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“Character”, a Conversation with John Rosengrant

INTRODUCTION:
Like many of us, John Rosengrant started modelling as a young child, in his case; historical and classic  monster models. After studying at art college, he moved to Los Angeles to break into the movie business, and after a period of hard work and hustle, he managed to get into the famous Stan Winston Studios where he learned his trade in character design and effects, working on movies like the Terminator series, Aliens, Predator, the Jurassic Park series, Ironman, and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

He went on to co-found his own effects studio; Legacy Effects where he continued to work on some of the most famous movies of the late 20th and early 21st century, including Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hunger Games, Avengers movies, Iron Man series, Pacific Rim, and a personal favourite of my own, Guillermo del Toro’s the Shape of Water.

Lately, he created, and operated the puppet of Grogu in the Mandalorian, a character that was intended to be CGI until he convinced Jon Favreau to try a puppet, and it became the character we know and love today.

Throughout his film career, you could say that what John has always delivered, is characters. Creatures and characters that have suspended disbelief to connect with viewers on an emotional or visceral level, to serve the story of the films he worked on.

alongside 40 years of work in the film industry, he has always continued to work on scale modelling, as a personal pursuit and for companies like S&T Products, and Warriors Scale Models, with Chris Mrosko.

As with his film work, John has always imbued his modelling with character, and pathos. His superb grasp of anatomy, pose, and expression has allowed him to produce some truly memorable and iconic pieces, like ‘Leave No Man Behind’, ‘The True Face of War’, ‘Valley Forge’ and his tired and shell shocked Pacific Marine.

In all his work, there is a story, a point, communicated from author to reader, and I was very happy indeed when he agreed to this interview.

Photograph: TM & © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Chris

Thank you, John Rosengrant for joining me on The Model Philosopher.

John Rosengrant

It’s my pleasure, honestly.

Chris

Can you tell me how you got into making models? What was it about making them that first appealed to you?

John Rosengrant

I started when I was five years old and my model making journey probably ran in tandem with my sci -fi, special effects makeup, and animatronics. I was interested in all those things at once. But the first model kit, my dad, I’m sure he stayed up all night long building this thing. He hated things like models and art and all that. But he did a King Kong, the old Aurora kit for me, because I really wanted that. And the first thing I noticed is it’s missing some of the palm trees. And he’s looking at me… Now, in hindsight, I can look back and go, “Santa Claus wasn’t happy doing this!” So anyway, that was my first real interest in models. But then I really got into them. At seven, eight years old when I think my dad did a few with me but then you could just tell he didn’t have the patience or didn’t want to do them so I started building them and I did a lot of airplanes, I did ships, did a B -17, P -51, you know all the typical stuff but then a little later I got real serious with it.

When I was probably 12, 13 years old, I started getting into reading about history and I got into 1/72nd scale aircraft from World War I. And I read this book called ‘The Canvas Falcons’ and I was just fascinated with World War I aircraft. So, I was always going to the hobby shop, and then I think around 1973, I saw the Tamiya kit of the Panzer II F with the Afrika Korps guys, you know, running alongside.

Chris

I can picture the box art now.

John Rosengrant

Great box art, great box art. And at that time, the figures seemed fantastic to me, but you look back on them now, they’re little blobs. But at the time, you’re young and you have this imagination, and you start projecting some of that upon them and they were more miraculous than they actually were.

And then not too long after that, I discovered Shep Paine and I realized that he was sculpting and converting figures and I bought a magazine that had that the two Hanomags in there, the 251s. And I was just, I couldn’t get enough of that. That was just incredible to me. And I ended up buying that Shep Paine inspiration piece.

Shep Paine’s Hanomag Diorama

Then I started buying all those Monogram kits just to get his tip sheets out of them. Terrible kits. And the scale felt wrong to me because I was so entrenched by that point, in 1/35th, it’s like 1/32nd, but I didn’t care. I wanted the tip sheet in each and every one of them. And I just, couldn’t get enough of what he was doing.

I was just really fascinated with being able to create my own figures. I’m, you know, self -taught, and there’s a lot of trial and error, and green stuff, putty, and, you know, stuff that didn’t really work that well. But that’s how you learn. You really do. It is just dive in, make mistakes, and just know the next one will be better, and you realize, well, there’s got to be a better way of doing this. And then you’ll read in a magazine, or somebody will have a little blurb of “I used an epoxy putty” and, you know, then you start going down that path and you start figuring it out. You know, I bought some Milliput silver yellow it’s just… how does anyone work with this? But Roger Saunders sure found a way to do it.

Chris

I still feel that way about Milliput!

John

You know, it’s just what you get used to. I use mostly all Magic Sculpt now. I do some things in clay and I’ll mould them. But mostly I even find myself doing more and more just in Magic Sculpt because I’ve learned you have to go back and carve and tune it up. But I’m getting sidetracked here, getting into technique. But, yeah, Shep Paine.

Big influence, big influence on me.

Chris

What is it you enjoy about sculpting?

John Rosengrant

You know, I think it’s creating characters. And now that I’m doing it more and more since I’ve been retired, I feel like, and I’m not saying this from a braggadocious standpoint, but I feel like I’m getting better at it. Because, you know, the more that you can do it, it’s just, it’s becoming more fun even. I’ve always had fun with it, but it’s even more fun now. And I think now I don’t have to worry about a job or deadlines and all these other things. So now I can just take this stuff on and do it. But I enjoy creating characters. And for me, I still like building vehicles and whatnot, but I like populating them with soldiers and people. I think that’s what tells the story, not just some big hunk of steel, but it’s the people that had to endure these things. like telling a story with them, creating a character.

Chris

There is a lot of emotion in your sculpted work. I’m thinking particularly of the soldier with the mask (‘the True Face of War’). Some of the other stuff as well. Is that something you try to put through, more sort of character and emotion into them?

“the True Face of War” John Rosengrant

John Rosengrant

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I really look at photos and I study them, because I wasn’t there, I didn’t do it, but I try to think about what that would be like. You know, you’re 19, 20 years old and you’ve been whisked off with all these patriotic ideas and then you get in the middle of it all and find out. This is really…horrible. I did a portrait for a collector of his dad who was in the Hurtgen forest and he sent me a bunch of pictures and what I noticed was you know a bright -eyed young man before he went [to Europe] you know, when he was in the army initially; and then, looking at photos of him after he had come back from the war, he had aged 10 years. So for me when I was capturing his portrait, because I had a lot of pictures of him as a young man, but I also used some of the things after the war because…

I think it takes a toll, it takes a toll on you. Not sleeping, not eating.

“Pistol Pete”- John Rosengrant. The portrait John is describing

Chris

I imagine that the family member as well, would know the man after the war better than the man before the war as well.

John Rosengrant

True, true. Yeah, because he looked so young beforehand and when he came out, it’s probably all of 22, maybe 23 at the most. But he looked 35. I mean, he just… And there’s something about those young men of long ago. I think they were a more serious generation and they all looked older to me, and they still do when I look at them in photos. They don’t seem like they’re 19.

There was a friend of my dad who was at Omaha Beach on the 29th and you know talking to him about it it’s just like “I don’t know why I lived I don’t know why I didn’t do anything any different”. And I think a lot of them kind of had that feeling. when they came back it’s just like well why me? I’m grateful but at the same time they probably lost so many friends and people you were close to. So anyway, I try to incorporate that into the figures: all of the thought process that might be going on.

Chris

Of course, creating characters and what have you, has been your trade for 40 years.

John Rosengrant

It has, yeah. I had the fortune of working with teams of great artists, great people, and we had the opportunity to create some really iconic characters for film. So I think that must be ingrained in me. But also when I was a young man in high school, I was really fascinated with Howard Pyle,  N.C. Wyeth and those American illustrators because they were being asked to tell a story, to illustrate a book and so with a painted image, they sometimes outdid the book with their artwork and it became much more intriguing to look at their artwork.

That’s how they saw it. And the film business is a lot like that. You know, you’re creating a story, but you’re also projecting an image and you’re creating it.

“Battle of Nashville” by Howard Pyle


Chris

There’s an extra layer added, I guess, with the interpretation of what you’re given to do. The way you sort of translate what the director or the writers want, into what people see.

John Rosengrant

It is and there’s a bit of performer in all of us and then of course once we made and created and built this stuff, we took it to set and performed it as puppeteers, but You do put yourself into the character and I do the same thing with the miniatures It’s important to sort of project into the character and to think of it not as a single dimension but a little deeper than that, because I think there is some emotion that does come through when you are in a performance or when you think about more than just it’s outside appearance and rendering what’s going on inside.

It really doesn’t think it’s a villain. You know, I’m sure Hitler didn’t think he was a villain.

Chris

They say everyone’s the hero of their own story.

John Rosengrant

I think they are, they probably are, but that’s ego talking.

Chris

Haha, somewhat solipsistic, yeah. But I think if anything, that’s something that’s possibly missing a bit in models. People focus so much on the technology and the machine, that sort of depth of emotion. Even if you don’t make something which is very emotional in appearance or very sort of, you know, full of character, if you’re thinking about the character and you’re, creating that character as you do it, it’s going to come through in pose or in face or in something.

John Rosengrant

It will. It will.



Chris

And do you think that’s something we could do with more of in modellers’ work?

John Rosengrant

Well, I think that helps it transcend from just a model into some form of art. I mean, art is something that’s really not necessary. We do it to, because I don’t know, we’re trying to tell a story or you want it to be beautiful or not really in the case for what we do, but we’re trying to create interest and some…reason to really look at it and think about it. I think the best compliment I got was a couple of times when I had a Vietnam veteran and a World War II veteran who saw my work at a show come up to me, wanted to find me and say that I really captured the look of what they had gone through. And to me, that was the ultimate compliment because that’s what I’m trying to do. Just to hear that back from them. And, you know, [they said it] “brings back smells and things I hadn’t thought of in decades”. It’s like, okay, well, then I’m trying to connect on some other level.

“Leave no Man Behind” John Rosengrant

Chris

Well, that’s what art does, doesn’t it? It connects the artist and the viewer. And if there’s not enough there, then they can’t connect.

John Rosengrant

It does. It does. Yeah, if that’s missing, if you don’t take that double take and go back and look at it, it’s because it didn’t move you.

Chris

I’ve heard you say that you put an equal level of effort and commitment into every film you worked on, every project you worked on. How do you find a way in when maybe the script or the project isn’t as engaging or has much meat on it as you might hope?

John Rosengrant

Well, I guess that’s the fanciful young boyish idea you fall in love with it and you think “somehow this is going to rise above what I’ve just read” is not good, but at the end of the day, your work, or your team’s work, is being looked at, and nobody is looking at it and putting the caveat on it “well this movie stunk” They look at it and [ask] did they do a good job? And, at the end of the day, that’s all I could come up with was that we need to make this great and if everybody on the project comes in at that a level, or A -plus level, then maybe it will raise the whole thing up, but I don’t think I’ve put that much thought into it. I think it was just like “no, we’re gonna make this great. This is this is what they’ve hired us to do is to bring this thing to life”.

Chris

Is it a work-ethic thing then that if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it very well?

John Rosengrant

Probably, you know, it’s a work ethic thing Yeah for sure. There’s that, but it’s also just the want to just do it well.

Chris

Is it the same with commissions? Because I mean, in that case, it’s not so much the team, that you have to support, but if you’re going to spend your time doing something.

John Rosengrant

With my model commissions, whether they be for a collector or if it’s for a manufacturer, I won’t do anything unless I’m interested in it. And that started way back when I started doing this stuff as a second job for, purely for fun.

And it’s like in the film business, it’s collaborative, but at the same time, you’re being art directed in some way by a director or producer, God knows, you know, an accountant or a lawyer, you know, and somebody’s got an opinion and they thrust it upon you. So when I was doing my model work, like you say, commissions, the first rule of thumb, if I’m not interested in winged Polish Hussar from 1918, whatever, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t have any interest. And I prefer it if they say I would like a Revolutionary War, American Revolutionary War figure, or I want a World War II British figure, and leave it up to me. Because I’m very upfront, I tell them that. I’m not going to be micromanaged.

by John Rosengrant

It happened once where the guy wanted a photograph and I felt like the photograph, I don’t know, the guy was firing or something. You’re not connected to the figure. And I said, “I will do the time period and do something similar to that. But I feel like he’s got to be engaged. You got to be engaged. You got to see him. And if he’s covering his face up with a rifle, I am not interested in that.” And so, we proceeded. And, if you don’t want it at the end of the day, it’s fine, somebody else probably will or I’ll just keep it. I don’t care, It ended up, you know, he didn’t care for it because it wasn’t that photo at the end and then I ended up selling it to somebody else and it became a successful figure but I it’s just different philosophies and that’s why I don’t Want to get into that with somebody.

If I’m doing this for fun, I just want to have fun and live or die by my own sword. If I make a bad choice, that’s on me and it’s not somebody else. I did that for years with the movie business. It’s like, there would be times where you kind of go, “what are your art credentials? Cause your ideas suck.”

Chris

Yeah. But that’s a fully commercial transaction, isn’t it? I mean, you’re doing the job, they pay you to do the job.

John Rosengrant

It is and they don’t call it show play or show art. They call it show business so You better understand that too And I would have that issue with my artists that worked for me through the years, you know Well, they didn’t pick mine and all it’s like who’s better Monet or Rembrandt? They’re all different and this producers taste happened to lead into this. And it doesn’t mean you’re not a good artist. Our artists seem to have very fragile egos and shouldn’t have any ego, but you know, as humans we do. And, but there’d be times when you’d almost have to reassure them that it’s, it’s, this is not an attack on you personally as an artist. It’s just, they made another choice. And this is the direction, this is what appeals to them. They like apples, not oranges. So don’t take it personally. I had to learn that lesson myself. That’s why I can give that advice out. Because I remember as a young man starting out in this, you know, you pour your heart and soul into these concept drawings or whatever, and then the guy next to you, his would get picked and yours wouldn’t.

just had to come to grips with it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not good it’s just it’s not what they wanted. And that was it.

Chris

And they might be wrong, but it’s their money. So.

John Rosengrant

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and I would hear that all the time. “Well, this is a much better design.” “Yeah, I agree with you. It probably is. But guess what? They’re paying for it. And this is what they want.” And there’s a whole host of reasons why they might have gone with that. It’s not offensive. It’s not this. It’s not this. It’s not blue enough. It’s not green enough. Who knows? You know, so I gave up worrying about that.

Chris

Yeah, I suppose everyone that lasts in the industry gets used to that, like you did.

John Rosengrant

I think you sort of have to. You have to sort of realize that it is a business. First come, first serve with the money and give them what they want. And if you’re lucky enough to along the way be able to be creative, which I have to say a lot of times we were, that’s why they did come to us,  they wanted our creativity. And then, you know, on the flip side, you work with a director like James Cameron that has a lot of great ideas. He could do it all himself if he had to anyway, then it becomes very collaborative and it’s enjoyable because you’ve got someone that’s challenging you in a great way. Each experience is totally different. I mean, I had a young director wondering what shots in Aliens were CG. And it’s like, none. It was all old school.

Thank you for the backhanded compliment. But no, none of them were. But it’s just a generational thing too. Everyone is, you know, I’m going to be 66 in June. Been around a while, you know, and working with people half your age, you realize they just haven’t had the same experiences or project their own experiences on, of course they have CG.

Chris

The pendulum seems to have swung back the other way and it’s more practical effects again. Is that something you saw before you retired?

John Rosengrant

Yeah, it does. From my perspective I think they’re both really necessary because there’s things you simply can’t do with Practical effects, that you can achieve. I think was pretty effective in the Mandalorian with the little character, “Baby Yoda” to the world, Grogu. But it was by having it there and performing, you gave the other actor something to react to. And acting is nothing but reacting. You react to somebody’s way, they say something or the way they look at you or don’t look at you. So it gives you something to as an actor to play off of.

So I think in a lot of ways, if you can get what you can in camera with something, great. And then you know you’re going to embellish it. With the Mandalorian, Grogu, if it wasn’t for ILM removing all the rods and cables and things, you’d see the game.

But now that stuff has become so second nature, that it actually makes the puppeteering a little easier to do than back in the day of, say, Aliens where you had to hide everything because you don’t see it. Or if it was a clever filmmaker like James Cameron, he’s lighting it and smokes up the set and you paint it out. He’s always been very aware of what he has to work with. And with The Mandalorian, I was very upfront with Jon Favreau. “This is its pluses, This is its weaknesses. This is how I shot it. You can, and I’ll show you with all the rods and I’ll show you without them.” And I’d rather them see what the toolkit is and let them decide how they want to use it than to surprise, you know, you show up on set and it’s like, “what the the heck is that? You know, it’s like you didn’t tell me it was gonna have a cable bundle hanging out of it and rods and whatnot.” So I’d just rather everyone know going in, so there’s no surprises. It’s like, “okay, that’s what it looks like. Yeah. All right. Great. So we’ll shoot it like this.”

But then there’s always somebody wants to push the envelope, I’m game for that. It’s like, “can you do this?”, “I don’t know. Let’s see.” Give it a try. And worst thing you can do is fail. So there was no expectation anyway.

Chris

It sounds like you like a challenge, but given you’ve done so much, do you still find much that challenges you in sculpting or modelling now, after you’ve retired?

John Rosengrant

I think for in my sculpting and modelling now, I just want to make it more realistic. I’m doing some LRDG guys right now, 1/35 so they’re tiny. But you know, in looking at all the photographs and you know, I got one guy just holding a cup of tea, just leaning against the vehicle. But if you do it right, that’s much more captivating than some guy running with his weapon, screaming and yelling and all of that. Because, say 90% of the time, that’s what they were doing. They were probably sitting there.

Chris

Well, they say war is 90% boredom, 10% terror.

John Rosengrant

Totally, totally. I believe that. For the most part, I seem to prefer to show the boredom and the strain of, “when’s it gonna happen?” You know, I felt it in one sense in the movie business on set. You’d be tired, you’d be there for hours and just not knowing exactly when you’re going to go on and when you’ve got to perform and do your thing. So there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting and then, all right, hurry up, go, go. And I can imagine, except for no one’s shooting at me, trying to kill me, there’s a similarity there.

