Thursday, June 5, 2014
Quest for the Perfect Kit
I believe that modelers shoot for 100% accuracy in their projects even though most (hopefully) realize that is impossible. I would have to include myself in this category although I'm not always willing to do what it takes to fix problems. Does this make me a neo-rivet counter? Probably. When new kits are reviewed by "experts", I sit up and take notice, especially when something is deemed to be inaccurate. These detected errors, sometimes correctly noted, and sometimes merely perceived, can give kits a "reputation" which limits the number you will ever see built or much less purchased. My willingness to fix such errors is limited by my ability to be aware of them in the first place (even with good references), and then my skill set in retooling or scratch building corrections. This is particularly true if I'm building for a deadline. If I'm up to the edge of one, I'm more open to building the kit as is. My truth is I want manufacturers to get it right and when they don't, I'm miffed. The reality is that even the best producers of kits get stuff wrong, sometimes very wrong, for numerous reasons. This is in spite of vast documentation in museums, in books, and on line, plus armies of experts. Lack of thoroughness, simple inattention, limits of tooling and materials, as well as, economics often contribute to errors in the final product. Where then do we draw the line for what is an acceptable level of accuracy?
A good place to begin is with the definition of the word model. Webster's has two entries that apply, each having multiple definitions.
Model \ n\ 1: structural design 2 : a miniature made; also : a pattern of something to be made 3 : an example for imitation or emulation 4 : one who poses for an artist; also : MANNEQUIN 5 : TYPE, DESIGN
Model \adj\ 1: serving as or worthy of being a pattern (a ~ student) 2: being a miniature representation of something (a ~ airplane)
Armed with these definitions, and accounting for human imperfection, it is safe to assert that there is no such thing as the perfect model kit. I haven't seen one yet although some come close. Examples which approach this in 1/48 scale aircraft are Tamiya's P-47 (any version), Hasegawa's Ki-84, and Accurate Miniatures' TBF/TBM and SBD kits. I'm sure you can think others in this genre as well as many from others. There are also numerous kits out there on the other end of the spectrum. Eduard recently released a Bf 109G-6 that, from all the discussion on internet forums, is being relegated by many to the later category in spite of its overall great quality. Regrettably for everyone involved, there is apparent validity to these criticisms of the new Messerschmitt kit especially in the area of physical dimensions. It is slightly large (1/47.26 instead of 1/48) For many, this is particularly disappointing as the Eduard offering would have potentially been the best kit so far of the oft kitted 109. Alas, the door is still open.
Something I've noticed is that certain subjects tend to receive more scrutiny than others. Bf 109 kits are an example of what I'd call hyper scrutiny. Let me say again, that the criticisms of the new Eduard kit are in large measure valid. Having said this, there is not a single Bf 109 kit in any scale (even 1/47.26) or version that doesn't have problems. If I want a Bf 109 on my shelf, I have to accept the shortcomings of the current crop of kits, and make a decision (or develop my own kit. Not likely). With reasonable building and painting skills, any of the them will result in a nice representation (see above definition).
Unfortunately and surprisingly to me, Eduard fell short of the goal of producing the ultimate Bf 109G-6. Henry Ford often talked about recovering from mistakes and noted that successful people and organizations capitalize them. It looks like Eduard will follow this advise as they have acknowledged the problems with, and confirm that they are studying how to rework the kit at this time. Basic dimensions should be correct in any scale, and the company has a reputation for doing very nice products. I'll patiently look forward to the revised tooling from Eduard which will make their Bf 109G even nicer. I've seen several already built on line and they look great as is.
When I build models, I rarely measure components to check accuracy of dimensions. I don't find it enjoyable to do so. Rather than check for myself, I leave it to the manufacturer to get it in the ball park. If I do find a problem and it's feasible to fix myself or with aftermarket parts, I probably will. If not, I'll probably live with it. My goal is to produce a finished representation thru clean building and good painting. Painting (including weathering) is the most important of these elements in finished models that fool the eye and create the illusion of realism. In my opinion, this alone goes a long way in overcoming inaccuracies in a model kit. How many Tamiya P-51Bs have you seen beautifully built and painted straight out of the box in spite of the numerous documented issues with the kit? A quick perusal of posted reviews will usually note these issues and then still recommend the kit. These issues don't keep folks, including myself, from building this overall wonderful kit.
Manufacturers who want to thrive in the world of scale modeling need to be very cognizant that their target audience demands high quality. While no rational person can demand perfection, kit makers must recognize that their customers want models that are as close to perfect as possible. Certain subjects tend to receive more scrutiny than others. Local modeler and friend of King's Hobby Shop, Greg Springer tells a story about another local modeler who advises his fellows to "build the obscure and hard to document" in order to avoid often heated arguments concerning accuracy that can erupt amongst our kind. Noting problems with kits is perfectly acceptable. I would, however, encourage my fellows not to "dog pile" when they are discovered especially if its keeping them from building stuff. I have to remind myself constantly that "it's only a model". I've been guilty of putting kits back on the shelf when I've run into inaccuracies. I need to trust that if I can press on in spite of problems, do a decent build and then a good paint job, I'll have a very nice model at the end of the process.