By Ward Shrake - images & text © 2000
Every review I've seen on this kit says positive things about it. When I first saw these kits go on clearance sales (about Feb 2000) in local stores, I bought a few extra kits for myself. In other words, I liked the kit well enough to want to build it again. You can't beat that, right?
I have a quick confession to make before I continue on. I just never actually got around to building the STAP ("Single Trooper Aerial Platform") part of this kit. I just wanted to build the Battle Droid. Personally, I considered the STAP a nice bonus for later on. In fairness, please factor that into your thinking as you read this review... I'm only talking about the Droid itself.General impressions
Everyone I've heard comment on it says this kit is a "good size". The Battle Droid alone stands just an antenna taller than 13 inches (33 cm). Mounted on the STAP vehicle, it is even taller. Not a small kit at all! (Note that it is not to scale with the "Trade Federation Tank" kit.)
I would have to say that the plastic AMT used works well on this kit. The twin antenaes on the droid's back-pack have taken mild bending and abuse without breaking. I applaud that.
One nice feature of this kit is that many of the Droid's limb joints were made so that you can easily position them. The upper legs are mounted on ball sockets at the hip, so there is a lot of movement possible there. The upper arms are solidly mounted at the shoulders, assuming that you follow the instructions to the letter and glue them into position. The knees and elbows have a full range of motion built-in, forward and back. The hands, wrists and feet are pretty much solid as supplied in the kit; you will have to cut and reposition those if you need a new pose.
My only complaint with this kit's overall contents is that it does not include the blaster rifle seen throughout the movie. All infantry Droids had that hand weapon. (If AMT includes it in their next releases as a selling point, I will give them some thinking-ahead credit. Time will tell?) If not, I guess that leaves room for scratch-builders to sell cottage industry resin weapon sets?Accuracy
For the most part, any "errors" in shape or detailing are relatively small. I would guess that only a Star Wars fan with time and extensive reference source material would spot most of them. It seems there are even a few small discrepancies in various parts of the movie itself, where full "life sized" props don't agree with computer-based models and so on. No huge deal in this case, as you could easily say both were accurate, but they were different "model years". It fits in fine with the idea of a manufactured army that is just now seeing its first real field testing. It even adds credibility in a way, since small design changes would tend to happen in "real life".
The hands and wrists are generally correct in overall shape, but could definitely use some more fine detailing. Just from looking at AMT's kit, it is hard to reason out how the various parts are supposed to pivot and move. The Visual Dictionary's two-page color picture explains it very well. Study that picture if you plan on trying to super-detail or reposition the droid's hands.
The shape of the rear half of the head looks a bit more skinny and tapered inward in some of the references, compared to others. (Just a little.) Most other differences I noted were subtle. If one area has more problems than most, it is the droid's rear torso and backpack area. Even this is not a big problem, however, if you only intend to build a standard infantry Battle Droid.
It looks like AMT based their model on the white, life-size props that were primarily used as aids for the film's lighting crews. The backpack's upper surface, for instance, looks different in still shots of the computer-generated droids. The overall curvature stays the same, but the top looks like it was made out of different material; it has round holes versus straight slots there. I suspect AMT could not easily duplicate the hole pattern and used the slotted pattern instead. A piece of photo-etched brass would duplicate this well; drilled sheet plastic might also work.
Study your references carefully; not all Battle Droids have backpacks. Droids in the infantry will always have them. However, the droid pilots, security and officers most likely will not have a backpack. Command officers have some sort of unique arrangement on their backs where they have longer than normal antennas sticking up, but these are not attached to a backpack.
There are not that many good reference stills I am aware of in this area, or I would point you towards one. You may have to freeze-frame your home video to see those rear torso details. (The first fight scenes, way in the beginning of the movie, would be a great place to start.)