There’s the physical exhaustion of going to the location and schlepping all the gear and doing all of that. And there’s preparing, getting ready, and then there’s, “Hurry up and wait”. You know, a lot of that. Yeah. Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry.

Chris

And of course, when you are called to do it, you have to give your A game, no matter how tired you are or how long you’ve been waiting, you have to.

John Rosengrant

Exactly. Yeah, and the adrenaline pumps and you go, and you jump into it. Exactly. I hate it now. I won’t do it now. But I remember early in my career being up all night the night before trying to get something done. Sometimes it was because they changed the schedule and you had to accommodate them. Sometimes it was just everyone’s lack of understanding the schedule and how long shit takes to make, But now, I’m not the ‘burn the midnight oil’ guy I used to be, you know in high school, procrastinate with every art project until the night before But now it’s like no, I don’t like that feeling I’m too old for that.

Chris

You can only do that so long. I was always a “burn the candle at both ends” guy until I hit my mid-forties. And then I just thought, I don’t want to do that. I just physically couldn’t do it anymore.

John Rosengrant

I agree, I agree. Yeah, and probably my mid -40s I was, you know, I was working for Stan Winston at that point, but he was turning over more and more to me and the other guys to do and run. And so I was always in the mindset, “let’s just get this done early”. So we’re not up all night, the night before trying to get it done.

Because inevitably, you know, if you do do your best work, you’re not going to feel great afterwards. You’re going to be exhausted. I don’t like that anymore. There’s no fun in that. There’s no fun in that.

Chris

Well, it just ruins the next day. You think, that’s great, we got it done, but it’s just the next day, you know, you just can’t do anything.

John Rosengrant

Yeah. Well, and on set, the next day is just as action packed as the day you just did. So you string those along, a few of those days and you’re pretty exhausted.

Chris

I imagine the film business is very much one of those jobs where, when they want something, they want it yesterday and you know, long days, full days working. Is it nice to work at your own pace now, to sculpt whatever you want?

John Rosengrant

It is nice to work at my own pace because you’re right, the film business was that and that’s all they care about. And whatever your personal life is or whatever you got going on, your kids, family always had to seem to take a backseat to what they wanted, when they want it, how fast, how, you know, when, where, you know, always front and center.

And that does get exhausting. You know, you’re always accommodating. But now, when I get up and I work on my own stuff, I figure out what I’m going to take to a show, and I’m going to get that work done, or what’s a paying gig, what’s not what I’m doing just for me. But yeah, and there’s no crushing deadline. Nobody’s going to be sitting there, you know, $300 ,000 a day on set, the whole film crew waiting for you to show up and do your thing. None of that exists anymore, so it’s nice.

Chris

I mean, the model business has changed in a similar way, I guess, to the film business in that computers have changed it with the advent of 3D. And I know you’ve worked with some 3D stuff, but how do you feel about 3D versus traditional scratch and modelling?

John Rosengrant

I’m surprised 3D took as long as it did to get going because I know we started doing 3D stuff 20 something years ago in the film business and we had switched over so a lot of digital 10 years ago for sure I mean with all the hard edge suits and endoskeletons and all these things it just really lent itself to sculpting it in 3D and rapid prototyping and printing. And I mean the whole time we were doing this I figured it just would be a matter of minutes before the model industry would catch on. Now everything’s: this is 3D printed, that’s 3D printed. But it feels like it’s late. You know, it took a long time for it to reach. I have no problem with it.

[But there] is no easy button to push. It’s like, all the best sculptors that I had working for me in 3D came from a traditional background. They did it the hard way first. And now they have symmetry, and you can take symmetry off and do all this and sculpt. No, I think it’s opened up more opportunities. I mean, I use a lot of 3D parts when it comes to upgrading kits and whatnot.

Although a lot of people seem to get scale wrong. Scale, to me, is a fixed thing. If your model’s 1/16 scale, so should your figure. And…this measuring from the bottom of the feet to the centre of the eyes, it’s like, I don’t know where that came from. But to me, you would measure a human from the top of his head to the bottom of his heels, the same way you would measure a vehicle from the front of the fender to the back of the fender. However, it’s all the same. I learned that lesson years and years ago when I was working for S &T Models, Jim Sullivan, and I was under the impression, I don’t know why, just because that’s what it was out there, it was 1-16th is 120 millimetres. And it’s not, it is not. 120 millimetres is huge.

I started sculpting figures to go in a Tamiya Tiger 1 in 1/16 scale. And I test fit the figure I was doing and it’s like, “this is wrong. This is huge. This is freaking huge”. And then you start doing the math and it’s like, well, 1/16 is not 120 millimetres. 120 millimetres, it’s gotta be seven foot tall. And yes, there’s some humans that are seven foot tall, but they didn’t exist in Tiger Tanks in World War II.

Chris

If you look at World War II photos, those guys were really small. Because a lot of them grew up in the 30s when there wasn’t a great diet. They weren’t particularly tall and they were certainly not particularly wide either.

John Rosengrant

No they were probably 5’6”, 5’9”, hundred and thirty pounds ringing wet and yeah and anyway how I got off on that tangent, but you know you would think in digital you wouldn’t make those problems the same mistakes, but they do. I see a lot of figure companies that will do things, you know, they’ll be pretty nice looking figures, nicely detailed. I’m not sure they do their research though, you know, you find things that is just like, “that’s not what it looks like, that’s what the liner looks like, that’s not what the helmet looks like.” But I think you’ve got a generation of maybe people that understand how to work the program really well, but maybe they haven’t made the mistake of making something too big to fit a kit or they’re told make it 120 millimetres and that’s what they do.

You know, you look at lots of 135th figures, they’re huge. They’re actually, big. They look funny.

Chris

I remember the Verlinden figures were always more like 1/32.

John Rosengrant

Easily 1/32 second or 1/30, they were. Anyway, that’s something. And if you do a tall figure, you know, there were people over 6’1”, 6’2” back then, but make sure that they’re skinny and lean and they look right next to the vehicle because it’s all part of, to me, what it takes to tell that story and make it look real and make it believable. Have it scaled properly.

Chris

So realism is something that’s really important to you.

John Rosengrant

It is, it is, and It’s probably not to people the same way it is to me. I mean, there’s a young generation that grew up on video games. So, I mean, I noticed, going back to my film days in the first Jurassic Park, they were very concerned about gravity and weight and the dinosaurs and weight transfer and all. And then that seemed to go out the window. Things were just anti -gravity, huge. Dragons flying through the air and leaping and, to me, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. I mean, I always felt like what we were doing was making the unbelievable believable. And making the unbelievable even more unbelievable just wasn’t my thing. I remember James Cameron saying something. “He goes, you can suspend belief with an audience for mere seconds. If you tread beyond that, then your people are going to start to question what you’ve done.” But at the same time, you do want to soup it up a little bit because that’s why people are watching it. They’re looking for escape and they want to see. Keanu Reeves jump across to a building that they couldn’t do from one to the other. There is a limit. You can stretch that disbelief a little too far to where people go, “all right, this is a bunch of malarkey.”

Chris

Is history important to you as well with models? Do you think models can tell history?

John Rosengrant

I do. And for me personally, I have such a book collection and I collect information and I collect uniforms and gear and all these things. For me, it’s important. That’s how you get the realism. And when I sculpt, I will put that uniform on or I’ll put it on my son and take photos or I’ll get my wife to take photos of me in the pose because each type of material and cut folds a different way and it has its own unique look. That looks like wool, that looks like leather, that looks like cotton. We’re [all] doing the best we can, but I try to incorporate that into each piece so that when you look at it, people know if it looks right or not. They’re drawn to it because it’s like, “the drapery on that looks right”. Well, there’s a reason, because I put that uniform on and that’s how it really does fold. So it helps inform you as an artist.

But back to your question about history. I think yes, it all goes hand in hand. I spend as much time researching what I’m going to do. Or if I don’t know, it’s like this LRDG thing. I knew more about the SAS than I did the LRDG. But I bought a bunch of books and I got immersed into it when the idea was brought to me to sculpt figures for it. I liked the idea, so I took it on. It’s like I had an interest in it. I always liked the photos and then you say, “well, that looks interesting.” But you do have to understand the battle or whatever it was.

I just recently went to Gettysburg, and I live now in Tennessee, and nearby is where the Battle of Franklin was. But it helps to walk the battlefield and to see where this happened. And boy, there’s some things in Gettysburg I’m looking at and it’s like, well, wow, the Confederates came charging up from there to here uphill. It’s like those guys are different stocks than we are today. Those guys were. Not only are they in shape, but for you to do that, you had to really believe in that cause or just feel like you had no choice, I don’t know. But I was amazed. It’s like,  you’re trudging up, you’re coming uphill and people are firing at you and you’re moving forward.

I remember I worked on a movie called The Revenant and I took my wife to see it and she looked at me afterwards, she goes, “I’d rather just be dead than to go through that.” But yeah, no one’s medevacking you off a mountain back then. And if you break your leg, you’re probably gonna die. But it’s interesting to me, I look at it from the standpoint o,f you actually thought you had a chance to go maybe be killed by Indians or animals or disease or hardship.

You think you have a better chance of going and becoming a trapper or a mountain man than you do living in the city. So it kind of would always kind of put a perspective on things to me. It’s like, wow, you did this by choice. You went out there. So, something in the back of your mind must be telling you: this is better than what you’ve got. As brutal as it looks to us today. It’s like trying to judge somebody on their beliefs or what went on 200 years ago. It’s sort of impossible.

Chris

There’s never enough context.

John Rosengrant

You don’t have context. You don’t. No, no. I mean, when I saw the Carnton Plantation, which was turned into Confederate Field Hospital during the Battle of Franklin, you can still see the blood stains on the floor up in the children’s room, which became the hospital. But you realize they’re cutting limbs off of people with the same saw and there’s no cleanliness. They don’t know. They just didn’t, and this is 1864, they had no idea that infection, how infections would spread or what you had to do. So it’s just a different world, you know, just a totally different world. And the further you go back, they didn’t have a clue. They really didn’t.

They didn’t even have a clue 80 years ago. I mean, we’re talking here it is D -Day 80 years ago. They didn’t know half these things we know now, but they knew some things we don’t know now.

Chris

What fascinates me, I was listening to D -Day commemorations this morning and there’s a lot of testimony from people that were there. And also when you’re talking about that Confederate charge, the thing that always gets me about that is there’s this popular idea in culture that these men were somehow different. They just didn’t feel fear and they went and did it. But the thing that’s really impressive about them is they were probably absolutely terrified, but they did it anyway. And that’s the courage is overcoming that terror. When I think of those Confederates as well, the way they would advance, it wasn’t like skirmish like people do now. Great mass ranks of them into massed fire coming the other way.

John Rosengrant

No. Yeah. Yeah, the Battle of Franklin, they’re coming. It was the battle lasted five and a half hours and there was 9 ,000 casualties. 2 ,000 of them Confederate dead. And you’re going up a slight grade, but you’re still moving up a hill. And they’re all coming, all 30 ,000 of them at once.

And I can’t imagine what it felt like on the other side, the union side, to say, they’re really doing this. Okay.

Chris

Well, it might be them doing it tomorrow. So that’s the other thing.

John Rosengrant

Yeah, it’s all pretty stupid. Didn’t accomplish anything, did it really? None of these wars seem to… We do them all over again. The first world war is the war to end all wars and then World War II. Here we are. Yep, we still keep doing it.

Chris

bigger and worse. But how do you put that into a figure? How do you sort of distil all these thoughts and all this sort of empathy?

John Rosengrant

That’s why I did that one where “the True Face of War”. I mean, it’s a little abstract, but I think that whole idea is a little abstract. It’s like on the outside, you’re wearing a mask and you’re masking all the pain that’s really inside and back. You know, World War II, they didn’t call it PTSD. They had it. They just were told to be quiet and deal with it.

I remember there was a guy who lived across from my grandparents when I was growing up. He used to go play with his sons, but Dad was a war hero. I think it was Iwo Jima and he came back with a Japanese sword and flag and all this. He had a problem with the bottle. And that was the way that he, I don’t know, the way he dealt with his situation, you know, of seeing all that horror and whatever. And, you know, he ended up not good. And it’s just a shame, but it uses up people and some people just can’t. I talked to a man the other day who was in Vietnam. He said, yeah, I had an all -expense paid trip to Vietnam. I was the second lieutenant. The first day he was in Khe Sanh or something, rockets came flying over his head. I guess the average life of a lieutenant in Vietnam was like six weeks or something. But he said the way he learned to deal with it all was he learned to close doors. He just closed that chapter. Close that door and move on.

1/16 Pacific Marine by John Rosengrant

As humans, we all deal with these things differently. One of my good friends growing up, his dad was on Iwo Jima. And he was always pretty calm, nice guy. And then one day, there was some policeman pulled my friend and I over for riding our dirt bikes where we weren’t supposed to. And then I remember his dad just getting so pissed off at that cop.

The policeman was saying, “you haven’t seen the death and destruction I have.” And then he was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Talk about death and destruction. They were bulldozing bodies into holes where I was. These are good boys. Just leave them alone. Just go away.” But you know, you probably learned to shut some doors.

But sometimes they pop back open.

Chris

Do you think it’s possible to communicate that through models, through what we do?

John Rosengrant

I think there’s a way to do it and I’m still striving for that. I don’t want to… It’s very rare that I want to show someone that’s dead or, you know, the real horror of it all. I don’t want it to be mistaken or glorified in some way. I guess that’s up to me as the sculptor or the painter or whatever, to make sure I convey the right idea.

Chris

I do worry with military modelling, that it presents a particular almost sanitized image of war that’s very much ‘the pipe and drum’ and not what actually happens sometimes.

John Rosengrant

Yeah, yeah. I had a discussion with somebody, at a show, I had done an Israeli piece from the Six Day War. And it was like, well that was too close. It was like, well it’s 1967. It was too close. I mean it was too close for someone in the Crimean War too, when they lived with the turn of the century. I, yeah, I’m, I’m,

I think you’re right in that it’s like, that happened so long ago. It’s a Napoleonic and you got to show this guy in his fresh blue outfit.

Chris

Things I’ve read about Napoleon, Napoleonic Wars as well. Half the time they lived in the uniforms for weeks on end. They didn’t fit very well. And, you know, the image of one, the other is a bit dissonant really.

John Rosengrant

yeah. You have typhus and all these diseases. And when I was at that Gettysburg Museum, there’s something I saw is that more men died in the Civil War of disease than they did when being shot or killed. Just because they had no idea. Don’t drink that water. It’s like, well, why not? Yeah, Napoleon, there’s nothing nice about any of these wars.


Chris

I mean, I’ve done a couple of things. I’ve just finished one today actually about the Ukraine war. And I think it is possible to model almost any war as long as you’re, for want of a better word, responsible about it. As long as you’re aware of what you’re doing and you’re not just… Because I also worry that with current wars, it’s like a form of consumerism, of entertainment to make models about them unless you’re really thinking about what you’re saying with the model.

John Rosengrant

Yeah, yeah. No, I can see that. You have to be, you have to be careful. Yeah, and can [be] a bit raw.

Chris

Well, like anything, you can do it badly or you can put a bit more thought into it.

John Rosengrant

I’m also working on 1/16th, the famous couple of guys in those SAS jeeps. I mean, it’s very heroic images. But I like the image of I think it’s Kennedy and McDonald with their shemaghs on, blowing in the wind, driving the Jeep and all that. They’re cool. And there’s that attraction to that. I Remember famous directors saying “don’t tell me you’re doing it because it’s cool. You know, give me a reason.” Sometimes it’s just cool.

Chris

The things that make it cool though, are interesting. They were very tough, very hardy men who decided to not think about, or I suppose they thought about it, but decided to know about the dangers, not just of the war they were in, but the desert and being out there without water and potentially running out of fuel and things. And just do it anyway, quite piratical in a sense.

John Rosengrant

I think, yeah, I think so. And I think some of it’s just being young and not realizing the danger. Yeah, I think of the things I did when I was young. It’s just like, I don’t know, you just don’t have the same respect for things because you haven’t lived through it. You haven’t done it yet.

Chris

Yeah, the confidence of youth. Yeah.

John Rosengrant

I’m sure some of it was blindly going down a path and then you find yourself in the middle of it. But as humans we find a way to cope with whatever situation is thrown at us. And those SAS and those LRDG guys in the desert, like you say, no water and they’re conserving fuel. Back when they used to teach dead reckoning, so you knew how to get home or you could look at the stars in the sky and figure out where you were. You didn’t have a GPS to tell you. Make a right turn.

Chris

Maybe a sun compass. But even so there’s no features to navigate. Well, very few features to navigate by out there. I guess one looks much like another. Yeah, you had to know what you were doing.

John Rosengrant

You do have the Sun Compass, yes. Those guys didn’t even have radios. They couldn’t even communicate.

And you know you try to convey that idea of why the flag bearer was such a big deal back in the Civil War or whatever it may be. It’s because people are looking towards that flag to understand whether they’re moving forward or what regiments doing what. Because they couldn’t talk. They didn’t have a loud hailer. And I imagine once that cannon fire got started and those muskets are going off and you couldn’t hear a darn thing and your eardrums are probably blown out. And yeah, you’ve got, you’re looking at a flag to tell you what to do.

Chris

Literal fog of war with all that black powder back then as well.

John Rosengrant

Hmm, yeah, yeah.

Chris

Why do you think we make models? What do you think it is about making little miniature things?

John Rosengrant

That’s a great question. I don’t know that I’ve ever really contemplated it to that level. My wife will ask me that. “Why don’t you do an angel or a beautiful thing?” And it’s like, huh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m just drawn to this. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it’s something to do with, I keep hearing the word, the hardship of it and what these people went through and…I just, for some reason, seem more drawn to seeing humans against adversity than not. I don’t know. It’s a really good question. Why do we do this? Yeah, because it’s a strange little hobby when you think about it.

Chris

Maybe it’s a creative way to tell that story. Maybe it’s a way you can, from nothing, make something that speaks about that.

