Friday, 25 July 2014

A New Excalibur

Introduction to the project

This is going to be my first World War 1 dio. Its also my very first commission work. I don't normally take on commissions at all because scale modelling for me is a hobby and not a source of income (although I am considering casting my 120 mm figure sculpts in the future). This is a project that I am doing for a WWI museum in Barry South Wales. A colleague in work noticed that I make scale models when he popped into my office one day and mentioned that he would love to show some of my models as a permanent exhibit at the museum he volunteers in. I explained to him that I didn't have a single WWI model in any scale to offer. A week later he walks into my office with a plastic bag containing an Emhar Tadpole tank that I realised was bought in the early 1990's (the shop it was bought from closed down) and two packs of 1/35 soldiers, also made by Emhar.

I would point out that he asked if this could be all made and complete by 1st August (3 weeks away at the time of starting this post). I don't think I will be able to complete this dio by then, but I will have a good try.

The Concept

I have been asked to produce the tank in a trench setting (obvious choice) and to include the figures from the kits. The rest of the brief is basically up to me. On inspecting the figures I was provided, I have to say that they are not much better than cheap toy soldiers you can buy from a supermarket!! I immediately searched the internet for a better choice and found a wonderful figure set from Masterbox depicting British and German soldiers from the Somme Battle of 1916. In reality these could be posed from any part of the great war. I especially liked the fact that this figure set was inspired by an actual photo from the conflict:

On seeing this figure set, a picture of the diorama that I intend to build formed in my mind. I will build a base which includes a trench section that has obviously been under fire and over-run by the British from the aid of the Tadpole tank which I will place atop of the trench in pride of place. Under the tank, walking through the defeated trench section will be the figure set depicting the three battle weary and defeated Germans being escorted by the triumphant Tommies. The title for this diorama I have taken from a book entitled, A New Excalibur: The development of the tank, 1900-1939 by A.J.Smithers. For the budding historians among you, I know that the Tadpole version of the Mk IV tank was never used in any military battle during WWI or after. I did consider displaying the tank on a plain grass board with a Tommy standing next to it, and although this would be historically accurate, it would have been really boring for a WWI display for a museum. I will keep to the concept and title to show what the tank would have been used for had it been deployed. I am sure that the museum will place a little blurb underneath the model explaining that this is what this version of the tank would have looked like if it had seen any "action".

World War one models and figures are a new avenue for me as is commission work so I'm sure I will have some cock ups and problems along the way which I will of course share with you on this build log. Wish me Luck!!!

The tank build

There is no other way to describe this kit other than bloody awful! the quality of the plastic, casting, detail, etc is all extremely bad. This is hands down one of the poorest quality kits I have ever worked with. Had I bought this kit I would have been very disappointed. I suppose it would be fair to point out that every part that needed to be glued together had to be altered in some way just for it to correctly mate with its corresponding item. This is something that I have never had to do before (and hopefully never again). While the preparation of the parts was extremely difficult, the build itself is quite simplistic, and with a lot of fettling  I managed to minimize the amount of filler needed at the joints. Photos of the bulk of the build can be seen below:

The last three photos show the amount of clamping and taping I had to do to the body to get it to align properly and to close some of the many very large gaps that appear as you glue the model together. I have managed to close all of the gaps that will be seen once the model is fully assembled and I will cover any gaps that I have missed on assembly that I notice while I'm painting with some liberal splashes of mud!

At this stage I plan a complete out of the box build with very little if any scratch building work to improve it due to the time constraints, however if I do get things done quicker than I expected I will probably remove the kit hatches and replace them with scratch built items so that they can be displayed slightly open. I will also add some chain and an "un-ditching " bar along with some top runners that were not fitted to the prototype tank but would have undoubtedly been fitted to a warfare version. The tracks themselves, while not the best in quality and accuracy are not really a concern as this was always going to be a diorama vehicle so they will be for the best part covered in "mud", however if you decide to take on this beast as a project for a display model I would strongly advise you to look for the individual track sets that are out there for this kit. The following images show the model in a semi-state of completion at the primer stage of the build:


