By Chris Ford - images & text © 2004
I was as eager as the next person when the new Star Wars film "Phantom Menace" came to the cinema. As much as I enjoyed the first 3 of the trilogy, I was now well into model making and having seen the new model kits in the stores, I was keen to see how they were really represented on the screen. After seeing the film, I felt I didn't get to see enough of the tank, to see what it could really do. Not enough to inspire me to purchase a kit anyway.
^ Small stones are from my garden and savannah-like grass is Woodland Scenics light green field grass.
^ Close-up of turret hatch after removal.
During my summer holidays, I was fortunate to take in the Star Wars exhibition in London at the Barbican Art Centre. There on display were props, photos, artwork, costumes and many of the objects for which Star Wars has become famous. Did I mention it also had models? Well it did...production models, and I had my camera. I shot a few rolls of film on the models themselves for future reference material, and it was in doing this I discovered their "tank".
Wow, my jaw dropped.
It looked nothing like the cover art of the model kit. For one, it was huge. Must have been about 10 ft long by about 5 ft wide. But what struck me was its depiction. It was constructed as if it had lost a serious skirmish. The front end was blown open, its interior spilling outwards. And the top of the cannon/turret had been blasted open like a tin of sardines, revealing among the debris, a powerful engine-like structure. I was truly amazed. I had never imagined to see it like this. (On screen, it is shown far in a background scene, and is hardly noticeable). I quickly loaded new film into the camera and got busy clicking. Well, I was so excited about this that as soon as I got back to my home, I went straight to the local model shop and purchased the last Federation Tank kit they had. Now I was inspired.
Arriving home, I immediately tore off the wrapping and inspected the contents. The main sections were quite large and in doing a test fit, it fit beautifully. I soon discovered this to be quite a robust kit, and thought it might make a good kit to start on for someone new to model making. I arranged all the pieces into groups to determine how best to go about constructing it. I decided on 3 main sections: the lower half-moon shaped base, the body and the cannon/turret. All other pieces were much smaller and could be added at a much later date.
I started with the base as it seemed quite straightforward in its construction. I did a test fit first - actually I test fitted all the major pieces prior to assembly and the slots and pins matched up perfectly. I wished all models were this snug fitting. So first I had to glue the exhaust pieces on the inside of the base as once the base was closed, there was no way of getting to the interior. In test fitting the parts, I noticed that in order to get a tight fit of the body into the curved slots of the base, a little pressure is needed. If the base were constructed as normal, the bottom glue seams could possibly split apart if too much pressure were used, so I widened these slots a little and also filled the base with closed-cell styrofoam. This gave the base a good degree of stability in handling it. (Had I known what was to eventually follow, I would have also added some counter balance weight as well, but I'll get to that later).
A little Squadron white filler was used to fill the seam where the two pieces that made up the base were joined. Also a little filler had to repair some slight depressions caused by the moulding process of the kit, but this was quite minor. A fine sanding followed by an even finer wet sanding ensured a perfect smooth finish. Then I finished it off with a coat of white primer (Halford's automotive).
The Main Body
The body consists of two halves, a left side and a right. Gluing them together was quick and simple. I normally use a cyanoacrylite type glue but decided to try out the Humbrol liquid cement on this kit; I liked the idea of the nozzle supplied as part of the glue dispenser and found it worked a treat. This was left to set for 24 hours. During this time, I decided to look again at the sections and think the procedure through. I realised that in order to eventually paint the upper cannon/turret section, because of the way it snapped into the upper body section to retain it's turning ability, it would have to be constructed first. So I finished off the body by removing the frontal hatch (photos 3 & 4 - which I thought I might use later on but didn't) and the rear grille section, which I re-built. This was followed by a coat of white primer. Now I turned my attention to the turret.
The cannon consists of two halves as does the turret section. I glued the cannon halves together and let them set. I didn't want to chance any glue getting on to the turret fitting and prevent it (the cannon) from it's turning ability. Once set, I mounted it into the turret section and glued the turret halves together. Following another 24 hour setting period, I easily removed the upper hatch on the top of the turret using a mini hack saw. This piece I did use later on. The usual seam filling and sanding was applied as the pieces were set and again, followed by a coat of white primer.
At an earlier period I had decided where I wanted the blast holes to appear and using a fine tip permanent marker, outlined the sections to be removed. I had performed a similar effect on an earlier model and so felt confident about doing it again. The pointed tip on my soldering iron, once heated up, it easily melted through the model plastic, leaving a kind of edge residue that was perfect for the effect I was after. I did this to both the body front and the upper turret. Once I was happy with the appearance of the body section, I glued it to the previously made base. Despite the neat fit, I was fastidious about filling the small but visible seam around the 2 joined sections. It took about 2 weeks of on/off puttying and sanding sessions before I was happy. Once complete, I primed the seams. Now it was ready to paint.
Just before the start of my summer holidays, I managed to purchase a second hand air compressor with an old, clogged-up Badger air-brush thrown in. I took the "brush" apart and spent about 3 days cleaning it. Having never held an air- brush before, let alone use one, I had no idea what to expect.