John Rosengrant

Well, for me, I do like that, starting out with thin air or a model kit and building around it to tell a story. I do like that. Maybe I’m just meant to tell these men’s stories from the past. I don’t know. I’m not sure. That is the essence, though, of why do we do this?

Chris

I think it’s the one question we never ask ourselves. And sometimes I wonder whether it’s like the forbidden question, because if you question it too much, you might start wondering why you do it. Maybe it’s best not to ask haha.

John Rosengrant

Haha Sure.

Yeah, why am I obsessed with how many bolts are on the Tiger Tank Cupola, you know? It’s weird. It is. It is strange. Maybe that’s also why at these shows why there’s such an overwhelming look at the fantasy world, it’s exploding. Maybe because people just aren’t as interested in that history and how many bolts are on the Tiger tank, and where’s the seam run on a World War II British great coat from 1939. I mean, these are all, it’s different.

It seems like this younger generation just wants to create something fanciful. For me, I like the military thing because I created fantasy for 40 years. Everything I did was fantasy. So now, I like it being established and you’re just trying to recreate something that that already happened, it’s different than the fantasy thing.

Chris

I wonder as well, it’s because we grew up around people that fought those wars. Like you were saying, your friend’s father was on Iwo Jima, my father was in the Falklands war, my grandfather was in World War II, and maybe that’s it. It’s because we’ve got that close family connection to the things that happened, and the younger generation don’t have that.

John Rosengrant

Yeah, it’s true. When I was driving to Gettysburg, I was talking to my dad who’s 93. He goes, “You know, you had a great, great grandfather that fought in Gettysburg.” And it’s like, “Really? You never told me this.” So, this was a new piece of information. But when you think about it, great, great, it’s not that far removed.

Chris

No.

John Rosengrant

It’s really not. I mean, that was my dad’s great grandfather. He actually met him when he was five or something, but it’s like, it’s not that far away. It’s only 165 years ago. It’s really not that far gone. But, you know, each generation keeps coming along. It does. It gets further and further.

And people don’t know it the same way as we probably do. There’s something to what you’re saying. I mean, we grew up with people that we really knew, fought in World War II, that were somebody’s dad and somebody’s parent and a grandparent, and we knew them. So there was a real connection.

It’s like long, long, long ago. And you know what’s interesting with the fantasy thing is, there’s a lot of painters, not so many sculptors.

Chris

Yeah, yeah. I was listening to the Plastic Posse earlier and they were talking about, talking to Eric Swinson, I think it was, and he was saying that you don’t see people converting or sculpting so much in fantasy, like you’re doing, I mean, historically it’s very common to convert or sculpt your own miniatures, but they seem to be more painters than sculptors.

John Rosengrant

Yeah.

I agree with that. Eric is a very talented guy and a very talented painter and idea man. I think, I’m not sure if he sculpts, but he partners with guys that do and they execute together their ideas. But I might have that all wrong. I mean, I don’t know. I know Eric from a couple shows. He’s very talented, but I agree with him. I see a lot more painting in that world than I do sculpting.

Chris

In fact, I’ve heard them call themselves painters rather than modelers. It’s more common to call themselves painters, which says something.

John Rosengrant

I think there’s a tendency each generation that passes, they just, we had to create things growing up. There was not the market. There wasn’t, I mean, now there’s a thousand figures you can go buy.

Chris

Even so, I sculpt because I can never find the ones I want, to tell the story I want, if you see what I mean. You can never find the right poses.

John Rosengrant

Me too. Me too. Yeah. So, and you know, I got that from Shep Paine. It’s like he took those little Tamiya figures and turned them into something great. I mean, at that time, they’re spectacular for 1973. Do they hold up today in the same way? No. But he was the innovator, and he was coming up with that stuff when none of us were. So hats off to him.

Chris

There should be more sculpting. People should do more of it.

John Rosengrant

They should. I think when I talk to people about it, they seem intimidated.

Maybe it was helpful when I got into it. It wasn’t at the same level. Now, if you enter into the sculpting game, you’re competing against digital sculptors, you’re competing against people who have been doing it for an awfully long time, have a lot of knowledge. I could see how it could be intimidating.

But at the same if you don’t do it…

Chris

But then again, you can make anything you want.

John Rosengrant

Yeah, you can make anything you want. And if the man who does nothing makes no mistakes. So it’s like, put it out there. Just do it. You will get better. I mean, I think most of us have artistic talent, but you just have to try to tap into it.

Musicians will say you gotta go back to the woodshed. You gotta go learn those chops. You’ve gotta. If you don’t do it, if you have a Zen modelling experience and collect all these things, think about how you would do it. “I think it would be that shade of Gray. It’s perfect. I’ve embellished it with all of the things on the market.”

Chris

Just do it mentally haha.

John Rosengrant

It was like this Thunder Models kit that I just did, and a Miniart kit. They’re not fun. I felt for people that were young and just getting into this is like you’d leave half the parts off because you’d lost half of them. There’s a little tiny thing, ping, flying.

And I don’t know, I had to scratch build several things out of plastic because of the photo etch, it’s like I hate that stuff. They turn out good, but they it’s like, it’s like 20 parts to create one, Tamiya, to me, is the king of engineering. I’ll leave it at that.

Chris

They’ve got a really good balance between detail and fun.

John Rosengrant

Yeah, yeah, and you can certainly embellish them. You know, people give those Dragon kits a bad name, but I think all the instructions, trust me, a lot of these instructions aren’t that great. Yeah, I never thought the Dragon kits were that horrible.

Chris

No, me either.

John Rosengrant

It’s like, okay, yeah, you’ve never built one of these other ones. They’re in your stash, they’re in your collection, but go build a thing if you want.

Chris

I do think “try and build a 1980s Italeri kit, or Academy kit from their early days.” You’ll become intimately acquainted with filler and all kinds of other things. At least these kits go together, even if they’re a bit over complicated.

John Rosengrant

Ha ha ha ha.

Yeah, there’s that.

Chris

All right, well, thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed this. I hope you have too.If you have any feedback or any questions, please do write into info@insidethearmour.com or leave your comments on the blog for John.

And John, thank you very much.

John Rosengrant

You’re very welcome. I enjoyed this.



I hope you enjoyed that chat as much as I did. And I hope to speak to John again in the future.

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Competition: with Marijn Van Gils

Competition is a big part of the modelling, whilst not being, in any way, essential to the hobby. If all competition ended tomorrow, people would still be making models and the shows would still happen, albeit somewhat differently in some cases.

But we do have competition, and its often a central part of many shows. Certainly, many people love to debate the merits and demerits of this and that show and competition. But we don’t often look into why we do it, and what it means in the hobby beyond the results.

One of the first competitions and shows I went to, which really made me reconsider what was possible in the hobby, was Euromilitaire. My first year was 2005, and one of the models that year that really stunned me, was the vignette of a Belgian observation ballon crew under attack, which won Best of Show. That model was by Marijn Van Gils.

I followed Marijn’s work avidly from afar, over the internet, but eventually I would get to speak to him in person, and found out just how deep his enthusiasm for, and knowledge of modelling, runs. A man who seems to have never lost the the rush of discovering something new, and making things. In addition to his award-winning models, I found someone with a love of looking at the work of others and a highly accomplished and skilled judge at competitions.

So, when I wanted to tackle the subject of competitions, Marijn was top of my list.

Before we carry on, remember you can listen to this interview on the Model Philosopher Podcast at https://modelphilosopher.podbean.com/



Chris

All right, so what do you think are the current systems for competition? Should we go through them and enumerate them, so to speak?

Marijn

Okay, the problem with that though is that there are a lot of systems and usually when you hear about the different systems, especially on the podcasts nowadays, almost every podcast has been talking about the difference between the different competition systems and it usually gets reduced to or IPMS system or AMPS system or open system, usually as used originally by Chicago show or the World Expo for example, but there are a lot of variations to these systems. For example, not every IPMS show is done the same way as the IPMS nationals in the USA for example. There’s a lot of variation to that.

The problem with discussing according to these systems is usually also that there are a lot of aspects to the organization of a show and the way a system is made. Usually, these aspects are all thrown together in the different systems, in the discussions about the different systems, and it gets confusing really quickly what we are talking about exactly and in which system. So I think maybe instead of going over like “the IPMS USA National System is this kind of system and this is the pro and cons” and then the next system maybe it’s more interesting to talk about the different aspects of the competitions and of the judging and what difference, what variation there can be because really there are almost as many systems as there are shows and I think that’s very good, that’s excellent because I don’t think there is a best system.

There are good reasons why there are different systems. On the one hand, there are certainly practical reasons. Not every show is the same. Some shows have two days, which means there is plenty of time to judge. Some shows only have one day, which means that time is a real constraint for judging, because after judging you also have to [complete] the administration of the competition in order to prepare for the award ceremony. Maybe you have to take photographs to embellish the award ceremony and you need a bit of margin in case errors are made and need to be corrected. So on a one -day show, typically you have one hour, one hour and a half to do the judging. That’s it.

So that’s a big difference for example already and that has consequences to how you organize your judging. On the other hand, also the type of models that you have can be very different. Sometimes it’s really mixed but sometimes it’s very specialized like APMS is very specialized in armour. Other shows are very specialized but maybe not exclusively, with only a tiny amount of other stuff. For example, a figure show. You can easily work with the typical open categories of painting and open. Open is then anything that is extra on painting. So modifications, conversions, scratch builds, dioramas is all in open. Just subdivide in those two, maybe different levels, maybe fantasy historical if you like. And everything that’s not a figure can easily be put in the ordinance, class, ships, tanks, airplanes, all together because there are only a few of them at the show anyway.

But… for example at IPMS USA nationals, you can’t do that because there are too many aircraft, too many tanks, etc. to all put together in the same class and have them judged by the same people. So a lot depends on what type of show you have practically, but also philosophically. Different shows attract different kind of people. Some modellers are more geared towards the, let’s say, engineering mindset where there is a certain way to do things where stuff can be quantified, other people are more geared towards artistic idea about modelling where quantification is not so not so simple or impossible and most people are somewhere in between, but some shows cater more for one direction, other shows cater more for the other type of people. Some shows cater more for people that like very competitive competition, for those shows 1, 2, 3 system may be the best. Other shows consider competition more as a juried exhibition. For those shows I believe Gold, Silver, Bronze is much better.

I myself, I have a very clear preference for the type of show I go to and for the judging systems and everything, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only right system. There are different people with different opinions, with different ways of enjoying our hobby, and it’s okay to have shows and systems that cater for them. Not all shows have to cater for me and you, of course.

That said, we can of course go into certain aspects and we can of course talk about our preferences too. There’s nothing wrong with that because with everything philosophical there are also reasons and arguments why we adhere to a certain philosophy and it’s okay to discuss those of course.

Chris

I think in some cases too, cultural background comes into it in that if you have a very competitive society, it tends to produce competitive modellers who want to win and to exceed others. So that’s not a bad thing, it’s just something you could point to as the reason behind why some national shows are more based on a 1, 2, 3 system and that sort of thing.

Marijn

Exactly.

Chris

But also within modelling, we tend to talk about modelling as a monoculture, but it really isn’t. There are lots of different cultures within modelling. And as you’ve pointed out, particularly on the figure side, they’re more into the idea of a juried exhibition and so on. So, and less, as you say, engineering based. It’s great that there are all these different cultures in modelling.

Occasionally I come across people who take the same model to one show and do very well, take it to another show and don’t do very well at all, and blame the show, say, “the judges didn’t know what they were doing” without realizing that there are different philosophies at each of those shows and a model might do very well in one philosophy and not do very well in another. It doesn’t change how good the model is.

Marijn

Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more.

Chris

It just changes how maybe you could look at it in terms of, well, OK, it’s strong in this aspect, but not so strong in that aspect and so on. So I think it’s very important for people to understand this idea that there are different cultures before they enter, because then their expectations will be adjusted based on that.

Marijn

Exactly, yeah that’s very true and well it can also affect your choice of shows that you will visit.

Hopefully not too much because there is much more to shows than just a competition. Anyway, just as a sideline, the discussion we’re having now about competitions and judging, in the scope of the hobby it’s just a small discussion. Most modelers never enter a competition, most probably even never visit a show. But amongst the people who do, it’s a discussion that pops up regularly.

As you can also see on the different podcasts. And well, it never fails to be entertaining. So I don’t mind having this discussion at all. It’s always fun.

Chris

Well, the reason I wanted to have it is usually when it comes up, it is in the context of this system is better than that system or what’s wrong with this system or, and I wanted to kind of not have that discussion because , A: it’s been talked out, but also B: it leaves out an awful lot more that we could talk about, about why we compete and so on. So, I mean, why do we compete? Why do some modelers like to compete in competitions?

Marijn

Of course, I can mostly talk for myself, but I think most of the things why I like to compete will also appeal to other modellers in a certain degree or another, because there is more than one reason, I believe, certainly for myself.

Maybe first the obvious competitive aspects. It’s nice to be able to see where you stand, where your level is. We’re passionate about our hobby, we want to improve, so we like to have some kind of feedback on how we are improving, how it’s going, and there are different ways of doing that, and competition is one of these ways. It has its flaws.

For example, detailed feedback on how you can improve further is very difficult. There have been suggestions made or attempts made, but so far I’ve seen nothing that really does the trick. I feel the only way to really get that kind of detailed feedback on how you can improve further and what exactly may be not so good about your model and what you can do about it.

I think you can only get it one on one while being in a conversation with other modellers. Scores on a score sheet is not going to tell it to you. Little comments made with that score sheet on a judging is not going to tell it to you. One of the last episodes of the Plastic Posse podcast also commented on it. They kept it very positive. But yet they were having fun with these comments on the score sheet when coming home from AMPS USA. And to be honest, I had exactly the same experience with that kind of system of feedback. You don’t alleviate the questions that the competitor has, you just make the questions more detailed. Instead of thinking like, what’s wrong with my model? You see like, what’s wrong with my chipping?

Chris

I mean, it’s bad enough when they say “too much chipping or not enough” or something like that. But when it just says “chipping”, you know literally nothing about why they didn’t like it.

Marijn

Exactly. Exactly.  But well, of course, giving criticism is very difficult, taking criticism is very difficult, and written form is usually the worst way to try to do it, and both of the directions of this communication. So I think the only good way is personal communication that can be online, that can be personal, in person, at a show, at a club. So competition is never going to replace that kind of feedback, I think. On the other hand, it can give a kind of feedback that is pretty honest. For example, the people at your club or at the show may be afraid to hurt your feelings about where you are exactly as a level. They may give you good pointers about what to improve on certain aspects.

But to get the big picture of where you are, competitions can be much more honest. So I think competitions can be quite effective for that. But you should never look at the result of one competition. If you think” I want to know where I am, I’ll register. “In one competition, it’s a bit hit and miss. You can get exactly what you deserve. You can get a bit more, you can get a bit less. There can be a fluke and it can be way off.

It can all happen, it’s normal. It’s part of the way judging happens. It’s human’s work. Mistakes can happen. Anyway, it’s hard to be too precise also about the judging results. Difference between a silver and a bronze, or a bronze or nothing, can be sometimes really small.

and can be sometimes matter of opinion of the judges on that specific day. So you shouldn’t think too much of the results of one competition. Instead, go to 10 competitions and then you will see where you average out more or less. And that will tell you really where you are, I believe.

Chris

There’s also the issue that in the 1,2,3 system, it doesn’t really tell you how good you are compared to last year or what have you, because your result is based on who else is in the room on that day.

Marijn

That’s a big advantage of gold silver bronze, indeed.

Chris

But even with gold, silver, bronze, there’s that kind of nebulous, “the level of the hobby at the moment”. So it’s only ever the best assessment of the judges. So like you say, go to more than one show, particularly if it’s something you’ve worked on a long time and you’re really, you know, you’ve invested a lot in, don’t just take it to one show and get one opinion, take it to a couple of shows and see what people think.

Marijn

Absolutely. And you also need to take into account that also with Gold, Silver, Bronze system originally as conceived in the USA with the Open system, the idea is to judge against the level of the hobby at the moment. But you can do that when you’re at top level shows with the top level modellers of the world in attendance in all categories.

You can’t do that with smaller local shows, because then only a couple of people will win a gold and nobody else will. It’s only normal that at big international shows the level is simply higher than at smaller local shows. So at anything but the biggest, highest level shows it is necessary not to just look at the level of the hobby, but it is necessary also to look at the level of the competition.

That doesn’t mean that in every class something needs to win a gold, but you have to take into account in a certain way what is on the table and adjust accordingly to what is necessary, which level is necessary to get the gold, get the silver, get the bronze. So in that way, judging against the level of the hobby is a little bit abstract for many shows. But for shows like Chicago show or MFCA or World Expo or SMC, yes there it is possible to judge against the level of the hobby. And that makes those shows interesting I think. If you’re interested in the evolution of the hobby, where it is going, what is new, what are new developments, new techniques, new styles.

These are the shows where you can see it and where it will also be reflected in the awards to a certain extent.

Chris

That makes me think of another benefit to competing actually. It’s not just finding out where you are, it’s having your work on show, particularly in the US where they have a lot of shows where there’s no display. It is a form of display. You shouldn’t only enter a model in order to win something. You should enter it for the fun of entering it and for showing it, sharing it.

Marijn

Absolutely. I was starting with the obvious competitive aspect as a reason for entering a competition, but for me personally putting your model on display is more important. Maybe that’s probably the first reason for me. To me there are  more reasons. First, well besides the competitive aspect, and second is to show your work. The third reason is to use the showing of your work as a kind of tool to meet other modellers, as a conversation starter, let’s say. And thirdly as a learning tool. From the feedback you get, through the competition, partly but mostly also by seeing your own work amongst other people’s work at the table and get inspiration from all the… well that’s basically a fifth reason. Basically just to get inspiration, see what’s new, what can be done better by studying other people’s work in the flesh, because it’s different than on photographs, especially small photographs on social media.

Chris

Very.

Marijn

it’s not the same as seeing models in the flesh in reality. And then talking with the people who built them, asking questions to them about how they do this, how they do that, why they do it like that. That’s a goldmine of information, a goldmine of inspiration. It really charges the modelling Mojo 100%.

