Thursday, 16 November 2017

Star Wars AT-ST - Bandai 1/48 Scale Model Kit [Unboxing and Pre-Assembly Review]

Dubbed the chicken walker, the Imperial AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport) Walker is my third favourite Star Wars vehicle after the AT-AT (All Terrain Armoured Transport) Walker and TIE Fighter. So I guess my list is top-heavy with either Galactic Empire Imperial Navy Fleet Starships or Imperial Army Mechanized Vehicles. So much so that only two Rebel Alliance vehicles i.e. the CR90 Corvette (Tantive IV) and Millennium Falcon stand any chance of joining this Empire-heavy list. But I digress. My mind is wandering off-topic as usual. So here's the unboxing and pre-assembly review of the Bandai Star Wars 1/48 scale Imperial AT-ST plastic model kit.   

Bandai Star Wars 1/48 scale AT-ST (Imperial All Terrain Scout Transport Walker)
Side boxart of the Bandai Star Wars AT-ST scale model kit

Being in the same scale as my recently completed Snowspeeder, the AT-ST would make for an interesting vignette when paired with the modified Incom T-47 Airspeeder, especially in a Battle of Hoth scene. For now though, I plan to paint the AT-ST on its own and not as part of a vignette. As such at this point in time I'm still unsure myself if the AT-ST will be painted with winter weathering ala Hoth or with mud/dirt weathering ala Endor. Either one will be fine with me.

Sprues of the Bandai plastic model kit comes in the usual individually sealed wrappings

Simple, straightforward instructions are a prelude of what's to come for hobbyists new to Bandai's line of Star Wars plastic model kits. Snap-fit parts require almost no gluing (although some here and there would go a long way in making the overall structure stronger). Individually or in-pairs, the sprues are heat-sealed in clear plastic wrappings which is what you would expect from a standard model kit. A good look at the parts indicate highly detailed castings from Bandai's injection moulding process. Long story short, the materials needed to recreate a movie accurate AT-ST is all in the box.

AT-ST booklet was a combination of colour depicting a finished painted model and ...
... black and white diagrammatic pictures for the assembly instructions

Not everything is rosy though. Of all the Bandai Star Wars plastic model kits I've worked on so far, this one has the most awful looking figurines. Both Chewbacca and the AT-ST pilots look stiffly posed. From what I hear through the grapevine the award for worst figurine (if you could even call it that) belongs to Bandai's A-Wing kit. But that's a story for another day. And to be fair, the AT-ST figurines are still well detailed. So I can still get an okay-ish result from painting them. After all, a miniature painter is only as good as the underlying base sculpture ... most of the time. 

Sprue A: Chewbacca, Endor base, gyro, connective/leg parts, etc. 
Sprue B: Front hull, connective/leg parts, miscellaneous armour plating, etc.
Sprue C1: Main hull, interior, etc.

Based on the inclusion of the Chewbacca figurine and damage decals, I assume this AT-ST model kit is intended as the version found in the Battle of Endor. But that apart, the AT-ST can easily be build and painted to fit in a Battle of Hoth diorama/vignette. As I alluded to earlier, I'm still undecided as to which version I will be doing in this first attempt at the Bandai AT-ST kit. 

Sprue C2: Main hull, interior, power system, etc.
Sprue D1 and D2: Pilot figruines, foot joints/pads, connective/leg parts, etc.
Bandai water slide decals (left) and stickers (right) for the AT-ST; a fairly limited selection

Key to making the dull grey's of this AT-ST come to live is weathering. And therein lies the biggest challenge of this model kit. Most of my weathering paints and washes are enamel-based. Unfortunately, Bandai plastic is susceptible to cracking when exposed to thinners and white spirit, both of which are used extensively in enamel-based weathering techniques. However the time has come to take on this challenge. No more pussy footing around. Carpe diem and all that stercus. It has been a slow week for me hobby-wise. Hope yours was better. Until next week, stay happy and safe.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

T-55A Medium Tank [WIP - Tank Commander]

Painting black isn't easy. Prior to painting the T-55A tank commander's uniform, I haven't had any significant practice painting black apart from an Ork Warboss's loincloth. That was painted a long time ago i.e. three years ago to be exact. Since then, no opportunity has arisen until now to paint black. So it was with a fair bit of trepidation that I attempted the neutral blacks of this uniform.  