Following my exhibition reference photos for a colour match, I came up with a paint scheme which was different to the kit instructions. The three main colours used were all made by Humbrol, which I used diluted to a mix of approx. 2 parts paint to 1 part thinner. I put some of the base colour in the bottom cup of the airbrush, turned on the compressor and as I pressed on the control button, made a pass across a piece of white paper. A fine streak of pale paint stared back at me. It look...different, professional. Remember, up to now I had only ever painted my models with a paintbrush. So I repeated it again. Cool! I loved it.
"Right", I said to myself, "Time to get busy". So I started painting the cannon and turret. I had done a little reading on the subject of airbrushing, and despite my success, I feel I was lucky. If anyone else were to do this, I would strongly recommend practising on an old model or piece of styrene first, just to get the hang of it. I've since done this to learn a few techniques. Once dry (24 hrs) and having masked areas and applied the second colour, etc. I put the turret away while I painted the rest of the kit.
I followed the masking scheme as outlined in the kit instructions but once all dry, I wasn't happy with the appearance. I didn't like the look of where one colour stopped and a new colour started. Something was missing, but I didn't know what. So I decided to try and add some of the first colour over the "join" and onto where the second colour started. Now this is where the airbrush beats a paintbrush hands down. The effect was amazing - I really liked it. It softened the effect just right, so I did this to all where one colour met another. I then added a very pale "misting" of paint to help pull all the colours together. This was then followed by an even paler misting of flat black, as a weathering effect. Things were now starting to look quite professional. I kept wondering why I hadn't used an airbrush years ago. This whole paint process took about 2 weeks of working a few hours every night to complete.
I detailed the cannon/turret first and again used my reference photos as a rough guide. I say "rough" because on the exhibition production model there is loads of room in which to scratch-build walls and an engine. But on the kit, after making the blast hole, you've got about a half inch in height and about 3 inches across in which to work...not easy.
On close inspection of my tank, you can see the interior walls detailed and the engine block has been constructed. Materials for this were an old space toy cut into interesting pieces and many parts from a German Tank model kit. There were some superb interesting shaped pieces in that kit. The edges of the blast hole along with the rebuilt interior were all drybrushed with silver. Once this was finished, I attached it to the main body. Further detailing of mosquito mesh wire, 1mm sq. Plastruct sections, melted plastic Meccano and chicken wire was added later on. A section of the main cannon was also melted away, blackened and drybrushed silver, giving a further effect of ruin.
At this point, having constructed and airbrush painted the remaining guns, handles and other minor model parts, I glued them to their locations on the main body. Now I could add the detailing to the frontal blast hole.
This was done in a similar manner to the turret detailing. First, I had to build the interior. I had previously built a floor and a back wall just prior to attaching the body to the half-moon shaped base. Had I not done this, building the interior would have been difficult as it couldn't have been added later, and working through the hole was restrictive. Then I reworked the top turret hatch which I had removed earlier and glued it to the centre back wall, giving an appearance of an entry/exit point. All the interior was painted flat black. Then I rebuilt the walls with thin, black painted styrene which had some mosquito mesh wire (available at most hardware shops) attached to the inside and also painted black and its edges roughed up. Therefore, once attached to the interior model walls, it appears as if the model walls have some substance and structure and a multi-layer type of fabrication.
Into this was inserted some twisted metal meccano pieces, also painted black and drybrushed silver, along with some chicken wire and more plastruct sections. For interior detailing and some of the "spillage" detailing I used things such as cut up space toy pieces, a mini bicycle, melted plastic meccano, part of my old car (now at the breakers), the brake cable from my 10 speed after it had been in a bonfire and 3 days in the rain, package strapping tape, some toy space weapons cut up and lastly I found a fridge magnet which had a STAP droid on it to the same scale as the tank. Cool!! I bought it, scrapped the magnet section and kept the droid. I repainted it better colours and then removed its legs and strewed them amongst the interior debris. I bent the arms inward at ridiculous angles and placed it in the centre of the gaping hole, and covered by a section of brake cable, giving the appearance that the droid is trapped. The effect is nice.
I added extra blast holes and strafing burns again with the soldering iron, black paint and silver drybrush. The smoke effect was created with black pastel chalk. This was rubbed in by hand over key sections of the model top, sides and underneath sections. The final step was to spray a flat protective covering over the entire model.
It took me about 2 full months to complete the model and is the first I have painted with an airbrush. I am very pleased with the result. It wasn't difficult to handle and I would encourage others to try it. The resulting difference is amazing. I have put it on a simple diorama and attached it to the base with a peg similar to that supplied with the kit base but slightly larger. The reason for this is, as the build up in the turret has added extra weight, the model wants to tilt backwards. This is where, if I were to do the same thing all over again, I would add some counter weight into the base at the first construction step.
This page copyright © 2004 Starship Modeler. First posted on 21 June 2004.