Friday, February 27, 2015

He's Not Really Gone, As Long As We Remember Him....

It's a very sad day for anyone who has ever called themselves a Star Trek Fan, as we learned this morning of the passing of Leonard Nimoy, at age 83.  While he was best known for his iconic portrayal of "Mr. Spock" in the original "Star Trek" TV series, eight later films, and a guest appearance on "Star Trek: The Next Generation", he was also an accomplished film director, teacher and photographer.  He will be missed...

New York Times

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Runabout Run Around

I have always been drawn to the real artistry of the Star Trek models from Dutch designer, Ninjatoes.  While some people I know have been critical of his hand-drawn approach, which can be frustrating, as it makes assembling his models more difficult, I've been able to look beyond that and appreciate the thought that goes into engineering his model designs.  That's what led me to create my own version of his Danube-class Runabout, the USS Rubicon, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. 

Early Cockpit with hard angled profile
Once I had built his original, I felt that Ninjatoes' basic design was worth the time and effort it would take to turn it into a really accurate version of the studio model.  I began working on parts based on the build sequence for the original model, so the forward cockpit section came first.  Changes here included correcting the overall shape, adding panel lines and creating a short, vertical, center section where the ship name goes and where the phaser/RCS thruster module mounts.  
Revised cockpit with smoother profile

Later in the project, I realized that I really didn't care for the abrupt angle of the bow above the forward ports, so I revised the cockpit with a much smoother transition above the main windows, which were made a bit smaller.  I also rearranged a few surface details, added a few missing bits, finished the cockpit's panel lines and corrected the placement of the forward registry number.

Underside of cockpit

Underneath the cockpit, the photon torpedo launcher/ front landing pad was shortened and got new detailing, as did the area behind it.  To add depth to the surface details, I utilized multiple shades of each base hue to emphasize details and heighten the illusion of shadowing on the flat surfaces. At the rear of the cockpit, the "wing" of the phaser module was reshaped, I added the details of an RCS thruster and added changed the ribbed look of the thin section between the cockpit and the ship's center section to look more prototypical.

Ninjatoes' original design integrated the wing/engine pods into the center section of the model, requiring a rather complicated build sequence.

Wanting to make final assembly easier, I decided to modify these 
parts, enlarging the impulse engines and adding new surface details while redesigning the wings and engines so that they could be added as separate parts.  The changes resulted in an assembly much closer to Rick Sternbach's original design for the ship.

In shaping the wings, I took one of my AMT plastic runabout kits out of mothballs for use as a reference.  The wing's leading edge doesn't look like it would be difficult to design once it's built, but the math involved made it a challenge, and as difficult as the leading edge was, the trailing edge was ten times worse.  The runabout wing is a complex shape for a paper modeler, especially for a Luddite like me, that works without 3D modeling software.  It has complex curves from just about any angle, and a mistake in any one of them has a negative effect on the whole part.  While my finished part isn't a perfect replica of the studio model's wing, I think it's as close as you'll ever find without building one in CG.  That one small part of the model consumed a lot of time and energy, and caused a LOT of frustration, but by the time I was done with it, I knew that my skills as a model designer had taken a big leap forward. 

Revised Warp Reactor
After the wings, I needed something simpler to focus on, so I started on the warp reactor on top of the fuselage.  I replaced the original model's stacked rings with a cone shape, and changed the sides to taper inward as well as down to get closer to the look of the studio model.  I also added the boxes at the sides of the reactor, which had been flat and indistinct on the original version. The rear section of the fuselage was a fairly simple shape, so I was able to have some fun greebling the surfaces and experimenting with texturing by creating layered details.

