When I started building Gunpla, I immediately enjoyed them. They looked cool, the fit was amazing, and painting and weathering them was almost modeling perfection. I could go with canon colors, or just make it up as I went along. All of it is make believe anyway, so my imagination could have free reign.
It wasn’t long though before I realized that one part of building Gunpla did not really endear itself to me, however.
The kits are designed to be movable. Arms, legs, heads, feet, and many other parts can be set in a variety of poses. If the model is built without paint – they come pre-colored – then it’s not really a problem. However, once paint is added, inevitably two things will happen. Not only does movement often scrape paint away from the model’s surfaces, but simply handling them excessively can do the same thing.
There are ways to mitigate it, of course… primers, careful sanding in areas that might rub, etc. Still, no matter how great an effort is made to minimize the possible damage, something is likely to get some wear.
A Lifetime Ago
The intersection had been cordoned off. A few blocks away, a similar position had been set in three other places. Like anchors on the corner of a square, a small block of the city had been blocked off for a weapons search.
Each position was occupied by a squad of infantry, a few vehicles, and some additional personnel to handle various tasks – medics, commo, and snipers. Each position had a clear line of sight down the “sides” of the square, able to see two of the others. In this way, everyone could be prepared to support the others, and the two or three blocks of separation allowed some control of the entire perimeter.
From the north side of the grid, another company of infantry lined up, ready to start the sweep through the area, in the never-ending search for weapons, militant positions, and anything else that might be a threat.
Stopping The Scrape
Of course, the simplest way to avoid the scraping and wear would be to “convert” the model from a toy to a static display. Make anything moveable, and someone will move it. (How many airplane props have I seen broken because someone tested them to see if they spin…?) Fix it in place and set it on a base, however, and suddenly it is transformed into something to look at – but not touch.
For quite a while, I’d wanted to build a fixed pose Gunpla. Yet as each project came along, I’d evaluate it for the possibility of “disarticulation”, and either felt the mobile suit design did not really fit, or – more importantly – the inspiration for how to pose the thing never hit.
For the most part, the day proceeded quietly. The cordon and search took place in an orderly fashion, as the local populace was used to the routine. Most of the weapons had already been moved out of the area, of course. Moving that many soldiers into place took some time, and the militants had become increasingly adept at relocating their caches quickly.
In the southwest corner of the grid, the soldiers in place maintained a quiet, watchful stance over the area assigned to them. As was typical, civilians gathered around, most standing, a few sitting or squatting. Though they stood only feet apart, the separation of barbed wire, language, and culture may as well have been a gulf as vast as that between earth and moon.
Kids occasionally called out for food, usually accompanied by a hand gesture that seemed to mimic food going down the throat. The soldiers generally ignored the calls. Tossing even small amounts of food into the crowd brought more people, and the more the people came, the more was expected. A simple packet of MRE crackers could potentially escalate into a very serious situation.
So everyone milled about. The soldiers watching the crowd, the crowd watching the soldiers. The sun overhead seemed indifferent to it all, its heat baking everyone below.
Picking A Kit
After mulling over the idea in my mind for several months, I decided the best course of action might be to simply label this all a big experiment. For some reason, if I think of a project as “production”, my brain can’t see it as any other thing. Certain procedures have to be followed. Yet if I start a project off by declaring it “experimental”, oddly all the restraints in my brain fall away.
Of course, you may be asking “why not just call them ALL experimental?” A valid question, of course. However, in my brain, if everything is an experiment, nothing is an experiment.
It’s a very complicated place in there… 🙂
A perusal of the closet of stacked kits turned up an HGUC Zaku II. It’s a wonderful little model, part of the Mobile Suit Gundam Origin line. Nicely detailed, beautifully engineered, and… most importantly, already snapped up, ready to be painted.
Will You Sit Still?
When I was a kid, I can recall sitting in church, next to my mom. I think the phrase I most often heard from her was “sit still”. I just kept moving around.
Gunpla are a bit like that. While they’re not generally “loosey goosey”, it doesn’t take much to get them to move. So making sure things were locked in place would take some doing. I knew that the plastic pieces could of course be glued. But the soft polycaps… I wasn’t so sure about those.
Previous experience indicated that normal model glues would not work. Super glue would not either. While it would hold joints firm, it only took a little effort to break them loose, and the super glue suddenly became “less than super” glue.
The Dilemma Of Vigilance
The difficulty with holding a position as the soldiers were doing is a fight against the compass. There are 360 degrees, all around. Of course, being in an urban environment also brings in the aspect of verticality. A watch must be maintained all around, up and down. The number of points to observe quickly goes beyond the capability of those assigned to do.
There are methods to account for this. Assigning watch vectors, focusing on likely areas rather than places not likely to hold danger, and simply experience from past actions, helps reduce the number of threats that can emerge unexpectedly.
Yet even veteran soldiers get tired, complacent, or simply look to one side briefly. It may be reaching for a canteen, or answering a radio call. A sudden movement or loud noise can immediately draw everyone’s attention in a single direction.
Of course, the folks on the opposing side know this. They’re veterans too. The tactics of hit-and-run are well refined. While the big picture coordination may not be there, at the ground level, as things unfold, no one thinks about the big picture. They only think about the here and now.