After looking on the internet I found that there is much debate over the colour of these tanks during WWI but the general consensus is as long as its brown or green then its accurate due to the vast amounts of colours used for these machines. The prototype did not have any markings of any kind as it was never used in action, however as this is a "what if" dio, I will apply a slight paint scheme that I have seen used on the MK IV tanks and which I imagine would have been issued with the modified machines if they were utilised in a battle situation. The colour that I have opted to use is a mid-bronze green which I think will stand up to quite a lot of weathering and still stand out against a rather muddy backdrop. The front of the tank will have red and white stripes applied to it for a little more interest. The following photos show the tank in its various stages of painting and final assembly for an "out of the box" finish:

Improving the over all look of the Tank

The improvements that I will make for the tank will be very small compared to my usual attention to detail, but when you take into consideration the size of the dio compared to what I usually do, I thought that visual clarity would be preferable to high details. So far I have added some mesh grill over the exhaust section, added the roll over bars to the roof and made from a block of pine and some lead foil, an "un-ditching" beam for the roof. There are other additions that I have planned and will add them to this build log as I finish them.

Weathering the Tank

After a few days deliberating how much weathering I would be applying I came to the conclusion that I would be applying A LOT of weathering to this beastie!! Basically this tank would have been standing in the rain for days if not weeks in the middle of a war zone, has crossed no mans land in the thick of battle and churned up some mud in the process. First stages of weathering was to apply a pin wash of diluted lamp black oil, followed by a wash in selected areas of bright orange. The whole section of that tank that was being treated was then washed from the top of each panel downwards with titanium white and then the whole part of the vehicle I was working on was dragged through with plain white spirit in places to combine the washes. The last part was to then highlight some of the corroded areas some more with a mix of bright orange and lamp black that has been heavily diluted. The following shots illustrate the stages that I have just described:

Once the whole tank has been treated in the same way as shown above, I'll add the mud and detritus to the tracks, underside of the body and the sides of the vehicle where it would naturally fall of the tracks. This was achieved by using the same mix of compost, PVA and paint as the diorama base described in the section below.

The Diorama Base

Go big or go home is the quote I think I will use to start this section off. After a lot of thought and planning I decided on the finished size of this base. It will be A3 paper sized to include all of the details that I wanted to incorporate into this diorama, they are as follows:

A cratered battlefield
torn barbed wire from the tank
A trench defeated by the tank
A modified figure sitting triumphantly on the tank
A position of prominence for the figures I have bought

The basic construction of the base starts life with a piece of cut to size 8 mm thick MDF to provide rigidity for the finished piece. On top of that I will add some fantastic hard blue foam (I don't know the correct name of it) that is used by the university I work for to construct wing sections for our wind tunnel testing. This foam will be glued to the MDF using a hot glue gun. On top of the basic flat layer of foam, I will add further pieces of foam which will then be carved out into a basic shape of what I want the finished dio to look like. Current progress photos are below:

The next stages for this base will be the application of some "mod rock" to the upper sections of the trench followed by edging the whole dio in some light ply wood. Following this a liberal amount of polyfiller will be applied to the whole base and painted in a medium to dark brown acrylic paint.

Once the filler, paint etc had dried fully (overnight). I made a start on the trench section of the dio. First up was the addition of some sandbags that I had in the spares box. I'm not sure if these are Italeri or Tamiya items. Following the sandbags I decided that the front section of the trench would be corrugated sheet that I will weather later on. This is simply some cardboard food packaging that has been stripped of the backing paper to leave the corrugations. In front of this I will use cut down cocktail sticks as the wooden stays. The firing boards at the front of the trench and the support wall at the rear of the trench are being made from hand cut soft wood that I have in the "stash". This took approximately 7 hours to individually cut for each section. A long job but hopefully worth it in the end.

Happy with the additions made I then painted some of the surfaces to ascertain their look and then added more polyfiller to the dio in the places that I felt warranted it. Take note of the fact that I plastic wrapped the tank to ensure that when I bedded it down into the wet filler, I didn't get any of it on the tank.

Happy with the progress of the base I then grabbed my mini router and cut out some of the dio's edging board to reveal some of the details that would otherwise have been hidden by the board when completed. The following photos show the amount of board taken away, but obviously not the final finish, which of course will require sanding and painting.

I also wanted to add a little more detail and texture to the ground, so the first step was a covering of earth. For this I'm using a coconut compost which can be bought in quite a few hardware stores for around £1. I like using this because it needs to be mixed with water to make it a pliable substance. I mix it with PVA and water so that it sets firm and spreads around the base quite easily:

After I had weathered the tank, I decided to "sit" the vehicle in its final position to ensure that I had enough ground covering to make sure that it sat into the base and not on top of it which would be a little strange for a tank weighing in at a couple of tons "floating" on a muddy surface. I also applied a wash of Humbrol 110 paint to add a variation in the colour of the earth. At the same time of setting the tank into the ground, I used the same mix to add mud to the tracks and body of the vehicle, followed by the same wash of Humbrol 110. The only exception to the ground was that a wash of cadmium orange was also added to the tracks being as they were steel.

