Archive for the ‘model kits’ Category

Building a tiny Japanese town – step by step

Day One
After picking up a 40″ x 20″ sheet of chipboard earlier in the day, I began the hard work of planning out my first proper diorama. As you’ll see from reading on, this was the fun and relaxing part of this process, but it still offered a fair amount of challenges. I’ve collected all my buildings haphazardly with no plan for this diorama. That means I have to make everything fit.

For inspiration, I spent a while looking at Google Earth images of Japanese towns. First thing I noticed: almost no grids. Streets flow in every direction, like someone threw spaghetti at Japan. So I abandoned my original plan and instead put a train track angling right through the diorama, forcing streets to change course. To make the layout assembly easier, I marked all the building and track locations in pencil.

I think what I have envisioned, although not a replica of any exact place in Japan, will serve my giant monsters and robots well as I’ve tried to leave lots of empty space. But trying to plan for how all the street markings and signs will line up, that has me a little nervous…

Day Two
Today was pretty straightforward – painting the asphalt. I had practiced on the backside of the board and discovered that if I first did a coat of grey acrylic paint, it would help to seal the chipboard and create a more even surface.

For the asphalt, I used Woodland Scenics Top Coat. Lovely stuff that goes on smoothly and evenly. And since the grass and buildings should cover the edges, I didn’t have to be too careful. Hopefully…

Day Three
Today was all about grass and tracks. Fun but very, very nerve wracking. Again, I had practiced a little on the underside of the board, but large areas are another matter.

The grass, more Woodland Scenics stuff, goes in layers, each separated by a mist spray of Scenic Cement. It’s tricky, trying to add just the right amounts of “burnt undergrowth”, “weeds” and “grass” but also kinda fun playing God.

The tracks presented their own challenge. I had originally planned to attach them to the board with putty, so I could reuse them later. Unfortunately, the putty doesn’t hold that strongly, and the ballast didn’t fully cover it, leaving nasty white blobs every track length. So I’ve gone with Super Glue. At least nothing should shift. Ballasting the tracks was fun, spilling piles onto the tracks and then dry brushing it all just how I like it…

Day Four
Placing the buildings is the beginning of the hard work of figuring out the details, like which ways will the streets run and do those make sense – ok, I know no one will actually drive through this town, but I just like knowing that if I was shrunk to 150th my size, I could actually live here.

I’ve decided to only putty a few of the buildings down to the asphalt so that I can move the other ones around as I sticker on the road markings and start erecting sign posts and such…

Day Five and Six and Seven and…
I have new-found respect for city planners. Even though my town’s layout is tiny and contained, it has taken me hours and hours to figure out not only how traffic will flow, but how to sign it. I’ve even had to re-arrange some of my buildings so that traffic moves in a logical way. Plus, there’s the fact that they drive on the left in Japan, giving my brain an extra workout flipping everything “backwards”.

I’ve also spent countless hours so carefully studying Japanese road markings on Google Maps that I am convinced I could pass a driver’s test in Tokyo.

But there is still so much work to do that I will have to blog about it all later, when I have time to actually finish this town properly. I still have to put up more road signs, telephone polls, traffic lights, lamp posts, commercial signs, catenary polls, electrical towers, trees and so on and so on.

It’s going to take far more time than I had planned, but my god, it’s going to be beautiful…


Store spotlight: Aura Model Shop

I walked past a fellow co-worker and otaku the other day and his eyes widened as he said “dude, you HAVE to check out this new toy store I found!” He had just been to the recently opened AMC Theatre at Toronto’s Dundas Square and there, at the top of the escalator, bathed in sunlight, was the “Aura Model Shop.”

Very few stores just happen to pop up in my neck of the woods that cater to otaku, so that very day – I could barely wait until 5 o’clock – I visited the shop that is mere minutes from my condo. It was like coming home.

Aura, although somewhat small, has a remarkably large selection for the model kit maker. There are hundreds and hundreds of Gundams and a good selection of models from other well known anime, like Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell. There are also cars and helicopters, but those interest me less. Pretty much every Revoltech is represented. But what impressed me most was the wall of model kit tools that included two different types of tweezers. I almost wept.

Of course, I did some shopping that very day. But I returned a few days later to chat with owner Brian, himself a very experienced model builder. He opened Aura in mid-May downtown because he feels that the anime industry is growing and becoming more mainstream and hopes he can tap into that interest with a central location. So far, he’s getting a broad range of shoppers from hardcore modelers coming in for special orders to first timers drawn by childhood memories of The Transformers and Robotech.