The droid body parts are supposed to be generic on all models. The backpack is an add-on accessory for the infantry only. The pack seems to clip onto two rails that run up and down the droid's back. (Or that is how it looks to me from studying various reference sources; the film never shows them being installed or taken off.) There is a large, sunken area that exists in the middle of the droid's back, between these "shoulder blades" (for lack of a better term). AMT did not mold this recess; the kit's back is plain and flat. This means that if you leave the backpack off, the kit's rear torso piece will then be noticably inaccurate. You'll end up having to scratch-build at least part of that rear piece if you want that last "N'th degree" of accuracy.Assembly
The actual building process was pretty straight-forward. The parts fit fairly well, without any big need to clean off flash. Some putty may be necessary, but not a lot of it. There were a few annoying ejector pin marks on the arms, but I don't recall seeing them in other places.
On this particular kit, I used Tamiya's brand of modeling putty. It is good stuff. However, my favorite modeling putty is now an automotive glazing putty made by 3M. They call it "Acryl Blue". It is fabulous stuff! Very good working time, it sticks well, fills ridiculously small holes without any problems, etc. I got my (22 ounce) tube at an automotive paint supply store. At $14 a tube it may sound expensive, but per ounce, it is much cheaper than hobby putties.
If you don't already use them, do yourself a big favor and buy some "sanding sticks". The best place to buy them is a beauty supply store. They are used to file fingernails, normally, but they make quick work of sanding down seams. They come in various abrasive gradings. You can use regular modeling sandpaper to smooth things out and do any final polishing necessary.Modifications
Whether you modify the kit or not, be sure to do many test fittings to insure that your final pose will work out. Some poses require a few degrees of angle added at the shoulders, so that the arms can not only move up and down, but side to side. (Technically, the arms pivot only up and down at the shoulder joint, in the movie. At the biceps, is where they rotate to allow the forearms to move sideways. You decide if it is worth cutting and repositioning that joint.)
I didn't experience this personally since I didn't build up the STAP part of the kit, but others that did build both have reported that the Droid's feet do not fit the STAP's pedals very well. Seems the feet should be turned sideways a bit to correct this. (For more info on this, see Jim James' build-up article over on CultTVman's web site. He has some pictures posted.)
The only really odd part of the assembly was the arm's shoulder joints. It seems AMT was planning to make those into small ball sockets, similar to the legs. I assume this because of the way they designed the parts. The ends of the pins supplied with the kit, do not really fit those sockets well. My Droid's arms kept breaking off in transport, until I super glued them on. (Even then, one arm broke loose on me once. Epoxy would not be overkill on this joint!)
Alternately, take some time to reshape the pin (#20) so that it makes good contact with the socket. Mine was only touching in places, the first time I tried to do a permanent fix on it. I have to admit that I was rushing things, overly much, to get it ready for local model contests.
If you wanted movable arms, it looks like you could easily shorten the arm's attachment pin (part # 20) to move the forearm closer to the shoulder. Do this with the torso halves still not glued to one another. Test fit the arm/pin combination for proper rotation. Then glue just the arm and the pin together. When that is dry, then assemble the torso pieces around them. (I did not actually do this myself, but I do plan to do it the next time I build this kit.)
I accidentally figured out how to make the Droid stand on its own two feet, without any form of support. I posted that in the "Reader's Tip" section; you can read about it over there.
I don't know how important it is to anyone else, but I added a few strips of strip strene into the rear of the droid's ponytails attachments. The kit had no detail there and it just looked silly. For a bit of visual interest, I made the added detailing look somewhat like a finned heatsink.Painting
A warning of sorts, up front... I did the painting chores twice without really intending to, so this text may not sound like a very logical step-by-step explanation at first. What happened was simple; I had the kit 80% "contest ready" at some point, but not fully finished. I decided to take it with me, "as is," just to have another model in a local contest. I planned to finish the kit up after that first contest was over. It took a third place that day, so I left it alone. It did OK at the next contest or two, and got some nice compliments, so it stayed that way awhile. Then when the local contest season slowed down for awhile, I finally went back and finished it up.Paint job, part one
After the basic assembly and putty work was all done, I moved on to painting the kit. I used a primer coat first, to start with an evenly-colored surface, and so the paint would adhere well. I really like the "Mr. Surfacer" brand of primers, so I used that in its spray can form.
I mostly used acrylic paints by Tamiya, sprayed on with an airbrush. I used a paint technique called "pre-shading". This gives a wide variety of paint tones, rather than just one color that is flat all over the kit. Used well, it helps things look more three-dimensional and also helps to add some visual interest. (See Reader's Tips for more info on how to do this technique.)