Close-up of layered surface details
Once that was done, I moved on to the warp engines. During the design and test building, I was asked by another modeler if I had rounded off the bussard collectors on the warp engines, as Ninjatoes' original design had a sharp corner at the top and bottom edges of the bussards.  The simple answer was no, I did not.  I played with the idea quite a bit, and looked at Paragon's repaint of the runabout, where he had eased the corner with a multi-pieced bussard, but I had a really hard time building his version.  The problem with rounding the bussard is that the shape of the prototype is a tight, flattened sphere that fades into a rectangle where it meets the hull plating.  Even if I worked in CAD or a 3D modeling program to design it, the actual parts would be horrendous to build.  In the end, my own version of the bussard uses Ninjatoes' squared edges, but with corrections to the shape and a few changes to the assembly of the forward ends of the warp engines, which make the hard edges stand out a bit less.  

Revised Fuselage Clamping Strap.
Getting down to the smaller details, I decided to tackle the clamping straps on the sides of the fuselage.  On Ninjatoes' original version, these were just two layers thick, with a tapered box shape at the top. To achieve a more prototypical appearance, I changed this to a three part assembly, separating the anchor points from the strap, and giving the whole part some depth.  The result is a part that looks good, and has some real heft to it at full size, but is still so thin that I can't imagine building it as is in a smaller scale.  How modelers like Mick Muller and Loenf built these at half scale for their builds of the finished model still baffles me. 

A few of the "unsuccessful" test builds...
As the redesign progressed, I was constantly building and rebuilding the different sections of the model, as each new change had to be tested for the best fit.  So much so that the collected test builds of all these different sections filled a large bankers box by the time I finished the project.  Modeling the clamping strap and the warp engines revealed an issue that required reworking every section of the model I'd already designed.  Up to this point, all of the larger assemblies had attached to the upper parts of the hull, but checking the fuselage against the original, and against the AMT plastic kit, showed that my version was "pot-bellied".  It was a bit over an 1/8th of an inch too deep in the lower sections, so I had to put everything on a diet, and whittle it down.  This was important for the final fit of the warp engines, and for the clamping straps.  It took the better part of a day to redo all of the skins and the inner supports.  It also required me to build another new fuselage for test fitting the final parts.

Sometimes, things just DON'T work out...
Building and test fitting parts during the design phase was important both for correct fit and for developing the best assembly sequences. Some sequences resulted in the parts warping out of shape, others left glue points inaccessible.  So, I did what I wish all paper model designers would do, I built the same section over and over, dry-fitting, then gluing, until I found a sequence that resulted in a finished part that was straight and had no gaps or other tweaks that would show on the finished model.  Through the process, I was able to identify and correct problem areas, move a couple of glue tabs, and reshape a couple of bits.  

Early test of the unfinished Sensor Pod
One aspect of my original goal for this project was to design a sensor pod, as was seen on one of the original ships on-screen.  Unfortunately, I just didn't have the math skills at the time to design a finished pod that I was happy with, so I shelved it so I could move on with the rest of the model, but it's still something I intend to finish.

The finished model, including all of the different registries, is 33 pages, and includes parts for either a simple or a more detailed model.  The size of the model, and the scope of the project was a real challenge, and looking back at that time, when my wife and I were both dealing with job issues, losing our home to foreclosure, and a serious health crisis for my mother-in-law, I sometimes wonder why on earth I was wasting my time with such a large, time-consuming project, but then too, I realize that having this to focus on during all of that drama really helped me deal with the strain I was under back then.

Finished model and photo by Micky Muller
Response to the model after its initial release was impressive, flattering even.  A lot of the attention the runabout has gotten was due to an absolutely mind-blowing pair of builds, both by German modelers, the first from Micky Muller and another by a modeler who goes by the name "Loenf".  Thanks to their work, The project received a lot of notice from some very serious folks in both the modeling community.  It was also very flattering to have my work being talked about by from the people who had created the studio models for the Star Trek TV shows, and gave me an opportunity to get to know some of the artists, like Rob Bonchune, Doug Drexler, Rick Sternbach, and John Eaves whose work I had been a fan of for years.  
Finished model and photo by Loenf

I hope that you'll like it, too.  You can download it here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Perhaps It IS A Good Day to Die!