Tamiya T-55A Medium Tank work-in-progress: tank commander figurine

Three main types of black grace most of the painted miniatures I have seen - namely warm blacks, neutral blacks and cool blacks. The aforementioned loincloth was painted as a warm black. But for the commander's uniform I went with a neutral black. Paints used comprised a triad of Vallejo Model Color acrylics viz. Black (70.9550), Dark Grey (70.994) and Neutral Grey (70.992). By themselves, this trio of colours are dull and boring. Together though, they manifest a rather pleasing form of black. With the tank itself bathed in fairly warm hues, I thought that this was the best way to go.   

Scale comparison between the 1/35 scale plastic figurine and a paperclip as well as five sen coin
Not too happy with the way his mouth was sculpted but I did the best I could
Apart from the skin tone, the tank commander figurine offered a challenge in painting black clothing

Most of what is waist-down won't be seen once the tank commander is placed on the cupola. Despite this, I couldn't resist painting his trousers and boots as well. At the very least, it would've given me precious practice on painting black. Slowly but surely I'm getting a much better understanding of how colours such as black (and white) can be best represented through paint. From the headgear down to the trousers no washes were applied and the blacks you see consisted of only Vallejo paints. However, his boots received a wash of Citadel Shade Nuln Oil in order to differentiate its texture. 

Back of the tank commander's all black uniform ala Johnny Cash
Everything waist down won't be visible but they were still worked on as practice in painting black
Blacks on the uniform was neutral-ish and neither warm nor cool

Meanwhile, nothing overly complicated was attempted for his skin tone. A dilemma of whether to paint the tank commander's teeth arose as it wasn't sculpted on the figure. But sometimes it's best not to do something for the sake of it. And I ended up not painting in the teeth because I felt I would've made things worse. In hindsight, perhaps I should've tried sculpting s thin tow of teeth and painting it.

Staring wistfully into the distance, wondering if a tank commander's life was the life for him

It has been a while since I finished painting a figurine at any scale. And like the opening of the floodgates, I'm finding myself on a bit of a roll. I also finished Bronn the Sellsword (Game of Thrones) shortly thereafter and work is now finally resuming on Katana (Suicide Squad). My figure painting mojo is back so to speak. Now to find a sweet balance between figures and AFVs so as to keep things as fresh as possible hobby-wise. Thanks for reading and see you next week.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

400th Post Special: More Music to paint and draw to; My favourite live albums

Music is irrevocably intertwined into my art projects as they play in the background during my lengthy painting sessions. It seems only yesterday that I wrote my 300th post and now I'm already hitting the 400 mark. So bear with me as I do yet another vanity post to mark the occasion. This one's about my favourite live albums. Not many artists can pull off a live performance. Then there are those who can but for some reason or other have never made a good live recording. The following are some of my favourite live acts arranged alphabetically, first the soloists then the bands.

No.1 - Adele, Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Adele is a vocal talent who sounds equally at home live accompanied with either just a guitar or piano or neither or even with the full backing of a band/orchestra. That she can sing live effortlessly was already evident in the expanded version of her debut album '19' which included a live acoustic set recorded at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. The Boston Globe said it best in their review when they wrote ... With the voice of an angel – and the potty mouth of a sailor – she's a force throughout.

No.2 - Diana Krall, Live in Paris

Diana Krall has toured Kuala Lumpur a few times but I never could afford the tickets to her shows. Me and the missus nearly made it to her concert once but then life happened and any excess budget we had was wiped out paying unexpected bills and such. So I settled for her first live album instead. Her vocals here are sublime as are her piano playing, both backed beautifully by her band and an orchestra. The DVD version of this album actually has more song performances in it and that one is worth getting just for her rendition of the classic jazzy blues ballad Cry Me A River alone.