I didn't write it down at the time (so don't quote me) but I believe I first started with Tamiya "Desert tan" with some flat brown paint mixed into it, to darken it up. I airbrushed this on in any place I wanted to be shaded later. I next sprayed straight "Desert Tan" paint that had been intentionally over-thinned, over the whole kit. This made a see-through, yellowish top coat over the darkened lines. I kept putting on more see-through coats, till it looked right.
The antennaes needed to be a silvery color. I masked them off and airbrushed them both with one of the metallic shades (silver? aluminum?) in Tamiya's paint line. I thought it looked too "grainy" on close inspection, but I let it go for now since it was mostly good enough.
To dirty the kit up a bit, I next did some washes using "Windsor and Newton" Artist's oil paints. (Once the main paint job had plenty of time to dry, of course.) I was aiming for a rust-and-dirt staining effect, especially in any places where I thought water might run down the droid during exposure to rain. The best references I had then showed things like that, and it just made good overall sense for a war machine that the owners didn't bother keeping clean. I used a brown, a red-brown and black oil paints, thinned down quite a bit. (See Tips again.)
To be honest, the combination of the two techniques didn't quite weather the kit as much as I would have liked. This is mostly because the kit is so large, scale-wise. I originally learned both of these techniques from people that normally do 1/48 or 1/35 scale military vehicle models. On a kit of that scale, you have to be really cautious not to overdo either technique. On this kit it was barely noticable, since it was spread out over a much larger surface area.
Next came a clear flat coat to seal everything. This toned the weathering effect down even more. (Clear coats tend to do that.) The overall weathering effect ended up being subtle enough that I think most contest viewers probably thought that was the effect I had intended to have all along. It was a good start, but it really wasn't the way I wanted it when it was done.
At this point, the simulated Battle Droid still looked "fairly new". It had definitely seen some harsh weather, but not years of it. It was not the weary, battle-hardened "old soldier" look I had originally hoped for. If I had time to wait for all of the oil paints to fully dry -- they can take days, sometimes -- I could have done a second wash to darken the stains up some. But I stopped after one good oil-washing session had dried, then I clear coated the whole model. (Except for the two metallic antennaes; those needed to stay as shiny as I could get them.)
The clear flat paint I was using is a custom mixture. I originally got the mixture ratio off of "rec.models.scale" on the Internet. (Thank you, Mike Dougherty of Toronto, Canada!) One third is Tamiya's "flat base" and the rest is Future (Kleer overseas) clear acrylic floor polish. The mixture makes a dead flat clear paint that is fairly easy to spray through an airbrush. (At roughly 15% "flat base" with 85% Future, the mixture makes a good semi-gloss clear paint. If you use it at full strength, Future makes an excellent, highly glossy clear paint coat.)
Contest time was rapidly approaching. I think I had sprayed the clear flat the night before the contest itself. That morning, I used pencils in a few places to simulate paint wear and chipping. I first used a normal (#2) pencil to rough in the outline of the paint chip. I then filled the outline in, using a silver-colored artist's pencil. There is not too much contrast between the chipped areas and the surrounding paint this way. It seemed like just enough to suggest a primer coat and metal, or more wear on high points. (See Reader's Tips for more info on the technique.)
At this point, I took the model to its first contest. On the way out the door, I grabbed a small square of scrap plexiglass I had sitting around, and a small bottle of super-glue. I had intended to glue the bottom of the droid's feet to the plexiglass, until I could find the time to build up an official stand for the kit. I got to the contest within minutes of the entry deadline. The glue, of course, decided to stick to my fingers just fine, but not to hold the feet steady. I finally gave up on the plexiglass stand. In sheer desperation, I discovered the kit would stand up on its own two feet, if I just shuffled the feet around a little.
(And the moral of the story, of course, is to not make procrastination a lifestyle choice! If you do, at least have the good sense to keep a bottle of super-glue debonder with you! )
I was really quite happy that my Battle Droid had done as well as it had at various local contests. I knew it had at least a few visible flaws. I did not feel it deserved better than a third place award, as it sat, because of those flaws. I took the awards as a sign that the contest judges must have really liked something about it, to have given it any awards at all.
