The Little World – Just Popping Down To The ( Aardman ) Shops…

It’s hard to convey the sense of wonder that a Little World enthusiast gets when they first see a master model. The museum-quality ships at Greenwich, the scratchbuilt aircraft at Duxford, the railway models in the Science Museum or York…they all have an authority and an educational value that can go far beyond even the full-size original objects on display. The great thing about these artifacts is that, unlike the famous works of art in galleries, the popular knowledge of them is limited – you do not have to breast rooms full of tourists to see the tiny little painting – you don’t have to queue for hours to file past some renaissance daub because it is the ‘ famed ‘ daub.

And yet…there can be the same artistry exhibited by modern model makers, and the impact of it can be far greater for the familiarity of it. The fact that it is in 3 dimensions just adds to the charm. Witness the corner greengrocer’s shop set from ” The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit ”

The set is about a metre and a half long on each side – roughly 1/6 to 1/8 size. Correct internal lighting – the Fujifilm X-T10 was set on the 3200 ISO and the white balance was left on auto to sort itself out. What you see is what you saw in the film, albeit in motion and for a brief periods of time. The detail that you can see bears witness to the integrity and sense of dedication for the modellers. It was impossible to look at any corner of the set – even the doorstep with the milk bottle in front of the hairdresser’s shop – without getting the feeling that you were looking at a full-size scene.

The two display cases – tools and kitchen items – are actually mouth-watering to a miniatures worker. But they, and the detail pictures, can induce a terrible feeling of inadequacy in we amateurs – particularly if we are working in smaller scales with bigger fingers – fingers that are frequently covered in glue and/or stuck to the parts that we are actually working on.

Still…If the Aardman people would like a tasty little earner, they might consider compiling  How-To-Do-It videos and discs or making a book about their techniques. I would be first in line at the bookstore for them.

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Yo Ho Ho In The Little World

It’s a little hard to ignore a pirate ship when it literally towers over you. That’s the main working model ship for the Aardman pirate movie seen at the recent exhibition. No half-made device – not a rough adaptation of a Revell kit. That is solid shipbuilding…I think when it has done with the world travels of the art galleries that it should have a place in Greenwich Maritime Museum in London. It might be a parody, but it is more authentic than most display vessels.

The exhibition was glorious in that it led the viewer through the entire working procedure that Aardman use for ideas – from rough pencil sketchs through story boards to rather large scene drawings made with as much care as any artist’s finished canvas. Then on to the benches and the model makers. Surprisingly, some characters and concepts carry through perfectly from the initial pencil sketches – and some are trimmed ruthlessly…but not until they have been worked up a long way. I can only imagine that their creators fight each other in staff meetings to have their creations live and breathe.

The main actors in any of these productions need to be made and remade to change position thousands of times – changed and distorted would be more accurate. The armature upon which clay, plastic, and fabric is posed seems to be modifications of standard devices available in the industry with flexible but lockable joints places pretty much where real creatures also bend. ” Standard ” hardly applies to the were-rabbit, but nothing fazes Aardman. I should think they are the darlings and saviours of small engineering supply houses in their town.

The Little World – Aardman

N0te: last week was grim here on HAW. This week is not  – this week is fun.

This post and several others will be springboarding on the back of real artists – the Aardman animation studios. I’ve been to see an exhibition devoted to their work and methods and I cannot praise them too much.

The exhibition was going on in the ACMI section of the Federation Square Gallery  connected to the NGV in Melbourne. It may venture to your country or your city, and if it does, it is well worth the price of a ticket. I spent a good two hours going back and forth seeing the exhibits.

Aardman are the authors of the Wallace And Gromit series of clay animations as well a numerous advertisements in Great Britain and the Creature Comfort series. As well, they have done Chicken Run, The Pirates, and Shaun The Sheep. All well worth seeing again and again.

The amazing part of this is the scale of the planning, artistry, and props needed to do this sort of animation. It is not tabletop stuff by any means, unless you consider the sets as individual scenes. The scale of most of the models seems to be about 1:6 to 1:4 and the artistic vision and attention to detail is staggering. I don’t think there is a true Little Worlder who would not be delighted to kick over the traces and build Aardman sets for a living.