Next up is a non-canon Trek ship, originally designed by Conrad Mitchell. Designed to fit, size-wise, into the Klingon fleet somewhere between the movie version of the Bird-of-Prey and a small cruiser, the ship retains the smaller ship's ability to land on a planet's surface, while being big enough to utilize and carry a pair of shuttlecraft.  

Original model by Conrad Mitchell
Ever since I first downloaded the original version of this model, I've enjoyed the finished look achieved by what is really a rather simple model, and I liked the way it was thought out, the design builds easily, with interior reinforcing as if the model itself were made to take abuse.  I also like how well it fits into the established design aesthetic so that it's instantly recognizable as Klingon, even if it's not of of the ten Klingon ship classes used on screen.

Updated model by Paul McCool
The biggest shortcoming of the original model was the low resolution of the original art, as it was only an 832 x 1268 bitmap in six colors, so the surface detail was fairly rudimentary. Another drawback was the overly complex construction of the warp engines, which, at least for me, required three or four attempts to get a serviceable pair.  With these two issues identified, I made correcting them the ultimate goal in my updating the model.

I enlarged the images by 270%, allowing for a resolution of 300 d.p.i. which enabled me to improve the level of surface detail, and soften some of the blockiness of the original.  While I kept to the same basic hues that Conrad had used, I did add several different shades of each to add a bit more depth.  The higher resolution also allowed me to add finer details that were absent on the original, such as running lights and even a tiny little Klingon in a window.

View of original, removable shuttle bay.
Aside from the engines, I had to make a few changes to the structure of the model where the neck attaches to the engineering hull, and the construction of the shuttle bay.  On the original model, the hangar was designed to be a separate assembly which could slide out of the rest of the model, turned 180 degrees, and slid back in, to depict the shuttle bay as either open or closed.  It was a neat idea, but it made the stern of the ship look clunky, so in my repaint, I replaced the slide out hangar with a fixed assembly which could be modeled as an open bay by cutting out the doors.

Revised shuttle bay assembly
The shuttles got an updated look as well, as I used a design I had been playing with for a Star Fleet shuttle and painted them green.

The revised engines are more faceted than the originals, but they build up easier, and still look pretty good on the finished model.

The last big change for the model was a "stealth" version, in black, done at the request of someone on the forums at

The models, and instructions can be downloaded here:


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Now We're Cookin'!

I'm going to pause from my usual fare for a bit, and introduce something I've never really released before.  It was born a few years ago, when I needed a break from old cars and Star Trek models, and was really wanting a fast, simple project to shift my view. What caught my fancy was a post on a cooking blog about an old, 1940's era, kitchen stove.  

The writer had been given a small, apartment-sized, Wedgewood range, that was basically just four gas burners and an oven, but it was a cool bit of kitchenalia that seemed just right for my purpose.
Wedgewoods were the Cadillac of kitchen ranges in the '40's and '50's, and even today are highly sought after by collectors and fans of Mid-Century architecture, who appreciate the products of a time when even kitchen appliances were designed with style.  While the models aren't perfect replicas of their full-sized prototypes, I think they do a good job of capturing the look and feel of the real thing. 

The finished models...

Wedgewood 40-Inch Home Model

You Think You Hate It Now, But Wait...

Fan-Built Replica of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in
"Showroom New Condition"
The model of the Family Truckster came about while I was looking for a new, Non-Star Trek, model project after finishing the Chaffee.  As I was only starting to learn the mathematics involved with creating models from scratch, I needed a simple shape, and began looking at the boxy cars of the 70's and '80's. When I realized that no model of the Family Truckster, from the 1983 movie, "National Lampoon's Vacation", had ever been done before, in paper, plastic, or resin, I decided that it was going to be my first all-original paper model. 

