HG Zaku Complete

Every year I attend the local IPMS model show, Granitecon. When possible I like to have something new to show there, so I’ve been working to finish up the HG Zaku in time for the show. Since the model was painted and the decals were on, it was mostly a matter of finishing steps – but there were some complications along the way as well. As usual, the work came right down to the wire, but in the end I think it turned out pretty well. Due to the hectic pace of the finishing work, I didn’t document much of it along the way.

When using decals, I like to make an effort to blend them in to the surface of the model as well as I can by applying numerous clear gloss coats on top of the decals, and then sanding the gloss coat down to erase the ridge of the decal’s edge. In previous projects this process has been somewhat unreliable: if I sand down too much, I risk damaging the decal itself. Not enough, and the decal’s edge remains visible. I have not yet been entirely successful with this technique.
Unfortunately, this time around, I did some fairly serious damage to the decals on the shield. As I sanded down the gloss topcoats, I wound up taking off the Zaku Lady’s left arm before I realized what was going on.

For the decal to come off in chunks like this means it’s not adequately secured to the model in the first place. This could mean that there was air under the decal, or that the gloss coat it’s sitting on top of didn’t cure properly. I’m not really sure what happened.
I considered my options: I could attempt to remove the rest of the Zaku Lady and then replace her with another copy of the marking, or I could cut out just the arm that I needed and apply that. With the limited amount of time available, I chose the latter option. I briefly entertained a third option as well: make the shield appear damaged in the area of the Zaku Lady’s arm… But that’s really not my style.
Unfortunately, when positioning the replacement arm, it folded on itself and attempts to straighten it out failed, and I had no more spare Zaku Ladies in 1:144. So in the end I wound up applying the left arm from another marking, the “Fairy Heart” design. The new arm doesn’t entirely match the Zaku Lady design (there’s no whip or forearm brace) but at least she’s no longer missing an arm. So on the shield, at least, the whole decal-sanding thing royally backfired: the damaged areas of the Zaku Lady decal are more uneven now than before I sanded them, and the design is no longer quite what it should be.
On the rest of the model, the decal sanding worked out pretty well. The only other noticeable damage was to the red stripes on the hand, which were discolored in a few spots. However, it also didn’t entirely erase the decal boundaries either.
Apart from the decals, I also wanted to do a panel line wash and a filter, and I still needed to finish up the electronics (power source, mainly) to light the eye.
My panel line washes tend to be a bit on the sloppy side, especially on a kit like this that has kind of soft detail to begin with. Techniques for cleaning up a wash rely on either scrubbing away the excess paint, or wiping it away with paint thinner. Either method really requires that the underlying clear coat be cured to a tough finish so it isn’t removed along with the wash, but with the timing I was worried that the clear coat would be too easily damaged… To avoid more possible catastrophies I decided, instead of using an oil wash and cleaning the excess with thinner, to use an acrylic wash and wipe it away. The end result was a bit inconsistent, and with some leftover wash in places I didn’t want it and some panel lines without as much color as I would have liked. I also worried that the panel effect might be too stark…
For similar reasons, I decided I needed to skip the filter at present. Earlier in this project I tried a filter and wound up lifting the paint coats off the model. Given the minimal amount of time the clear coats would have to dry, I wasn’t at all confident that the clear coats would be able to protect the lower layers of paint from exposure to the thinner used in the filter, and I was running out of time anyway.
Working out the power source for the model was a challenge, as it’s really not something I’d given much thought to in earlier stages of the build. When I built the HGUC Zaku last year, I had arranged to hide a 20mm coin cell in the hips, and that was all installed and wired up before I started painting. But I was worried that putting a battery in the hips would weaken the hip joints, so I decided not to go that route this time. I started painting this project without a clear plan for how to power its LED. All I had to work with was a couple wires coming out of the head, and a hole in the torso (hidden under the backpack) to allow me to access the model’s internals for wiring. I considered running a wire up the leg and installing a battery pack in the base, but I didn’t get around to making a base, so my only option would have been to use the Kotobukiya Chain Base which I set up with a AA battery pack for my Armored Core build.
I tossed around a few ideas, and ultimately decided to make a simple battery holder for a smaller button cell (the LR44). The battery holder is pretty rudimentary – just a couple bent strips of brass to hold tension on the cell and make contact, and a bit of styrene in between to insulate the two strips from one another. Since I didn’t have a fresh LR44 to test with, I shaped the holder around a dead one, and tested the wiring by making contact with another button cell.