No.3 - Eric Clapton, Crossroads 2 (Live in the Seventies)

Great as they sound, it is unlikely the jamming sessions found in this live album can ever be recreated. If I recall correctly, Eric Clapton himself said something to this effect in his autobiography. A combination of drugs and alcohol meant a lot of the guitar licks were likely played in a stupor and haze. In fact if you listen closely you might even catch Clapton forgetting the words to the lyrics a couple of times. Imperfection begetting a near perfect album for blues rock guitar aficionados.

No.4 - Gary Moore, Blues Alive

If there was only one a musical fantasy I could ever have come true, it would be to play Parisienne Walkways as well as Gary Moore. During the live performance, the sustain he manages on his electric guitar is simply unbelievable. This live album would've easily made my Top 10 on the strength of that song alone. But Blues Alive is more than just one song. It's electric blues at the top of its game.

No.5 - Joe Bonamassa, Live from The Royal Albert Hall

At the tender age of four, he was inspired to pick up a guitar after watching Eric Clapton perform at The Royal Albert Hall. At the age of 12, he opened for the legendary B.B.King. And at the age of 32, blues rock musician Joe Bonamassa recorded his fourth live album at the same venue on which Clapton first inspired him. Bonamassa's live performance in this album would undoubtedly inspire many other youngsters in turn. Oh, and that double drummers act was just wicked.  

No.6 - John Mayer, Where The Light Is (Live in Los Angeles)

In case you haven't already noticed by now, the electric guitar is predominant in my list of favourite live albums. Nothing is cooler musically to me than the solo singer songwriter blues rock guitarist. Before my time were greats like B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Hendrix and Robert Johnson. In more modern times, you have Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa and of course John Mayer. While I'm not too much of a fan of Mayer's celebrity shenanigans, I am a fan of his music. His live album Where The Light Is showcases his talent and brings blues rock to the fore in a pop era.  

No.7 - Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour

Yet another Northern Irish guy with a guitar playing blues rock. (If you were wondering, the first was Gary Moore). And unless you are a blues rock fan you'll most likely never even heard of Rory Gallagher. A musician who was at his best only when playing live, Gallagher's mastery of the electric guitar is evident every time he's on stage fretting the guitar. He wasn't as commercially successful as other artists in this list but Irish Tour is to me one of the best blues rock live albums ever made.

No.8 - AC/DC, If You Want Blood

AC/DC live was a different beast entirely, especially during the Bon Scott years. The energy that projects through the speakers is so infectious that you want to strut around your room lip-syncing to the lyrics with a sneer in your face. Of course there is riff-master Angus Young backing up Scott's in-your-face vocals - a match made in rock heaven. AC/DC would eventually have critically-acclaimed commercial success with Back In Black and new front-man Brian Johnson. But for me, their best ever album would be their live effort If You Want Blood (You Got It). Bon Scott was one of a kind.

No.9 - The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East

Although I'm not strictly an Allman Brothers Band fan, their live album At Fillmore East is a must-have in any blues rock enthusiast's music collection. Some songs on this live show would turn into 20 to 30 minute jam sessions, all of it good.Technically they are a rock band but there are some elements of the blues and jazz incorporated into their music. Rock, blues and jazz ... enough said.

No.10 - Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

Nirvana Unplugged in New York is an emotionally haunting live performance. In retrospect when taking into account the fact Kurt Cobain wanted the set decorated like a funeral and was eventually found dead a year later, the pain and heartbreak that showed in his vocal performance was perhaps all too real. If melancholy made an album then this was it. Ironically this album got me out off some bad moments in my life as if it was osmotically sucking out any depression into its own black hole.