From this...
Designed as a complete joke, the Truckster was a rolling condemnation of the auto industry of the time.  The Big Three's hot sellers in the early-'80's were the Chrysler K-Car, the Chevrolet Citation, and Ford's mid-sized LTD, worst of all, 1983 saw the birth of the minivan.  Today, these cars are all pretty much regarded as big steamy piles of bad design and poor build quality, so the Truckster fit right in.  It was loaded with bad design ideas. from its hideous fake wood paneling and "Metallic Pea" paint, to ridiculously having eight headlights, the car was so ugly it was funny. 
To this...
Five cars, all based on '78 to '81 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagons, were built for the movie. All of these were used in the opening scenes at "Lou Glatz Motors" where Eugene Levy uttered that famous line, "You think you hate it now, but wait 'til you drive it.", but none of the original cars have survived as they were either destroyed during filming or crushed after the film was completed.  For "Hotel Hell Vacation" a 2010 short film based on the original movie, a fan-built Truckster replica was used. 

To this...
The Truckster was first shown in the film as a brand new car, absolutely showroom fresh, but which, over the next ninety-odd minutes, is slowly transformed into a rolling junkyard.  

To THIS...
Depicting the feeling of that ongoing destruction was something I really wanted to capture with my model, so I decided early on to design the model so that it could be build in most of the different levels of damage shown in the movie. 

Optional parts include wheels with the factory hub caps  a second set of grey steel wheels without caps in two levels of detail, and a second passenger-side panel with the "Honky Lips" graffiti added.  The front-end damage can be done by omitting the front bumper.

The other "must have" for the model was Aunt Edna.  In the movie, Imogene Coca's character dies in the middle of the family's road trip, and when the kids refuse to ride with a dead body in the back seat, the scene cuts to a shot of her sitting up on the roof of the car with the luggage, and covered, rather irreverently, with an old tarpaulin.   I wanted to include a representation of the crotchety old lady , without being too gruesome, so the finished assembly for "Aunt Edna" is a bit abstract, but still recognizable to folks who have seen the movie.  

The model, as originally released, had suffered from a couple of issues which adversely affected the fit of the body on the chassis, and I've taken the opportunity while converting it to a .pdf format to fix these.  I've also condensed the parts on the pages a bit dropping it to five pages instead of seven, and went a step further by doing a smaller 1/50 scale version, as well.  

Test build of the small scale Family Truckster with "Aunt Edna"
You can download the model by following the links, below.  

1/25 Family Truckster

1/50 Family Truckster

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chaffee-- The "Cigarette Boat" Shuttle

The Chaffee shuttlecraft was designed for the 6th Season episode of "Deep Space Nine" titled "The Sound of Her Voice", where in the crew of the starship Defiant used the small vessel in attempting to rescue a sole-survivor from a hostile planet.  When it came time to film the episode, the production staff had originally planned to use the physical model of the Type-18 shuttlecraft which had been used earlier in the series, but a problem arose when that shooting model came up missing, either stolen of lost from storage.  With time of the essence, Doug Drexler, an Academy-Award winning make-up artist who had transitioned into the DS9 Art Department was tasked with designing an completely new shuttlecraft for the episode.  Part of Doug's approach to his design, was to integrate the shielded warp engine design of the Defiant into the new shuttle, just as Matt Jefferies had done with the Galileo shuttle on the original Star Trek series.  The name of the vessel came about when Doug had added it to one of his early sketches, and someone made a snarky comment to the effect of "What did you do, name it after your girlfriend?"  Executive Producer, Rick Berman heard the remark, and said "Roger Chaffee was an Apollo 1 astronaut who died for his country.  Approved!"

Image Copyright- Doug Drexler  Used with permisson
Image Copyright- Doug Drexler  Used with permission
Once the design had been OK'd by the producers, Doug fleshed it out and sent it to Brandon MacDougal at Foundation Imaging for final CGI rendering and compositing into the final effects shots for the episode. Sadly, the Chaffee, later assigned the designation "Type-10 Shuttle", was only ever seen in the one episode, but she has since become a fan favorite through her appearances in the Ships of the Line calendar series, and Doug Drexler has used her on a number of cover art illustrations for the Penguin Books Trek-based novels.

