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.


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

About Chris

I'm Chris Meddings, Modeller, Author, Publisher of Modelling Books, Podcaster, and armchair wannabe thinker
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18 Responses to STOP IT

  1. Duncan Lucas says:

    That Starfighter picture earned me a 24 hour stand-down from one FB modelling group, yet initiated a rigorous bout of virtual backslaps and ‘likes’ on another.

    I got nothing.

  2. Stuart Halton says:

    Yes to all this.

  3. Andrew Ian Measey says:

    Agreed completely

    1 persons dusty is another persons filthy.


  4. Buck says:

    Sorry, but I will never like, nor will I ever accept as a realistic representation of a historical artifact, models that look like they’re quilted or that they’ve been dredged up from the bottom of a swamp. They look ridiculous, and they don’t look like real airplanes. If your goal is to build a model that looks like something Salvador Dalí would have done, that’s fine. But I don’t see modelers doing that. I see them building and presenting these ridiculous looking cartoon caricatures as models of historical artifacts. You can build and finish your model any way you want to. No skin off my nose no matter how you do it. But I don’t have to agree with it or like it. Sorry if that makes me a minority, but that’s my take on it.

  5. John Murray says:

    Cannot disagree with anything you posted here Chris.

  6. Bruce Culver says:

    Well said….. I confess I can see where Buck is coming from, but that is from my perspective of how I want my completed models to look and what I am trying to do. Which is why I don’t critique other peoples’ models, because I don’t know what they wanted to accomplish – and sometimes the techniques used are stunning and incredibly effective, certainly something to learn from. My eyes are giving me trouble (no decent close-up vision) and while the hands are rock-steady at 83, I don’t know how much time I have left sticking bits together if I can’t paint the blighters….. I still like looking at others’ models and meeting old and new friends. Nothing wrong with that.

    • Chris says:

      I never said realism was bad, or that its not a good goal for an individual to pursue. I pursue it myself actually.

      the problems I have are in assuming its the primary goal of modelling as a hobby, and those that insist that realism is an objective absolute.

  7. Metodi Metodiev says:

    I could not agree more and If I may add… I have never seen in person a Corsair, Thunderbolt and many many others. Let alone unrestored one. So what are we left with in order to chase realism? Anegdotal evidence and period correct imagery with questionable quality… or maybe the more fortunate of us may have a biok by someone who did a massive research…. for a plane or two. With that I want to say is… well realism is not even achievable sometimes.

    • Chris says:

      there is nothing wrong with trying to model realistically, but I think if we are honest we have to accept its an aspiration at best

      • Bruce Culver says:

        I agree. My early ambition (when I still had youthful ambition) was to model subjects well enough that posed photos of them would look like original combat photos from WW2, so my interests tended to enough detail to look “real”, and wear and tear also intended to reproduce combat use. Guess I’m still stuck there in my dotage…..:-)

  8. Nicholas Pirnia says:

    I really enjoyed this post and very much agree with it. I particularly like your mention of how cognition of the creator and viewer can significantly impact perception. Along those lines, it also seems that many viewers (or at least the most vocal) tend to view other’s work with a heavy measure of skepticism.

    When we observe a he real world or references from the real world, it is common that something defies our expectations in some respect. As you said, this is a chance to learn something new while others may pass over or dismiss the new findings. But when viewing another’s work, the default for many is that this unexpected finding is simply an error or failure of interpretation on the part of the creator. This issue would be far less of a problem if people were as willing to question their own knowledge as they are the knowledge of others. But ego has a way of encouraging bad behavior…



  9. James Larson says:

    The other joke that needs to go away: “No crew chief would ever.”


  10. Warren says:

    I surely cannot disagree with a single thing you’ve written here Chris. Reading this reminds me of a time back in the 80’s when the living history group I was involved with sought to ensure the coats we were wearing were accurate reproductions of the originals worn by the men we were portraying. This led to a number of our group examining in detail Federal fatigue blouses held by the Smithsonian and the Quartermaster Museum at Ft. Lee, Virginia. At the end it was easier to say what the coats “were not” rather than “what they were”. These findings helped us to refine our impressions even further than we’d taken them before. (FWIW, we were the living history/reenacting hobby’s version of “rivet counters”, we were referred to as “stitch nazis”.)
    I have taken this same philosophy to my scale modeling, since it is standing in now for how I enjoy portraying history since I’m far too old and fat to do it in 12″:1′ scale anymore. A 1/72nd scale Fokker Dr.I or Nieuport 17 is a tiny thing, and I cannot hope to realistically portray the full scale item at scale, or even reproduce what I’ve seen others do in 1/32nd, but I can hope to avoid what “it isn’t”, within my talent and means if that makes sense.

  11. Aizowsky says:

    I think there is an overlap of people who are anal about reference photos with people who don’t read fantasy. Personally I’m mixing both to maximize fun I have from making stuff, maximum precision when building model and complete fantasy when weathering it. But that fantasy has to be believable and physically possible, stuff like rust on aluminum or cast texture on rolled steel is a no, but a fact that vehicle was a hangar queen and never saw a speck of dust? I don’t care, it’s my model and I can put it in a whatever situation I want.

    For me more important than reproducing particular object is skill in achieving desired result, squeaky clean model can be as hard to make as heavy weathered.

  12. Well, I guess that was it for this promising blog. No post for almost two months. I hope I am wrong.

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