I knew it wasn't the base they liked, since it didn't have one. I doubted it was the pose, as the droid was just standing there, not even holding an object in its hands. I figured the paint job was what people had liked, so I'd keep going in that department and see what happened.Weathering tips (or Paint job, Part two)
Because most contests seem to look first for any obvious assembly flaws when they are doing judging, I wanted to minimize those before I did anything else. Sometimes one seam showing where it obviously should not be, bumps an otherwise winning kit back a few steps. Same with any glue joints that are visible. I had a few of both that needed some immediate attention.
I had done a reasonably good job of puttying up most seam lines, then sanding them all down. But I had rushed the assembly a bit too much, which left some molding join-lines visible on the two antennaes. I carefully sanded those seams down using a fine grit fingernail sanding stick. I was careful not to bend them too much, as I did not want either of them to break off!
When I felt they both looked good in general shape, I masked the exposed metal sections off for re-painting. This time, however, I used Testor's Model Master buffable metallizer paint. These spray on shiny "as is" but look even better after being polished. To do this, just wait till the metalized parts have dried fully, then rub a cotton ball or soft cloth over them. I used "aluminum" instead of a shinier color, since I wanted to keep things fairly low key. It does shine, but not so much that your eye is immediately attracted to that part of the kit.
The glue joints that were showing were just shiny spots, not big lumps sticking up. I planned to re-coat the whole model with clear flat paint after more weathering had been applied, so I just ignored those shiny spots for the time being. (These spots were last minute repairs, mostly to fix a few weak joints that had broken loose during kit transportation to model contests.)
With the existing assembly flaws fixed, I moved on to finishing up the paint and weathering.
Because I eventually wanted many more paint chips all over the robot, I took some dark grey Humbrol paint (#123) and used it with a fine brush, to make chip-shaped blotches. My plan was to have this simulate exposed grey primer under the main coat of yellow-ish paint. I did this step before any new weathering, so later dirt would lay on top of these worn areas. I set it aside to dry halfway through, so I wouldn't touch wet paint during handling. When this paint dried it was very glossy, but the later clear flat coat would fix it, so I just moved on.Serial numbers
The next thing I wanted to do was to add a serial number to the droid's backpack. What I did was to make a stencil, then airbrush the number "1138" on the droid's backpack, through my custom stencil. I used flat black Tamiya paint.
I wanted that generic hand-spray-painted look, with perhaps just a hint of the sort of blurry overspray you'd expect around the edges. I made my stencil, then used a small peice of double-sided tape to attach its top edge from underneath. This made a tiny gap between the stencil and the kit, along that edge. I used Tamiya's low-tack masking tape to seal the outer edges. I then gently placed the whole kit inside a plastic grocery bag, cut a hole in the bag over the stencil area, taped the bag down around the stencil, and airbrushed the new numbers on.
The stencil I made was actually a small peice of thin (0.005"?) brass sheet. I photo-etched the stencil using a mask I made from the Visual Dictionary's official galactic numbering system. I want to point out that this is not the only way to make these stencils! (Don't get scared off!)
Among other available methods, I imagine I could have also printed out a copy on plain paper or had it suitably sized on a reducing photo-copier. I could then have just cut the raw shapes out with a sharp hobby knife. However, I knew how to photo-etch brass and I was getting ready to do an in-person demo of the process for my local model club members, so I did it more as practice for the demo, than because it was the only good way to make up a stencil.Heavy weathering, using artist pastels
Next I took a short break, to figure out how best to proceed. I studied the kit and my favorite reference pictures. I slowly came to the conclusion that the droid already had what looked like a sun-faded factory paint job, which was a good starting place for further weathering. Some places on the droid looked like they had a surface layer of ground-in dirt on them, especially in places where the pre-shading was darkest. Paint chips were already half-done in many places.
These were all good enough as is, I thought, but the kit still needed more of something. What the kit really looked like it needed most was more dust and dirt overall, with localized areas of rust and wear. I figured I'd do those steps next, then see what else it seemed to need.