When I asked Brian how he decides what to stock he smiled and said “instinct.” He has gone to Japan to scope out new toys and regularly visits toy fairs in North America, but like us collectors, he uses the internet to find out what’s on the horizon. I also tried to convince him to start holding modeling workshops, but that’ll have to wait, he says.

As I left the store I thought about my own shopping habits. I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve bought almost all of my models and toys online. The prices are usually better and you can get them earlier than stores. I always buy modeling tools in shops, however, not to mention small impulse buys. But the thing that a shop like Aura has over the internet is the pure rush of excitement I get when I am surrounded by so much coloured plastic. My love for these things is rekindled every time I enter.

Model kit: 1/150 Fire Tower

From: Green Max model kits

Time to build: 3 very stressful hours

Difficulty: hard (due to tiny, minuscule parts)

The Story
As I assemble everything I need for my Japanese town diorama, this model is probably my last yet sweetest addition. This cute little fire tower is also the first N gauge structure I’ve built from a kit. All the other Tomytec ones come pre-painted and in some glorious cases, pre-assembled. You might think that takes the fun out of it, but at this tiny size, it’s the stress that’s alleviated.

I like to think my dexterity and patience has increased since I started modeling, but this little bastard put me to the test. I spent most of these 3 hours holding my breath. Check out the instructions while keeping in mind you could fit the entire viewing deck inside a thimble.

This one really got me wondering why I’m so obsessed with tiny replicas – until it was completed, of course.

Model kit: 1/100 Gog


From: Mobile Suit Gundam

Time to build: 10 hours

Difficulty: medium (simple but poor quality kit)

The Story
This model represents a benchmark in the life of this otaku – my very first Gundam.

No, it’s not your typical mobile suit, but it’s Gundam nonetheless. Why this lack of the most identifiable mecha in my cadre of robots? Well, that requires a rather shocking admission on my part:

I have never watched a minute of any Gundam show. Ever.

gog_box.jpgRegardless, when I saw this dude on the shelf of a tiny, cheap-ass toy store in Vancouver’s Chinatown, his intense ugliness cried out to me – in fact, there’s this one pose on the box where his hands are tucked under his armpits in a chicken dance-like position. Oh kay. Anyway, I loved his very 70s design, but I could also see him on the shelves of any vinyl toy store or even art gallery. He’s chubby and seems to be wearing a big ol’ brown diaper. I had to have him.

A bit of research taught me that this, at one time very inexpensive kit was issued in the late 90s and is now out of production. The instructions taught me that I was not in for a good time. It’s not that this is a difficult model, not at all. The problem is poor design, a first in the Japanese kits I’ve encountered.

The biggest problem was in the process of sealing seams and painting parts before attaching them together. Previous kits I’ve built have done a miraculous job of making this process easy, so you can focus on each part and get it just right. This kit, however, forces you to leave certain seams showing as there is no way to deal with them previous to assembly. Plus, the plastic is such low quality, and the fit sometimes so mis-matched, that no amount of sanding could smooth out the seams. Not to mention that once the parts are painted and sealed, joints barely move without much scraping and scratching because they are so tight.

gog_reach.jpgBut despite the rough edges, this dude turned out more phatt than fat. I fudged the colour scheme a bit, going a bit more ash on the blue and more green on the yellow, making him look a little contemporary and even artistic. And he’s nice and big and is going to look good and awesome in any diorama.

And I suppose it’s time I finally sat down and watched some Gundam. Maybe there’s a robot wedding or bar mitzvah scene that explains Gog’s weird choice in dance moves.

Model Kit: 1/24 Translucent Tachikoma


From: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Time to build: 1 hour!

Difficulty: easy – just snap together

The Story
Several months ago, I built a Tachikoma kit. It was the most work I’ve ever put into a kit, but the result is fabulous. Recently, the same company came out with a “translucent” version, to simulate the optical camouflage used on the show. I know, it’s not really invisible, but I can pretend.


Anyway, since there has been a moratorium on spraying my stinky paints and glues in the condo – have to wait until we move to a well ventilated house – I decided to pick this one up to satisfy my model building urges. Sadly, taking only an hour to put together, I got very little satisfaction. I found myself really wishing I could break out the putty and sandpaper and get all detailed and obsessive.


Also, when sitting next to my original model, the stunning finish on the latter really stands out and makes this dude look like a cheap toy. Again, I’ll have to pretend it’s actually invisible and when its optical camouflage is turned off, looks much, much cooler.