So as a learning tool, as an inspiration tool in that way, to show your own work, whether you win something or not. Because, well, you know, the competitions, they are the place where a lot of models are together. The new models, people bring their latest, their newest work, their best work. So it’s a place where a lot is on display, is to be seen. It attracts a lot of attention from the viewers. If you want your work to be seen, it’s a great place.

It’s not the only place, you can also bring it to a club stand or Special Interest Group stand. You can also not go to shows, show it online only. But the competition is one of the places where you can show your work and I think it’s a great place for it.

photo: Scale Model Challenge 2023, by Erich Reist

Chris

I think everyone looks at the competition. So, if you want it to be seen, that’s the place to put it. But also, as you say, it’s kind of interesting, colours change when you put one against another. Sort of how you perceive the colour changes completely. And it’s the same with your model. You put your model next to other models and suddenly you can see your model the way other people see it. I quite often get kind of snow blind looking at my own models you know, you get so into it and you look at it so much that you kind of lose perspective on it a little bit. And when you put it next to other people, that perspective snaps right back and you can immediately see, that wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was. Or, that’s actually better than I thought it was because you know, you’re seeing it against other people of a similar level.

Marijn

Absolutely. And in that way, you can also more easily compare what’s the difference and why it looks better, or not as good. The other models maybe they have more contrast. They are painted in a more contrasted way, or they are displayed in a different way, or their colours are more bright or lighter or whatever. This kind of things…They pop out at the competition table, but not on your own workbench or on your own Facebook page.

Chris

Mm -hmm, and that can really help.

Marijn

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, of course, there are also different philosophies. Some people have the opinion that, well, online, so many more people are going to see my model than will ever see my model on a competition table. On a competition table, maybe hundreds of people will see it, maybe even thousands or thousands, but online it can be many, many thousands. So…those people feel like,” well, my model just needs to look good on the photograph. That’s what I’m working for”. A well photographed model that looks good on a screen. Perfectly fine. But you can also be off of the idea. And that’s my personal opinion. That’s well, I’m not a photographer. I’m a modeler. I make small, three dimensional objects. And one of the great things about it is that it is three dimensional, and that you can look at it all around. And that it is small, that you cannot necessarily blow it up on the screen. That it is something small, that makes you go into it, get closer to it, be drawn into it. And that’s why I prefer to model in a style that I try to make my models look as good as possible in the flesh. I don’t care how they look on photo, I want them to look good in the flesh. And that style of modelling will look at its best, especially at the modeling shows.

Chris

I think if you’re good at making your model look good in photos, you’re good at photography more than you are at modelling. It’s a very different experience to seeing it with your own eyes.

Marijn

Yes, it is, it is. And when you look at other models and you’re trying to learn from them, you’re always thinking about “What can I take from this model that I could apply and that will make my model better”. And it’s easier to judge that when you see the model in the flesh, I think.

Chris

Yeah, I mean, no matter how intellectually you know the size, let’s say of a 1/35th figure and you’re looking at a photo on a screen, no matter how much you think, I know how big that is and you understand the scale, it’s not the same as being in the physical presence of something that is a different scale. And it’s only when you’re actually there with it that you can really appreciate all the subtleties of something, I think. I think quite often as well, even when people’s photos are good, the camera is never quite as good as your eye, there are subtleties. Something I notice a lot with your work and with a lot of other people’s work is there are a lot of tones that get lost in photos. And I can appreciate the colour and the blend and the subtlety of it a lot more in person than I can on a screen.

Marijn

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. And well, if you love models, it’s just fun to watch them in reality too. You don’t need to always think only “how can I apply this to my own modelling” to just enjoy going around the competition tables and enjoy everything that’s on display there. So that leads me also to another idea. The competitions, they are not only there for the competitors.

There are more reasons why a competition is a valid thing to organize. Of course, first of all, like we just said, just for the sheer joy of watching models, it’s not only for the competitors to go around to watch models. Every visitor of the show can enjoy the models there. And it’s a great way of concentrating a lot of great models together.

And also they are grouped by subject, which is often something that’s important to people to look for the subject matter that they like. It’s an attraction point at a modelling show to have a big bunch of models together ready for viewing. So just for the general audience, it’s also a good thing to have a competition.

Is it necessary? No, because there are other ways of displaying models at modelling shows and some shows are doing that and very successfully like Shizuoka or also the… I forgot the name. There is a show I think in the north west of the USA or was it in Canada? I’m not sure. Where they’re also working with display only, no judging. and it also, I also forgot the numbers, but it was in the 1000 or 2000 models they have. So it’s not the only way, but it’s a way that works. It does attract, it does attract modellers. It’s not necessary to attract modellers, but it is a way to attract modellers to bring their work and put it on display. And in that way, it’s also, functional not just for the visitors of a show, but also for the organizers of a show.

There are certainly variations to this, but in Western Europe we often have like a kind of ‘Holy Trinity’ of stuff at shows and they’re all equally important. That’s the thing that binds all of them.

The ‘Holy Trinity’ is trade stands, one, club stands or special interest groups, second and third the competition. And they’re all equally important and they all reinforce each other.

The club stands, they provide people to enter the competition and to go and buy from the traders. The traders attract the people that come to buy, so they also attract people that want to come with club stands. The competition also attracts people who want to see great models, who also go and do some shopping on the site. They all reinforce each other. So that’s why most Western European shows nowadays have some of each and try to have a good balance of each or as much as possible of each. It’s also not necessary to have all of them. I have been to shows with no club stands or with very little trade or like we just said with no competition. So it’s perfectly possible to do it in another way. But to have this ‘Holy Trinity’ of trade stands, club stands and competition, it works for many shows.

Chris

What do you think competition does to the culture of the hobby?

Marijn

Well, as with anything, there can be positive and there can be negative aspects to it, as with anything.

Maybe quickly the negative aspects. If the competition aspect is taken a bit too far, it can create bad feelings with people. It can also create some overly… competitive atmosphere between people or also between modelling clubs or also between modelling shows, which I think never helps. It does nothing to further our hobby or the social aspects of it, on the contrary. So I consider those to be negative aspects. On the other hand, competitions can do a lot to improve the contacts between people. It can do a lot to improve your personal modelling, as we discussed before.

It can be simply fun to have the thrill of entering a competition for the competitive aspect. And it can also be a kind of stimulant for people to not only do their best work, but mostly also bring and show their best work for others to see. And that can be a bit of a driving force to the hobby. Certainly not the only one, plenty of people can come up with great and innovative stuff on their own without ever entering a competition and also spreading it to the world. Jean Bernard André is one of them. He never enters competition, but he’s providing a lot.

Chris

There isn’t a class for him is there really? “Small picture -sized water -based dioramas”, it’s quite a niche class.

Marijn

Haha, indeed, indeed, but it’s very innovative work that’s providing a lot of inspiration for a lot of people at the moment, I think. But no competition has been needed for that to happen.


Chris

He doesn’t seem to be that interested in competition, but that’s fine. I mean, a lot of people aren’t for sure.

Marijn

Yeah, of course. Absolutely, absolutely. But another new styles and trends and materials and techniques have been spread around the world by first being seen at competitions. So competition can be one of the driving forces to further the hobby and to spread new ideas, I think, especially because it also brings people into contact with one another.

Like I mentioned before, having your model on the table can be a great conversation starter when you’re looking around on the competition table and you meet somebody. One of the first questions to ask is, “do you come here often?”

Chris

hahaha

Marijn

No, I mean, “do you have a model on the table?” And if they say “yes”, “okay. show me” and you go together and look at their model and discuss it and you made a new friend. It’s that simple. And the same can happen.

Chris

There’s been a few times where I’ve seen a great model on the table and I’ve, you know, I’ve asked around who made this and you end up becoming friends with the person who, you know, who made it.

Marijn

Me too, absolutely me too. Of course, this can happen also at SIG tables or club stands. It can happen there too. Competition is not the only way to meet other people, but it is one of the ways and it’s a great way. It helped me a lot.

Chris

Occasionally I meet people who build for competition. What do you think of that?

Marijn

Well, to each their own. Personally, I don’t. I build what I build and when it’s ready, I place it on the competition tables. Before I had children and I had more free time and I could, let’s say, plan my time a bit more freely. In those times Euromilitaire was still one of the biggest competitions, I would use Euromilitaire as a kind of deadline for certain projects. Not because I wanted to compete, but mostly because it was just a stimulus to get it ready, to put in some extra hours, not to rush it, that would not be so good I think, I wouldn’t enjoy that, but just as a stimulus to, okay.

It would be fun to have it ready and on the table then, because I like to show my work, not for the competition, but mostly to show my work, which could be fun if I would be able to show it there. So let’s put in some extra hours now. Nowadays, it’s not so easy to just say, let’s put in some extra hours for weeks on end because of family life. So, I don’t do that anymore. But for me, that was a fun way.

But really building just for the competition with the idea it has to reach that standard so I can get that level of medal at that show. I never did it. If some other people do it, great. I have no problem with that, to each their own. As long as they don’t get too disappointed if they don’t succeed in what they’re aiming for.

Chris

I think for me, it goes back to what we said earlier about the different cultures, different shows. It kind of feels like chasing a phantom to try and build for competition, that you’re trying to achieve something that you perceive to be what the judges want, when you can’t ever really know what they want. And for me, that’s kind of a rudderless way to go about building a good model.

Marijn

Exactly. yeah that’s also the reason why I don’t do it because chasing a medal it’s all about let’s say form or the shiny packaging and it’s not about content. When you model for content you model just to make the best model you can make, to make the model you wanted to make.

I think that’s more important than the medal because indeed, medal doesn’t have so much, it can have a certain meaning but it shouldn’t be the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of what you’re doing as a modeller, absolutely.

Chris

It might depend what kind of model you are, a modeler you are though. I mean, if you’re the kind of modeler who can only make work that you deem yourself to be good by sticking to, you know, sort of the inner, I can’t describe it, by being true to what you’re really interested in and what you’re really motivated by in terms of the subject and the methods and the form and so on. Then, you can’t build for competition, but maybe some people out there, are just more motivated by making a model that ticks the boxes they know fits. And I guess it just depends on your motivation, what you get out of it.

Marijn

Yeah, indeed, indeed. And probably that will reflect on other aspects in life too. Different strokes for different people. But the thing you mentioned about you never know what the judges want is indeed also in a way very correct. Not that judges just do whatever and are completely, well, making everything up on the spot. It’s not like that, of course. But I think it is true that an award is nothing more, but also nothing less than just the opinion of the judges that judged it on that particular day. Just the combined opinion of the two or three people that judge your work. That’s the award. And there is no more meaning to it than that. But also, no less meaning. If you respect the people that judge it, that can be very meaningful. If you don’t really respect those people, then of course it’s not so meaningful anymore. So it can also be a good idea to go to competitions where you respect the people that do the actual judging.

And that can also bring us to, well, what aspects of judging are important for a good quality judging.

Chris

I was going to say, you’ve got a lot of experience judging, many years. What do you look for as a judge?

Marijn

Excellent question.

So, most importantly, maybe let me start with what I think we should never look at. It has been discussed on other podcasts, I think, or other episodes, so we shouldn’t go too much into it. Accuracy, historical accuracy, or whatever kind of accuracy is not something to be judged, because simply a judge can never know everything about everything that’s on the table. He can know everything about Shermans, and judge the Sherman models on the table accordingly, but he won’t know anything about the modern French tank that’s right next to it, for example. It’s impossible to be consistent in judging when you use that criteria, so I think it should never be used.

What do you look at is, in two big groups, on the one hand more technical aspects; and on the other hand more artistic aspects of the model. So technical aspects, well it mostly comes down to how neat you work, how sharp you work, how detailed you work, how precise you work. So for construction, how neat do you work? Are there any seams left? If you filled any gaps, is it done in a way that you don’t see the gap anymore? Is there any glue spots left or not? For detailing, it doesn’t matter if you use photo -etch or not. It matters if you do it well. That’s always the thing. You always look for not what is done, but mostly how well is it done, especially with the technical things.

The details, are they sharp? Are they glued on in a precise straight way without glue blobs and stuff like that? Painting, airbrushing for example, is it a smooth coat or is it a rough coat with grain in it? The transition between the colors, is it as sharp or as blurry as it was intended to be? How precise has the model been working?

Again, the same with weathering. It’s not important how much weathering there is, it’s important how well is it done, how convincing is it. Is it applied in a neat, precise way? That doesn’t mean, does it look clean? It can look very dirty, but does it look dirty? Can you see that it is intended to look that way? And does it look convincing? Is the texture consistent with what the modeller is trying to do?

So, all these different technical aspects, you look at them and you look at every part of the model, both construction, painting of vehicles, but also figures, groundwork, anything on the model. You look at all of those. And then there are the artistic aspects on the other hand. On one hand, it can be about storytelling. On the other hand, artistic can also be about purely visual aspect. Does it look good? So with the storytelling, does the model say what it is trying to say? With dioramas that can be narrative, a story can also be much less narrative. You already had a nice write -up about different ways of storytelling, so people can go and read that one again. (https://modelphilosopher.com/the-demise-of-the-original-story/)

Chris

And that’s a subject we’ll be coming back to on the podcast in the future as well.

Marijn

Yeah, indeed. So, and also with single vehicles or figures, there can be storytelling to certain levels going on or not, if models are clearly not trying to tell a certain way, a story of a certain kind or a certain atmosphere that doesn’t need to preclude them from getting a gold medal, for example. Just if there is an intention to tell whatever level of story you judge, how well they are succeeding in doing it, how well the model is telling that type of story. And then the other artistic aspect is purely visual, how good does the model look. And that comes down mostly to the aspects of, in my opinion, to contrast and harmony. If there is not enough contrast, a model will look very flat and lifeless. It doesn’t have any punch, it doesn’t really speak. A model needs to have a certain level of contrast in it, in the paintwork, in the detailing, in the composition. It doesn’t just need to be dark light colour contrast, it can also be the hue, the brightness of the colours, it can be also the dynamics in the composition. This is all aspects of contrast that bring models alive.

On the other hand, there also has to be a certain level of harmony, because if it’s all contrast and no harmony between colours or in the dynamic shapes or lines in the composition, then it just becomes an assault on your eyes. Then it becomes too much gaudy, garish. I’m not sure if these are the exact words that mean what I’m trying to say, but…

then it becomes too much and just looks ugly basically. It looks out of balance. It’s too much screaming instead of telling something.

Chris

It’s noisy, there’s no kind of clarity to it.

Marijn

Exactly, exactly. So you also need a certain level of harmony. You can use bright colours, but you cannot use bright colours all over the piece everywhere for everything. For example, you can have very dynamic sweeping lines in your composition, but you will also have to counterbalance these with other elements, so it doesn’t look like it’s toppling over. So you need to have both contrasts and harmony in your model to make it visually pleasing and to… well…basically just make it look good. So these are more artistic aspects, but of course these artistic aspects can never really be seen separately from the technical aspects, because for example in order to get a high level of contrast it’s not just artistic choices that you’re making, but you also have to be able to technically apply the right paints, right shades of paint in the right place for example. There is also a technical aspect of that.

I always feel for example that, let’s say in the paintwork of a model or a figure, you can never have too much contrast. But you can put it in the wrong place, and then it looks out of place, and then it doesn’t look good. But if you know exactly where to place the maximum contrast, you can get away with anything. So there is a technical artistic aspect to all models.

They also intertwine with one, another and it gets more complicated because there are still some more things that you can look for. One thing is originality. How original is your model? Is that something that we should take into account, or not? There are different opinions about that. I think it should be taken into account because that will stimulate creativity and in the end that will stimulate the advancement of our hobby and of the artistic side of our hobbies for sure. But it wouldn’t be right to punish people who just want to build a nice model and enter it in the competition. If they do, if they build a very nice but beautifully done and technically outstanding model, why shouldn’t they win an award simply because they haven’t created something really new or really original? So I think originality should be awarded or should be rewarded in the judging, but we shouldn’t go really too far with it. Still, technical and artistic aspects should also be taken into account still. And certainly, it should be only done in a positive sense. It should only add for the models that are original. It shouldn’t…let’s say, detract points from models that haven’t tried to do that.

Chris

Maybe it’s a way to earn bonus points if you see what I mean. So it’s not a requirement, but if you do something original, it can be rewarded.

Marijn

Exactly. If your technical level for example is not gold level standard but you create something really original, maybe you can get the gold because of the originality. So exactly, the bonus points is exactly what I was trying to say. And there is one other aspect like that: the, sometimes-called ‘scope of effort’. How difficult is something, how complicated or how big or how ambitious is a project, should that be taken into account? And I think here the same goes as for your originality. If you do, if you are brave enough to throw yourself into something very ambitious, very difficult, with a lot of work, with a lot of technical challenges, yes, you should be rewarded for that. But the person who just wants to build a great kit and make a beautiful model out of it, with not too much effort or time invested, should also be able to gain a gold medal.

Chris

The only problem I have with scope of effort is effort isn’t a concept that comes with a connotation of quality. You can put a lot of effort into something, and it can still be awful.

Marijn

Absolutely, absolutely. So that’s why it shouldn’t be an aspect that really makes the big differences. If your technical level is not high enough to get a bronze, by making a huge diorama you shouldn’t be able to get a gold.

Chris

But are we saying, maybe, that if it’s a borderline case, that maybe if they’re bronze, maybe bronze, maybe silver, but there’s a lot of effort, you say, “okay, silver”.

Marijn

Indeed. Because of course it’s not really out of the reasoning that, well, the modeller did so much effort, it is so much, look at all the work, it’s so much work. It’s not just to reward that, it’s to reward people taking chances, to reward people making efforts, trying something ambitious. Otherwise, we will end up with competitions with only very simple builds of great new kits.

Chris

I think I’m gonna get myself in trouble here, but I think one of the biggest problems with modelling is there is not enough originality and not enough risk -taking.

Marijn

Well, I would also like to see more, but then again everybody wants to take something else out of this hobby and I feel most people simply don’t feel the urge to try and make something new.

Chris

Yes, for sure.

Maybe that’s a big enough subject for another day, I think.