Honorable mentions outside my Top 10 Live Albums

Clockwise from left to right - Johnny Cast (At Folsom Prison), Deep Purple (Made In Japan), Eric Clapton (Unplugged), The Corrs (Unplugged), Iron Maiden (Rock in Rio) and Led Zeppelin (How The West Was Won)

Then there are those just outside my Top 10. They, to name a few, include live performances by Johnny Cash (At Folsom Prison), Deep Purple (Made in Japan), Eric Clapton (Unplugged), The Corrs (Unplugged), Iron Maiden (Rock In Rio) and Led Zeppelin (How The West Was Won). All good albums in their own right. And all part of what constitutes a good painting session. Normal service will resume in the next post with a figurine update on my T-55A project. If you had taken the time to read this post (or even parts of it), I thank you for your patience. See you soon on my 401st post.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Skin Tone Revisited] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons

It's funny how the slightest issue with a paint job can put a screeching halt to progress in a miniature project. On my last skin tone update for Katana I had briefly mentioned about the chalkiness of her skin tone. Little did I know then it would bug me enough that I couldn't proceed with the painting of Suicide Squad proxy character (using the Nocturna Models 70 mm figurine - Soum, 13 Moons). It would take an unrelated AFV project to break the creative impasse. And it came in the form of a satin varnish which I had used in my T-55A project to protect the underlying basecoat paint. 

Suicide Squad Katana's light skin tone after a thin layer of satin varnish

So in essence the only thing that has changed is Katana receving a thin coat of satin varnish over her bare skin. But it's wonderful what a little shine can do. An obvious fix is the mitigation of skin tone chalkiness. Highlights are now further enhanced too. The semi-gloss nature of a satin varnish helps increase reflectiveness in natural areas of Katana's skin which incidentally have already been painted in a lighter hue. What this does is make the highlights 'pop' more and increase contrast in a fair complexion. Differences are subtle but significant enough for me to be satisfied and move on.

Katana (aka Soum) work-in-progress: skin tone chalkiness reduced with semi-gloss varnish
Semi-gloss varnish enhances the skin tone highlights on Katana's shoulders and knees
Katana will likely have black hair and white clothing with a pastel design on her left thigh-high stocking   

How we perceive colours depends on what other colour is next to them. It's therefore important to take note of the dull grey primer that currently covers the rest of Katana's body. This, to a certain extent, dulls the skin tone that has been painted so far. So the challenge is to choose an appropriate colour scheme that will enhance Katana's extremely fair complexion. I'm contemplating giving her brownish black hair, white clothing/socks and either a warm or cool pastel design for her thigh-high stocking. It will be something Katana would wear but not necessarily what she wore in the movies.

Baby got back ...
... and then some
Essence of Katana/Soum's pose is perhaps best captured at this angle

So I'm excited again about this project. It's funny how overcoming such a small hurdle can breathe new life into a stalled miniature painting project. It's also good to make figurines part of the regular project cycle again. In fact, I'm actually putting the finishing touches to Bronn and he should be completed first (and soon) before I resume work on Katana. Coincidentally, coming up in my next blog post is yet another figurine namely the T-55A tank commander. Until then, have a good one!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Star Wars Snowspeeder - Bandai 1/48 Scale Plastic Model Kit [Completed]

A sense of awe and wonderment is etched into my childhood memories of time spent poring over images of the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) crew at work. These behind-the-scenes model makers were, dare I say it, chief contributors to the success of the Star Wars franchise. For sure the efforts of ILM's cameraman, optical technicians, etc. are all necessary components of a whole. But at its core, the original Star Wars trilogy was all about the models and how it could transport viewers (young and impressionable or otherwise) into a universe in a galaxy far, far away.  

Wedge Antilles in the pilot's seat of an modified Incom T-47 Airspeeder
What about Wes Janson? Well he's in the cockpit too albeit seated on the back gunnery seat

So here I am, four decades since those days of wide-eyed innocence, still trying to recreate that feeling through scale model kits. Not in a million years could I ever hold a candle to these model-making geniuses. Attempts to mimic what they had done in the past is just the sincerest form of flattery on my part. A homage to the greats of ILM Model Shop if you will.   

