Cesidio Bonanni's diorama with modified ERTL AT-ST.

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Starship Modeler: Modified AT-ST Diorama

By Cesidio Bonanni Copyright © 1999.

Value: 7
Casting Quality: 6
Detail: 6
Accuracy: 6
Parts Fit: 5
Ease: 6
Overall Rating: 6

I've always loved the real creative design of most of the starships and vehicles of the Star Wars saga. Alas, most of the SW kits from Esci-Ertl look more like toys than plastic kits. But that's what's available ...

[Look out!]
When I decided to build one of my favourites, the AT-ST, I picked up ERTL's old snapfast kit, thinking that it could be modified to obtain a more agile and powerful "Improved version".

Building the model.

I wanted the AT-ST to run, and to run fast! To emphasize the action of the model across the diorama I decided to stop it in a real hazardous position: with only one foot touching the ground! I studied many books about running birds (ostriches, emus, chicken, etc.) and dinosaur reconstructions before deciding how to position the monster. But it was only the beginning... (do you know Murphy's law?).

[Chicken feets]

^ More functional feet were scratchbuilt from 1:48 and 1:72 scale bombs.

[Side view - really shows the action]

^ From the side, the scene really looks dramatic.

[Closeup of guns]

^ The turret and armament were completely scratchbuilt.

[Rear View]

So, the first things I decided to change were the legs (and their position) and the feet. The feet provided by the kit (like the AT-STs in the movies) were useless and clumsy and could not be folded like a running foot or paw should fold, thrusting on the ground.I thought that a dinosaur or chicken-like foot should fit, so I took from my huge spare parts warehouse a handful of USAF WW II plane bombs in 1:48 and 1:72 scale. I cut the tail fins and used two 1,000 kg bombs (1:48 scale) to make the ankles, and four split 1500 kg bombs (1:72 scale) - cut in two pieces each - to create the toes. The toes were all linked together with a double 0.8 mm steel rod glued on the hollow (in) side with epoxy glue. With the feet assembled, I only had to fold gently the toes to obtain a natural and dynamic position.

The kit's legs are only one piece each, designed to obtain a fixed pose (for the inexperienced modeler, I hope). I had to cut off the "thigh" from the rest of the leg, thus rebuilding from scratch the knees (using two wheels from a WWII German Sturmgeschutz IV - 1:35 scale) and the ankles, then I cut along their length all the three pieces of the left leg (the one fixed to the ground) gluing inside it, from the "hip" to the foot, a piece of 1 mm steel rod. I made the double 0.8 mm rod linking the front toes of the left foot longer than the one of the right foot: it's folded down through the plywood of the diorama, bearing all the weight of the model (I'm a little bit nervous when I carry this diorama to model exhibitions).

Now, the rest: if it has to be improved, let's improve it all! In the original AT-ST from the Star Wars series, the twin laser turret under the hull was unarmored and unable to fire at targets above its horizontal sight line, so I decided to increase its firepower and weapon systems.

I rebuilt the twin turret completely from scratch, taking a slice of an empty plastic lipstick tube (courtesy of my girlfriend) and using it as gunshield and hinge: it would be the new "chin" of the AT-ST. On its centre I glued an old cannon-base, stolen from the turret of a WWII German Pzkw III (1:35 scale), then I prepared the two laser gun barrels with pieces of medical hypodermic needles glued in holes drilled into the cannon base. Between the barrels I added a small copper cylinder to suggest an optical/laser aiming system. With that, the turret, now fully orientable, was ready to be assembled in the model. To fit the lower turret I lengthened the lower sides of the hull with plastic sheet, putty, etc.

The hemispheres of the sides of the hull carried, on the left, a small and harmless laser-gun and, on the right, a small sensor. The laser on the left was replaced by a scratchbuilt triple laser-gun made of two modified WWII 2 cm German Flak guns (1:72 scale) and a American O.5" machine-gun (1:35 scale); the three original barrels were discarded and replaced with pieces of medical hypodermic needles. I added copper wires and various plastic pieces.

^ Rear view, showing more scratchbuilt and kitbashed details.

On the right side, I added a powerful triple missile launcher, along with the old sensor. The arm bearing the missile launcher was the central part of the suspension system of a WWII American M4A1 Sherman tank (1:35 scale). I glued below it a standard USAF light bomb pylon (1:72 scale), to which I glued three pieces of small aluminum tube.

On the back of the hull, I added many parts to detail the engine zone. The two big exhaust pipes came from the same 1:35 WWII American M4A1 Sherman tank as the missile launcher arm. The cooling grid was made from tulle fabric. The "pelvis" of the monster was modified adding a pair of small exhaust pipes from a forgotten 1:72 scale WWII plane, drilling small holes and adding assorted small plastic parts of various origins.

On almost every surface of the model I added small details, such as handles for the doors, climbing steps, the brass base of the aerial (it's a 0.9 electric guitar string), the wires on the legs, etc.


I'm not very proud of the painting of this model. It was painted by brush, because two years ago I still didn't own an airbrush. The only decals are the small stencils, all from old decal sets of various 1:72 scale planes. The three big "4s" on the hull are hand-painted (I know it's not a wonder). I chose a light gray, like the original AT-ST, but now I wish I had painted it with some odd camouflage pattern. Every edge is dry-brushed, there are some colour washings, and a bit of mud weathering on the feet.

The diorama.

First, I designed the diorama to depict an AT-ST in a full throttle rush out of the trees. Due to my laziness and a deadline for a model exhibition where I was supposed to show the finished work, I decided to reduce the huge forest I wanted to a single scratchbuilt tree. This lone tree was built from a plait made of copper wire, covered with wall putty and textured with a metal brush and then completed with pieces of lichen.

The metal stormtrooper on the ground was part of a gift from a friend. Unfortunately, it was the only one I found in a dynamic position.

For the whole job I worked about 8 months (approximately 5-6 hours per week).

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Last updated on 11 April 1999.