Marijn

Absolutely, absolutely. But you saw with the technical aspects, the artistic aspects, scope of effort, originality, all of those combined, it becomes quite complicated. Especially because there is a lot of variation between models, as we have also touched upon. Not every aspect is equally important for each model. Some models use a great kit with little building effort as a canvas for fantastic paintwork, while other models are completely scratch built but then carry a rather basic paint job. Neatly done, but not trying to go far artistically with not just weathering but any kind of telling something with it. So, and these are both very valid ways of making a model.

They should both be able to be rewarded in a competition if done well. So all the different aspects that we have just discussed, they need to be balanced always and it will be different for every model again.

So it’s quite a complicated affair. And that’s where I think sometimes the judging systems can be helpful or can be a bit counterproductive. As we said before, the results of a competition, the awards, are basically the reflection of the opinion of the judges at that specific moment. So I think a judging system should enable that opinion to shine through directly in the reward. It should enable that indeed what the judges think is exactly what the award will be. If the judging system somehow obstructs this, then it can be counterproductive.

To give an example, my preferred way of judging is to just get together with two or three judges, look at the class that you’re judging, preferably individually, just look around, scan everything, take a first look at everything, and get an idea of what the level is, especially at the smaller local show where you also have to assess what level is present at the show, get a feel for it, get an idea which you think are the best models, form your own opinion to a certain extent, then get together with the other judges and start like, “okay, let’s start from the top level, what do you think could get a gold here?” Somebody says, “I think this model”. Somebody else says, “I agree.” Third one says, “I agree.” Okay, easy. The golds are always the easiest ones.

“That one too? okay, yeah, it’s not as good, but yeah,” if we say, “okay, which ones would get a silver? Yeah, this one, that one, okay, yeah, I agree, I agree, yeah, but that one, okay, it’s clearly still one step up from the silvers, not as good as the first gold we gave, but still it’s closer to that one. Okay, that one also gets a gold, that one is in the same level, it’s a step up from the silvers” we have defined, and you work your way down from there, discussing together, in that way.

My least favourite way of judging is with a score sheet, where you have a set of judging criteria, like construction, detailing, airbrushing, decals, and each gets scored to a certain amount of points, and then they’re added up and subdivided. Because in that way, you can get for each of these aspects, the honest opinion of the judge and they can score the airbrushing really honestly to what they think the airbrushing is actually worth. But there is no flexibility in how these different aspects are balanced to one another. So instead of leaving room for both the model that has more emphasis on painting on the one hand, and on the other hand to the model that has more emphasis on construction, you all make one unity of it. And basically you say there is only one right way to make a model in this class. Usually that’s not the goal of these systems. The goal is usually of making sure that everybody judges in the same way and try to make things as objective as possible.

But I think it doesn’t really help so much with objectivity. I think it just makes everything more uniform. And I think that’s not a good idea because of how complicated all the aspects of modelling are and how different models can be, even in the same class. And I have judged also in competitions where you do fill in score sheets and at the end you hand them to the chief judge and then the administration is done. But while you’re judging and while you’re giving points, you have absolutely no idea how this will translate into a certain award.

Chris
Yeah, I did that at Moson. It was a very odd experience because even we judges didn’t know until the award ceremony who got what.

Marijn

Exactly, it’s very weird. As a judge I never have a good feeling with that system. It is possible that the opinion translates correctly to the awards given. It is possible, but I think it’s a system where mistakes can sneak in very easily, much more easily than just a couple of guys together saying I think this model is worth that award. That’s very clear, that’s very to the point, that’s very direct..

Chris

I think for me the problem with it is it doesn’t allow for something that I’ve seen happen a lot when I’ve judged at open shows where we’ve gone through and we’ve made selections and then thought, you know, I think we’ve been a bit harsh actually, we need to go back and lift the scores up. Because I mean, in the open system, you’re there to reward modelers not to take away, it’s an addition rather than a subtraction system. You’re trying to look for the good, not punish the bad. So you quite often go back and go,” you know, we’ve been a bit harsh on this” because you’re trying to be good and you’re trying to spot things and everything else. But at the same time, maybe you can be a bit too tough. If you just fill out a score and hand it in, you don’t get to revise your opinion.

Marijn

Exactly, exactly. That’s also one of the reasons why I’m not really a fan of judging systems that take really long and especially where multiple teams are judging the same class of models. That’s something that’s often done with AMPS.

Sorry guys, I’m a big fan of the organization, a big fan of the type of shows you put on, but this aspect of the judging I’m not a fan of. I have to admit I’ve only judged and competed according to it only once, but for half a day people are judging models that are coming in. You haven’t seen the totality of the class yet, because they didn’t come in yet, so you have no idea of the general level that’s present. So you start judging and indeed at a certain point you may realize that you have been a bit harsh, but at that point it’s not possible anymore to adjust. It’s too late. And even a bigger problem, there are only a few classes, so you’re in a team that’s judging a certain class, but on the next table there is another team that’s judging the same class. Or maybe after an hour or two of judging you stop, and another team takes over and they continue judging the same class. But they may be a bit harsher or a bit less harsh. Even if you’re using score sheets, well, one team might give a 7 for a quite neat airbrush job, another team might give a 9. It all depends on… well, that’s a problem. I don’t think modelling is very quantifiable.

In order to be consistent, I think the same people should judge an entire category and they should be able to keep an overview of what’s in that category while they’re doing it.

Chris

I think, you’re always trying to be consistent when you’re judging. And I hate to keep going back to IPMS USA, but that’s why they have the system they have because of the consistency they believe it gives them across it. And, you know, no matter what else I might or might not think about the system, that’s kind of their motivation. And I think the only way you can be consistent is to have the same judges at least across the same class, if not more than one class. That’s the only way really.

Marijn

Absolutely, indeed. By the way, I’m a firm believer that we’ve talked now a little bit about how certain systems can have an impact on the quality of the judging, but I’m a firm believer that by far the most important aspect for the quality of the judging is the judges.

Chris

Absolutely, yeah.

Marijn

The system is mostly there to make things happen. Some systems can, as we discussed, can be a bit counterproductive. Often, they’re there for good reasons, but it doesn’t always work out in my opinion.

Other systems work perfectly, I think, in making it happen in a smooth way, but mostly the system should be there for practical reasons, to make it happen and to make it happen as good and as smoothly and as quickly as possible. But what really makes the quality of the judging is the judges themselves. So I think that’s also one of the reasons why it’s important to have a judging system that is efficient and fast.

I’m not saying that judges should work very fast and not look very carefully. I’m just saying that if you have a system that necessitates the judge to look at each and every individual model, even though it’s clearly a gold or if it’s very clearly not going to win anything; and fill in an entire score sheet for each individual model on the table, well, you will have your judges there for several hours on end. In some competitions I’ve seen it happen for five, six, seven hours of judging. If you let the judges just write down which ones get the gold, which ones get the silver, which ones get the bronze, you cut down on the administration time, your judging team has to do by tenfold and you can get the same judging done in an hour, or maybe two, with less judges. And that’s an important point. The less judges you need, the more easy it is to get enough judges for your competition. And the more feasible it is to actually invite people with a lot of experience in modelling and in judging, people that have a good eye for it, people that are respected by the competitors, because again, if you respect the opinion of the judges that judge your work, your medal has some value to it. If you don’t respect these people, your medal has no value whatsoever. So if you have a very efficient, fast system to work with, you can do it with less judges. You can get better judges or you can make sure that there are, well, that your smaller group consists only of good experienced judges, and I think you can have the better quality of judging.

Chris

How do you think we can improve competition for competitors, for judges, for the hobby?

Marijn

Well, I think the most important thing is to have a good atmosphere. And when I hear other people talk about it, and I agree, when you think about the competitive aspects of a competition, people mostly just want to know that their model has been looked at and that it has been assessed fairly, no more, no less. Of course, there are always those people who just want to win no matter what, but I think this is a very small minority and we shouldn’t take them into account. We just have to make sure that the judging is done as well as possible and because it is done by humans, it’s never going to be perfect. There is always matter of opinion in it, there is always going to be discussion about it. But the more you can rule this out, the better it will be for the long -term atmosphere around the competition. That’s, I think, one thing. On the other hand, there can also be the social aspects. I really like the way figure competitions are doing it now for decades already, but maybe it can be expanded a little bit beyond that, how models of individual modelers are grouped as a display. Because that makes it easier to go to your display or to the display of the person you just met and go and check out their latest work or talk about your own latest work at your own display, without having to go like, “yeah, I have something here on this table and I have something on the other side and over there I have another model.” I really like the displays, it makes it easier and just more fun to mingle with the other modelers around each other’s work.

Chris

I think for having your own sort of level in the hobby assessed as well, it goes back to what we’re saying about going to various shows and getting a range of opinions on your work, where you’re giving a range of your work. So it’s easier for the judges to accurately assess where you are at the moment in terms of your abilities and your skills. Because if one of the models is not so good,  that’s not the one model they’re looking at. They’re not going to say, “he’s a silver level modellist at the moment”, they might look at the other one and say, “well, that’s a gold.” And in which case they’ll look at the silver one and go, well, it’s not as good as this one, but he’s obviously capable of doing something really great. And so, you know, you get an accurate picture of where you are if you supply more than one model and put it in.

Marijn

I think so too, indeed. Well, of course, if they would be in separate categories, you will… Well, no, that’s not so relevant, because this place will also be split up for several different categories, of course. There is a good reason to have different categories. Of course, with the open system, if indeed theoretically you judge against the level of the hobby and you judge completely open gold silver bronze you could put everything in just one category. Theoretically that is possible and I think the new show in the Salt Lake City area is going to do something maybe not completely like that but close to that with very, very few classes or categories I believe, so I’m curious. Absolutely, I’m interested.

(Marijn is referring to the Rocky Mountain Hobby Expo https://rockymtnhobbyexpo.com/)

Chris

It should be very interesting to hear what comes from that.

Marijn

But once there is a certain amount of models, it becomes of course a bit difficult just as a quantity. Well, we have discussed how it is important, for consistency reasons, to have the same people judge the same class all over. And of course, once there are too many models, you need to split up the models somehow to make it possible for a judging team to get it done in time. On the other hand, if you want to have capable judges, nobody knows everything about everything and I’m not talking about historical accuracy, but I’m talking about the current styles and techniques in certain genres. These can be very different from automotive modelling to figure painting. For example, there are big differences and it’s impossible to find judges who know enough about each subject of each genre, to be able to judge well. You need to split it up a little bit also, according to genre, simply because the styles and techniques differ. As a judge you also need to know a bit about what materials are used, what kits could be used or are available, or figures or whatever, so you can recognize what [extra work] has been to it or not. So you cannot be up to date with every genre you’re able to judge, well enough I think.

Chris

I think in a way you already answered the question about what can be done to improve shows. I think the number one thing is to invite really good judges, to be selective about who you ask to judge.

Marijn

Absolutely. And I think some of the best shows with the best atmosphere that I have been to, do exactly that. Euromilitaire used to do that. SMC is doing that. World Expo is doing that. Moson is doing that. MFCA, Chicago Show are doing that. KMK Show is doing that, of course. Well, no, basically we do the judging with club members only because we don’t need such a big team as, for example, SMC. We can do the entire work with 12 to 14 people, and we have plenty of people in the club that have enough experience with judging and with the different genres that we can get it all done within the club which makes it easy to say, “okay, we’re not competing ourselves as club members. We do the judging.” And in that way, there certainly won’t be any bias that we’re trying to help our own club members more than others or whatever.

Chris

I think it’s fair to say you have an unusually high number of world -class modelers in your club as well, which helps.

Marijn

at risk of… what’s the word? Of tooting my own horn too much. I think you’re right. But it’s an asset both for club life and for developing modelling within the club. And it’s also for organizing the competition at our show. And it’s not just for those reasons, it’s because there are plenty of other people around that we could also ask from other clubs in Belgium, and outside, that visit the show that we could also ask to do the judging; together with us, or instead of us. That wouldn’t be a problem. The thing is, if you do it with your own club members, it’s easier to make sure everything runs smoothly and efficiently. You know everybody very well. It’s easy to communicate. It’s easy to keep the time, to check if things are running out you can very easily say to people like come on it’s time to round it up because we still have to do all the other stuff before the award ceremony so it’s just a very efficient way of working and for me that’s one probably more important even a reason to do it with club members alone otherwise we in the past we did it with people from outside the club too and as a quality that doesn’t make a difference. [There are] plenty of good modellers around. But you’re right, I think inviting judges rather than just using whoever feels like judging at the day, whether it’s their first show or they have been around for decades, it’s important to have a grasp on who is doing the judging.

Marijn

One aspect to improve the competitions from the point of view of the general public is to provide good lighting, provide enough space to circulate and don’t make the tables too low. Try to elevate them to a height that is back friendly. But of course, every show has their technical challenges with the venue and with whatever can get organized. So it’s of course understanding that not everybody can do it as well as the next show. At our show too, we also have to find a balance between the space available and the materials available and what we can provide for the visitors as a comfort.

So for example, at our new venue, we have, I think, a very nice central location with very good natural lighting, but that can depend on the weather at the moment. It’s on a kind of multiple level stage area, which makes it possible to put the tables at the edges of the levels. And in that way, you’re able to view it from one side more top down, while at the other side, the tables are much higher because it’s on a level that you’re not standing on. And you can look at the models much better without having to bend down. But there is one big disadvantage, only the first level has a ramp, the rest has steps. So for wheelchair accessibility, it’s problematic. [We have not] found a solution for that yet, which is really a pity I think. So we will continue to think about that for the future. But just to illustrate, there are always pros and cons and technical issues to overcome.

Chris

Absolutely.

Marijn

things will rarely be perfect, but just thinking about these things is already important for an organization of a competition, I think.

Chris

Well, Marijn, I think that’s a good place to end. Thank you very much for this conversation today. And I hope listeners enjoy it. Do write in if you have any comments or questions for Marijn. Thank you.

Marijn

Thank you very much, Chris. Thank you.



I hope you enjoyed this discussion.

I have one last thing to ask, putting together this blog and podcast comes with some cost, If you can, please do support the Model Philosopher by becoming a Patron at https://www.patreon.com/theModelPhilosopher



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A New Podcast!

A little while ago, I decided to add interviews to this blog, starting with Calvin Tan’s fantastic discussion on Art and Modelling To make that I had a video chat with Calvin and used an edited transcript to produce the blog post.

A few people asked if it would be available as a podcast and at the time I wasn’t sure. But in the end, I thought, “its not a lot of extra work, so why not?” and the Model Philosopher Podcast is now a thing!

The Podcast will not replace the blog. I will continue to post these interviews in edited transcript form, with illustration, on the blog. I will also continue to post my editorial style blogs, but for those that prefer to listen, the interviews will be available as a podcast.

I hope you enjoy it.

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An Absence, and an Apology

I often think “Sorry I haven’t been posting much, guys.” Posts are kind of lame. For one thing, they assume people were missing you posting, which is somewhat presumptuous, for another, they don’t really add anything to the general conversation. I always resolved not to make that kind of post.

But here I am. Making an apology for being absent.

The fact is, I’ve been very busy. (I know, everyone is busy, get over myself already.) As you may have read here , I had to call it a day on my publishing business due to the decline of hobby publishing, and Brexit. Of course, I can’t just sit on my hands if I want to eat and pay the bills so I started learning Fusion 360 CAD, and starting designing stuff.

What a frickin’ rabbit hole! Not only has the design sucked me in like like a duck into a jet engine, but the business has taken off and its an endless round of design, send to print, package and dispatch. It is still early days, but it looks very promising. You can see, and shop, what I’m doing at https://www.insidethearmour.com/shop-1

Some of you may know I was a big scratchbuilder (I even published three books on the subject as ITA Publishing, and co-wrote a fourth recently for AK Interactive) and my journey into CAD as a scratchbuilder has been eye opening. A blog will follow on that soon.

So, anyway, between learning Fusion, the new business, building models for others to publish, and recording and editing the Sprue Cutters Union Podcast; there have not been enough hours in the day to do a blog as well. However, you should know by now that a new blog was published recently, a discussion with the incredible Calvin Tan, and more in this style will follow in future, where I take a topic and get a modeller with a particular insight to join me to discuss it.

Thank you for your patience (if you noticed I was gone! And if you didn’t, I hope you enjoy the new blogs upcoming anyway) and thanks for reading

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Art & Modelling, a Conversation with Calvin Tan


Today I sat down with Calvin Tan (via a webchat) for the first of what will be an occasional series, where I discuss a single topic with a well known and highly respected modeller.

Calvin is undoubtedly well-known, and highly respected by modellers around the world as literally a world-class historical figure painter. Calvin is also an Art Educator, so who better to discuss the Art/ Modelling debate with?

Chris

If we’re going to talk about art and modelling, we need to establish the definition of art first. What do we mean by art?

Calvin

Exactly. So I think for me, this is my take. I would consider art is something that basically defines any work of expression that evokes sentiment and elevates our human experience. I think that’s the main thing. When we talk about art, there’s always another thing that we always talk about, because it comes together with craft.

Arts and craft, it always comes together. So, craft and these two terms are usually connected. Because art has a craft, but craft doesn’t necessarily translate to artWhen I read the book, “Art and Fear”, it did say, for example, if you look at a violin, it’s been created by an old master, it takes many years of apprenticeship to shape the violin until it reaches its final state. But the tragedy of this, and I do say it’s a tragedy, that despite the numerous years and expertise to craft the violin, most people won’t call that violin a sculpture or a piece of art. But however, when a musician picks it up and maybe he plays a tune, and suddenly that becomes art.

The tune becomes the art. And when you look at a violin, although it requires years and years of mastery to create an instrument, it does not enjoy that level of prestige. And I say that when it comes to modelling, the same could be said, because models have always been sort of a representation. It’s always seen as a tool of learning. People don’t see it as a sculptural piece at all.

So it sort of, you know, goes back to Marcel Duchamp when he plays the fountain, remember the famous “fountain?” So what is this now? Is this a urinal or is this a sculpture?  So,  questions like this start to arise. And this has been, you know, this has always been provoked. I mean, hundreds of years ago. And in terms of when you go into the gallery, when you look at the urinal, is it now a piece of sculpture or is this an instrument?