Bless them, in addition to getting a look at their artistry, the exhibition had a working animation table and lighting setup that showed me clearly how to solve one of my lighting dilemmas in the Little Studio! I could not have been more pleased.

But here is a taster for the week. All Aardman, all the time.

The Little World – The Warm Orgasm Of Cleaning Up

Think what you will about the pride of accomplishment and possession that grips a modeller during their time in the workshop  – I say there is no thrill to equal that of cleaning the place up after completing a project. And in some cases it does not even have to be after successfully finishing something…sometimes just the act of getting free of the whole wretched mess is reward enough.

I don’t know what kind of modeller you are, or in what direction your work has taken you. Nor what sort of workshop and tools you have. I don’t even know whether you are a neat and tidy person in yourself or a wallowing hog. Wherever you fit in the spectrum from surgical cleanliness to cow pies on the counter, you will have gotten to the same point at sometime in your career – you’ve finished the last thing possible on your model and put it carefully up on the shelf for posterity.

Now look around. Does it look like a minimalist living room or does it look like Stalingrad? Can you see the floor? Can you see the walls? Is the paint on the ceiling? is the paint on the cat? Is the cat on the ceiling? Whatever – it is time to recover the place and get ready for the next idea.

Find the tools. You will not find them all the first time you look. You may not find some of them no matter how hard you look. Accept an attrition rate of drill bits and tiny hand tools during the best projects. If you have lost the bandsaw or the air compressor, however, check that the workshop locks are still present.

Then start to pick up the off-cuts from whatever you were using. Are any of them still useful? Save them in special boxes that you can throw out in a year when you realise you were wrong. Or save them for 35-40 years and discover that you were right.

Are there any half-used tins of paint? If so, tip them all unto a bucket and paint the back porch with the result. It will either be flat grey or a salmon colour, depending upon whether you are a good moral person or a pervert. The neighbours will know by looking at the porch.

Collect all the parts that you find on the floor that skittered out of your hand or the bench vise as you were making them. Regard these as the working models of the parts that you then had to remake when you were unable to find the first ones on the floor. Throw them in the bin and curse them.

Clean the bench top. Possibly with a broom, possibly with a cloth. Possibly with fire. Just get it back to a semblance of flatness as you will be building your next project on there and it is no good trying to get things in plumb if you are sitting on old glue blobs.

Sharpen the pencils and cap the marker pens. Try the old ones out to see if they are dry enough yet to throw out. Hammer the ruler flat again.

Clean the paintbrushes by rinsing them in the appropriate thinner, working the bristles carefully. Rinse them, shape them so that they have a straight edge, and then throw them into the bin. They sell better brushes than you have just ditched in packets of five for three dollars.

Gather all the sprues, boxes, unused decal sheets, instructions, and spare parts from the kit that you have just finished – note that fully 3/4 of what you paid for at the hobby shop is still in the box and is now totally useless. Go to the hobby shop tomorrow and ask for 3/4 of your money back. Tomorrow will be a special day for you…

And finally, vacuum the floor and benches. No matter how clean you got it before, this final step will suck up the final detail part that you could not find on the sprue ( you’ll see it clearly just before it shoots up the vacuum nozzle ) and make for hours of fun as you sift through the dust bag to find it. We can supply a book of words to say while you look, but don’t let the kiddies read it.

The Little World – The Yellow Pups

I have had to make a New Year resolution for my Little World – to only do one project at a time. It will be a serious brake upon my personality as I can be to sort of hound who goes howling off in all directions after different game…and sometimes ends up catching nothing.

The project for this year will be airfields. I think I have accumulated enough die-cast and plastic aircraft in my collection to provide suitable models for photography. They just need a setting and a story.

The first is to be RCAF Wet Dog…out on the Alberta prairies in 1943. The field is concerned with training as well as ferrying aircraft, so I will get to make quite a few different models. I say ” make ” though in some cases it will be just buying die-casts that fit into the scene perfectly. Otherwise, I must turn to the kit shelf and the airbrush.

