I’ve been able to attend three IPMS USA Nationals in my long, off and on scale modeling life. As one modeler once remarked to me, attending the Nationals is like going to the World Series – with the difference being that at the modeling Nationals anyone can play. The Nationals can also be an experience either rewarding or intimidating, depending on why a person models in the first place. Disregarding all of the sturm und drang that swirls around IPMS contest rules (which seem to me to be imminently reasonable and simple) spending a few days in the company of masterful modelers and thousands of other people who also share one’s interest in this hobby is an experience that every modeler should strive to have at least once.

The quality of the contest models and the obvious effort and care expended on them must be seen to be believed. Photos, magazines, online publications, as good as they may be, can not do justice to seeing the actual thing up close. One can get a taste of this at various shows, especially in the USA at IPMS Regional competitions and large European shows. Those venues and the the Nationals are in a class by themselves. I have had the opportunity to hear a few Nationals judges discuss the deficiencies and merits of models, that to me, appeared stunningly accurate and impressive. One constant principle these judges stressed was the quality of the actual build, painting and decaling processes. It did not matter how many details the model sported, or the supposed accuracy of the paint scheme or colors (another modeling donnybrook) or the appropriateness or “accuracy” of the decals, it was how the model was made. Parts aligned. Paint and decals done neatly and without blemish. Basics. As one judge remarked, if one builds a model with many detailed parts and accessories, one takes the chance of making more basic errors in construction.

Thinking about those things I have been increasingly interested in the why of modeling as much as the how. Perhaps more so. Why do I have a few very complex models with very high parts counts that I tell myself I plan to build some day? Why do I buy 1:72 Airfix and 1:48 Tamiya armor? Why do I retain an intense interest in making a few armor models with full interiors which will remain mostly hidden once the model is done? Why is there seemingly an expanding market for scale models that offers both the simple and inexpensive kits and the more expensive large, complex, triple-digit parts count models? Why are there different political modeling parties that claim virtues for their philosophies and beliefs and denigrate and joke about others that do not? Is this just human nature? There are perhaps no firm answers to any of these questions but I find they are most interesting to explore.

Reading the online forums (forii?) and blogs it appears that a number of basic modeling philosophies, parties or camps can be identified. This categorization is solely personal and I am sure I’ve missed some, but here goes.

  • Expensive
  • Complex
  • Unnecessary
  • Small & Large
  • Easy
  • Difficult
  • Accuracy

Let me examine each of these in turn.

Expensive, Complex, Unnecessary

These categories seem to always travel in each other’s company. If a kit is complex with many parts, details and options, it is usually branded as being expensive and all that extra stuff is unnecessary. But, one has to ask, in comparison to what? Expensive, complex and unnecessary are not terms that stand on their own. They must be compared to some standard or reference to be understood. Expensive relative to a cheaper kit? Yes, but if it is also composed of more parts (complexity) for example, isn’t that a justification for increased cost? Unnecessary? To whom? For some modelers, all that detail and complexity are very necessary to achieve the result, and to enjoy the building processes the they have in mind.

Complexity is often declared to be unnecessary. Why, for example, would an armor model that has its road wheels composed of four or five parts each be unnecessarily complex compared to one with each road wheel cast complete? Why indeed? But, again, the value (deciding if something is necessary or not) is not inherent in the model itself but in the modeler who will be buying or building it. Comparing the finished road wheels from the simple and complex model may not reveal much or any difference to an observer. However, to the modeler who made them, the difference may be significant. In one instance one part is clipped, cleaned and painted. In the other a number of parts that comprise the road wheel are identified, clipped, cleaned and accurately put together to create the road wheel, much like the real thing may have been built. The modeler then has had the experience of building and understanding better the parts and processes that went into the wheel’s construction. The observer does not. To him, they are both wheels with little or no difference.

Was the complex road wheel then unnecessary? Depends on intent and purpose, and those are unique to each modeler. The unfortunate thing about this argument, and it is an argument repeated over and over in the modeling forums and blogs, is that it doesn’t matter. Trying to convince other people to accept the same values in modeling because you think they are the right values is not only fruitless but unwelcome and unnecessary.