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07573

Chris

I remember when I was at art college, the debate was, is ceramics art? Because you know, you make a pot, it’s a craft to be able to throw a pot or to be able to hand form a pot, or ceramic, or what have you. And it seems like that’s one that was always very much debated, whether it was an art or a craft. And there’s a great deal of skill that goes into making it. And I think like the violin, It really depends how it’s made and the intent, because in recent years in this country in the UK, Grayson Perry has become very famous as an artist and he’s made mainly ceramics. But they were, it’s what they were decorated with, how they were decorated and how he made them, that made them art. And I think the same with the violin because people would argue that a Stradivarius is a work of art.

Grayson Perry “We Shall Catch it on the Beaches”

Calvin

Yes.

Chris

But it’s interesting because of what you said about when it’s played. I think some people could appreciate looking at it, that it’s a work of art, but most people would only be really able to appreciate it by the quality of its tone when it’s played. Because a lot of violins have been made throughout history and a lot of them are quite basic violins that look to the untrained eye like any other violin.

Calvin

Yes, correct.

Chris

but there’s a huge difference in quality between one and the other.

Calvin

Exactly, exactly. And this I would say that it’s within that very exclusive group of people who perhaps within the field or within the community of the artisans, they may consider a very well -made violin a work of art. Because again, I mean, firstly as far as the artisans are concerned, they appreciate the labour, the discipline it goes to creating something. And I think what the takeaway, if let’s say a violin is to be regarded as a work of art, the takeaway would be the emotional connection the viewer has with the object. I would say that is what art has. People will say that a piece of work will have a soul, but the soul is actually assigned by the viewer, whether or not we’re able to recognize and appreciate and see you know, the invisible. So, it’s almost very Zen, right? The Japanese believe every object has a soul. We’re able to see it, able to appreciate it. In a sense, they are a bit more sensitive and more in tune with certain objects, inanimate objects.

Chris

I think you say it’s assigned by the viewer and it is because if it doesn’t affect the viewer, I don’t think it’s art. I think it can affect you intellectually as well as emotionally or instead of emotionally, one or the other. But I think it’s a conversation because the art exists between the artist and the viewer, if you see what I mean, between the intent and the reception of the intent. And the craft comes in with how well that intent and effect is communicated.

Calvin

But I think the concept I can see is actually very universal. I would say that at the end of the day, there’s also what you call cognitive biases when people judge things or basically view objects. There’s a cognitive bias. For example, if you are into Spitfires, it’s like, oh, I know every model and a history of this.

And when you see a particularly well -made model represented in its full glory and accurately represented, I mean, you feel like your heart is skipping a beat and say, wow, this is so well done. And suddenly, you look past the model as a piece of plastic and metal and what else there is on the model and see it as, you know, an object with a soul and something to tell. So at that stage, at that point, you can see that object has transcended to just being a model to something of an artwork, an art piece. And that’s where you will start to be drawn into it and start to look at it more and immerse yourself in that model.

by Calvin Tan

Chris

Something that people often talk about when this debate comes up is modelling art is that it’s creative. Do you think making a model kit is inherently a creative act?

Calvin

Yes.

I would say creativity is universal. Human beings are creative by nature. I mean, it is hardwired into our brains in order for us to survive, right? And creativity, I would say, is often conflated with artistry. Well, it’s actually more linked to problem solving. So it’s not so much about creating something new or refreshing.

Sometimes it’s about solving problems. Oh, for example, if your decals are damaged, how do you go about solving it? Is there a substitute? Is there an alternative? Things like this. And you can see creativity being utilized and being, what do you call that, leveraged to solve problems. For example, I don’t want to build so many tracks. So what can I do to get around it?

Some modelers, they tend to take shortcuts. But you can also see it from the flip side. You can see it as taking a shortcut could be something very creative, so long as they don’t get caught. So it’s always about trying to get away with murder. That’s what some people are trying to do, sort of speed up the process. I would say that building a model is inherently a creative act.

But. having said that, however, if building 1 ,000 models of the same, like say you’re painting an army for wargaming, now I don’t think there’s much creativity in that anymore. It becomes labor. You become a line production worker. And it does not engage your creative faculties at all. And therefore, it becomes a menial chore.

Chris

I think sometimes I felt like that when I’m building a kit which doesn’t require any or very little problem solving other than the usual basic modelling skills, you know, filling, sanding, so on. And you can kind of feel like, am I paying to work on an assembly line? You know, am I paying someone in order to be able to assemble something?

Do you think there is any creativity in that?

Calvin

I don’t think so. I would say that with every model, the experience should be different. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? It’s like watching a new movie, right? You don’t want to watch the same movie again and again and again and again. Unless there’s something new to discover, then yes, then it’s great. Oh, I didn’t notice this. I didn’t notice this.

But the thing is that if it gets too repetitive and gets too mundane and boring, that’s where you need to know that it’s time to move on. So yeah, why do it? Exactly. So I think at the end of the day, we humans want to be challenged. And I think a lot of modelers, they want to be challenged in terms of challenging themselves or attempting a new sort of project or mastering a technique.

For example, like figure painting or maybe painting camouflage. I think that’s something that’s refreshing. And I think I think there’s something unique that this hobby offers, the sort of challenges. So as I said, creativity is something that I would say that, I mean, being able to engage in a creative act, being able to engage in a creative act helps to basically enrich your life.

in that sense, because often you will come up a bit wiser, better, happier from actually going through that experience.

by Calvin Tan

Chris

You said something interesting earlier though that creativity is not the same as artistry.

Calvin

Yes, I would say creativity is definitely a broader term. I mean, that artistry.

Chris

So if creativity is problem solving, what is artistry?

Calvin

So artistry is something that you does require creativity. But  you also need creativity to be a successful engineer as well in any other fields. So creativity is present in everything in that we do. To be a chef, to be a sportsman, or whatever, it is there. You need to find innovative ways to solve problems.

Artistry, I would say, in a sense, like art is, is how do we use the resources that are at our disposal, our talents, our abilities, to create, enriching human experiences for others. If you have a good voice, you sing a very nice tune, you brighten up somebody’s day. And that is what essentially what art does, right? I mean, the good ones are thinking in terms of, oh, how can I make a difference, right, in this world, right? And how do I enrich the lives of others in that sense? I think that’s one of the purposes, you know, and, but there are some people who sort of hijack this and do it for their own ego and selfish intentions. It’s just to, you know, but again, we have to acknowledge these are very different people. They have been brought up very differently.

It’s part of their innate personalities. I mean, that’s how I see it. So in a sense, in terms of art, I think generally, it should serve the purpose of actually bringing people together. And I would say that it should possess these sort of virtues, in that sense. It should uplift and enrich the lives of others. So every time when I sort of paint a figure or create a piece, I always think of this at home, I mean, how do I accurately represent it? And such a people can learn from this, not just in terms of the technique, but how do I bring the story out using this medium of modelling and using it as a medium to tell a story? It can all basically to express my inspiration in that sense.

Chris

Do you think it’s the story that creates the emotional connection?

Calvin

I would say it is the response of the artist because every artist is like a vessel. You need to be inspired and once you’re inspired, you have this energy, this excitement, this flame that’s in it. And the question is how do I bottle this up and ship it to the rest of the world? And that’s where art comes in. You channel this inspiration outwards into your art. So be it poetry, music, and even modelling as well, right? And that’s how it is. So, I would say that as an artist, the main thing is to always be open and always learn what’s around you, absorb what’s around you, take it in. And that’s where the craftsmanship comes in. That’s where you are using modelling as a language rather than just focusing on the technique, or producing very decorative pieces, you know, and that’s where the work becomes expressive.

Chris

Do you think we focus too much on the craft side as modellers?

Calvin

Yes, I would say so. There is a difference in terms of arts and crafts. Now the thing about craft is that it is possible to attain perfection with craft. And that’s the difference between art and craft because art itself is not exactly very perfect. It may be rough around the edges, but the thing is that you get a sense of what the soul of this object is supposed to represent. There is a certain quality, semi almost indescribable, but you know there is a certain quality about it and it’s not perfect. Now with craft it’s very different because for longest time, scratch building as a craft, it’s all about precision. And now with 3D printing, there’s not really any need to bust up any styrene because you know whatever you’re going to do is only going to be 99 .9%. It won’t be 100 % as accurate as what a machine can print.

So in a sense, that’s where, in terms of craftsmanship, the age of perfection has arrived, through 3D modelling. It’s possible to scan an actual object and shrink it down to the exact size and print it out with precision. So as far as art is concerned, it requires the human intervention to come in and discern what is relevant and what’s irrelevant. And that is where the human touch comes in. And that’s where your sensibilities as an artist, as a person come in. You decide what to include or what to take away, and such that your audience will be able to grasp what you’re trying to communicate.

Chris

is fair to say we’re on the same page that modelling is generally speaking a craft but it can be art or you can make art with models.

Calvin

Yes. I would say if you look at this, you can categorically place scale models as sculpture. So the question is, is Marcel Duchamp’s a fountain or urinal? So it depends on how you want to sort of, how do you take it? How are you going to use this medium and bring it to the next level? So for example, when you start to represent certain objects in a different scale, people will have a different feel with that particular object. So if you look at pop art like Claes Oldenburg, he takes a clothes peg and blows it up to like giant. It’s like 1 ,000 times larger than its original size and suddenly becomes a sculpture. But you look at it in terms of the shape, it is a clothes peg. But suddenly, when you start to change the scale altogether, it becomes a sculpture. The aesthetics and all this. And you can suddenly look at the humble clothes peg and think, I never thought that there’s such elegance and beauty in this shape and this form. And this shape is, to be honest with you, any efficient objects that’s built from function is actually very beautiful.

Because it does serve the function, and there’s a certain geometry that governs its creation. And in that sense, that respect for geometry and nature gives it that inherent beauty. And that’s what I feel. I mean, there’s a reason as well. If you look at a Spitfire, it looks so sexy. It’s because the artist did not create that. That instrument, right?

It was actually created by engineers and designers who respected basically laws of aerodynamics to create and fashion that particular wall plane. And with that, you can see the aesthetics comes with it. And it seems that the aesthetics was like, oh, it came together because we did the math and the physics. And therefore, that’s why its shaped like this. And it functions very well.

So any object of beauty, I feel, has to represent certain truth and uphold certain ideals. And I think that’s what constitutes as beauty.

Chris

Do you think though, do you think when something is removed from its function by changing its scale, that allows us to appreciate the aesthetic? I mean, we see scale in relation to ourselves. So the clothes peg, once it stops being something you could literally peg clothes with and becomes a monumental object, changing its scale removes its function and allows you to appreciate the aesthetics.

Claes Oldenburg “Clothespin” (1976) Philadelphia, USA

Calvin

Correct. In a sense, it does, because you start to, you will not think of this anymore as a functional item, and you will start to look at it as a shape and you will appreciate it at an aesthetic level. And I think that’s what it does.

Chris

Do you think it’s kind of a fallacy to treat models as a real object at a distance when we’re working on them, if you see what I mean.

Calvin Tan

Well, I don’t think so. I mean, it all depends, whether or not. OK, for example, if you’re going to build a model and you’re going to build, like, say, a 1 .48 scale plane, it depends on your intention. You can just build it up and blow it up with firecrackers, or you’re going to use it as a token for wargaming, or you’re going to say to yourself, this is a small representation of history. You know?

And the thing is that all you want to do is a tribute to perhaps a Battle of Britain veteran who has flown in this particular plane. And you want to capture the whole story, the period, everything in that piece. So the things that determine how well the model is going to eventually look will largely depend, the creator, the modeler, what he hopes to achieve by building the model. Because the thing is that we are going to invest a lot of time and a lot of effort and to learn certain skills to build a particular model. And if you want it to be as realistic as possible, as convincing as possible, then it requires a longer journey. And the thing is that if your intentions are to create, let’s say, an accurate and realistic model, then you will be willing to make a sacrifice. So it all depends on the intent of the modeler. So for example, like Mirko Bayerl he’s actually a historian who models. I would never consider Mirko as a modeler. He’s more like a historian who models. He loves to see the truth, you know, in his pet subject, for example, Hungary in 1944 to 45. He likes that all the models represented during the period to be as accurate as possible. In a sense, he serves almost like a custodian, a gatekeeper to make sure that everything is as accurate as possible because he has interviewed a lot of veterans. And I believe that he has a lot of stories and he’s able to sort of channel all these stories into his work. And that’s what he wants to sort of represent. So he gets pretty annoyed and I can understand why, when they are not accurately or properly represented, he gets pretty annoyed with that. Because the thing is that he has all these references, you all need to do is just ask. He will gladly share this all with you.

I just want to see the truth being represented in the models as well. And I think a lot of people treat this more like a recreation as a hobby, say, oh, take it easy, man. I’m just gluing pieces of plastic together, making it look cool. But I think if you’re a historian, I think you find that this is a bit of a travesty. When you distort historical fact, amd turn it into some Hollywood, you know, what do you call that, action flick. Yeah, low budget B grade movie, right? Correct? Yeah.

Chris

 But if you want to tell the truth, do you think sometimes the art comes in with exaggerating certain aspects or changing the exact representational side of it to heighten the emotion of it in some way?

Calvin  

OK, so I think that is it. So the thing is that when it comes to that, in this case, when we start to move into painting technique, some of the painting techniques especially, they tend to go over the top. Because it’s all about creating the strongest visual appeal. And as a result, what happens is that it loses its what you call its original intent. The Panther, right? OK a Panther, 1944 Hungarian Panther, may not look like, it may not represent the period anymore. If you start to use a different palette of colors, it’s like, oh, this looks cool. I’ll just do it because it looks cool. And the markings are just an afterthought. And suddenly you feel that it’s well -built, but it does not really convey the mood of that particular time. And I think that artists, you need to understand your subject matter. And that’s where the research comes in. And I think a lot of people, especially the younger modelers, they are seduced by the look, the aesthetics of the model, but they fail to consider the historical context behind that. And I think in a sense, I think what a lot of the older generation of modelers who are more historically in tune

by Mirko Bayerl

They get very annoyed because they look at the skill and the abilities like, wow, with this ability, I would have done it differently. And it’s like you can sense that. I think at the end of the day, it depends. Because for me, my approach has always been to read up a bit about the subject before I actually embark on the subject itself. And I think you can see this with Mike Blank and Bill Horan, and as well as Shep Payne.

by Bill Horan

They are in, if you speak to them, if you interact with them, they are all historians. They know, they are able to tell you everything about the subject that they are modelling. And I think that is what gives depth to the models. And you can see there’s a very big difference between a very skilled Russian painter, a fantasy slash historical painter who’s able to paint very well. And if you look at, if you compare the work together with what Bill Horan has, or Mike Blank has with the very skilled painter who only paints. It’s like a gun for hire. You can see there is something missing. You know, it’s something missing. So in a sense, it’s like, if you take ramen and you like cook it and you squeeze tomato ketchup over it, you can’t really call it, you know, bolognese, right? And some people are like, okay, if you take an Instagram photo, it looks the same, but you know, it’s not going to be the same.

Chris

I’m thinking of Mirko’s work though and Roger Hurkmann’s and maybe Volker Bembenek as well a bit. They use quite a desaturated palette and they are dark in a lot of areas. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that was photorealistic, but it adds a mood which is sympathetic to the story they’re telling. So that’s what I’m talking maybe about how you heighten something in order to tell the truth. Because they add that sort of depressive pathos.

by Roger Hurkmans

Calvin

Yes. Yes, but at the same time, it should not distort. That’s the thing that a lot of people are doing. They’re using all these techniques. And invariably, it will create a much more visually appealing work. But you get the sense that it’s distorted. It doesn’t really convey the pathos of that particular period, for example.

Chris

Maybe it’s more like craft then, because it’s not done in service to the message in service to what you’re trying to communicate.

Calvin

Exactly. Exactly. And you can see that it’s pretty, and you can see this happening in the fantasy realm, where you’re looking at every piece that you look on the competition tables for the fantasy category, you will see every piece is very bright. It’s out there to catch your eye. And it’s very eye -catching. It’s very decorative. It’s aesthetically, it’s like a table of desserts, right? And that’s what I mean.

I’m not a fantasy painter, but that’s what I sense. I do love desserts, but if I look at it, it’s all sweet, it’s nice, it’s awesome.

Chris

They use incredibly high contrasts, whether it’s light and shade or colors or what have you. It’s ‘s like, you know, you get your stereo and you turn everything all the faders up to the max basically. But I have seen it done really well. At World Model Expo, there was an ogre with a fairy on his finger, tiny little fairy on his finger. And he’s looking at it. But all the light was focused between his eyes and nose and her body and it pulled the focus to the place and created that emotional sort of, joy moment which he’s supposed to be feeling and so on so it can be used well.

Modeller unkown, please contact me if you can help with attribution

Calvin

Yes, and it does require someone with the sensibility as well as the level of craftsmanship, you know, it takes years of experience to discern what is necessary and what’s not necessary to include in the work.

Chris

I think as well for some people they’re innately good. I don’t know if it’s emotional intelligence which allows them to do it, but some people are very good at.

Calvin

They are more sensitive vessels. And as I said, as artists, we are like vessels. We take in from the, we sort of take in with all the experiences that we have. We bring them together, we coalesce them, and then we sort of channel it into the artwork. And that’s what it is. And everybody has a different take. If everybody has a unique take on life, everybody has a very unique take on a particular story. And everybody will have their own way of trying to tell the story in their own.

Chris

Do you think as modelers we should be trying to put more art into our models?

Calvin

I would say it is useful if that is the purpose. Again, it depends on the approach. So I wouldn’t say that, but I’m saying that we should be recommending that there are many approaches. If you get tired of trying to glue plastics together, you can take it up to a new level and turn it into a work of expression. Because for most people, this is seen as hobby craft. It’s a hobby craft.

“I just want to come in and I just want to just open the cap of thinner or cement and stick pieces of plastic together and build a scene.” For them, it can be as simple as that. But there are some who are a bit more, well, I would say they are more knowledgeable. They read a lot. They get inspired by the stories. And they say, oh, now I want to recreate this moment. I’m going to do this, this, this, this. And they have a clear vision of what the model is going to be.

