Thursday, 13 July 2017

Alien Escape at Madame Tussaud's

In my former existence as Video Editor at, I would be invited to attend/film a great many events - a fair number of these weren't relevant to the magazine or website, so it would either be a jolly, or we usually wouldn't even go.

When I received the email about Alien Escape, however, I jumped at the chance. Who cares if they're covering it at my (now) old job...? You might have noticed a bit of Alien coverage here at over the years. I'm a tad obsessed.

Alien Escape is a micro interactive installation, contained within the classic Madame Tussaud's attraction, and puts you in the universe of xenomorphs onboard the USSC Covenant.

After a photo op with Walter - one of the more lifelike waxworks I've seen at Tussaud's (android irony withstanding) - you're led through a series of spaceship corridors, encountering eggs, facehuggers, dead crewmembers and just enough shock-scares to get you through to safety.

If there's a criticism, it's that it's too short and too fast - I found that there wasn't anywhere near enough time to look at the exquisite modelling work that has gone into the installation. Just look at this:

In my mind, that's living the dream - getting paid to build full-size monster models full-time. Nice that some of us can do it part time - even if it's mostly to a smaller scale...

Alien Escape is open from July 15 at Madame Tussaud's, and is included in the price of entry to the whole attraction.

Disclaimer: I didn't get paid to write this, but I did drink a lot of their booze...

Sunday, 9 July 2017

End of an era; gateway to the future

So it finally happened.

After nearly ten years in the most slowly-progressing McJob ever, the company decided that there actually wasn't anywhere for me to go, career-wise, so they made my post redundant.

No doubt it'll be refilled in a few months' time by a cheaper junior with a completely different title, and slightly tweaked job spec, but put a fork in me, I'm done!

But it's not doom and gloom in any way. It means I'm now able to offer my video services on a freelance basis; I can spend more time with my kids, and I can spend some proper time with this here hobby.

I've been progressing slowly on the Gremlin - it's been 2 steps forwars, 1 back a lot of the time. This weekend I repaired the wrist and arm breaks that happened (thanks go to the dog), but in doing so, I broke the join on one of the ears.

I'm going to have to build a simple jig to hold the Gremlin in various positions - without resting his weight on anything but his feet.

Next on the to-do list is reshaping and fitting the mohawk spines to the head and down his back. They're an awful fit, so I have some filling and blending work to sort there, too.

Then it's just a case of finishing the paint. Match up the torso and the head for contrast and tonality, fix the chips that happened wheb he fell, and get the details dotted in.

But can I do this before the kids finish school for the summer? Here's hoping. My poor client must be fuming by now... sorry chap.

Monday, 22 May 2017

If you build it, they will come.

Greetings, people of blog land.

I sit typing this, rocking on my garden chair, my dog asleep on a patch of soil in front of me, and my lovely wife clattering in the kitchen behind me. Maybe I should be helping her.
As I swing, however, I'm distracted by the large blue structure in front of me - and also the wasteland that used to be a nice, well-manicured lawn - but mostly the blue structure. Some would call it a shed; others a money-sink. To me, though, it is the promise of something good: a blue wooden box with infinite interior space for ideas and creativity.

The build went a little something like this:

Dig hole, lay sand, gravel, scrape and level, drop flagstone on foot.

REPEAT until nearly dead.

Place flooring down and test for see-saw action

Add the walls and roof, and test stability with child and dog. Helmet, because it's a building site.

Wait for a week, remove the lot. Realise that the floor has settled and not as level as before.

REPEAT first step. Swear at the floor a lot (it doesn't actually do anything to help the build, but it's cathartic, therefore, important).

Read instructions, and, using a dad-type with power tools and a working hammer, build the outside.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Learning to say 'no'

One of the most important things to learn as a commission painter (or freelancer in general) is how to, and when to, say 'no'.