Many modelers are more than willing to spend more for more complex kits. Witness the success of companies like Wingnut Wings, Meng, Dragon, Eduard. This is not something to be complained about but applauded. We modelers now have more kits, complex and simple, and more choices, more subjects than ever before. The market must be supporting these manufacturer’s efforts or there would be fewer, not more kits of all types on offer. And, obviously, one does not have to buy a model kit for any other reason than it pleases you.

Small and Large

It’s too small. Braille scale. Failing (ageing) eyesight. Fumble fingers.

I’ve read many comments about why some modelers are “forced” away from building small scale kits. By and large, they almost all focus on ageing, like it was some kind of inevitable curse. I read recently about one modeler who complained about his 52 year old eyes. Now, he may indeed have been suffering from vision problems, but most of these kinds of complaints just blandly assume that poor vision accompanies age, hence issues with building small scale models or handling small details. I don’t buy it. Those of us who are older, and I’m approaching seventy-five this year, usually have vision issues. I’ve had cataract surgery on both eyes, sport Bosch & Lomb plastic lens replacements in my eyes and use readers and Optivisors to model when necessary. With proper vision aids it isn’t vision but skill that determines how well a small scale model can be built. I think the same skills that enable a modeler to turn out a Nationals winner in 1:72 scale are pretty much the same skills needed for larger scale contest-winning models.

Conversely, larger scale models are avoided and criticized by some modelers on the grounds that they have too many parts, require longer build times and often fall into the “unnecessary” category. These are just different examples of the beliefs, values and reasons why individual people build scale models. If you are one who likes a quick build, with few parts and interesting painting schemes, then of course, a large scale model won’t be appealing to you. That does not make them unnecessary or less worthy.

Easy & Difficult

Let’s break this down. Is it easier to decal and paint a cockpit on a 1:48 scale modern jet than it is to rig the wings on a Wingnut Wings Sopwith Camel? Is it easier to put together the tracks on a 1:48 scale Tamiya Panzer IV than to prepare and install the photo etch railing on a Fujimi 1:700 scale cruiser?

These are all fairly repetitive chores that are well within the capabilities of most modelers. A certain amount of skill and care are required as well as the ability to perform similar tasks repeatedly with due care. Such tasks may become boring and repetitive but they are certainly not difficult. In order to do them successfully and neatly requires that one do them a number of times. The first time one attempts to rig a WWI biplane he can count on it being a strange and somewhat daunting task. After working through it one learns that it isn’t all that difficult but just repetitive. The second model rigged goes a lot faster and probably neater having learned from mistakes made the first time around.

I would guess that most of the modeling tasks that are called difficult are instead more alien to the modeler than difficult. I think my view is supported by the big market in books, magazines, DVDs and similar instructional materials offered and bought by modelers who want to know, “How do they do that?” I’m sure there is something out there that will explain it to you. But, in order to actually understand it, you have to do it. More than once.

I think some complex models are viable and even enjoyable due to the fact that they are often seen as a number of smaller and more simple models that are later brought together to create one complex model. But, for modelers who have an eye to getting it done and then moving on to the next one, the complex kit is not attractive. Fine, but don’t complain about the model or the manufacturer inflicting complexity into modeling. Build to the complexity level that pleases you.

Accuracy

This is a big one. You’ll see the accuracy police pop up everywhere in modeling conversations, blogs and forums. The ensuing arguments offer a certain entertainment value but they rapidly become a collection of echo chambers bashing one another endlessly.

Accuracy in scale modeling is usually a misunderstood concept. In a rough way it does serve as a guideline for assessing a scale model kit. If a modeler wants a decent representation of a certain thing, call it the prototype, a reasonable standard of fidelity to the original is necessary. Basically, the model should bear a strong resemblance to the prototype. But, being a scaled down object, absolute fidelity (accuracy) is obviously not possible. Think about it. Could a 1:72 scale aircraft incorporate in one inch all of the features present in 72 inches of the original? How about featuring all of the attributes of a formula one car’s 12 inches in 1 inch of plastic? Not possible. Or desirable for that matter. Compromises must be made in order to achieve reasonable levels of accuracy in a plastic scale model that must meet sane price points in the marketplace.