Fortunately, the first trainers I am embarking upon are well represented in the model kit trade – the Harvard and the Tiger Moth. And as I am just regaining modelling skills in this small scale, I have opted for the simplest of paint schemes – Trainer Yellow. Also, fortunately there were few markings –  so a judicious use of decal sheets should make things look good.

Dedicated aircraft modellers will pick holes in what I do – so will diorama makers and award winners. No matter – it is my Little World and I will appreciate it.  My other readers may be sickened by the flood of tabletop photography, but that is fine too.

Note: I hope to use a trick to model time as well – you’ll see it if it succeeds.

Heading Image: it’s 40º out in the shed and I’m not there…but the paint dries a treat.

The Little World – It All Ends Up As Grey Or Brown

Little World builders – as opposed to Little World collectors – generally end up with a more muted palette for their art.

By that I mean, as they are painting and weathering things, initial toy-like colours that can be put on models in a factory are dulled down and authentic colours get painted on plastic assembly kits from the start. Of course this generalisation goes to the winds when it comes to plastic model car kits and hot rod customisers but otherwise it holds.

I weather some of my die-cast models to fit my own Little World, and I use thinned versions of matte paints and varnishes to do so. It is amazing what a thin coat of acrylic dust can do to bring a shelf model to life. The structures that are built in various scales also benefit from sprayed dirt and dripped ( acrylic wash ) corrosion.

But it need not be so. You really have to look into your own soul and discover what rings your bell. You might be the person who dearly loves Disney colours on your models and would be sad and dispirited if they all had to look used. If that is the case, paint them as well as you can, but keep to the bright colours that please you. It is your Little World after all, and you may be a cheery as you want to be.

For the grubby brigade, we soon discover that whatever we do, the world gets dirtier. It does so with brown dust or grey dust – and there are very few other colours of weathering. Oh, the wet portions of the Little World may get mouldy, which can be somewhat green, but you’ll rarely see blue, red, or yellow as a predominant wash. Of course small plumes of industrial contamination can run to vile colours for specific highlights…but you are always still better off with a dark wash of grunge.

I have even seen instances of people using real dirt and degradation to weather their models, and there is certainly something to be said for the uneven nature of nature as it erodes and fouls things. If you can point it in the right direction you need not buy bottles of Tamiya acrylics for $ 5 each. Just don’t wipe your eyes after handling the model…

 

The Little World – Change Your Focus

If you are a Little World builder you probably have a favourite scale you work in – and if you’re lucky you have a clear vision of a project for it. You might even be one of those super individuals who has a whole chain of work in their mind and who will progress to a logical and successful finish.

Or you might approach your work haphazardly – the most organisation that you can manage is finding the paint brushes before the cat does.

Whichever you are, consider doing your imagination and skills a favour by letting your focus soften for a bit – specifically, change your scale or type of building every once in a while. You’ll benefit from it:

a. You will see the normal work you do in the wider picture of things. If you make cars and decide to make a building, you have a building that relates to cars. If you make ships and build a plane, you now have a whole new palette of colour to work with.

b. Your eyes will change. They’ll change physically with time – rarely getting better – and they’ll change focus as you get interested in new projects. See big, then see small, and you’ll see better when you go back to big.

c. New scales or genres bring you into contact with new manufacturers, new tools, new materials. Everything you learn in one scale you can turn to profit in another.

d. A change in your focus will bring you into contact with new people, too. And that means new ideas. Some will not be good ideas, but that is what you get in any case with normal life. But listen to everybody and look at everything – there is bound to be something useful  about everyone else’s Little World.

e. New scale or new category means new publications, new web sites, new illustrations on Google.

f. If, in spite of it being the most wonderful type of modelling in the world, you find yourself bored with what you are doing…do something different. Go out and deliberately find a new thing to tackle – even if it is not absolutely riveting, it will relieve your ennui long enough to restart your original engine.

g. You might be good at the new thing. Maybe even really good. I’m looking at three trophies on the shelf right now that I never thought I could win.  For a guy who never got one as a kid and never succeeded with radio control boats, it is heartening.