There are some people who just enjoy the process. I just want to just stick pieces of plastic together and that’s it. And they’re happy doing it. Sometimes you go to clubs and then you see some people say, I’m happy with what I… And the thing is that I don’t really tell them on how to paint. If they’re happy with it, if they’re happy with the results, that’s great, man

Chris

I think 90 % of modelers, that’s what they want to do. And I think in a sense that if we talk about modelling as a hobby and call it one thing, which I don’t think you can, but anyway, then that is it, because that’s what the majority of people want to do. So I think, I mean, I asked whether you think we should, but I don’t think we should be telling people to put more art into their modelling because modelling isn’t really about that. But if you want to make art with models, you can.

Calvin

Yep. Yes. Exactly.

It’s essentially a medium. So it depends on what hat they choose to wear. If you just want to be a craftsman, you put on the craftsman hat and just focus on the craft. And just make sure everything is precise. And then send it to the IPMS show and you get audited. And if you have the least mistakes, you get an award. Right?

Chris

or maybe not show it to anyone just model for the joy of doing it.

Calvin

Yeah, exactly. Correct. You don’t need to show anyone because it’s a hobby, right? You can just build it together, put it in a tupperware, and then put it into your closet, and then start a new piece. I know a lot of modelers like that. They don’t show the work, right? They don’t show the work. It’s purely for their own personal pursuit and mental well -being that they set to build this. But there are artists who want to sort of show, and they feel that perhaps, I guess they feel that the work can make a difference.

They want to show it, and they want to help, they want to be part of a bigger conversation, so to speak, in terms of, or want to be part of a bigger community. And take this art form, take this hobby, and bring it up to a level of an art form.

Chris
Who do you think is making art in modelling at the moment?

Calvin

I would say, OK, so I would say that it depends on the different genres. So if you look at it like Jean Bernard André, he’s actually more in terms of the fine arts because he talks about, I mean, the subject matters that he deals with. It’s more soulful. It’s more emotional. And you can see, he adopts a surreal approach in his work. So in a sense, in terms of the genre, I would say he’s particularly very successful.

Jean Andre, “Swordfish” (2024)


Then if you’re looking at traditional, like for example, Bill Horan, Mike Blank. These guys are more traditional artists in that sense. So they sort of capture the drama and the human, what you call that, emotions, right? During the Victorian or American Civil War periods. So they are particularly successful in this.

Mike Blank, “Richard III” 2013

Marijn (van Gils) is more playful, he dabbles in everything from doing a Picasso’s Guernica. And you can see he’s very inspired by Marcel Duchamp. So it’s all about redefining this. So that conversation, I think, Marijn has started out many, many years ago, back in the mid -2000s, as he’s doing this. Always trying to challenge existing status quo, challenging taboos. So that’s one way of looking at it. You can’t really call it fantasy, but I think his work does provoke a lot of thought and thinking.

Marijn van Gils, “Busted” (2011)

So I think that is something that is, I would say, one of the very defining qualities in which a lot of the artists that model, or modelers who produce some miniature art have in common. The works themselves inspires not just an emotional response, but also inspires conversations. It becomes what you call that a centerpiece to promote another conversation. So it’s like, I would say, yeah, that’s how I would say that three people are talking about it, and you’ll be using this as a segue to discuss something even broader, for example.

Chris

Modelling doesn’t need to be art. People like to call their modelling art. They don’t need to use that word to justify what they’re doing.

Calvin

I don’t think you need to. I think for us, it depends on whether or not are you doing this professionally as an artist. And then because it’s going to be very different if you’re pursuing this as a hobby. Because if you’re doing it as a hobby, then as long as I’m happy creating something, people enjoy it, I’m pretty happy about it. And the thing is that about art is that it needs to have an audience. And ultimately, once the work goes into the public domain is no longer yours. It’s going to be seen through the lens of others, and they’re going to have their opinions about it. Some may love it. Some may hate it. But eventually, it’s still the work. So unless the artist, the creator, has a specific intent for the work, and that’s where criticism and critique comes in to sort of perhaps helps you suss out any blind spots that you have overlooked.

I think critique is also very important, because some people may critique this based on the historical context. Some people may even critique it based on their own personal experiences. So if you have just, for example, I can understand why the Nazi symbol, the swastika, is particularly offensive to some people. Because they have lived through it, there are certain memories, bad memories, horrific memories connected with that particular symbol and therefore, you know, it conjures up, you know, a lot of, a lot of sentiment as well.

Chris

if art’s a conversation, then, which I think it is, between the artist and the viewer, then the artist has to listen as well as speak. So when the critique comes back, they have to take on board that if people don’t get it or something isn’t right about it or they’re getting something negative, then it’s possibly a fault in how they communicate what they’re trying to say.

Calvin

Exactly. Yes. I think a lot of people, on the surface, they may seem that they are asking for feedback, but in actual fact, their intent is to, you know, they are fishing for praise, basically. They’re fishing for compliments, actually. So generally for me, where I look at it is that I always treat critique as a way to sort of, you know, learn from mistakes because I do not know everything.

And sometimes I think we also have to defend the decisions that we have made with regards to the style we have adopted to represent our subject matter. Whether or not to use post -shading, modulation, or is it too much to put the chips too much, so on and so forth. I think we need to defend it. And it depends on what you want to convey. And as well as the colors as well. When do we use a highly saturated color, and when do we use a very desaturated palette, for example. And I think, again, it’s all about the individual’s take. And I think what we want to do is we want to promote a very safe environment whereby nobody’s wrong, but nobody’s totally right either. But we want to make sure that we have this exchange.

Chris
Yes

Calvin

It’s OK to have disagreements. But I think at the end of the day, as long as we are able to respect each other’s positions, I think that’s the most important thing. And I think it takes a lot of maturity for a community to sort of adopt these practices.

Chris

Yeah, I think that’s a great place to end. So thank you very much Calvin

Calvin

Yep. All right. Thank you very much




You can find Calvin’s Blog at https://zyclyon.blogspot.com/
He is on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/CalvinTanEuJin

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

STOP IT

Stop Using Realism to dismiss the work of others.

Bear with me, this one is about to get conceptual (dare I say: philosophical), but it is not possible to make this argument without doing so.

Realism is often taken to mean that there is an objective truth, observable to all, to the way the world is, and appears to us. In modelling, this means that an object, person or machine will look exactly the same to one observer, as it looks to any other, and that this is a measure by which we can judge models, and their visual fidelity to a real-world object.

In modelling terms, this is assumed by many to be the goal of modelling. To recreate in miniature, a real-world object, as faithfully and accurately as possible. I have a huge problem with this premise, but I don’t want to digress just yet. For now, lets accept the premise in order to examine “realism” as a concept

Our perception of reality depends completely on the physical abilities we have to observe it, our cognitive abilities to process that input, and often our experience, psychological perceptions and personal biases.

Physically that might mean our eyesight and even the number and the variety of cones in our eyes. Of course, this is a minor difference, but every person’s sight is different, which means their visual input is different.

Now cognition, each of us equally has a different brain. So in addition to minor variance in the input, there is additional variance on how that input is processed, but again, so small as to basically be negligible, but there is a difference.

The real divergence occurs with how we subconsciously interpret this cognitively processed visual* input.

It is not possible for most of us to completely perceive something like a tank or an aircraft with one experience of the object, such as walking around it or looking at a photo. Even for those with eidetic memory, there will be things they cannot or did not see. This is why we need lots of reference images when we are trying to make an accurate model.

If you ask five people to observe something, they will all observe it differently, based on what they are used to looking at and why they are looking at the object. We can observe this with our non-modelling friends and family. Ask them to look at a picture of an F-18 and they will say maybe “It’s a plane” or “A grey plane” or maybe “it’s a fighter jet”. Maybe they will even say “Its an F-18”. But will they say “it’s a VFA-22 F/A-18F, probably not. But your experience and knowledge has allowed you to observe more about the aircraft and given it a different level of ‘realism’ in your mind.

Similarly, when two modellers observe a photo of a muddy Churchill tank in the Reichswald, they might both know it’s a MkVII Churchill and it’s the Reichswald. They might both know the unit and its place in the order of battle, but one might notice the convoy light is missing on the right fender, and the other might notice the stowage box on the turret is non-standard.

They are both observing reality, but they are observing it differently, with their experience, interests and biases dictating what they see, and crucially how they remember it.

The same happens with things like weathering. Someone more interested in modelling clean, technical models, where their modelling is more about their appreciation of the pure prototype, will see the aircraft in the pictures, they won’t necessarily see it when the aircraft is dirty or worn, not because they are biased against dirty aircraft, but because that’s not what they are looking for in the picture. This can lead to them not recalling seeing a dirty aircraft in their experience.

In the same way someone else might see a heavy weathered aircraft and not notice that it’s a MkIX instead of a MkI and might just replicate that dirt they were looking for on an inappropriate version of the aircraft,

So in conclusion, ‘Realism’ is not an objective state. It is subjective, based on the person that sees it.



Stop Applying Realism Outside of the Source
I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen someone say a spitfire is ‘overweathered’ because they used to be ground crew on peacetime military aircraft in the 80s. That’s like me saying I know all about submarines because I went on a passenger ferry once. Unless your experience or knowledge refers to that actual type, it is at best, marginally interesting. It is not decisive.

By the same token, people, please, for the love of all that is plastic, stop using that same single photo of a Greek A7 to ‘prove’ aircraft get dirty. If you want to take the high ground, find a photo of the type in question looking dirty. It’s out there, they always are.

Stop Appealing To Realism as “THE” Standard.

In my experience, most modellers appeal to realism as their goal. That’s fine, good even; although as I have just outlined, its not a single standard, but rather overlapping personal perceptions,
 
But it’s not the only way or reason to model. The only goal of modelling, that is (as far as I can ascertain) universal, is to have fun. Anything supplemental to that, such as recreating a ‘realistic’ model, making an artistic statement, or even just tinkering with models and never finishing one, is optional, and all options are equally valid.

Seriously, if you want to make ‘realistic’ models, you do you, you’re awesome. But if you want to judge others’ models based on whether or not you consider them realistic? No. you don’t get to do that, at least, you don’t get to do that without me laughing at your presumption. Stop complaining about other people’s ‘unrealistic’ models as if its some killer criticism, because actually it’s just you, being a dick.

STOP BEING BORING

All of this leads me to this boorish bullshit:

This meme has been around so long its pretty much eligible to vote. Its been around so long, the technique its dumping on has all but disappeared in modelling. Get a new joke.

This also applies to jokes about ‘sneaking models past the wife’.

And while I’m here, stop making threads about ‘models are overweathered’, etc. We all know ALL the answers we will see in that thread before you post it, because the arguments are so rehearsed and so often repeated their repetition makes us all physically nauseous. Please, just stop it. Get some new conversation.

I’m bored now.



*Of course, sight is just one of our senses, and I use vision only in this context of modelling as a visual medium often shared via pictures on the internet

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Challenging Modelling Pt.2 The Politics and Polemics of Modelling

Look at almost any modelling group on Facebook, and you will find the same rule: “no politics”. It is a commonly accepted trope in modelling that politics = bad.

Terms of Reference

What do we mean by politics? For once, a dictionary definition may help, especially as there are many forms of “politics”.

  1. Legal government and lawmaking, from national government to local councils, and the parties that compete for governance.
  2. The relationships within a group or organization: such as office politics, or group dynamics.
  3. The Politics of the person: where identity becomes a personal politic, such as feminism, race equality or gender equality.
  4. Geopolitics: the ways countries relate to each other.

These are common definitions, but at its most basic level, it’s the constant conversation within any group or society, about how people, as individuals, relate to each other within a group.

“Chris, Knock off the Undergrad Waffle, Stick to Modelling”

Don’t worry, I’m getting there…


First, what are we talking about when we say “modelling”? we tend to consider it within the paradigm of making miniature versions of full-sized, real-life, military equipment and personnel. But modelling is far broader than that, it also includes civilian real-world machines and people, fantasy and sci-fi machines, and people (military and non-military) and pretty much any subject you can think of, recreated or artistically referenced, in reduced (or, technically, increased) scale. Don’t worry, this is relevant, I promise.

Why don’t we allow political posts in modelling groups?

The short answer is Admins don’t like spending all day moderating grown men fighting on the internet.

The slightly longer answer is that political discussion is off topic and divides people along political lines. The concern is that a post about politics will bring negativity to a group.

You can make very arguments that discussion of politics as defined by 1 or 2 above, and with some exceptions: 3, have no relevance to modelling (I might disagree, but you can). But in reference to 4, you cannot legitimately say war is non-political.

People on Facebook are fond of quoting Carl von Clauswitz: “history is written by the victor.” He never said it (it is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill but he didn’t coin it either, best research attributes it to French sources on the death of Robespierre c1855.)

But Clausewitz did have something to say about war and politics:

“24. WAR IS A MERE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.

We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses. That the tendencies and views of policy shall not be incompatible with these means, the Art of War in general and the Commander in each particular case may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling one. But however powerfully this may react on political views in particular cases, still it must always be regarded as only a modification of them; for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

[Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918).]

Clausewitz is of course, correct, War (and by extension, the military) is not separate from politics, it is a geopolitical instrument, either through exerting political will onto others, or in preserving the native chosen politic (self-government) from foreign political will.

Therefore, when we model the military, we model the martial embodiment of political will.

Does that mean modelling a military is an endorsement of the politics of the military depicted?

*Absolutely Not*

However, any military model will always be freighted with the politics of the military it represents. There is no escaping this without deleting any context from the model. Thus, to take the politics from a Tiger tank, or an A5M Zero, or a USMC marine on a pacific island, you have to remove all context: nationality, historical period and location. And if you remove these things, you remove any reference to the history of the model.

We must acknowledge that any military model expressly referencing historical events cannot be claimed to be apolitical in nature, even if not in intent.

Historical Military Modelling is one thing, but modelling current conflicts is quite another. I discussed this a while ago with Barry Biediger from the Small Subjects Podcast on my Models from Ukraine pod (https://modelsfromukraine.buzzsprout.com/2035660/13596069-episode-14-combat-giraffes-and-moral-models-with-reskit-and-barry-biediger).

Modelling current conflicts is not like the dry academic historical discussion of the past. This is happening to people right now. This is active politics by other means, being prosecuted as you read this blog. If we choose to model these conflicts, how can we possibly claim that it is apolitical, and deny others from reading the models in a political context? To do so would be absurd.

To be clear, I am not saying that your intent is political, but I am saying that its is, nonetheless, a political model because that is how people will read it, especially (in the internet age) those in countries actively involved in the conflict. The internet is not restricted to your safe, currently pacific, country. To summarise, we can’t claim military modelling is apolitical because the military is not apolitical. We can certainly say we have no political intent in modelling it. When I model a Luftwaffe aircraft it is very definitely not an endorsement of the Third Reich, but I will not try to wear the absurdly facile figleaf that there is nothing political represented in the model.

Is It Art Though?

(callback beetches)

One of my earliest bogs asked whether modelling was art (https://modelphilosopher.com/is-it-art-though/) Spoiler Alert: No, but it can be.

If we want to argue that modelling is art, then surely it should be subject to the other definitions of art, beyond simply ‘creative expression’. Politics is a big part of art and always has been, from Franceso Goya’s anti-war, anti Napoleon “Disasters of War Series”

(“Por Que” (1863) Franceso Goya)

To Diego Rivera’s activist Murals

(“Pan American Unity,” (1940) Diego Rivera, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Photo: SEBASTIAN HOCHMAN/The Stanford Daily))

To Norman Rockwell’s Civil Rights Era work

Norman Rockwell (American, 1894â??1978). New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs), 1967. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 57 1/2 in. (92.7 x 146.1 cm). Story illustration for Look, May 16, 1967. Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Printed by permission of the Norman Rockwell Family Agency. © 2013 the Norman Rockwell Family Entities

artists have always not only accepted politics, but actively engaged in it.

So if modelling is art, like art, why should it be apolitical? Why is there no room for politics in modelling? I’m not saying modellers are in the same category as Goya, Rivera and Rockwell, but I am saying we can express politics in our ‘art’, too.

One modeller embraces it, our good friend Robert Blokker. He has been bold in accepting that modelling can be art an art can be political with is busts ”Real Life Joker” and “The Great Polonium”.

(“Real Life Joker” (2020), Robert Blokker)

(“The Great Polonium” (2022), Robert Blokker)

And I have Robert to thank for inspiring my own new piece “The Criminal”. As I have mentioned before, my education was at art school, and honestly this feels like the closest think I have made to art since I left art school, and it is also modelling.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0459-830x1024.jpg

(“The Criminal” (2024), Chris Meddings)

Robert’s pieces, and my own, have provoked people when we posted them. Most people have been fine with it, either because they agree with them or they accept our right to express ourselves this way, or they just don’t care (never underestimate the power of indifference). But a sizeable minority are made angry by these pieces. Good. If you want this to be art, art can be provocative. Even if you think its just models, why can’t models be provocative?

So, let’s stop this ludicrous fiction that politics can be removed entirely from modelling. You can of course claim you make no deliberate political statement with your model, but you cannot complain if a military model is read in a political context, especially if you chose to model a current conflict.

And should politics be kept out of modelling? This too is facile. Politics is threaded through our every day life, because politics is the dynamics of how we relate to each other, and if you want modelling to be art, you should accept that one way people use art, is to comment on politics.

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The Hobby Kinda is Dying

Sorry everyone, its been a long time since I have posted.

The fact is, I’ve been struggling in modelling. At the end of 2023 I finally decided to call an end to Inside the Armour Publications.

Sales have been declining for some time and, undoubtedly, Brexit was the main factor in this. I know this because the EU was my biggest market, and since the customs changes in Europe when Brexit was enforced, came into effect, overnight my EU business vanished. Completely.

However, Brexit was not the only reason. Whilst the EU business was 60% of my sales, The UK was a big chunk at around 20% (UK Modellers have never spent as much as other countries, in all my years in the hobby business) and the rest was basically US and Asia. Asia and US shipping has climbed dramatically and US distributors have told me “books don’t sell anymore”. Overall, friends in the Hobby Publishing business tell me that people just aren’t buying books anymore, and ebooks just don’t sell.

