Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tiny Enterprise Bridge Finished, or PGMS Cutaway Starship Photoetch Set, Part 7

Superdetailed bridge from AMT Cutaway Enterprise with coins for size reference. Yes, it's small.
Since last time...

Finished, as in I've had enough frustration and I've got other modeling projects I am impatient to get back to. That sounds disgruntled, but actually this was a pretty good learning experience. It was an impulsive mistake to paint the figures before bending them, and some of the paint came off. I had a little trouble bending the figures into the desired poses. In particular, the bend at the hips for a seated figure tended to come out too low. As a result, I have a better idea of how to get the bend to come out where I want it. Holding the figures with tweezers and dipping their feet in superglue worked pretty well, but I needed to be more patient about placing them. Amazingly, none of the ten figures were eaten by the carpet monster!

This was more of a silly stunt than a real modeling project, for two reasons. First, the results were bound to be disappointing, since I was trying to exceed what I could ordinarily do, and observing the results requires so much magnification that every defect is plainly visible. Second, since I have no intention to use this part in my cutaway Enterprise, what's it for, anyway? I may put it into my old 18" Enterprise, but I don't have any immediate plans to restore that model at this time. So the tiny bridge now sits in a display case.

On the other hand, working so small forces you to fine tune your control of detail. To some extent, if you practice under an artificial handicap, your abilities will be improved once the handicap is removed. This was the idea behind Demosthenes improving his public speaking ability by practicing with a mouthful of pebbles. (Though any skills requiring muscle memory would probably get worse by practicing under unrealistic conditions.) And I really needed practice working with photoetched parts. This experience will really help me plan better how to go about bending, installing, and painting PE next time, not to mention preparing the model for installing PE. And next time, I will probably be more interested in the overall quality of the final product.

So how would I do this better? In the same scale, I'd use the Paragrafix photoetch. It's got a couple things that could be better--not inaccuracies, just missing details: the main viewer is supposed to be in a recess with beveled sides. The PE set doesn't represent structural parts protruding at some corners. But although it's missing a few details, it is accurate and fits really well.

The kit part is pretty much crap. I'd scratchbuild a new one, measuring the old one to make sure the PE parts would fit. I found out when I installed the PE that the upper panels around the port side aren't vertical--draft angle, duh! If you use the kit part, definitely cut this area away and replace it with sheet styrene! The PGMS instruction sheet even suggests this as a way to backlight the viewers, only using clear plastic for backing.

Painting! It's darned frustrating to paint detail this small. I don't see how you can airbrush this. Therefore you need paint that flows on smoothly with a brush. Among paints I've used, I'd recommend Polly Scale for acrylic, Humbrol for enamel.Supposedly Gunze Sangyo, Gaianotes, and Vallejo are supposed to be really good (see this thread at SSM Forum and scroll down to posts by Mad-Modeler and Kylwell). One way to improve the finish is to paint parts prior to assembly. I did some of that, prepainting the backing to the viewers. Prepainting the kit part and the PE parts would have helped. And never again will I paint PE before bending it, except where the bend is etched, like on the PGMS parts. The 1:700 figures lost some paint where they were bent. But it is actually possible to paint them, showing not just uniform colors and skin and hair colors, but even insignia! You just paint the insignia oversized and paint the surrounding color up to them. Like all this fine detail work, it requires magnification and steadying your painting hand against the workpiece.

Superglue is about the only way to assemble such tiny parts. But one problem was large blobs of superglue (well, relatively large). I really need to practice assembling small parts with much smaller droplets of superglue. At this scale, the drops of superglue are about the size of footballs. Perhaps an assembly fixture would make it easier.

Decals would be a good way to detail this: Raser13 at SSM Forum suggested this. I'd been thinking it, too, and decided not to bother this time around, even though I do print my own decals. But think of the possibilities! The main viewer could have Balok's puppet or a Klingon battlecruiser; even that small, at 600dpi it'd look pretty good. At the 2400dpi that many printers put out, it'd look great. Also decals for the other viewers, the consoles, and the top & side view silhouette on the left side of the turbolift door. Paulbo (of ParaGrafix) made the parts with holes for the viewers so you could back it with a decal over clear plastic then backlight it with a dim white LED or diffused light from a fiber optic. If the Enterprise silhouette graphic appears on one side of the turbolift door, a hole really ought to be cut in the opposite side for the flashing red alert light. And electronics to make the light flash! You can see I've only scratched the surface of what's possible in making a detailed bridge for a model starship!

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