However, many modelers appreciate and strive for high levels of accuracy in their builds. They make or buy various details to enhance the appearance of accuracy. They spend much time and thought over arcane topics like the appropriate kinds of weathering that can more accurately be applied to a model that existed in a certain time and theatre of operations. They research what modifications were applied to which prototypes and when. They are often unjustly derided for this. Some examples:

I do appreciate the attention to details but what’s the point if all the bits will later be tucked under the chassis or hidden deep inside the engine, never to be seen again?”

“there is no reason to have tons of multi part assemblies that can’t ever be seen.”

“I enjoy the level of detail but can’t fathom why kits are made so complex when most of the detail will be hidden. Minute PE parts frighten me off models.

These statements are true for the people who made them, but they don’t apply to modelers who not only appreciate increased accuracy of their subjects, but actually enjoy the process of achieving that. For them, the research, acquisition or making of details that are to be used to increase the accuracy (and we are also speaking of historical accuracy not just the right part in the right place) is a fundamental and enjoyable part of modeling. I suspect many anti-accuracy complainers do not understand this.

Some darker thoughts have been advanced questioning the dire effects that complex, detailed models may have on the modeling industry: “But at what cost? With every passing day, the kits that are offered are more complex, more difficult to build and more expensive. Those impressive packages that you see on model shop shelves, the ones with 65 runners, they have to be paid for and as result, the more expensive the kits are, the less modellers buy them and the small market that exists to prop up these sales, shrinks.”

The person who wrote this, Spencer Pollard, is by any standard, one of the top modelers working today. Although employed in the hobby, he has always had a well balanced view of modeling activities and purposes, but I think he has put a foot too far down the road to ruin with this statement. What he is saying is that complex kits are more expensive to make than simpler kits. Expensive and complex kits scare modelers off so they don’t sell well and the market is small and fragile enough that this may seriously hurt and diminish it.

I don’t buy it. Complex kits have been on offer for more than a decade and the hobby certainly does not appear to be in trouble. More new, different, complex and finely detailed kits keep arriving on a daily basis. Just check “What’s New” on Hyperscale or Missing-Lynx regularly and you’ll see what I mean.

When accuracy wars do erupt they appear to be based more on the desire to show who  knows the most about the subject under fire. It is a fight for modeling knowledge superiority. Even when a kit may indeed suffer from scale deficiencies and these are understood and acknowledged, some accuracy obsessed modelers will declare the kit to be “fatal”, “unbuildable” and demand it be fixed or removed from the market. Interesting and a bit pathetic, but there it is. Self appointed arbiters of modeling acceptability.

The slope is slippery indeed. Once arguments over the accuracy of color begin, just read it like it’s Monty Python, or move on to something else. These fights circle the drain forever.

What I think all of these “schools” or philosophies miss is that scale modeling is a human activity that derives its value from the people who engage in it, not from the models, the market, or the designers. It is not one activity but many. It is an activity that encompasses both the desire and skills necessary to build a model but in most instances it is an activity that is invested in an intense interest in the history represented by the models one chooses to build. It is a personal participation in creating something with one’s hands and in participating in and appreciating history.

In the end, modeling, like stamp collecting or dog showing is a personal activity adopted by people who, for their own reasons, like doing what they do. It’s a broad spectrum of modelers out there. It ranges from people who like to model a particular period or era, a certain type of model like WWII or modern armor, WWI air, sea or land, Cold War Jets, submarines, figures, dioramas that tell stories of interest to them, Ferrari F1 cars, motorcycles, Valentino’s winning MotoGP bikes, science fiction creatures and ships, Nelson’s Navy. The list is almost endless I guess.

As one modeler wrote in a comment to Spencer Pollard’s blog entry on complexity, sums up what I might call the well rounded modeler:

I love construction and the challenge of adding details. I also don’t find it a “distraction” from painting and finishing, which I also love. I’d suggest that for those modelers who don’t have the time (or don’t want to spend it building), have trouble seeing and handing small parts, or who lack the “energy” (motivation?), select kits that are more in keeping with your own hobby goals and desires. It’s unreasonable for you to expect (demand?) that EVERY kit made has be dumbed down to your personal skill level and desired amount of effort. There are plenty of easy kits out there for you.

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