For the sake of discussion, I’m of the opinion that modelers, regardless of what type of models they do, tend to fall into one of two categories. There are assemblers and builders. And before we go any further with that notion, I don’t think one is better than the other. People tend to forget this is just a hobby. We do this (unless one is a professional modeler, of which I am not qualified to comment upon) because we enjoy it. An assembler is someone who puts together what’s in the box. Out-of-box, or OOB. Builders start with what’s in the box (usually) and then fix what the kit manufacturers got wrong (often), add what they left out, take out what they put in that doesn’t go with the particular variant, and rework or scratch-build the parts they think they need (even more often). Assembler or builder, I judge not and care less. It’s a hobby and you should build what and how you want. It’s your game.
I like to think I’m a builder (and copious examples have shown me other things I thought I was capable of and discovered I wasn’t capable of). In essence, and I’m only speaking for myself, here, I’m after what I want and will do what I must and/or can to get it. I’m not big on settling for something less than that. The two questions I get asked most often are, “How did you do that?” and “How did you know how to build that?” (The first question is my favorite.) This post is to address the second question.
I like combat aircraft, armor, cars, and whatever else catches my attention. So like most of you, I buy a kit of what I want to have sitting on my shelf when I’m done. That’s the easy(er) part. With sweaty, shaking, hands, and a gleam of ill-concealed anticipation in my eye (whichever one is working that particular day), I can’t wait to get home and open the box (even if that journey is only from the front door where UPS/USPS/FedEX delivered the package and across the house to my shop).
Generally, by the time I get to the box-opening point, I have as many reference photos and kit reviews as I can find on the subject of the box’s contents. I frequently find that what’s in the box isn’t exactly what I want to build…sometimes it’s not even close. Take for example the M3 I did. The box states that it’s an M3A1. When I opened the box I found a couple of reasons that it wasn’t AT ALL an M3A1. In the case of this example, the rear hull was wrong. The M3A1 has a curved transition from hull top to hull rear and the kit had a definite sharp angle. But the kit also wasn’t an M3, either. The interior was of a late-production M3A1 as was the turret. Before I even picked up sprue cutters, I had my first decision to make. Which variant did I want to model? If I wanted an M3, I had to change all of the interior. If I wanted an M3A1, I had to change the rear hull. If the amount of work was the driving factor, then I would do an M3A1 because that would have taken less work (I assume, not actually having done that). But what I wanted to build was an M3 as the Marines used on Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942. That meant that not only did I need to redo the entire interior, I also had to back-date the turret since the exterior of what the kit offered was an M3A1 turret. As it turned out, Tiger Model Direct (TMD) offered a complete resin interior of the Marine version of the M3.
And while all this was going on, I was working on the build order. In order to do that, I needed to build the model backwards in my mind. I open the box, examine the supplied parts closely, and then read the directions. Sometimes the directions are mere guidelines, other times the directions are necessary to follow exactly.
I knew what I wanted the finished project to look like. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to “see” the thing finished. There it was, clearly defined in my mind, worn, dirty, stained, and used. The last thing I would do would be to apply those stains, the dirt, and chips/wear. But before I could do that, I had to paint it with a clear flat paint. But before I could do that, I had to apply decals. But before that I had to put down a coat of clear gloss where the decals should go. But before I could do that, I had to paint it OD Green. But before I could do that, I had to add this and that detail and get that painted. But before I could do that…
And the list of “before I could do that” kept having prerequisite steps added onto the list. I kept adding the steps I would need to take backwards from the finished model I could see in my mind until I got to a step that didn’t require any prior steps. By the time I reached that point, that being where I was, not where I intended on going with it, I had a fairly detailed series of steps and tasks already defined in my mind. And the point where I was at before doing all the subsequent steps is often driven by the realities of construction. That being, if your model has an interior, whether it’s just (he says as if “just” means easy…and it’s not, always) the cockpit of an aircraft or the interior of the fighting compartment of an armored fighting vehicle (AFV), it means I have to build all the subassemblies that I need unfettered access to so that I can then close the fuselage and/or hull permanently (fixing unplanned excursions to the floor not withstanding).
Well…okay. Since I can do this step, that’s where I start…almost. Since I’m old and my memory rolls as well as a cart with square wheels, I make notes on the instructions. I make notes about what parts I don’t need. I make notes about what parts I have to modify. I make notes about which parts I need to completely replace. I make notes about what parts I want to add. I make notes about which parts I can buy. I make notes about which parts I have to make. I make notes about what gets painted and which color that paint has to be. I make notes so that once I’m earlobe deep into a build, some of which take a very long time to complete, I don’t forget where I wanted to go (which is easy for me to OH LOOK A SQUIRREL!).
Having an understanding of what I needed to do next, which is what building the model backwards in my mind engenders, enables me to get there more-or-less efficiently (defined as not having to take something apart to do something I hadn’t considered, yet).
If I’ve created the erroneous impression that the path in my mind is THE PATH to completion, please consider that erroneous impression to be a limitation of the written word. It’s rarely (okay, okay…never) that simple.
As I start trimming resin, folding PE parts, cleaning up parting lines from kit parts, THE PATH often gets modified. I thought this part would fit…and it doesn’t. That means a step gets added while I solve that particular problem (my builds have problems, not “issues”…I’m not a publisher putting out a periodical and I don’t have to worry about savaging someone else’s tender sensibilities). As those of you know who have followed this blog have likely noticed, some of the problems I encounter are mistakes I make along THE PATH because perfection still eludes me…and at my age, Brain Fade is always one blink away from happening (and I tend to blink a lot). So fixing errors (like dropping a cordless vacuum onto a build in progress) is just a manifestation of the absence of perfection (like the rest of my life is).
Sometimes THE PATH changes a bit because I’ve uncovered a fact or reference that shows me that I’d gone off in a direction that would have resulted in me either totally screwing up the build or ending up with something that falls outside my target of 90%-95% accuracy (like the Gemini build which barely made it to 50% for a few interlocking reasons). So though THE PATH is my intended method, reality shows me that in order to get what I want, I have to drop back, reassess and re-engage, and sometimes even junk the kit and start over from the absolute beginning.
So to summarize, I build the model backwards in my head first. This gives me an understanding (variable, of course) and awareness (even MORE variable, I’m afraid) of the steps involved and allows me to prioritize these steps to set me up with the minimum order of the building process.
And in the way that theories should be reworked and/or tossed when the facts no longer support the theories, THE PATH is also a variable. THE PATH will get modified as the build itself shows me what I really need to do next instead of what I thought I needed to do.