperfections (e.g. holes in the resin miniature) I might've missed. After these issues had been fixed, the second and final primer coat was then applied.

First primer coating highlight areas which need further prep work such as the mould line above 
After sanding down the mould line, a second coat of primer was applied in preparation for painting

So the Race Queen is now fully primed, and ready to receive her first coat of paint. I plan to start with her skin tone using lacquer paints. And depending on the level of highlights, mid-tones and shadows I can achieve with an airbrush, her skin tone may or may not need additional work. If it does then there are three non-acrylic routes I can take namely oil paints, enamel paints or pastel shading. Why non-acrylic? Well it's because I don;t intend to use the same old same old techniques for painting flesh. I'm after the one which produces the most realistic skin effects and that requires experimentation.  

Front view of the Race Queen's torso, head and legs after the final primer coat
Back view of the Race Queen's torso, head and legs after the final primer coat
Both arms after the additional prep work and the final primer coat
View of both the Race Queen's arms from a slightly different angle

As with every project involving the first time use of a particular technique, there is every chance final results are going to be less than optimal. To minimize this, I'll be layering skin tone shadows, mid-tones and highlights onto some plastic spoons to get the hang of working with lacquer paints and an airbrush. Of course this is far from an ideal way to practice airbrushing lacquer paints due to the differences between the contours of a simple spoon versus the human body. However it's the most cost effective method of practicing I can think of. And it'll have to do. For now.

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