Happy with the progress of the tank setting, I turned my attention to the trench setting itself. The first order of business I decided would be the duck boards which lined the trench floors. First, the supporting beams were glued to the base of the trench, followed by the same mud mixture applied to the diorama. Once this was set I then when about cutting each duck board individually and glued them to the supporting beams, these were then painted and given some "extreme" weathering to depict the continuous use they endured. I also decided to permanently attach the tank to the diorama base and add the last touches of earth around the tank tracks, on the trench wall and floor and in some of the exposed patches around the groundwork. Once the earth is dry, I will colour it to match the rest of the ground.

The figures

The figure set from Master box are as usual fantastic. The expressions on the faces and poses are great and I think that they will give this diorama a welcome breath of life and the context that I am looking for with the title. I also decided that the tank itself needed a figure of some kind to draw it into the rest of the scene with the figures. I raided the spares box and found another Master box figure of a British officer in desert uniform from WWII. A few bits of Milliput extra fine on the legs, a Hornet resin head and the mini transformation to a WWI officer was complete. Progress shots of the initial painting of the figures are below:

There is still a lot of work needed for the figures but I'm happy with the progress and look of them at the moment. I also decided to add a few "fallen" soldiers to the dio. After all this is a WWI trench scene! As I have already mentioned, there is very little choice at the moment in the way of WWI figures, however I do have some spare Tamiya figures left over from another project. In all honesty I would not have used them for any other project as they are early figures and not very good quality in terms of details. They are however perfect for "bashing" into another figure. some shots of what they look like at the moment are below:

The dead soldiers having been rubbed down and primed were painted in the uniform colours and allowed to fully dry. The entire set of soldiers now complete, I set about the arduous task of oil painting each one of them, followed by the application of mud and ingrained dirt onto the uniforms. I won't take individual shots of each figures progress, instead I'll wait until I have completed all of them and take photos as I add each of them to the base:

Finishing Touches and thoughts

Finishing touches for this will include the barbed wire and wire stakes being added to the goundwork, some hand grenades and a hurricane lantern for the trench, a ladder inside the trench and a map of the trench system nailed to the trench wall. I will also fill both of the shell craters with muddy water and some of the trench floor as well. This is a process that in all honesty I don't enjoy as it takes so much time getting the little details just right and adding all the small pieces that make a piece like this go from "that's nice" comments to "Oh my god they even have straps on the rifles and you can see cigarettes in their hands". Ultimately even though its extremely time consuming and sometimes very boring, the reward is in the end result.  Shots of progress are shown below:

Last Photos of the dio

At last I am going to call this dio finished! Its been a long trek and is easily the largest diorama that I have produced to date. In terms of finishing touches, there are too many to mention but I have included as many close up shots of the various areas in the dio for you to see the finished result:

One final touch that I also decided upon was to add a small section of grass with poppy's growing out of it. To that I also added a rifle with a British helmet placed onto it as a final tribute to those that have fallen. The end result to me is really pleasing and hopefully quite poignant to those that will look at this diorama in the future.

Diorama Costs

I don't normally include costs for the models I produce on this website but this is an unusual model for me in the sense that I am doing this as a commission for a local great war museum. The costs list will only include the costs of the models used and no my time or the majority of materials used from the spares box as it would become too comprehensive:

Emhar Tadpole tank (provided by museum)               
1/35 Scale simulated barbed wire Fogmodels     £3.50
1/35 Brass chain RB model                                £3.05
British and German soldiers Somme Masterbox  £11.20
British Stretcher party (modified) Tamiya            £6.00
Sand bag Set tamiya                                          £5.60
Other ancillary parts inc paints, etc                     £5.00

With a total cost of what I would give as £34.35 excluding the tank and with a rough estimate on the materials used, I'm really happy with the cost versus the size and impact of this piece. I hope that the museum will be happy with it and I have asked that when the diorama is finished and handed over to them for display, that they take some photos of the visitors viewing the model for to post on my website along with the finished photos below:

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