Being such a limited subject, it's no real surprise that the Chaffee was never offered in model kit form, aside from a couple of garage resin kits, which is why I was so excited to find a paper model version offered by a Dutch designer called "Ninjatoes".  'Toes version was really more art than a true model, though, as it wasn't entirely accurate in shape, and the surface details were all hand-drawn and tinted with watercolors.  While it was a beautiful thing, I was looking for something a bit more detailed, but nothing else existed, so I set out to convert Ninjatoes' model into more accurate, prototypical version, and I soon found out why no one else had tackled it before.

At that time, there weren't many images of the Chaffee available online.  In fact, Ninjatoes had done his model with just two references, neither of which showed any detail at all of the aft end of the thing.  Even the Star Trek fan sites had only a couple of photos to choose from. So I fairly quickly reached a point where I couldn't move forward without a better reference to the complete subject.

Image Copyright- Doug Drexler  Used with permission
Fortunately, I found Doug's blog, The Drex Files, (sadly, now off-line).  Doug had several photos of the Chaffee, including illustrations of what it looked like in its shuttlebay, and that most holy of grails, a rear view. 
Image Copyright- Doug Drexler  Used with permission

 Based on these photos, I was finally able to complete the model at a decent level of detail, but again, being an fairly new to the idea of paper model design at the time, I was still not working to the same degree that I'm at now, five years later, and I'm looking forward to eventually updating it as a possible companion ship to my Danube-class Runabout, as I seem to tinker with it every year or so.  Among the changes I've made since releasing the original, are three different versions of the "Type-10".  A "Borg Assimilated" version, named Grissom, bears the registry of the U.S.S. Kyushu, one of the ships seen destroyed at the Battle of Wolf 359 in the TNG episode "Best of Both Worlds, Pt 2", and a second variation includes Med-Evac markings inspired by John Eaves' concept sketches for the 2009 film, "Star Trek".  The third variation is named McCool, not for myself, but rather for William F. McCool, of the ill-fated final mission of space shuttle Columbia.  The McCool carries the registry of the U.S.S. Sao Paolo, which was the original name of the second U.S.S. Defiant.  I've also added a small scale version of the Chaffee, as well...

You can download the models by following these links:

Chaffee Shuttlecraft

Chaffee Shuttlecraft- Small Scale

Grissom - Borg Assimilated

Type-10 Med-Evac Shuttle

McCool Shuttlecraft

A lot of the credit for the finished product belongs to Ninjatoes, whose original design is still an obvious part of my work, and without which, I would never have started this project.

Completed model and related photos are by Joshua Hughes.  Thanks, Josh, for a great test-build!

Ninjatoes original model can be found at his site:

Friday, February 13, 2015

All Aboard!

What was true for my first post, four years ago, still works today, so here's my first model, touched up a bit, and in a new format, but the same basic model as originally designed in 2009.  

The small railroad station this model is based on had once stood across the street from the school where I attended 3rd grade in Olive, CA.  The station at Olive was built by the Santa Fe railroad in 1931 to serve as a passenger station and freight depot for the surrounding citrus industry.  After Santa Fe closed the station the building served as the Olive Post Office, until it was closed and demolished in 1964.  By the time my family had moved to the area, no trace of the old station existed, so finding photographs of the building, in a book I bought for another project was a big surprise.  Even better, the book included the building's dimensions, so I had what I needed to recreate it in scale.  

Being my first effort, I hadn't really gotten comfortable with working with higher levels of detail, so the model is pretty basic, but not bad for a model that took two days to design. Once I get a few more projects caught up, expect a newer, better-executed version of this one.

You can download a .pdf version of the file here: AT&SF Depot, Olive, CA

One final note on this topic, the assembled model in these photos was built by the late John Freeman.  John was an excellent modeler, who was always willing to help with a problem, test-build a model, or answer a question.  His input was invaluable in the creation of this model.