Not 'no problem - I can finish that custom Battlesuit diorama by the end of the week', but 'no. I can't take that on right now'

Sometimes you need to employ the same methodology with yourself. This week I had the usual newsletter from Wonderland Models, telling me about their massive discounts on stashable plastic. I usually scroll through and hit delete.

In this missive, however, something caught my eye: Dragon's 1:35 Patriot SAM Launching Station (PAC-3) - down from £84.99 to £29.99

I did some extra digging to figure out just why this would be a near-£100 kit. I'm not an armour expert, and the only previous experience I have of this price range is Games Workshop's medium-sized robot-suits, like the £90 Tau Stormsurge.

Look at this! Detail, size, poseability! £90!

Now look at this:

Detail. Size. Poseability. £90. No - now it's £30.






(To be fair, I'm not trying to belittle GW's product - it's made for playing a game, and is way more durable than Dragon's display model. But it is pricey)

My internet trawling tripped me up a few times, as Dragon has a larger kit with the tractor vehicle as well as the missile launching trailer. Trumpeter has a similar giant kit for about £80, but has photoetch parts as well as plastic sprues.


This kit, though is just the trailer. Still a lot of kit for £30. Very tempting.

But I must resist. It's taken me a good day away from a computer or phone to get some perspective. Shortage of funds, limited storage, other projects - all of this is saying I have to spend my money elsewhere.

Like finishing my new workshop/shed - that £30 will go a long way to buy gravel and sand, so the ground and the shed are level!

And this is where I realise that I need to say 'no' to myself, too. I can't take on this project at the moment, and even if it looks like a great deal, the model isnt something I'm desperate to have in my stash.

When Wonderland has another sale on a big kit, I'll consider it - but only if my shed is done...

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Gremlins 2: A New Batch of Glue

This here monster takes a lot of sticking.

I'm using 2-part epoxy for long-term stick, CA for quick adhesion, and Milliput to fill and strengthen the gaps.

I've already talked about filling the inside with expanding foam, and the importance of making sure the holes are properly sealed.

Thankfully I caught this before mixing up the foam. Nothing like wasting expensive chemicals and having them pour all over the kitchen counter! The cleanup on the model detail would also be a pain. Foam is fluffy and sticky, and not great for cutting. It is good for keeping things structurally sound, though.

This vinyl kit, as mentioned before, has a few issues. It's a repop (yuk) and certain aspects haven't translated well in the copying process. The mouth, for instance, has some weirdness between the lips, which needs heating and cutting, and maybe resculpting.

Likewise, the elbow joints are unwieldy. Either one side fits well, or the other. I'm not exactly new to reshaping vinyl under heat, but this kit has not been quality controlled like the original Kaiyodo would have been. Shame, but then that's what separates us from the snap kitters.

Here you can see what used to be a massive gap, filled with Milliput. In addition to the standard filler work, however, I've added some scales to match the surrounding details, and textured the 'smoother' areas by pressing the other arm into the Milliput to match the surface detail. I'm not a sculpter by any definition of the word, but blending in these failures in the repop kit will help sell the idea of realism to the eventual audience.

And that's what we do, right? Try and sell the idea of realism in a medium that's not realistic?
How many times have we looked at spaceship kits, or 40k minis, and said 'how can I make this more realistic'?

So the kit isn't exactly as planned, but it'll be structurally solid, and it won't fall over when it's done. It looks good, and even on close inspection it looks consistent within the world it's set in.

And that's the compromise. Do we make it work, regardless, or try and stick to the original intention of the kit designer?

Hopefully both, but if there's wiggle room, I think it has to be in favour of the builder, and artistic interpretation.

The other arm didn't have as many issues. Who knows why? I didn't have to sculpt scales - only some textured filling.

But that, I guess, is the nature of vinyl.

Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes you cut the wrong bit and it doesn't fit at all. Sometimes, of course, it's not your fault at all.

And that's the story I'm sticking to.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Another commission. And a house move.

Things have been a tad quiet on the blog front lately. It looks like I last posted in September 2016.