I did not want to go completely overboard, ending up with a look that was too uniform. Even if it did not 100% match some reference pictures I liked, I still wanted a kit that viewers (and contest judges) would find interesting. The challenge here is that you are trying to walk a fine line between a boring, uniform surface and a having it look like a patchwork quilt.
It briefly occurred to me to that I could use oil paint washes again, but I quickly rejected that in favor of artist's pastels. Mostly, I just thought they'd look different from the other weathering methods I had used. I hoped that would result in a layered look, implying many forms of wear.
Briefly described, what I did was to take these specialized artists's chalks, and first rub them against a fingernail sanding stick. This made a small pile of chalk dust on a peice of paper.
I then found a few clean, dry household cotton swabs. I rubbed a swab's tip into the powdered chalk, rubbed it on the paper, then rubbed it onto the surface of the model. Here, I used red brown first, then a dark brown, then a dark grey, in that order. I varied the amounts by eye.
I only applied it in local areas, mostly in an attempt to try to simulate rust, dirt or corrosion where things like rain water were likely to run down the droids' body if it ever got wet. It helped to vary the amounts of each color, depending on location. I used red brown and brown together to suggest slightly rusted surface areas. I used brown to suggest heavy dirt areas. The dark grey added visual interest to a just few places where heavy dirt would accumulate.
There are a few things you have to understand about using artists pastels for weathering. One is that you need to seal them under some form of a protective clear coat. Because I already had a need for a flat coat (to get rid of unwanted gloss and reflections) this worked out fine. But I could not do this step right away. I had one more step to do, first, before I sealed it.
Because I applied the pastel dust by gently rubbing it on with a cotton swab, I avoided the sharp, pencil-like lines I would have made if I had tried to just apply them in their natural, hard-stick / non-powdered form. That solved a big problem but created a smaller one. That is, in a few places I wanted a definite edge to where the pastels stopped. As applied, all of the edges were very soft. To fix this, use an artists "kneaded eraser" to gently "erase" some of the chalk. (Practice on paper first, since this is not like other erasers! This one is used by pulling up what is underneath it, instead of wearing the upper surfaces down by abrasion.)
In this case, I had originally gone past the final edges I wanted, so they were dark at those edge areas. The new, extra-wide edges I gently pulled up and off with the kneaded eraser.
One related problem is that the corners are difficult to get into with a rounded new cotton swab. One way around this is to just let the swab wear out, using it when it isn't so compact.Another flat clear coat
When I was satisfied with the overall effect, I sprayed a protective flat clear coat over the whole model, one area at a time. I made sure all unwanted glossy areas were now flat.
One side effect of doing two total clear flat coats is that the kit now looks as if it is covered in scale dust, as well as being a bit more sun-faded. (Like an abandoned, junk car.) The overall effect is subtle, but it is there. It would not work on every model, but on this one it looks like it belongs. On this one it seems to add something to the overall weathering effect.Conclusion
Like I said before, this is a really nice Sci-Fi kit. I hope it is an example of the sort of quality kit we can expect to see in the future from the AMT/ERTL company. I thought the retail price of the kit's original release was fair, and the clearance prices were just marvelous. I think the company's plans for re-releasing the kit make sense. I hope this kit is around for years.References
For reference material, my first general-purpose buying suggestion would be the excellent "Star Wars: Episode 1 Insider's Guide" CD-ROM. Two computer disks just packed full of Star Wars images that serious Sci-Fi modelers are bound to love, at a fair price. You will have reference material galore for all your Episode 1 models, not just this droid.
I also highly recommend the "Episode 1 Visual Dictionary". It has a two-page, color layout on this subject, showing many important details. (It also has a great detailed, profile picture of the blaster that is not included.) I doubt you could find a better, single weathering reference source than this book; the droid shown looks as abused as John McClane at the end of "Die Hard".
The Visual Dictionary also includes a handy, official diagram showing "galactic basic numerals" for creating individual serial numbers on your droid models. These numerals can also be found here: http://www.starwars.com/episode-i/snapshot/2000/08/snapshot20000801.html (Thanks to John Wetzler for that info!- Ed)
This page copyright © 2000 Starship Modeler. Last updated on 20 August 2000.