Deciding On A Pose
Of course, the whole project depended on settling on a cool pose. Not just any pose, but something that told a story. I tried several, and in fact thought I had one settled in my mind. It would have the Zaku stepping up to higher ground, weapon pointed one way, but looking and gesturing the other, almost as if something from another direction grabbed his attention. (Well… the pilot’s attention, to be more precise. 🙂 )
Yet as I played around with poses, I could not settle on one that seemed to tell a story that I wanted. The problem, I realized, was I did not have a story in mind.
I’d been working on a possible flying pose, and had set the model down. When the idea for a story came to me, I looked at that flying pose, and realized that with a few adjustments, and a turn of angle, I had my story and pose.
“The Last Moment.”
Television and movies do not adequately convey gunfire. Even firing at the range does not fully get the point across.
The act of being fired at is quite difficult to describe, as the sound of the weapon is felt, not just heard. The audible crack is sharp, and loud, and the body’s response is immediate. If you are in the intended area of aim, the effect is even more pronounced.
A militant stepped out of a small gap between buildings, just far enough out to allow the AK-type rifle to be extended and roughly aimed. the movement being so sudden and fluid that few initially caught it. And in a weird chance of fate, those few that did were set up to be covering a different area.
The shots fired, hammer like, in rapid succession, the weapon set to automatic.
The effect was immediate. The crowd scattered. Soldiers dove for cover. Others tried to bring weapons to bear, and identify the source of the fire. A few stood in disbelief, stunned by the sudden shattering of silence. One dove into the entrance of a building.
Building the model was almost anticlimactic. The basic snap-up had been done months before, so very little was needed as far as assembly.
I made sure to glue up the major parts, not only to get them firmly in place, but also to seal up the few seams lines on the model. The only ones of note were along parts of the leg armor, and on the shoulder pauldron. The fit of those parts was good enough that Tamiya Extra Thin Cement, and a good squeeze of the parts, left a small bit of plastic bubbled up. Once dry, that was sanded away.
For painting, my plan was to have the model fixed in place first, and then to paint it almost as if it were a tabletop game miniature. As previously noted, gluing polycaps did not seem to work well. However, I found that with a few adjustments to the pose, I could get plastic part touching other plastic parts. I then began to apply glue wherever two parts touched.
Once I’d let that dry, the model was tested to see where movement still remained. Further adjustments were made, more glue added, and the process was repeated. Eventually, I had everything glued in place. Though I can’t say that I’m confident giving it a fairly vigorous shake would not rattle things loose, it is very stable for handling during painting and posing, and also for eventual shipping.
I decided to prime the model in black. Though the final colors will not be particularly dark, I knew that in such a fixed pose, getting to all the nooks and crannies could be a bit difficult. By having them primed in black, they can more naturally appear as shadows. (Though I am still considering whether to add a thorough coat of dark green paint just to sell that notion a bit more.)
While I do love the look of Badger’s Stynylrez Black Primer when on a model, I decided to add some white highlighting with Badger’s white primer. This would do two things.
First, from a photography standpoint, it would simply make the model a bit more interesting to see. Adding the highlights would allow detail to stand out, and to (hopefully) convey the direction the project was heading.
The second, and somewhat more practical reason, was to “map” out a zenithal highlighting pattern. Doing so would help me see where I wanted the light source to come from.
I started by airbrushing generally from behind and above, allowing the white primer to settle in a very light coat. I examined how the pattern was developing, and from that, determined I wanted the top/front of the head to be the focus of the lighting. I sprayed more from that direction, allowing the color to build up, and was finally able to see how it would look.
Once painted, of course, this highlighting will disappear. Unlike some models where I do pre-shading, this is more “pre-planning”, as later coats of both airbrushed and hand painted detail will cover but recreate that lighting. By referring to photos of this primed and highlighted model, I can better paint and highlight the base colors.
As quickly as it started, the firing stopped. It had only lasted for a few seconds, if that.
The soldiers began to move efficiently and quickly, training taking over. Everyone was checked for injuries, radio reports were made. Several soldiers moved in to secure the area from which the gunfire had occurred. The crowd quickly began to calm down, though now more animated.
Looks were exchanged, heads shook in disbelief, heart rates were elevated. The suddenness was a reminder of how difficult the task was, and that the finality of failure was unforgiving.
The soldier who had dived into the building entrance – a pharmacy, as it turned out – emerged from the door. Looking along the wall where he’d just been standing, the razor-thin margin became apparent. The first round had impacted just mere inches from his head. The gunfire had then moved to the left, stitching along the wall. Had it gone right, the story would have been different.
A cold shudder passed through him. That moment… that last moment. Almost.
But not today.
The Zaku wil be painted in fairly canon colors. I don’t want to present it as anything other than a grunt suit. It’s just a fictional guy, in a fictional suit, in a fictional universe. I plan for it to be weathered in what I think of as “medium weathering”. Not new, not worn out… somewhere in the middle of its service life. (Though circumstances, in the story of the vignette, will see its end.)
I’ll also build a simple base. I don’t plan to have too much on it. For one, I don’t want it to distract from the story of the mobile suit. Secondly, too many elements on the base – grass tufts, rocks, etc., can confuse the scale. I want to try to preserve the notion that this is a roughly 18 meter tall object, and that its fall will be great. I may add a few elements to sell that notion, I may not. I’m not sure yet.
I’m hoping to convey a story of a sudden end, frankly. While the anime series is certainly fictional, the circumstances it depicts – always around armed conflict – are most real. Things can happen suddenly, and in an instant, the movement of a bullet across a battlefield can mean one man standing and staring at a wall, while in another scenario another he falls back, facing that which all of us, through some circumstance, will face.
The Last Moment.
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