It's February 2017 now, and the world has changed a fair bit: America has reverted to an older, scarier, time, PETA thinks that Warhammer figures should stop wearing fur, and Britain's MPs have just voted to get its citizens on the coastline, armed with paddles, ready to row away from the 'evil European Empire', right into a dystopian future that sci-fi authors have been predicting for the last 100 years.

Also, I moved house,

acquired a dog,

and took on another commission.

The house is bigger than our flat was, but it lacks a garage for storage and workspace. The puppy is unnecessarily huge, is teething, and always hungry. The commission is scarily mahoosive, creatively exciting, but ethically a smidgen grey. Hang on. We'll get there.

Over the last couple of months, I've turned my hand to a number of new skills: I've learned to lay carpet and laminate flooring, as well as some plumbing basics, I really wish I didn't need to know.

I now have the skeleton of a shed that will act as my new hobby zone - a 6x10ft with asymmetric pitched-roof, which I plan to insulate and electrify, so I can film and livestream - and also build and paint in the old-fashioned 'get on with it' way.

I wasn't planning on the weather turning so foul, though - the garden is consistently wet and muddy, so getting the groundwork even started is next to impossible at the minute. Hobby work will have to continue in the kitchen...

I also wasn't planning on the dog. My stepson reminded me that my wife and I had promised that if we lived in a house, rather than a flat, that we could have a dog. Good logic, I guess. So, a couple of days before Christmas he turned up with a shivering, stinky dark mess he'd just bought from a random guy on Gumtree. No paperwork, so we had him checked out at the vet on Christmas eve, and then chipped and vaccinated. Teddy, as we named him, is a gorgeous mutt of questionable origin, with a taste for socks, slippers and my arms. A DNA test will sort out his breed(s), but it can wait a while. He's also older than we were told, and if he's not snoring, he's tearing around the place or chewing on our new sofa. There's an op that he needs soon that would make most men wince, so right now, quiet afternoons of fine-detail assembly in the dining room are highly unlikely. Bring on the good weather! Bring on the shed!

Just to rub it in, my mum just had this built for her paper crafting hobby

Yeah. Not envious.

So then, the commission - and the real reason you're reading this post. It's a Gremlin. A lifesize Mohawk from Gremlins 2. And it's from a repeat customer! The chap who now owns the Aliens Chestburster that I made last summer emailed me and asked me to take on this project.

The original vinyl kit was made by Kaiyodo a long time ago, and was beautifully detailed. I realised, late on in discussions with my client, that he bought the kit from a site that deals in rare and OOP kits. I emailed the owner of the store, who unashamedly confirmed that most of his stock is recast resin and vinyl.


If you follow this blog at all, you'll know how I feel about recasts - they're bad for the hobby.

Full stop.

Forget about the copyright infringement issues for a minute, and that the right money doesn't go to the artists who created these models - repops tend to be of inferior quality to keep the prices down, and because of this, details can be soft, parts might not fit well etc, etc. I'm sure I'm repeating myself, but they're a blight to our little niche industry.

My client didn't realise he'd bought a recast kit, and as we'd already agreed a rough timescale and price, I decided to build the beasty for him. I did let him know that the kit wasn't an original Kaiyodo, and he was properly disappointed. I doubt he'll buy anything from that particular web store again.

If you can put up with my own hypocrisy for this project, it's a rather exciting build.
There are definitely issues with it. We can overcome these with the old techniques of building things well. Scratch building, reinforcing, and a PhD in glue management and expanding foam will be needed here.

So let's begin.

It's vinyl. It's 2ft+ tall, and it has massive ears. Top-heavy? You bet. Better learn about foam filling.

This is a 2-part, expanding foam which grows up to 8x the component volume. At the right temperature.
it should look like this when cured.

So I filled all the parts with water, and measured them so I could work out how much foam I'll need.

The legs come in two sections - and annoyingly join at the bridge of the foot. This is where all the model's weight will be resting, so along with the foam, I'll be attaching some reinforcing metal bar.