Wedge in a money shot moment ala Lt.Pete "Maverick" Mitchell
Upper left air brake flap deployed ... initiate banking turn to the left

I have often repeated this personal modelling mantra, perhaps once too often, that a scale model kit is only as good as its figures. To me everything falls apart if the miniature figurines aren't given their due. In many cases, more time and effort is actually given to the figures than the vehicle itself. A slight bias on my part? That's likely because figure painting is my strong suit. But it's undeniable that in general, one's eye will always be drawn to the figures first before panning to their surroundings. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that painting Wedge and Wes was the most time consuming for me.      

Now this is getting silly ... another shot of Wedge? Thought Janson as he fiddled with the tow cable controls.
Lower hull exposed as the snowspeeder banks to the left
Finally, a photographic closeup of Wes "Good Shot" Janson
Decals around the main thrust nozzles aren't entirely accurate for a Wedge-piloted snowspeeder

One dislike I do have for Bandai Star Wars scale model kits is the plastic display stand that usually accompanies the 'in mid-flight' models. Its thickness and opacity detracts somewhat from the illusion of a craft in mid-flight. Bandai should have made the display stand using acrylic or clear plastic. No doubt that would've added to the overall kit cost, which is likely why Bandai didn't go down that route. Anyway, discerning collectors could always buy aftermarket display stands for the kit. Meanwhile, the base is functional enough. In this instance, it was painted to simulate snow on Hoth.

Bandai Star Wars 1/48 Scale Snowspeeder sans clear parts recreating the lasers
Pure whites of the snow base provide sharp contrast for the off-whites of the snowspeeder hull
Pilot closeups and this overhead view are some of my favourite viewing angles of the snowspeeder  

Weathering was kept relatively light. Those of you who know my work well would know that I usually keep weathering as light as I can in order to preserve the original paint job. Heavy weathering has its uses but only if the diorama or vignette dictates it to be so. For example, if the snowspeeder was a long abandoned craft then heavy weathering would certainly be justified. In this particular display setting, I weathered the snowspeeder to reflect well maintained craft with normal operational wear and tear. Also, no significant snow deposits were added as the snowspeeder was in mid-flight.

No tow cable was deployed in this display version; just a personal preference
Snowspeeder is executing a leftwards banking turn
'Snow' on base was painted white with some light shading for shadows

The snowspeeder's pose is based on that of an airborne craft banking to the left. As such I decided on an assembled configuration whereby the upper left and bottom two air brake flaps are deployed. It is also partly inspired by the Battle of Hoth scene in which Janson had just deployed the tow cable and Wedge was piloting the snowspeeder in a leftwards banking turn (see second last photo).

Side view is perhaps the snowspeeder's least flattering of profiles
Thick unwieldy display stand linking the snowspeeder to the base is most visible at this angle
Pose of Wedge's snowspeeder is partly based on this sequence of scenes

Another out-of-the-box issue I have with this kit is the clear plastic recreations of laser shots. They look lame and doesn't in any way enhance the aesthetics of the scale model kit. I just managed one good shot of the 'lasers' in action (see below). Nearly every other time, however, I had failed to get light to reflect off the pair in a way that made them look realistic.

Bandai Star Wars 1/48 Scale Snowspeeder, including clear parts recreating the lasers

Bandai's Star Wars 1/48 scale snowspeeder is an excellent kit which I had great fun building and painting. It's one which I highly recommend. The level of detail Bandai has put into this kit makes it a worthwhile kit for any modeller/painter serious about recreating a piece of Star Wars in your home. I for one can't wait to get started on the next Bandai Star Wars kit. Hint: It's a land-based walker (also my second favourite land vehicle in the franchise) but it also comes with some of Bandai's worse depictions of plastic figurines. More details soon. For now I wish you a good week ahead.

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