Once the last flat coat was on, I had to deal with a few other finishing steps: removing the masks on the visor and assembling things mostly. I ran into a few problems here, as well: when I removed the eye visor masks, for instance, it peeled up some paint from the edges of the head near the visor as well. Probably the thing to do there is to use a knife to separate the paint on the mask from the paint on the head prior to removing the mask. The damage was pretty minimal, though, so I mostly left it alone. In reassembly a few areas gave me trouble: it was difficult to reattach the knee joints to the upper legs and plug the head cables into the head, because the layers of paint and clear had made the parts thicker. The snout developed a small crack on the left side when the left head cable was plugged back in, and there were paint scraping issues when reassembling the upper legs. The snout vent (which I had replaced with a separate part, to avoid having to deal with the kit’s awkward seam down the middle of the snout) posed similar problems when I put it back into the snout. Some of these issues have made me rethink the whole question of whether it’s better to separate parts for easier painting, or assemble them and then mask the color boundaries. Masking might really be better in the end if the alternative is a tight parts fit that results in cracked assemblies or scraped-off paint.
So I took care of all that stuff, strung the beads back onto their “power cable” springs, and put the thing together. I tried posing the left arm, and the shoulder armor ran into the torso and immediately scraped off a chunk of paint from the edge of the chest block… I spot-painted it and vowed to pose the thing as little as possible until all the paint had had a good long while to cure. I handled it with gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints in the still-soft clear coats, and I made it to Granitecon around 20 minutes before the entry deadline, filled out the forms, installed the battery I’d picked up on the way there, and the Zaku was open for business.
I didn’t feel like I was going to place this time – there was all this stuff that had gone wrong, and all this stuff I had wanted to do with the kit (such as weathering and scenery) that had to be left out. It felt rather minimalist and the fluorescent lighting in the exhibition hall was not flattering for the model’s green paint scheme. But I was glad to have got the model finished and showable. I don’t feel it’s my best work, but good enough that I was happy to show it. I would have been really unhappy if I hadn’t had something to show… Missing a deadline and having nothing to put on display just gets depressing.
I was curious about what would be likely to win, so I took a look at the other sci-fi entries. I wasn’t really in the mood to take a lot of photos, so I didn’t.
The first was a Star Wars speeder bike that had been modified to be a “Hoth Model” – it had a little “heating unit” added to it and some improved detail. Overall it was one of my favorites.
Next was a Vorlon fighter built from a resin kit. It seemed like a good build, but the “mottled” paint scheme came out pretty speckly. From speaking with the modeler it sounded like it was probably a problem of a damaged needle or nozzle in the airbrush.
Third was a landing pod from Lost in Space. This build had extensive lighting, but I felt the finish was a bit lacking in places. Specifically, the color boundaries tended to be a bit sloppy, and some parts were (I believe) still showing parting lines from the molding process.
Then there was an eggplane. I forgot what real plane it was designed to resemble. It seemed like a decent build but I honestly didn’t look at it too closely.
There was a Cylon Raider, Viper Mk.VII, and Galactica from the 2004 Galactica series – these builds all struck me as sort of a mixed bag, some good work and a few shortcomings or glaring flaws. The Galactica, for instance, had some seams showing (to be fair, with all that “ribbing” detail it would be a lot of work to really clean up the seam lines properly). The Viper had some nice work done on the cockpit, but the fighter’s exterior was done with lots of fairly crude weathering effects. (It looked like it had been painted silver, then ghost gray – and then hit with sandpaper to grind away the ghost gray and show the silver – except that in some places it was showing bare plastic instead.) The Viper was also mounted on a mirror display base, which I think was a poor presentation choice, since there was very little to see down there. The landing gear bays were open, and the mirror gave a clear view of how devoid of detail the bays were… I didn’t get too good a look at the Cylon Raider, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have the Larson Scanner eye.
Then there was a Cylon Raider from the original Battlestar Galactica. This struck me as a good build, possibly the best decal work in the category, etc. – but there were some seam issues around the fighter’s perimeter.
Finally, there was a TR-2 from Thunderbirds. It didn’t interest me much so I didn’t look too closely.
I was also curious to see builds in other categories. Specifically I wanted to see if anyone had done some really good decal work. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with most of what I saw. There were a lot of silvered decals, uncut decals bridging panel lines, and decals that had noticeably different reflectivity than their surroundings. There were maybe one or two builds where I really had to make an effort to spot the decal edge. But honestly, I think the best decal work I found in the other categories was about on par with the portions of my Zaku that I hadn’t messed up. I was expecting some fine decal work in the auto category, at least, but in fact the auto guys seemed to have been the worst offenders in terms of decal issues. The tanks and ships weren’t much better.
As usual for Granitecon, it took a long while to wait for the judging results. The show was supposed to end at 4, but they didn’t start announcing results until around 4, and sci-fi is always one of the last ones they announce. In the end I was pleasantly surprised. I came in second. If I remember correctly, the Cylon Raider got third (don’t know which Cylon Raider, though.) and the Viper got first. Or maybe it was the other way around…? Anyway, it was a nice surprise. While I was pretty critical of the flaws in other entrants’ work, I’m very critical of my own work as well. It was a nice treat to have my work recognized, especially after the knock-down, drag-out battle that it took to get it ready to show.

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