At this point, the foot has been glued with epoxy, and has a bent metal bar inside. Gotta fill the seam before I fill the leg with foam.

With both legs glued and filled, it's on to the next step...

...and that's for next time!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A commission is good for the soul. And the ego.

I've built and painted lots of models over the years, and often for other people. These have usually been favours, repairs or charity paintups. Occasionally I've managed to sell a finished kit on eBay, and the first time that happened is pretty much when MiniModelPaint Studios was launched.

Actual paid commissions are few and far between - my hat's off to anyone who makes a living doing commission work - but recently an opportunity arose that mixed three of my ideals: to build and paint a sci-fi monster - for a complete stranger - and get paid for doing it!

The model in question was the 1:1 Halcyon Movie Classics Aliens Chestburster from the very early 90s. As with many of that Aliens range, the kit is PVC - or just 'vinyl'. It's a great medium, and I've covered it before - even  on YouTube - but it is fraught with pitfalls. If it's not prepped well, it's completely unforgiving.


Choosing the wrong primer, for instance, will stop subsequent layers of paint drying and curing properly, leaving you with a tacky finish (even if you varnish it).

But let's start earlier than that. The kit needs washing and scrubbing to remove mould release agents and whatever else has grown on it. Handling should be kept to a minimum.

Heating and cutting the excess material is easy. This kit is quite soft, and only needs softening under the hot tap to trim away the flash and pour hole spludges. Stuffing it full of scrunched up newspaper is a good way to stop it sagging when it gets warm in the central heating, but the paper won't provide ballast weight. You'll eventually need something heavier.

The Chestburster is also about 3 feet long, and has a tail that is a recast from the earlier Halcyon Movie Classics Alien Facehugger kit. Not a complaint - they are related, after all!
Without reinforcement, though, this tail is a nightmare to shape. If you're building your burster with a completely straight tail, it'll be fine without rebar inside, but won't it look dull? I prefer to have a model on display that looks like it's mid-action. I want this little beast to look like it's on its way somewhere to feed and grow, so I need wires. Thick wires.

These wires strengthen the shape, and act as an armature for the tail. I can warm up the vinyl, shape the piece, cool it, and it'll definitely stay in place if the wires are fitted. Vinyl has amazing plastic memory. Even after you reprogramme it to a new form, it could still revert to the original position if it warms up under the heat of the sun coming in through a window.

Finding a practical and dynamic shape for the tail proved to be a lot of trial and error. I always planned for the model to stand on its own, without the need for external support. However, the tail had other ideas. It would not act as a counterbalance to the body. Even with the wire and paper, the tail wouldn't keep certain shapes, and was not solid enough to support the weight of the top-heavy body section.

I kept the body and the tail separate for a while, until I had a firmer plan in place for pose and ballast. It still needed painting, so I decided to crack on and sort out the technical problems later. Some seam filling and it was ready for priming.

From here, it was a case of many layers and tones of preshade (greys and burnt umber, mostly), and intermediate layers of VGA Elf Skintone. Shade again, main coat again. I found this to give a rich depth of colour, which is needed for an organic figure like this.

 This summer has been unseasonably warm for the UK, so I had a few airbrush issues - paint drying on the needle too quickly (even with flow improver), and I suffered a few spits from time to time. Easily fixed, if a bit time consuming (soak and scrub the airbrush clean after every couple of coats)

I love a good preshade. You can go absolutely nuts with related tones and you'll get a really natural feeling result on the top coat.

Of course, before the teeth went in, I painted the inside of the mouth. It looks waaay too OSL-y here, but there's a reason for it.

And while everything on the body is drying, it's time to sort out the teeth. Primed in grey, sprayed in VGA purples, and finished (teeth only) with Citadel Mithril Silver. They'll have more done once they're in place, but there's no point trying to get silver around the back of spiky things once they're glued in.