People say that the phrase “the hobby is dying” isn’t true. But the fact is: parts of it are.
The publishing side is really suffering right now, and before you say “oh that’s the internet and youtube vs books”, hobby stores tell me their sales are declining too.

The average demographic of modellers, is ageing, and not enough people are coming in. Sure, we get new models all the time, and new companies, but don’t mistake the effects of lowering barrier to entry for healthy sales. (the cost of making a kit, has reduced dramatically over the last 25 years, and CAD has made design of kits so much easier as it has become more widely used in society and more people can do it and afford it)

This decline has, to a certain extent, been masked by the ability of those older modellers to spend more. But with the current economic crunch, the cracks are showing. Ask yourself, how many kits or books have you bought in the last 12 months compare the past? How many of them were second-hand? How many people do you know that proudly tell you they haven’t really bought a kit in months?

Does it Matter?

Many of us have stashes to last forever, right? And “I can get what guides I need for free of the internet”.

The fact is modelling is a consumer activity. it requires us to consume a kit and get another. It is a hobby that demands supply in order to continue, and ultimately, if people are not spending money, no one will create high quality curated content, because they won’t be able to afford to. Magazines and books will be the first things to go, and they are not, arguably, essential to modelling, but if sales continue to decline, the commercial argument for importing kits and consumables becomes weaker, and we could see more announcements like the closure of Railway Hobby giant Hattons, on the horizon…

Anyway, while my hobby business is dying, you can get 50% off books at insidethearmour.com

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Challenging Modelling: Part:1

Introduction

For a long time, I’ve been interested in the limits the modelling community place of modelling. It is often said to be about having fun, and perhaps because of how we associate it with a childhood hobby, and certainly as a hobby for all ages, there is a certain amount of peer-pressure, to “keep it light”. This manifests itself in person, but especially in social media, as a pressure to avoid anything too dark, and anything ‘political’. These two are big subjects on their own, so I have decided to split this blog post so as to avoid it being too long for most to read. Politics in modelling will follow soon.

Modelling the Darkness

Modelling the darker side of humanity is not as taboo as it once was. Around ten years ago, I can recall people being upset about the modelling of dead bodies and injury. Since then, the hobby has come to accept these, to a certain degree, but it remains fraught with challenges.

There is still a propensity to focus on engineering rather than a full picture of history. Modellers tell themselves that because they know how many quarts of oil you need to lube the transmission on an M4A2, or how many shots the barrel on a Tiger tank was good for, they are historians. To an extent that is true. They are very well informed on aspects of history, but they are very narrow in their field of knowledge and often know very little about the wider picture. That leads us to concentrate on the vehicle, or aircraft, or even a single figure and their uniform details, as the only real purpose of the model. Essentially, we model without context. We model the war machines, without modelling the war. Let’s not forget the business of war is to kill each other till one side can no longer tolerate its losses, but we don’t usually model the actual killing, only the men and machines that are employed in doing the act. But if we rarely model combat, we virtually never model the ‘crimes’ of war. But this too happens in every war in history, in some to an endemic or even to an industrial degree.

But if we think modelling can be an art form, or at least, more than just playing with toys, then why shouldn’t we tackle controversial subjects? Why shouldn’t we take on the darker side of war and humanity? Why shouldn’t we push our modelling, if we want to, so say more than “this is what this tank or plane or ship looked like”?

Let’s put a pin in why usually do not tackle these things, and have a look at a modeller who does

Rick Lawler and Burden of Sorrow
in 2013, Rick Lawler unveiled his new piece, “Burden of Sorrow”. It remains probably the best diorama or model I have ever seen, that addresses the Holocaust.

We recently Interviewed Rick about his more serious work on the Sprue Cutters Union and asked him about how that diorama came about:

Rick

“Burden of Sorrow in particular, was a very specific, emotional directed type of scene. So, I had the idea … of doing something around the Holocaust for some time, knowing full well that subject in and of itself is somewhat taboo. You just don’t go into certain sorts of subjects because they’re controversial, for lack of a better word. And I wasn’t necessarily ready to do it either…I went to the Smithsonian, to the Holocaust Museum and it was the second time I’d been there… This time I did it by myself, and that gave me the time to really be a part of the museum. ..and you go into that train car and then come out and then you have that smell, they have all these shoes behind this kind of plexiglass wall there and the entire place smells of old leather and old shoes.

That was the moment when I said, I need to figure out how to do something about this subject… So that became the motivation to… to figure out how to make this happen. Coincidentally, this is where this lightening in the bottle kind of concept starts coming through… So, that rail car [LZ Models resin German Rail Car] came out and all of a sudden it just coalesced. I knew what the scene was going to be now. The rail car was gonna be the center of the scene. It needed to be captured because I just walked through that rail car. And so it needed to capture that rail car and somehow capture the surroundings, the smells, the experience of walking through that museum and everything that goes around that museum and what it represents. So now I had a focal point, I had an idea, and now I can start making it come to fruition. But I couldn’t force that.”

Tracy

“Well, unlike a lot of dioramas and the stuff that we see even at the best shows… this is something that has to be handled with real sensitivity in order to be respectful and to convey what you’re trying to convey without being garish or flippant. And it’s a lot different… from a Tiger tank with a bunch of guys standing on it, pointing.”

Rick

“Yeah, and I was fully aware of all of that. Even back in the day, people would do, even start touching on sort of these subjects and it would roundly get criticism. “That’s gross, we don’t portray that in Scale modelling” I think the barriers have come down somewhat, but it was very much just about the model, like you said, Tracy, the tiger tank with the commander pointing and all that kind of stuff. But to actually tackle the realities of what our subjects often touch on, the brutality of it all, that was like that fourth dimension, that was that wall that no one really had approached before that.”

…..”You know, to say that I intentionally went to make Burden of Sorrow is not accurate. To say that it started with a base-level kind of, you know, back of my head, sort of an idea, theme, if you will. Then, like I said before, all these things started kind of accumulating until the time was right to actually express it in the modelling.”

Chris
…”You said that subjects like Burden of Sorrow are controversial. Why do you think they’re controversial in modelling? Because, something people always like to say whenever there’s any criticism thrown around about their panzers or whatever it is.
“I’m just honoring history.” But quite a lot of the time, I think modeling sanitizes history. It shows a very non-violent, quite pacific, and quite attractive vision of war. Why do you think the darker side is so controversial?”

Rick
“Because it’s uncomfortable. I think it makes us take a look at ourselves and, perhaps question why we are attracted to, say, the glamorous side, you know? And so, you know, everybody loves a good tiger tank in a black Panzer uniform because they look really, really cool, but that level below that is not nearly so attractive. And so it’s, I think there’s a kind of a self-editing buffer someplace in there, which people just say, you know, we’re showing history in terms of the vehicle and the uniforms and this and that. Glamorize it for lack of a better word, but we don’t show the consequences. And that’s where Burden of Sorrow went, in a very deep way, to show the consequences of not just the Tiger Tank, but a regime, which takes it to a much broader scope. So, I don’t know, that’s my short answer, I guess. I also think that, its very difficult to portray, And I’ll use the term specifically, the horrors of war without being overt or grotesque in doing that. And that’s a very difficult line to follow in terms of being able to capture the essence of the scene to show the emotion to give, to tell the story without it just being a huge mess, aesthetically, physically, visually, not portrayed well, whatever, however you want to say that. So that’s the other challenge in terms of all that getting our own filters out of the way, in terms of how now do we actually do this? And that makes it much more tougher of a realm to push our modelling into.”

Rick’s “Burden of Sorrow” barely needs any introduction, it is arguably world famous, and rightly so. Of course, it’s a tour de force of actual modelling. There is not a single element which is not superbly executed (and trust me I can always find an element I think is not quite right) for me, modelling-wise, its probably as close to perfect as it gets. The composition is dynamic and original, the rendering of everything, from cloth, to metal, to wood, to the ground, is incredibly detailed, from the macro impression to the fine marks and micro colour shifts, and over colour palette is muted but verging in warm, which lifts it and gives it some vitality that a fully desaturated palette cannot give. This edgy of warmth stops the colours blending into each other too much and keeps tonal separations.

But of course, all of that is subconscious support to the wider point of the piece. What hits us is not the execution, it’s the emotion. It’s the story of the piece and the humans in it. The figure in the piece is not the only human, in fact I would argue the humans in the piece that hit us like an emotional bomb are the ones missing from it. The ones that left their possessions behind. What Rick has done is hit us with the absence of them, the essence of this crime against humanity.

As Rick said in our SCU interview:

Rick

“the biggest tool that we have as a modeler, as a presenter of our work, is actually the mind’s eye of the viewer… We don’t necessarily have to tell the entire story. We don’t have to put every detail out there. We have to start the paragraph and allow them to fill in the verse behind that” … “So you don’t have to be gross and gory and horrific in terms of what really happened there in terms of actually modeling that. You just have to kind of let them kind of, tell themselves that story and then they’ll fill in the blanks” …”This is I think was where we start getting into the art part of it. If that’s done well, if you’ve given them that little bit of a teaser at the beginning, each viewer is going to have a different experience. So when they look at that, you know, Chris will have one vision in his head and Will will have another vision in his head and Tracy will have another vision in his head and they will be unique but they’ll also be within the theme.”

In this case, Rick has handled this atrocity very carefully, and with great sensitivity, without lessening any of its power to shock and touch us, by leading us to the idea of the war crime without showing us the worst of the war crime.


SOME KIND OF MONSTER

A few years later, in 2020, Rick made another diorama, at the behest of Fernando and AK Interactive. This time he tackled the genocide of the Rwanda Civil War of 1994.

Rick
“This one was, prompted, let’s put it that way. Fernando, [ head of AK], he’d had in his mind to do a publication that was going to be about what he called ‘provocative subjects’. So kind of. as we were discussing before, subjects that would move the modeling world a little bit into that side of the direction, you know, create some buzz, some…controversy in a good way, some retrospect[sic], some thought. He had asked if he could use Burden of Sorrow, and of course I said yes, and he said, well, I’d like you to also do a new piece … for the book, and I just said, … I don’t know if I can do that, because…you know, to try to force something like that. I just said, I don’t know if I could do that because it was a special time, special place for that first one [Burden of Sorrow]. So he kept saying, you know, let’s give it a shot. Let’s try it. Let’s do this. And that lasted for literally about a year that he would say from time to time, hey, Rick, how are you doing with that project? And I would say, hey, Fernando, I don’t feel it…

So finally, we get to a point, like I said, about a year later, and he said, well, this book is going to happen, and I’d really like to have your contribution, a new piece from you. And we had that same back and forth, and he said, how about if we do something around Rwanda, the genocide in Rwanda? … I knew of it, but I wasn’t really versed into it, or anything like that. So he sent me some photographs… and says, what if you did a scene such as this? …  They were of like front end loaders, like John Deeres and Hitachis or big construction equipment, basically scooping up bodies and clearing land that people had been basically slaughtered in and putting them into ditches, much the same as you would see in those Holocaust videos at the end of World War II. And I said, okay, I’ll do something. And I started actually down that exact path of what the photographs laid out. So I actually built a loader. It’s a Hasegawa, a little front-end loader. And once I got that finished, I started trying to conceptualize what the scene would look like. Because I still didn’t have it in my head what this was gonna look like when I got done with it. And it was at that point I’m going like, … this concept is not gonna work, at least for me… The loader was too large, which created the scene that was gonna be, the base was gonna be too large. I was gonna lose all the emotional impact of what this was gonna happen. It was gonna easily slip into that it’s too grotesque, just all these bodies, that kind of stuff.

“And I thought, I need to recalibrate this. So that led to what it ended up being, which was take the mechanical part out of this, which was, had this fellow who, you know, happens to have the task of having to bury these bodies and he’s just got his spade and he’s just like basically standing there in the scene, taking a break or reflecting on what he’s doing, this terrible task that he has to do.

and then this small child that’s above him, who is either like I mentioned, either his son who’s there just to help, or maybe he’s a child of one of the victims that’s in this trench. And that brought it back down to a very much more emotional and personal level that I think a viewer could empathize with.”

Again, Rick created a scene that relied more on the emotion of the witnesses, the gravedigger and the child, than it did on the death in the scene, although this time ‘bodies’ are present in the form of body bags. We know there is death here, but the emotion is in the two witnesses, not in blood or gore.

However, like Burden of Sorrow, it presents us with an aspect of war that people do not model. These are not cool looking tanks, they are not technical models of perfectly researched specific aircraft types. They confront us with what war is, and what its depths can descend to.

When it Isn’t Done Well

The book “Some Kind of Monster” was made for, was the now infamous book “Condemnation” from AK Interactive. I asked Rick about why this book became so controversial.

Chris
“…  the book seems to have had very, I think, very laudable aims of trying to do what we’re talking about, of doing it and doing it well, but it wasn’t received very well. Why do you think that was?

Rick
“Well, I think it came down to just the initial marketing campaign. It was certainly off the mark. …As a contributor, I sent in my articles and again, this, this project had been going on for, for quite some time, I had no idea of the, when the release date was going to be. And I wake up in the morning and I check my emails and my Facebook and whatever, and it’s jam packed with a bunch of people who are very, very angry at me and wishing not very good things, which is like, what the heck just happened? You know? So I didn’t even know it was been released. I had no idea. I finally did see the clips. There was one initially, I think another one came out either a few hours or the next day. And. I was taken aback, personally, by the clips and the marketing because… I understood what the intention of the book was supposed to be, which was to ask these questions and to kind of push modeling in, like I said, a provocative direction showing the… not the greatest sides of life and humanity. What it came across as, was a Freddy Krueger sort of horror story promo because there were splatters of blood. There were red backgrounds. There was a bunch of…barbed wire crosses here and there, and it just, it literally was a horror movie promo versus a promotion for provocative works of art. And of course the subjects inside were difficult by intention and so you put those two overlapping each other and yeah, it took quite a hit. I contacted Fernando I think the next day and I said, listen, I understand what you’re trying to do here but you totally missed the mark on the marketing here. This is absolutely backfiring. You probably know that by now. So I ended up doing a rewrite of the entire book for him, for them, over the next couple of weeks. They pulled it. They pulled the marketing for sure. I don’t know if they pulled the book, but they pulled, basically, I got the book and he says, okay, Rick, go through it and you take out [or rewrite] everything that you think is controversial, especially the introductions, because AK had written introductions to most of the chapters. So even my work had a new introduction to it. So, I rewrote all those, because they were much more aggrandized in terms of the horror and the whatever. And so. I sent that back and then they came out with a second edition or new release a month or so later.”

Tracy

“Yeah, it also underlines how… if you’re going to broach these subjects in scale modeling, you really have to do so with some sensitivity, you know?”

Chris
“Some respect as well, I think.”

Rick
“Yeah. And that was an interesting, that was certainly interesting few days to a week right there because that turmoil did not go away very quickly… It was… fascinating. You hear these stories about teenage girls getting bullied on the internet and such like that and they do all these things. That was … the closest I’ve ever felt like, oh my gosh, this is actually a pretty real feeling that you get when people that you know, people that you’ve had conversations with, other modelers, people you respect and such, are just chastising you for being involved in that project. And I’m like… you know, I don’t know what to tell you here.”

Chris

“I think the aims of the book were laudable and in a way it’s a shame that it got mishandled and that it did because I think it is important that modelling covers these things and goes beyond the usual kind of tank on a plank and stuff and tries to ask the audience questions.”

Rick

“Yeah, there’s some good pieces in there, in both editions actually, and including, and this is somebody that can be a very much part of this conversation that we’re having, is Pete Usher. His little boy sitting on top of those trash bags is part of the addendum of that book, or the gallery in the back of that book, which is a fantastic piece that, once again, communicates a very strong message.”

I very much agree with Rick that the marketing, and the sensationalisation of the subjects in the book were major mistakes that AK made in tackling such sensitive, but ultimately important topics. The vast majority of the content was very sensitively handled, and the marketing undid the subtlety of that.

But also, some of the content was, for me, problematic. In particular, the gas chamber diorama. In most cases the book was treated in the same way as any other AK book, and was largely a step-by-step book, and for me, colour call outs for gas chamber tiles, was a level of banality that jarred in a very distasteful way, with the subject of the model. If we are to consider works like this, as art, which they can be, I think we should be focussing on the subject, not the execution. The inference that we are encouraging people to copy these pieces is, at best, strange.

As Rick says, the book was re-edited and reprinted, at (no doubt) considerable cost and loss to AK. It is a fact in publishing that you have to sell a very significant proportion of a print run to even break even, and the way the second edition followed the first so closely, suggests to me that a large part of the first print run was probably pulped.


Although the first edition missed the mark so terribly, the ideal of the book is, in my opinion, noble. To make a statement about the darker side of humanity, and to try to use modelling, in the same way as art, to tackle these subjects. It is notable that in all the furore over the book though, that anger at the way the content was handled, and the marketing of the book, crossed over significantly with a subsection of anger that these subjects were even tackled at all by modellers.

What Modelling Can Do and What it Should Not Do

The reaction to the book is seen as being one thing, but really it was different kinds of complaints that merged into one reaction and dare I say, some of those complaints are the kind of reactions that I discussed at the start of this piece, that modelling should not address things like war crimes. I think that opinion is wrong. Pieces like Burden of Sorrow, and Some Kind of Monster, and Peter Usher’s ‘Childhood?’ are important models. Modelling can have a social conscience, it can ‘say’ something, and a culture that represses that is a culture that seeks to prevent modelling being something more than making scale representations of a vehicle, accurately built, and adequately finished, and I don’t want to work in a hobby that chooses to limit itself that way.

On the other hand, the legitimate criticisms of the book are fundamentally true. They go against what makes work like Rick’s and others so powerful: the understatement, the inference rather than the gratuitous show. The subtlety that focusses on emotion and not shock. If we are going to elevate modelling through addressing such serious subjects well, then we have a responsibility to do it with a huge amount of introspection and thought, and a sensitivity and subtlety that allows is to leave nothing out emotionally, while avoiding gratuitous detail.

You can here the full interview with Rick, where we talk more about this, and about Ma.K, 1/16 armour and a running a Youtube channel on episode 54 of the Sprue Cutters Union

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