A test fit, just to be sure.

But how do we solve the problem of ballast, without filling the whole tail with plaster or resin. There's no one 'right' way (loads of wrong ways, though), and what I ended up doing was using the spindle from a roll of Mod-Rock, and wrapping it in paper and Mod-Rock. This fitted across the joint from the body and the tail.

 I also reshaped the tail into a loop-the-loop coil, which solved 2 problems: it made the model shorter and easier to position on a diorama, and secondly it gave the model 2 points of contact on the base. This was surely going to make it easier to stand up, right? The wire helped, and any splits in the putty joins were easily fixed.

It was about this time I started on the diorama base. I knew I wanted something grungy and industrial, with some Weyland-Yutani 'company' logos, and blood. Plenty of blood. This isn't a friendly alien beastie, after all.

Ikea to the rescue! A shelf from a CD unit was the right size to stand the Chestburster on. Some plasticard, wire and Starbucks coffee stirrers, and we had a start. Yes, at this point it looks like a shelf with a bunch of crap stuck to it. My wife even squinted at it and asked "is that it?"

No. We don't stop there. That's just the skeleton. I guess this is why you should never show anyone who doesn't do the same kind of work any early WIP stages! Here's a quick test fit.

I primed the base in grey and then got the Alclads out. Black basecoat, and the last of my Magnesium lacquer to cover. Washes, metal drybrushing, GW Typhus Corrosion (amazing paint) and Ryza Rust gave the base its first major look of filthy tone. Seal it with all the lacquers and varnishes. Leave to dry.

At this point, it's worth seeing the beastie in situ - we've seen that it fits, and checked that the curled tail is appropriate for the scene. This test fit will determine if the colour palettes are compatible in a practical way, what needs highlighting, and what areas need more detail.

It could still do with some more 'pop'. Let's drybrush highlights on the body and deepen the wash tones here and there...

Repeat where needed, and get a really wide contrast between the shadows and highlights. Spray, drybrush - whatever it take - and seal with Future. A matte or satin coat will dull down the shine.

Bloody up the mouth. Blood for the Blood God is a great technical paint for this job. It's thick, sloppy and glossy. You could probably make your own with other paint medium, but realistic red gloop, you can't get any better.

Back to the base, then. I washed large portions of the thing with Army Painter Quickshade (Strong Tone), and allowed it to dry. It took a couple of days, but gave a really good oil spill. Just to make sure, I recoated matte and satin over areas I didn't want shiny. Then, I mixed up some Woodland Scenics Water Effects with various shades of red, brown and purple and dripped over the base in areas where the Chest Burster would have been. Gore and oil: great textures.

Last bit on the base - the logos. Using the same technique as on my Alien3 xeno, I glued some Weyland Yutani logos onto metal foil and cut them out. Sealed with matte varnish.

Yes. That was a coffee tin vacuum foil. Anything goes in the world of scratch building.

Once glued into place, I applied Typhus Corrosion and Ryza Rust, Nuln Oil, and the sealed with gloss and matte varnishes. I stuck a sheet of felt to the bottom of the base, and black-glossed the edges

And the final bit on the bug - blood spatter. A great technique, but you'll need your wits about you: dip a flat brush (an old toothbrush works, too) in Blood for the Blood God, and using a wooden stick, spray the model's surface with the paint. It goes mostly where you want it to, but also all over your clothes and face.

I'm imagining that after exiting the host body, the burster will have lost the initial smear of 'afterbirth' quite quickly, running around the air-ducts and tunnels of wherever it now lives. It still needs to feed, so there are probably rats and other small mammals it can eat, and they'd spray blood directly at it. Good thing I used to watch Dexter, eh?

I sprayed other blood over the whole body and tail, for consistency, and then checked it over to see what I missed.

Then photos.

And that's all folks! I got to build an awesome kit, got paid for it, and had a lot of fun doing it.

Comments and questions are always welcome - either on here or on Twitter.

Until next time...